Student Blogs & Vlogs | College Study Abroad Programs, IFSA-Butler

No, wait…it’s Plan D for Semana Santa!

I will clarify what Plan D was in a little bit, but first I would like to explain the cultural and religious aspects of Semana Santa.

Semana Santa, also known as “Holy Week” in English, is a weeklong holiday in celebration of Easter. It is a very distinct time of year in Latin America and the observance of the holiday by Costa Ricans and the events that happen during the week are strongly tied to the Catholic Church. There are many religious events and services during the week such as processions and special church services. The most important days of the week are Thursday, Friday, and Sunday, which correspond to the night of the Last Supper, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday respectively.

I, myself, am not catholic, but from a cultural aspect Semana Santa intrigues me and I wanted to see a few of the events during the week. I unfortunately missed going with my tica family to a celebration on Thursday, but I did manage to see a procession and attended a service on Easter Sunday. Although not officially during Semana Santa I was also able to observe another event in Heredia’s Central Park. I was chatting with a Costa Rican friend the Saturday (April 16) before Semana Santa when I all of a sudden heard percussion instruments. There was a mini-procession of people marching into the church somberly and orderly. Although my friend was not able to enlighten me in the specifics of the procession, I still found it interesting.

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Quite honestly everything shuts down during Semana Santa. School is out for the week and all public businesses are closed if not for the week at least from Thursday through Sunday. Many tica families also take the opportunity to travel for a few days during Semana Santa. It reminds me in some ways of spring break in the States. Often times the Costa Ricans travel during the first part of the week so they can celebrate at home on the weekend, but sometimes it is the reverse and the families like to travel that weekend. In short, the buses to or from anywhere are packed full of travelers.

Now, to talk about Plan D. Obviously for us college students Semana Santa means a delightful respite from our school studies at least for a little bit and most of the exchange students take advantage of the week to take extended trips. For me traveling during Semana Santa turned out to be a lot different than I had expected. My Plan A—a trip to Panama—was torpedoed several times during the semester to the point where it was unsalvageable for Semana Santa. Plan B never got off the ground and Plan C had logistical issues. In the end a fellow IFSA-Butler student and I spent three days in Playa Sámara in the Nicoya Peninsula of the western pacific part of the country. Hooray for Plan D! At least we went somewhere. Humorously, we never actually set foot on the Sámara Beach. Instead we spent a fair amount of time at Playa Carrillo down the road.

On Monday (April 18) we took the early bus out of San José to a town called Nicoya then took a bus to the outskirts of Sámara and then another bus to the town of Sámara. We got there in the early afternoon in the middle of the heat so we got a couple of smoothies en route to our motel. Personally, I am a fan of hostels, but due to the holiday all of the hostels that I called were full. It’s not like I am complaining though. With a clean room, a pool, free coffee in the morning, and a private hammock outside our front door, I am definitely not going to gripe. That first afternoon all we did was look around the town then go to a traditional “Corrida de los Toros” that night. Although most often seen during Christmas and the New Year, there was a small one in Sámara in celebration of Semana Santa. We were tired and didn’t end up staying very long. But overall, I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. (See my post “January Jaunts” for more information about “las Corridas de los Toros.”)

The next day we went on a boat tour in Playa Carrillo. It wasn’t quite what we were expecting, but we did see a bunch of dolphins and I enjoyed it for the most part. That afternoon I went to town to get a “trenza.” A “trenza” literally translates as a braid, but this might be better called a hair wrap. It is a small lock of hair with brightly-colored cords woven macramé-style around it. I have wanted one for a long time, but this was the first time I had actually found somewhere where you could get one done. It is fairly common to see these among the national students at the university too. It looks a bit hippie-ish, but I love it!

On Wednesday we rented bicycles and biked to Playa Carrillo and spent the rest of the morning and the first part of the afternoon on the beach. That was definitely my favorite part of the trip. It seemed perfect: the bike ride, the turquoise water, the beautiful beach. The only thing that wasn’t so perfect was the sunburn that I got, but then again this is not uncommon or abnormal for me. So when we got back we slathered on the aloe vera and read books in our room at the motel…out from under the sun. That evening we went down to a little German bakery and coffee shop on the outskirts of Sámara to enjoy the food and some traditional live music.


The next day we left to go back to Heredia. We weren’t able to get direct bus tickets ahead of time, but fortunately everything worked out and we made it back to Heredia without too much hassle. And for me the rest of the week was relaxing to the point of near-boredom, but that was fine. I think a little bit of healthy boredom before returning to college exams, projects, presentations and reports is a good thing.



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