Monday, July 29, 2013

Costa Rica's "Romeria" to Cartago! Give thanks to the Virgin of Los Angeles!

Dia de La Virgin de Los Angeles
Well it's that time of year again....the end of July and as August 2nd quickly approaches, the "Romeria" of pilgrims can be seen walking, riding, cycling and including other ingenuous means of transporation along the Pan American Highway and along other main roads of Costa Rica that lead to the city of Cartago where they will participate in the annual celebration of the "Virgen de Los Angeles", this country's patron saint.

Legend proclaims that a young indigenous girl, Juanita Pereira, found the statue of the "Black Virgin" on Aug. 2, 1635, while gathering wood in the forest outside the city, which at the time was racially segregated. The young girl carried the unique
Replica of the Famous Statue
stone said to resemble the Virgin Mary with child in her arms to her home and locked it up. It is said that the small 6 inch stone image almost immediately disappeared, only to mysteriously return to its original spot on the rock in the woods where it was originally discovered. This happened not once, but numerous times, including after giving the stone to a local prominent priest, who then proclaimed it to be a miracle and so began it's high regard throughout the country! The legend lived on, and in 1824, "La Negrita", as the black Virgin image is referred, was officially bestowed as the patron saint by the Costa Rican government.

Today, this small statue rests on a golden and bejeweled platform above the altar at the Basílica Nuestra Señora de Los Angeles in Cartago, some 14 miles east of San José, which was purposely built around the rock where the small figure first appeared.

Millions on the Annual Trek to Cartago
This religious holiday is a unique experience for both nationals and visitors of Costa Rica, as they get to experience the true culture and dedication of the Ticos to their beloved Patron Saint. Pilgrims can travel up to 2 weeks to arrive to the Basilica in Cartago to get a firsthand look at the statue of "La Negrita", which means "little dark one" in Spanish, as that is the color of this beautiful stone figure. Local legend proclaims that a small stream with curing powers is situated in proximity of the Basilica, and this "holy water" is said to cure all forms of sickness and physical ailments, so many pilgrims will collect small amounts of this special water during their annual pilgrimage.

The many "Ticos" from all over the country that spend days and even weeks to make their way to the Basilica, upon arriving will climb the steps of the church on their
On bended Knee, some with Crosses
knees, some with their last ounce of strength, as a means of thanking La Negrita for favors, as well as to pray for help to overcome their sicknesses and/or physical and mental disabilities. Since there can be some 2+ million annual visitors, some pilgrims choose to pray by the stone where the image was originally found, as the surrounding areas of the Basilica can be overwhelmed with people seeking a look at the "La Negrita" statue.

An example of how popular this yearly event is, in 2003, 1.5 million people descended upon the city of Cartago for the dedication to "La Negrita". At that time that number represented close to 40 percent of Costa Rica's entire population!

What was once 1.5 million people, has grown over the years to attract some 2.5 million pilgrims, so with the passing of time, this yearly trek has not lost its following. In response to the incredible amounts of garbage generated by such a large number of
EARTH University going Eco!
people, EARTH University created the program "Eco Romería" starting in 2011. A press release from the Health Ministry said that more than 80,000 plastic bottles and 27 tons of organic material were collected last year. This year, garbage cans will be placed every 500 meters along the main routes leading to the Basílica, as well as the Red Cross will be available along these same main routes and at the church to attend to folks with dehydration, blisters and other side effects of the long arduous trek.
The Lumaca bus company has also committed some 270 buses to provide transportation from San José to the Basilica Church so visitors can enjoy the outdoor mass on August 2nd.

The Basilica was built in 1639 and was later partially destroyed by an earthquake. The restored Basilica offers an impressive mix of colonial architecture combined with 19th century Byzantine style and is consecrated to the Virgin of Señora de los Ángeles, it truly is an impressive church.

If you would like to see inside the Basilica on a normal day, just watch below:

Everyone is welcome to participate in the Romeria in Costa Rica. It is an excellent way to get to know the culture and the "Pura Vida" people of this country. The City of
The Adorned Virgin of Los Angeles
Cartago is beautiful to visit and the climate is cool and refreshing. The display area at the Basilica de Los Angeles is worth a stop to see the Virgin statue and the rock she was found on which in truth is actually a replica, as the original Virgin statue is now held at the Vatican. The replica statue, sanctified by the Pope, is kept at the Cartago Basilica and is now what the "romeros" will see upon arrival.

Don't forget the Holy Water!
Don't forget to bring a small container, so you can receive some free holy water that flows from a river that sits below the church and has been blessed by the Basilica's priest, its said to be the ultimate healer!

