Fun and free in Costa Rica: Hiking at Tres Cruces

April 4, 2017

SAN SALVADOR – A Salvadoran court handed down maximum sentences to two minors accused of taking part in burning a bus with its passengers inside, an incident in which 17 people died, judiciary officials said Saturday.

“At the end of Friday afternoon, the juvenile court decreed maximum sentences for the youths, both suspected Mara 18 gang members charged with the aggravated homicide of 17 people,” a spokesperson for the Isidro Menendez Judicial Center, a court in San Salvador, said Saturday.

“Judge Lorena de Morales sentenced the 14-year-old adolescent nicknamed “El Guilita” to five years in prison, while “El Gargola,” 16, was given 15 years, according to a communique of that court.

On June 20, suspected Mara 18 members, including the two teenagers, set fire to a bus with its passengers inside in the Mejicanos district of the Salvadoran capital. As a result, 17 people died.

The note said that the purported gang members stopped the bus and drenched everyone inside with gasoline, including an 18-month-old baby; “they set fire to them and shot those who tried to escape.”

The judicial spokesperson told EFE that the 16-year-old was accused of “shooting” at the passengers, while the boy of 14 helped set the fire, apparently “committing the deed as part of an initiation ritual” to join the gang.

“The parents of the 16-year-old minor are involved in the same crime, accused of possessing arms and drugs,” the statement said.
On the same day, other suspected gang members fired at another bus in the same neighborhood and killed three people.

These attacks shocked the nation and were considered by the Salvadoran president, Mauricio Funes, to be acts of “pure terrorism.”

(The purported gang members stopped the bus and drenched everyone inside with gasoline, including an 18-month-old baby; “they set fire to them and shot those who tried to escape.”)

On a warm Costa Rica morning, a two-hour, round-trip hike up into the cool and windy mountains is just the ticket. My family wound our way up the hills of San Antonio above Escazú and arrived at the loosely marked trailhead for one of my favorite local hikes, Tres Cruces in Alajuelita. The trail is aptly named for — you guessed it — the three crosses that mark the spectacular viewpoints over San José and the Central Valley.

View from the top.

Heavy rains in Costa Rica on Tuesday night caused flooding and landslides that forced 468 people across the country to evacuate their homes.

Evacuees are spread across 65 communities in six of the country’s seven provinces, but most are concentrated along the Pacific coast, where nearly 400 people are in temporary shelters near Quepos and Parrita, on the Central Pacific coast, and in Santa Cruz, in the northwest province of Guanacaste.

The National Emergency Commission has also moved dozens of other residents in the Central Valley and the country’s northern zone to temporary shelters.

The CNE has declared a yellow alert – the second of the country’s three alert levels – for the entire central valley and the Pacific slope region.

According to Costa Rica’s National Meteorological Institute, between 200 and 390 millimeters of rain accumulated in areas along the Pacific slope Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. Neighborhoods in the San José metropolitan area saw between 40 and 75 millimeters of rain.

The National Roadway Council (CONAVI) closed a portion of the Costanera highway along the Pacific coast near kilometer 165, between Uvita and Palmar Norte, due to flooding caused by a collapsed drainage system. The agency expects the road to be opened by Wednesday afternoon.

The IMN reported that the downpours were cased by the collision of a low pressure system from the south and Tropical Storm Tomás, located in the Caribbean Sea.

On Wednesday morning, Tomás was moving west at seven kilometers per hour, 490 kilometers southwest of Jamaica. The storm maintained 50 mile an hour sustained winds.

The IMN forecasts that strong and intermittent rains caused by the system will continue to fall along the Pacific slope, in the country's northern zone, and in low plain areas along the Caribbean through Wednesday. The Central Valley will remain mostly cloudy with moderate rains.  

The IMN and the CNE advises residents to use extreme caution in areas that are vulnerable to flooding and landslides, especially along the Pacific coast, and warns drivers that visibility will be low and roads will be slick.

For an updated list of road closures, see this link (only in Spanish.)

