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A year before, I had vowed to make the La Negrita Pilgrimage
 in honor of Costa Rica’s patron saint and Blessed Virgin.
 It offered a uniquely special way to give thanks for our life in Costa Rica. ………….

On the basilica’s north end a spiral ramp descends to the font of aqua bendita (holy water). Small pipes jut from the wall spilling water that is blessed by virtue of this location.
Many middle-aged and elderly cupped the water devotedly with a look of thirst that wasn’t thirst. One man carefully carried water to an older woman in the webbing of his hands. 
Others filled containers brought from home or purchased on site for a few colones. ………………..

Picture the contrast! Hundreds and hundreds of simple pious people, intent on reaching a centuries-old holy site, threading their way through aisles of modern restaurants and neon signs. ……… 

There were those in wheel chairs. Children curled like kittens, two and three to a stroller. One guy on stilts!
 A handsome stocky Tico passed us at a trot, carrying his petite girlfriend piggyback. …… some older couples, obviously devoted, literally leaning on each other to make the uphill grades…………………..

Whispers of personal prayer carried on the breeze. 
Women stretched backward, hands on hips in the universal language of labor.  …………………

At Cartago’s edge our parade bunched and clogged the narrower streets. We accelerated downhill almost dangerously, our exhausted legs sloppy and limp as numb puppets. 
Even on the outskirts exhausted pilgrims were collapsed everywhere, draped across car hoods, in doorways, asleep
 in a wheelbarrow, rolled next to curbs. ……………………..

 The man, very dark against his white long-sleeved shirt, stopped
 but said nothing. He looked at me directly with no emotion or evident curiosity. He’d been hunting, the dead but still bleeding armadillo hanging from his belt. A year earlier, his machete would have seemed a menacing weapon instead of the useful tool I now know it to be. 
His mutt dog was passive, thankfully, cocking its head to wonder at this gringa trudging up their mountain …………

Still, romanticized imaginings of San Juan del Sur’s lighthouse drove us …. The incline was truly steep. The temperature near 90. I was having a hard time convincing myself of the value of this exercise, but I’ll always be grateful I did, even though the historic fort site is no more, as our guides shyly (and belatedly) confirmed. Nevertheless, from that finally accomplished peak, the lush, living full-circle panorama 
of San Juan del Sur refreshed me in every way, from the spirit out.

All the tourist blurbs call it a sleepy little fishing village. For those of us used to hype, it’s a surprise to discover that that is exactly what this little
 town is! A stolidly unpretentious tourist destination……

There’s nothing in the locals' demeanor that courts tourists, but they don’t mind that you’ve arrived. The phrase “help yourself� is practical advice more than invitation…..

We had flown into Granada, but opted from there to bus it. We were deposited on a dusty vacant intersection and 
shooed unceremoniously off the bus. 
This little town is bleached and dulled and worn by sun and winds, clean and comfortable like a faded tee shirt. …..

The ocean wears a scalloped necklace of 14 beaches along this southwestern coast. San Juan del Sur is the large drop jewel at its center. ……..