Today was our first full day of activities that didn’t center around travel. We got a chance to go to the nearby town of Cartago and learn about the history of the region and country. Before we did that though, we had a fantastic breakfast of eggs, pancakes, and fruit made by our incredible cook here at Casa Aquiares, Diego. After food, we took a bus ride that took about 2 hours, but it didn’t feel that long as the many sing-alongs to Taylor Swift, Queen, and other artists made the time go much faster.

An incredibly brilliant group of people in front of a Basilica

When we got to Cartago, we got to meet Jorge, who acted as our tour guide for the day. Our first stop was at the Basilica de Los Angeles. This church is a pilgrimage site in Costa Rica where people walk 200 km from Santa Cruz to try to arrive on August 2nd, so it was already a busy day in preparation. The church is where a statue of the Madonna kept appearing to one of the indigenous people, so the local priest had them build a church, which was really gorgeous from the outside. Jorge then took us to an unfinished church that has since become a beautiful park, which is right next to a large plaza that has been central to the city by hosting everything from a weekly market to a historic execution (by the Spanish of an indigenous leader). The next two stops were a high school that used to be a justice building and a church that takes part in the pilgrimage, and both of those buildings plus others are connected by secret tunnels that nobody really knows all the ins and outs of.

Our last stop on the tour was at a local museum. There was an exhibit of cloth art and another about glass, but the biggest section was dedicated to a huge mural that tells the history of the country. The mural started with the times when it was only the indigenous, followed by the introduction of the Spanish, then times of revolution, and all the way to modern times.

Mural depicting history of Costa Rica from left to right, indigenous to modern

Though we did have to say goodbye to Jorge at that time, his time with us was awesome and we loved learning more about the region and country from him. We took that moment to make a quick (ok, not really that quick) stop at the souvenir shop where everybody could pick up things for friends and family. The next stop was a great lunch with Cas (sour guava) juice, which was new for all of us. We made it back to the hostel, had the rest of our orientation seminar, and an amazing getting to know you session, followed by our nightly meeting.

Today was really an incredible day with everyone having more opportunity to get to know each other, learn more about where we are, and meet our tour guide, Jorge, who was so open and full of information. The history of Costa Rica is so deep and nuanced and learning more about it made this day one that we won’t soon forget. I’m really excited to hand the lider del dia (LDD) badges over to our first student LDDs, Nina and Roy, to watch how they thrive with their first chance to be in charge. Tomorrow we’ll be learning about local and global business at a coffee plantation and a dairy farm, exciting times!!!

Nina and Roy flashing dubs as our new LDDs