Ilana Long/The Tico Times

Parking the car on the road outside Valle Azul Restaurant, we marched up the unmarked dirt road, meandering beside pastures on the path before starting the sharp climb. Peekaboo vistas as well as some grand sweeping views punctuate even this first portion of the hike.

The view opens up suddenly at the first cross: a cement icon looming over the hillside. Catching my breath, I looked out toward the national stadium and the congested streets of San José and took in the feeling of floating above it, instantly tangled in the beauty of nature.

Moooove out of the way, the oxen say.

While a recent United Nations report shows that Costa Rica has advanced on the Human Development Index, it also shows the country is being outpaced by others.

According to the 2010 Human Development Report, Costa Rica upped its index score from 0.708 in 2009 to 0.725 this year; however, the country dropped in world rankings from 54th to 62nd, surpassed by Panama, Belarus and Trinidad and Tobago, among others.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, Costa Rica falls behind Barbados (42), Bahamas (43), Chile (45), Argentina (46), Uruguay (52), Panama (54), Mexico (56) and Trinidad and Tobago (59) in terms of human development, proving the country has a little way to go before it fulfills President Laura Chinchilla’s goal of becoming the “first developed country in Latin America.”

Costa Rica continues to outrank Peru (63), Brazil (73) and Venezuela (75).

“The greatest challenge for Costa Rica continues to be in the strengthening of its education system and the prevention of dropouts,” said Luiza Carvalho, U.N. representative to Costa Rica. The report shows that Costa Ricans average 8.3 years in school, placing it 80th in the worldwide ranking. Norway ranks first with an average of 12.6 years of schooling.

Costa Rica continues to perform well in life expectancy, gross domestic product and gender equality.  

The full report can be accessed here.

Ilana Long/The Tico Times

The path climbs steeply to the second cross. This is the longest section, but with the biggest payoff. About an hour or so into the hike we arrived at the huge monument that houses the second cross. We climbed the stairs around the base, sat with our bag of lime-flavored peanuts and took in the gorgeous, sprawling view.

It’s the reason why this hike is so popular. Avid hiker Kathleen Nicholson agrees. “I love the fact that this hike is so close to the city, but in just a short time, you feel like you’re up above it all. You’re hiking along and suddenly there are wildflowers, beautiful trees and amazing views.”

Cross number two: A fine place to rest and admire the view.

GUATEMALA CITY – A Guatemalan judge approved a request for the extradition from Spain of former Government Minister Carlos Vielman, who is accused of being a member of a criminal organization, judicial officials said.

Judge Patricia Flores “gave the green light” to the petition by the Attorney General’s Office that Vielman be extradited from Spain to be put on trial in Guatemala, a court spokesman told reporters.
Vielman was arrested Oct. 13 in Madrid and jailed by order of Spanish Judge Santiago Pedraz to await a decision on whether or not he would be extradited to Guatemala.

The U.N.-sponsored International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, or Cicig, accuses Vielman of belonging to a criminal organization that operated out of his ministry between 2004 and 2007 during the administration of President Oscar Berger.
Vielman, who is a stepbrother of the current vice president of Guatemala, Rafael Espada, and who has Spanish nationality, as well as other senior officials, are accused of the extralegal execution of seven inmates on Sept. 25, 2006 at the Pavon prison farm.

The men were executed in an operation dubbed “Pavo Real,” a joint military-police operation to wrest control of Pavon away from inmate gangs, an occasion investigators say the conspirators used to eliminate criminal rivals being held at the prison farm.
Accused along with Vielman are former national police chief Erwin Sperisen and erstwhile deputy director of investigations Javier Figueroa.

Figueroa, who left Guatemala in March 2007, is reportedly living in Austria, while Sperisen departed in April 2008 to settle in Sweden.

Guatemalan authorities have asked Interpol to aid in apprehending the fugitive former officials.

Seven other defendants are already in custody in the Central American country, including Alejandro Giammattei, who ran for president in the 2007 elections.

