Sunday, November 27, 2011

Costa Rica - Day 3

Sunday morning was our last chance for a clear glimpse at the Arenal Volcano, but unfortunately we once again woke up to the sound of rain drops bouncing off the metal rook on our room, so after a quick breakfast we packed and headed out. Our next destination was the Monteverde Cloud Forest, another rain forest as you might guess from the name. We were initially intent on taking what appeared to be a short cut on the map, but after consulting the front desk staff at the Arenal Observatory Lodge we were swayed toward going the long way around Lake Arenal as it sounded like the short cut involved several bridge-less river crossings that may have proved difficult given the recent weather.

So we set out on the paved but winding road around Lake Arenal, and before long Roanne was feeling too sick to navigate so we switched off and she drove the rest of the way. The trip was probably about half paved and half dirt road, and after about 3.5 hours we were pulling into the outskirts of Monteverde. We were aware that they grow a lot of coffee in Costa Rica, and given that Monteverde was in prime coffee growing territory we decided to take a tour at one of the local farms. We chose one called Don Juan, which we had heard good things about, and as we happened to arrive in between tourist buses we managed to score a private tour with a young employee named Hido Marco. Here is the start of the tour, where Hido is explaining the different stages of life for a coffee plant:

It takes about 3 years from when a coffee bean is planted to when the berries can be harvested. From here we moved on to the fields where Roanne and I picked berries under Hido's supervision. Most of the workers in the coffee fields are from the poorer countries that neighbour Costa Rica, such as Panama and Niceragua. After we had finished picking berries in the rain we moved on the to next step in producing a cup of coffee, which involved running the ripe berries through a grinder (like a big pasta press) that removed the red outer pulp. Here is Roanne processing our harvest:

The machine pictured is no longer in use, the modern version is in the background in the next photo where Roanne and Hido are floating the pulp-less beans in water and picking out any last remnants of pulp.

The beans soak in water for a few days to dissolve the sugar-based mucilage, and are then transfered to an area where they can be spread and dried:

Obviously nothing would dry very effectively on another wet and rainy day in our vacation, so in these situations the beans are taken to screen in a green house like the one in which Roanne is demonstrating the next step of using a giant mortar and pestle to remove the parchment from the dried beans:

This is again an antiquated method, the current technique uses another motorized grinder-like machine for this. The beans are then taken to a screen where they can sorted and filtered, with the smaller and broken beans falling through while the high quality whole beans remain on top:

The beans are green in colour by this point, and are stored inside ready for roasting:

Here is the roaster, it takes 25-30 minutes to roast the beans depending on how dark you want them:

After the tour had wrapped up we sat down to chat more with Hido and sample some coffee that had been grown, processed, roasted, and brewed onsite.

With the tour complete we went and checked in at our hotel in the nearby town of Santa Elena, and then made a beeline over to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve to do some afternoon hiking in the rain. By this point we were started to long for the sunny beach that was next on our itinerary, but it was still amazing to see how green and lush the jungle was here. We set out on a 2 hour loop hike recommended by the park staff, with some of the highlights being really big moss-covered trees:

And lots more really green scenes:

At the far end of our loop we came to a viewpoint which was about the same as the other viewpoints we had seen thus far, a sea of white fog. Here we are braving the rain to pose for a group shot at the viewpoint:

From the viewpoint we headed back into the wet forest, look how well I blend in with my green rain jacket!

The next point of interest on our hike was a suspended bridge that crossed between two ridges, so that we were able to walk along side the canopy of the trees that were growing up from the valley:

This was pretty amazing to see, mostly for the sheer volume of other plants that each tree supports. Each tree supports about 70 species of epiphytes ("air plants", their roots do not reach the ground so they gain their moisture and nutrients from the clouds which are almost always present in the forest), it was pretty amazing to see that much diverse life supported by a single tree:

Moving on, we came to another really big tree that was comprised of many seemingly seperate columns:

Here is Roanne beside it, to give a sense of how large it was:

Another interesting thing about this tree was that it turned out to be hollow, here is a shot looking from the far side through the tree:

The final attraction on the hike was a waterfall which was nice to look at, even though we felt like we had been in a waterfall all day long:

1 comment:

  1. I can't wait to hear about Monteverde and the zipline -- this is where Jess and I will be living and working!

    Nice accounts of your travels in Costa Rica. :)