A Weekend in San José

Julia Preszler, CAMD'21

Julia Preszler is a fourth-year student majoring in journalism and minoring in environmental studies. She has interned at The Boston Globe, The Chautauquan Daily and two community newspapers in Connecticut. Julia will be studying abroad at Universidad Veritas in San José, Costa Rica. She is looking forward to exploring the country's national parks and learning more about environmental issues, since she hopes to focus her career on environmental journalism.

By Julia Preszler

I expect that most of my weekends in Costa Rica will be spent out in the country, exploring waterfalls, rainforests, coastlines, and coffee plantations. But, because of September 15 was Independence Day, my friends and I decided to stay near home that weekend in order to take in the festivities.

On Friday evening, my friends and I went to a bar in San Pedro, a neighborhood near Universidad Véritas that is populated with a lot of college students since the Universidad de Latina de Costa Rica and the Universidad de Costa Rica are nearby.

The next morning, I had breakfast at my host mom’s restaurant and then met some other students at one of my friends’ host family’s house so we could depart for a hike on the Tres Cruces trail. We planned to Uber there, but we struggled to figure out where the trailhead is located. There aren’t real addresses in Costa Rica, so we couldn’t just search a specific address. Instead, we found a blog post online about the trail that included the name of a nearby restaurant, so we looked that up, ordered an UberXL, and went on our way. The ride was about 20 minutes, and only cost $16, split among 7 people, so the trip there was very affordable.

The ride took us on a highway out of the city to Escazú, a neighboring town perched on one of the mountains that overlooks San José. We went up what seemed like steeper and steeper roads and encountered gorgeous views of the city below. It was also exciting to drive through the town, which is much smaller than San José and had a quaint, neighborhood-y feel. We passed street vendors hawking fruit and people hanging out in the town, enjoying their Saturday.

Once the Uber dropped us off, we found what looked like a trailhead and started climbing. I had packed a small backpack with two water bottles, snacks, a raincoat, sunscreen, and my camera and extra lens. On quick hikes near home, I usually don’t bring anything with me, but for this hike, I was glad I did. The hike was pretty short — only about 3 miles — but it was steep, strenuous, and at times, slippery. I used everything in my pack to stay hydrated, fed, dry, and, of course, to be able to take photos of the gorgeous scenery we came across.

The hike was very steep very early on and stayed pretty steep throughout. Toward the top of the trail, there was a flatter meadow-ish area where we could see pastures in the foreground, and a hazy, blue-ish city in the background. The trail is named after the three crosses placed at different points along the trail. Two are concrete and the one at the top is made of metal poles.

On the way down, it was steep and slippery, so we had to be careful not to fall. At points, I used crouched low to the ground and used my arms to brace me as I slid down a crevice lined in wet, orange clay. I made a mental note not to go hiking after a heavy rain, because I am sure I would end up sliding the whole way down.

That night, the Independence Day celebrations began. Costa Rica celebrates Independence Day along with four other Central American countries — Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala — that all gained independence from Spain in 1821. 

In Costa Rica, the celebration begins on the night of the 14th. At 6 p.m., people play the national anthem all over the country, as well as on national television and radio stations. Then, people partake in the Desfile de Faroles, or lantern parade, in neighborhoods in every city and town. Children carry wooden lanterns in order to reenact the way the message of independence arrived in Costa Rica in 1821. In a ritual similar to the carrying of the Olympic torch, a torch departs every year from Guatemala and makes it to Cartago, Costa Rica’s first capital, on September 14. 

My friends were late to the lantern parade in downtown San José on Saturday night, so we just sat on the steps of the large gazebo in Parque Central, people-watched, and took in the sights. We then went to a restaurant for a bite to eat and a round of Imperial, the national beer of Costa Rica. 

On Sunday, my friends and I walked to downtown San José to take in the Independence Day festivities. For most of the trip, it was quiet, as it usually is in the city on Sundays. When we reached Second Avenue I suddenly saw a flood of people, all wearing red, white, and blue — the colors of the Costa Rican flag.

It looked like the Labor Day Parade in my hometown, but on steroids. There were thousands of people flooding the street. Marching, were girls in ruffled red, white, and blue dresses, and other children twirling batons. The parade moved slowly. The groups of marchers stopped frequently to do their performance. So, we decided to walk along the parade route to take in all of the floats and marchers. It was like a reverse parade. 

On the sidelines, there was a festively-dressed man with a chicken that was wearing a ribbon the colors of the flag. People stopped to pose with the chicken. At one point, the man started to feed the chicken pieces of banana.

After walking around for a bit, we grabbed some ice cream from Pops and headed back home. I got back to my house just before it started pouring, and enjoyed a lazy Sunday afternoon at home.