BY SOFIA JOHN
Somehow my city tour had turned into a death race. I was coolly cruising down a highway on the back of a motorcycle when the driver suddenly decided to laugh in the face of death and double the speed. My fearless companion, my elderly neighbor who measures five feet on a tall day, began to race another cyclist downhill, dodging potholes and zipping between cars. All the while I shamelessly clung to him for dear life.
The race concluded with our opposing cyclist taking a quick turn down a small street–in other words, he chickened out–and me recovering from shock. We then returned to a nearly legal pace, and drove through the towns surrounding Costa Rica’s capital city of San José, ultimately headed for Los Angeles Basilica in Cartago.
Cartago is an old city founded by the Spanish conquistadors. Ruins of original Spanish architecture rest adjacent to the city’s central park. The massive grey stones form a barrier, protecting a well-managed garden. The gates are locked, and visitors are not allowed inside. Despite the seemingly anti-tourist measures, people are welcome to peer into the garden through the gate. There are even large tables inside relating the history of Spanish conquests in Costa Rica. After a dose of history, I hopped back on the back of the motorcycle and we headed to the basilica.
The steps leading up to the basilica were littered with uniformed high school students. They were there to pray to the Virgin of Los Angeles, Costa Rica’s patron saint, before braving final exams. Where was she when I was in high school? As I entered the basilica with my neighbor, he immediately crossed himself with holy water and dropped to his knees. Looking down the aisle, I saw a procession of people inching their way to the altar on their knees. Feeling rather out of place, I took a step back and admired the grandeur of the church. The interior was extremely ornate and dripping in gold. After my neighbor returned from the altar, he toured me around the church.
Another section of the building housed a myriad of medals, trophies, tiaras, pilots’ wings, and other tokens offered to the virgin in return for miracles she has performed. Outside of the basilica, there is a long ramp that winds down to several fountains that spring holy water. Everyone was welcome to drink from the fountains. The following events may or may not be related: I drank two handfuls of holy water, and I survived the ride home.