Feel free to report back to me if the holy water does in fact cure your sickness, physical or mental it never hurts to have a firsthand account that is was worth the long arduous trek! Pura vida!

To see how the Costa Ricans celebrate this holiday and decide if you would like to participate too, check out the following video:

Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years. Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and Hotel Makanda by the Sea.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Costa Rican Guaro! Belly up to the Bar and Party!

Popular throughout Central American countries, though not readily available in the USA, “Guaro” is a distilled liquor originating in Costa Rica. Manufactured from sugar cane juice, Guaro has a high alcohol content, clear coloring and a strong but slightly sweet flavor. Most commonly mixed with fruit juice or soda (Fresca being a favorite), few people choose to consume this liquor in straight shots. Referred to as an “aguardiente,” the words “agua” and “ardiente” when combined translate to basically mean Guaro is “burning water”. A fairly accurate description if you ask me! Once considered the “moonshine” or “chicha” of Central America, Guaro is no longer a product of homemade stills, but an almost patriotic part of Costa Rican popular culture.

In an attempt to end the kitchen sink production of clandestine “Guaro”, the Costa Rican government approved the manufacturing and eventual bottling of the clear liquor by Costa Rica’s National Liquor Factory (la Fábrica Nacional de Licores or “FANAL”) back in 1851. At that time it was sold in barrels via “liquor agencies”, with the clients providing their own container. Starting in 1980, a new division was created in FANAL, with "Cacique" becoming the official Guaro brand name in Costa Rica. With it’s distinctive red label and iconic Indian Chief (that’s what “Cacique” means….Chief), Cacique quickly became the more commonly used name, since “Guaro” can often times refer to almost any distilled spirit. Easily one of Costa Rica’s most popular “beverages”, bottles of Cacique line the shelves of every Costa Rican grocery store and bar in even the most remote corner of this country, including every Costa Rican Hotel and Restaurant.

FANAL originally decided to market this popular liquor in 1 liter glass bottles containing a lower alcoholic content then vodka, but with the continued growth in popularity, they later began providing consumers with the options of 750 ml glass bottles and 365 ml “pachitas”….or plastic bottles (the handy travel size!). FANAL takes great pride in producing a high quality product of licensed ethyl alcohol, guaranteeing a high purity for “safe” drinking. The brand has proven so popular, that over the years it hs expanded from only 60 proof Guaro Cacique (with the red label) to the 70 proof Cacique Superior (with the black label), the latter offering an even higher purity of “rubbing alcohol”via further filtered purification through activated carbon and increasing not only it’s purity, but perfecting it’s mostly neutral aroma. They also produce a lesser know black label, offering a whopping 80 proof and referred to as “Super Caňita” (Super Cane)!

Origin of the Name:
The present name of Guaro as “Cacique” (or “Chief”) is thought to originate from FANAL. Since several circumstances. Between 1977 and 1980 an excavation made by the Costa Rica National Museum revealed on of the largest indigenous settlements to date near the town of Grecia on land that occupied by the liquor had remained for decades as one of Costa Rica’s most enduring and popular products, indigenous societies considered their “leaders” to be their “Chiefs”, thus the name “Cacique” stuck. Often times referred to as “Cuatro Plumas” in joking reference to the Four Feathers on the chief’s headress found on the ubiquitous red labels, just saying the word “Guaro” brings smiles to almost every Tico’s face!

Guaro Recipes & Purchasing:
Over the years, Guaro’s popularity has reached international proportions. New companies have opened making their own brands of “pirated” Guaro recipes and attempting to market this “poor man’s vodka”, as the newest upscale spirit. No worries though!! With the ease of the internet you can now buy the “real” Costa Rican Guaro and not at over inflated prices! Check out the website for puchasing details, as well as their page dedicated to some of the best Guaro recipes I have found. (Not that I haven’t invented a few of my own over the years!)

Now, some 160 years later, Guaro continues to be as popular as ever! In fact, this liquor is such an integral part of Costa Rican culture that a recent exhibit at the Museos del Banco Central (Central Bank Museum) featured one work representing three icons of daily Costa Rican life; Cacique Guaro, a Soccer Ball and a representation of the celebrated Black Virgin!

For those of you lucky enough to be visiting beautiful Costa Rica, a little word of warning….. the pronunciation of “water” has been known to be misinterpreted as “guaro” by eager waiters not completely versed in the English language. This has led to incidences where thirsty American tourists having asked their waiter for a glass of water and the waiter, ever so happy that the tourists wanted to try his country’s famous Guaro returned from the kitchen with a glass of the clear beverage. The tourist innocently takes a generous swallow and have experienced a coughing and sputtering surprise in Costa Rican thirst-quenching!! Consider yourself warned!!

Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years. Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and Hotel Makanda by the Sea.