Costa Rican journal entry
31 December 2017
Notes on the bus.
Coffee plantation this morning! I want to write down all I learned, but we’re on a bus and I’m pretty nauseated.
We picked coffee berries, the one I picked was called a ‘peaberry,’ it’s a genetic mistake! One of the beans in the berry absorbs the sugar of the other – it’s sterile, but much sweeter. I ended up buying the roasted ground peaberry coffee.
We tried raw coffee too, unroasted, called a golden bean. There’s no coffee taste, but lots of caffeine!
I learned there’s a parchment like covering of the bean that is used to make coffee paper, but the plantation we visited uses it as fuel when they are roasting. Our plantation guide told us they try not to waste any part of the plant.
We also learned a lot about the workers, how many of them are from Nicaragua and work during the harvest season. They’re given housing and food and transportation, and are paid based on their harvest- a per basket type of system. Unfortunately, many of the workers are separated from their families during the harvest season.
Our guide told us about the process of making decaf coffee. Apparently they send the beans they want to be decaf to a company in Germany who removes the caffeine and sells it to Pepsi and Coke for them to make caffeinated soda! It blew my mind. Our plantation guide told us it’s great for the plantation because of the international relationship, and obviously the money they earn selling the caffeine.
The plantation we went to, Doka Estate, owned by the Vargas family is also home to the country’s oldest wet mill. Basically the wet mill separates the high and low quality coffee berries- the high quality float while the low quality berries sink. After that the berries are shucked and the beans exposed, then dried. The beans are still covered in that papyrus/ parchment material that the estate uses to fuel their roasting.
The beans are dried outdoors on large cement flats and raked every 45 minutes. We got to rake them! None of us were very good and our lines were pretty wavy compared to the workers impeccable straight line; and we went less than half way across the flat!
The grounds of the plantation were absolutely beautiful. There were so many different plants and trees, natural to the area, but placed by the estate. We met a little dog when we first arrived, he was a big hit, obviously.
Our plantation guide let us try a chocolate coffee drink with cinnamon, I can’t remember the name of it, but they made it there and oh man, it was fantastic. We also sampled coffee blends and chocolate covered coffee beans. Like I said, I bought the peaberry blend. It was so sweet, but I doubt I’ll ever be able to make it as well as they did. Haha.
After our coffee tour we bought some souvenirs and then walked through their butterfly garden, it wasn’t overstuffed with an unnatural amount like some American butterfly gardens I’ve been to, but the size and variety of butterflies and moths was incredible. The flowers alone would have been worth the visit! Our trip guide, Rhyan, told us Costa Rica is home to over a thousand species of butterfly and moth.
On our drive leaving the plantation we saw some coffee pickers. We had learned that all the coffee is hand picked. The workers are given money for each basket of coffee they fill as well as housing, bills, and transportation during the 5 month harvest season.
Driving to and fro
As we made our way to the next hotel, we pulled over at La Paz waterfall. The constant beauty of the landscape amazes me and even though it had started pouring we all got out to get a better look and take pictures.
It was my first waterfall, and despite being relatively small, it took my breath away. Rhyan assured us it was nothing compared to the waterfall we’d be seeing later on the trip.
Before we made it to the hotel, we again pulled over randomly because Rhyan had spotted a couple of toucans in a tree beside the road! We stayed on the bus this time, but we all rushed to one side to make sure we could see them. My pictures were all blurry from the rainy window, but it’s an incredible memory to have.
I can’t remember if we went to the hotel and then lunch or the other way around, but the spot we stopped at was great! It looked like a little hole in the wall, but everything was delicious.
We had our first casados, the veg option omitting meat and replacing it with a side of steamed vegetables. We also got a fizzy pineapple and peppermint drink. It sounds disgusting and strange, but was actually magical. I wish I could post a video of it!