Because the extradition treaty between the two countries does not cover the crimes attributed to Vielman, Judge Flores “recognized” them as equivalent to “intentional homicide” which is part of the international pact.

Ilana Long/The Tico Times

Often I hang out happily at the second cross while the rest of my intrepid family makes the final ascent to the third cross. The final portion of the path is super-steep, but it’s the shortest of the three sections. The gigantic white cross at the top has a smaller view than you get from the second, but it’s a fun addition to the hike — if only to have the bragging rights of saying you did the whole thing.

Here comes the warning: Parts of the trail are quite steep and can get really muddy, so wear clothes that are already stained. In rainy season, go early in the morning, because the trail is super-slippery when wet and gives the impression that it might have the capacity to turn into a giant slip-‘n’-slide if the skies really open up.

The second cross of Tres Cruces stands sentinel over the Central Valley.

TEGUCIGALPA – Honduran authorities arrested 15 foreign nationals found trying to smuggle nearly $7 million in cash onto a flight bound for Panama, Deputy Security Minister Armando Calidonio told the press.
The smugglers were detained early Sunday at the international airport in the northern city of San Pedro Sula.

Security Minister Oscar Alvarez described the 15 people in custody as “Panamanians, Costa Ricans, and Guatemalans, and there are South Americans.”

The undeclared cash was found inside secret compartments in the suspects’ luggage.

Sunday’s seizure brought to roughly $13.3 million the amount of money confiscated this year at San Pedro Sula airport from travelers on their way to Panama or Colombia.

Ilana Long/The Tico Times

The wetter season also means that the trail can be overgrown in places, so some thrusting about and kicking of vines may be necessary. In dry season, the dirt is chalky and has little traction, so throw on your heavy-duty footwear.

Along the path there’s barbed wire and steep dropoffs, razor-sharp tall grass and some spiny plants with thorns like viper fangs. Oh, and snakes, too. OK, it was one snake, and I’m not sure what kind it was, but it was scary.

But all things considered, this is a fabulous, free, local trail, just outside of San José.

This third cross.

TEGUCIGALPA – At least 14 people were killed and several others wounded when gunmen opened fire on them as they watched a soccer match in a neighborhood in San Pedro Sula, a city in northern Honduras, National Police spokesman Leonel Sauceda said.
Nine people were pronounced dead at the scene, four others died while being transported to Mario Catarino Rivas Hospital and one died at the hospital, Sauceda and Deputy Security Minister Armando Calidonio said.

The massacre occurred at a soccer field in Felipe Zelaya, a poor neighborhood with a high crime rate in the northeastern section of San Pedro Sula, located about 243 kilometers (150 miles) north of Tegucigalpa.

A group of unidentified individuals arrived at the soccer field and fired “a large number of shots” at the victims, the majority of whom were young, Calidonio said, citing statements from eyewitnesses and the preliminary investigation.

A large number of bullet casings from AK-47 assault rifles and a 9 mm pistol were found at the crime scene, Calidonio said.
Investigators are trying to determine the motive for the massacre, the deputy security minister said.

“As of now, all we know is that there was a group looking for another group,” Calidonio said, without providing additional details.

Ilana Long/The Tico Times

Looking up into the hills from below, the second and third crosses are visible landmarks, practically begging to be visited. So what are you waiting for? Get hiking!

Remember to wear long pants and closed-toed shoes, use bug spray, bring plenty of water and snacks, leave your valuables at home and, for safety in numbers as well as the fun factor, hike with friends.

Directions: Walk up the dirt road next to Valle Azul restaurant and go right on the second turn onto a smaller dirt road.  In about half a mile, go left on the narrow trail that climbs past a farm along a barbed wire fence.  From then on, just head up, up, up.


In this column, adventurer, author, teacher and parent Ilana Long explores fun things to do in Costa Rica that cost absolutely nada. Coming April 18: Two of Ilana’s stories are slated for publication in “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Teachers.” Contact her at

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