Guayabo National Monument


The road to Guayabo
The road to Guayabo

On our second trip to Costa Rica we stayed in the Savegre Mountains for the first leg of our vacation. Our friend Alex picked us up bright and early for the trip which would begin with an excursion to Guayabo National Monument in one of the National Parks located near Turrialba Volcano. I was the most excited because this particular event was one of my own personal requests. The day was gorgeous, as most are  in Costa Rica, and we always enjoy our visits with Alex. He is a wonderful tour guide as well as an excellent driver. He took a slight detour to show us a little gem in San Jose of some historical value, so our first stop was at the Teatro Nacional in Av Segundo, San Jose. It was first opened in 1897 and is a cultural icon in the city where there continue to be live performances each week. It is also open for tours.

From there we headed in the direction of Cartago, where we were to see another historic site, the Basilica de los Angeles, also rich in history, and Alex would share his knowledge of these sites.

ruinsdaydriveview

The drive was, as always, completely beautiful and breathtaking at every turn in the sometimes harrowing way that led to Savegre Mountain Lodge. None of the hairpin turns or bumps in the roads seem to faze most drivers in Costa Rica; and as well as normal highway traffic, once on the winding mountain roads you will see most anything traveling, from cyclists to horseback riding cowboys and lots of motorcycles. So….be safe. 🙂

ruinsdaychurch

In every town, large or small, you will always see three key institutions. There will be a church, usually Catholic, a school and a soccer field. The country is hugely fond of soccer and most bars always have a game on the tv if there is one being aired.

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And so we found the very old and very lost in time city of Cartago, likely one of the few major cities in Costa Rica where almost no English is spoken by its local residents. Thank goodness for our good friend Alex who, once again, stepped up and helped us out by interpreting at gift shops and continuing to give us lots of interesting information about the city and its history. I will share more photos from this leg of our journey in another blog as it is a very lovely story. The original site for the church is also located in the city and is honored as a ruins monument. As the church was being built several devastating earthquakes halted or destroyed its construction so that eventually the decision was made to move the location to where it stands today. The original site was purported to have been located on the very spot where the doll, now known as La Negrita, or Virgen de los Angeles, was first found by the little native girl who treasured it but could not seem to keep possession of it.

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I am always in awe of the windmills we see when driving through the country and understand that over 90% of Costa Rica’s power comes from natural sources. That’s good by any standard.

And so we arrive at Guayabo National Monument park.

View of the ruins from the open amphitheatre
View of the ruins from the open amphitheater

We took the long hike with our tour guide, who was only just learning to speak English and our own Spanish is mediocre at best, so enter Alex who went on the tour with us to interpret and add his own bit of information along with that of our guide, Marguile. This spot was on a high hill with an overlooking view of the ruins. There are no structures left but in the gift shop area near the entrance/exit, you can see displays of how scientists have determined this yet unidentified village may have existed from day to day. Also at the entrance is a very nice restroom, and I just have to mention that nowhere else I have ever traveled to or lived in have there been such immaculate bathrooms. Even in the smallest, most basic public place with facilities, the rest rooms are always clean and well stocked. This one was no exception with each stall having its own light switch and all toilets, faucets, soap dispensers and dryers being automatic. I appreciate a clean bathroom, folks. Even in my home state this is getting rarer and rarer…

ruinsbathroom

Okay I just had to give you a peek so you would know I wasn’t kidding. 😉

And onward to our tour/hike, which would last around two hours with time enough for us to see the ruins, be educated on the site’s history and also wander a bit on our own as we desired.

ruinssignforentrancestone

We began our hike here, at the entrance where history of the stone was explained. It seems that most of the carved stones had significance as messages or warnings to either fellow villagers or strangers who may wander into their midst.

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On each side of this stone are carved animals which are actually two animals joined to create one figure, being significant to the nature of the village. No one is certain just how old the ruins are or what caused its demise, only that the inhabitants appeared to have departed or been destroyed suddenly but without evidence of natural disaster, destruction or obvious disease.  Unfortunately, the site was previously privately owned property, and nearly all of its relevant artifacts were pillaged and sold off years ago. The government hopes to recover much of it and many of the artifacts have been voluntarily returned to the Costa Rica government that now controls its preservation.

Blood of Christ plant
Blood of Christ plant

Our tour included a botany instruction that would have been admired by many college professors. The tour guides in the country are well trained and educated in the field of their work. Ours was no different. This plant is commonly known as the Blood of Christ due to the splotches of red that appear on the underside of each leaf, resembling the blood stained pierced hands of Jesus Christ at his crucifixion.

ruinsnightflowerhallucinogenic

This beauty is a plant that is known for its hallucinogenic qualities. Very beautiful but potentially deadly.

I don't know plant
I don’t know plant

This fuzzy orange nymph stumped even Marguile, for when my husband, the eternal explorer, asked what it was, she simply looked at it and said, “I don’t know.” I was surprised. It looks like a fungus of some kind. Very pretty.

Strangler fig tree
Strangler fig tree

This tree is very prevalent in Costa Rica and can be seen frequently in early or very late stages of its attack on regular trees. It is called a Strangler Fig, which begins as a vine becoming more woody and eventually engulfing its host as the latter dies off in the arms of the interloper.

ruinshutmounds

There are mounds in the village area which are thought to be where the dwellings were built. An interesting part of the story is that all of the huts for regular villagers had only one entrance but the chief, or head of the village, had a front and a rear door installed as a means of escape in the case of attack or intrusion. This person’s mound was also the highest in the village.

Alex, me and Lee
Alex, me and Lee

We stopped for a photo op with our friend, Alex.

ruinsgrave

Their graves were very short and surprisingly shallow. It was not that the inhabitants were short of stature but were placed in the fetal position before burial to mimic the way they came into the world and were being sent back into the unknown in that position for the rebirth of their souls.

ruinsroadtovillage

This is a view of the long road that led into the village. It was long to intimidate any visiting tribe and narrow so that any group entering would be forced to come in and travel single file. Its narrowest point is at the entrance. This would help ensure an ambush would be less likely.

Entrance to village
Entrance to village

Standing there brings to mind visions of villagers greeting visiting tribes and what might have occurred. We were told that likely the entrance was flanked on both sides by long structures and that the high walls also acted as an intimidation factor to visitors.

View of Turrialba Volcano
View of Turrialba Volcano

This was taken from the entrance view looking back up the road. Beautiful. A few days after we left there were actually some tremors and activity at Turrialba Volcano. It also snowed the next night up there!

ruinsaquaducts

The site has evidence of a very advanced understanding of water harnessing and purification with built in aquaduct systems and holding areas for their water.

Alex and Marguile
Alex and Marguile

It was a lovely day and we came away feeling even closer to the country and its ancient inhabitants. Where had they gone? Thank you Alex and Marguile!

ruinsalexintheamphitheatre

Okay Alex! We’re ready to head to the lodge now!

For more information on Guayabo National Monument visit costaricanationalparks.com/guayabo.http

Happy exploring!

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