After our lunch was our hike on the Arenal volcano! I keep using exclamation point because I’m still in shock that I’ve done these things- hiked on a recently active volcano! Though, because of its status we weren’t allowed at the very top.
We didn’t see much wildlife, which disappointed some people, but honestly the forest itself and the noises were amazing. It was windy so everything was kind of rustle-y, especially at the base of the volcano where things weren’t growing as close together.
The colors were so vivid- mostly green, all exquisite, but also rich, deep browns in the structures and the Earth- broad tree trucks and spindly tan branches; fast growing light bamboo and older, dying, nearly grey leaves.
Occasionally there were pops of brilliant blues, almost neon oranges, and yellows that reminded me of the crayons we used as kids to draw the sun. Once or twice we spotted pale purple orchids with light yellow centers. This was towards the top and they were covered in rain drops.
In a text to Boyfriend I bragged on the mud that covered my shoes, the rain that soaked my clothes and skin, and the smile I couldn’t contain. I don’t know what exactly had come over me, I don’t know what exactly had taken my soul so hard and refused to let go as I stared up at the branches, pour umbrellas that they were. I couldn’t tell you what I was thinking, I couldn’t recreate the awe, the wonder, the delight- when would I ever be here again, when would I feel this good again?
We came across a tree, some jokingly calling it ‘the tree of life,’ so wide and tall we couldn’t have gotten it all in a photo. It was awe inspiring. I know I keep using that word, but it’s all I’ve got that makes sense, that captures the slack-jawed, wide-eyed stares that continued to cover my face- not just on this hike, but on this trip. Nearly everything in Costa Rica has filled my heart with the awe and joy I’ve already written about and will definitely continue to mention.
Stuck in my head
After our hike we went to our hotel, The San Bosco Inn of LA Fortuna. It was a block from the center of town and across the street from a fast food place I desperately wanted to try because of their vegan option, but they were closed for the holidays.
Everyone was soaked from the hike so we showered, some of us napped. We had our first group dinner. I got pasta and tried my first Imperial. It wasn’t great- something I would drink again because of what it is and where I was, but I’m really not a beer drinker to begin with. Boyfriend would probably love it and that’s exactly what I thought when I finished it.
He crossed my mind a lot during that dinner. I thought about how miserable he’d probably be soaked in that rain forest, but how much he’d excel at the physicality of the muddy, rocky steps. I thought about how many pictures he’d take when we got to the highest point. I missed him suddenly and difficultly, I felt lonely suddenly, realizing I was so in my head that day that I hadn’t used our long hike as an opportunity to bond more with my roommate, Nicki. I made a silent promise to enjoy the group part of my “group travel” a little more.
After dinner we picked up our tickets to the disco we were going to- they were throwing a New Year’s Eve party. It was called Volcán Look Disco and honestly was the sketchiest looking building I’d ever seen, but when we arrived later that night it was much more appealing (with security and colorful lights).
Before actually heading to the party, we all had to get ready (less post-hike clothes and more party clothes). I, of course, had not truly thought about the full itinerary when I was packing and so had no ‘disco’ clothes and had only brought some light foundation, eyebrow mascara, and a nude lip.
Among all the full faces I saw others putting on I felt angry at myself for being so thoughtless. But, also a glimmer of pride because I’d left my makeup behind under the sentiment of not caring what others thought, and not needing to impress anyone. However, that confidence had fled now that Boyfriend wasn’t standing behind my suitcase telling me how beautiful I was and triple checking I didn’t need him to buy me something or give me spare spending money.
I complained lightly to Nicki, already completely ready while she finished her hair and makeup. She lent me mascara and another girl we met lent me an eye shadow palette and glitter glue (it was New Years after all).
I managed to play up my eyes and use the palette for a darker lip- though it didn’t last past my first drink. And even though I was in a shirt I only wear to work, my only pair of jeans, and my water shoes, because my only other shoes were soaked by mud, I was ready for my New Years Adventure at a Costa Rican Disco. ♥