Doka coffee tour, Poas volcano and a complete drenching at La Paz waterfall

Published: May 5th 2014
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Today I'm on my own again and sadly don't get a lie in. I have to be ready for my tour bus which is picking me up at my hotel at silly o'clock (5.55am!). I find that I'm the first to be picked up and we go on a tour of San Jose's central and outlying hotels picking up a full bus by the time we get to the last one - a huge and very posh looking hotel near the airport. Unfortunately it's raining which doesn't bode well for a good view of Poas volcano, but it's early yet so the weather might change. I get chatting to a few of my fellow passengers. There's one guy from the UK who is going on a 5 days per country trip around all of Central America - good luck with that! There's quite a few Americans, some of whom are finishing off a week's work in Costa Rica with a treat day out. There's also a family from Mexico on holiday, so we have a mixture of English and Spanish from the tour guide Melvin.

We start our tour at the Doka Coffee Plantation. As the rain had stopped we were hoping time spent here would allow the clouds to clear before we got to the volcano. We begin with a slap up breakfast (including rice and beans of course!) before starting our Doka coffee tour. As I'd already been on a coffee tour I was interested to see if there was anything I missed the first time. We learn that this plantation is owned by the Vargus family who have been in the coffee business in this area for three generations. It is a bigger operation than the one I was shown around in Monteverde. We see the drying machines that our previous coffee tour guide had mentioned when showing us the way they dried coffee beans in the sun. At the Doka plantation the drying process is much speedier. We got to see a huge barn with coffee beans stored in sacks piled high, waiting 3 months until they were ready to be roasted.

I find out something new. Some of the beans are single seeds, smaller and rounder in shape than the usual twin split beans of more oval shape. These round beans are more prized for their superior flavour and are separated out from the other beans. We find out that light roast takes 15 minutes, French roast 17 minutes and Italian roast 20 minutes. The Doka Coffee house blend is made up of European and French roast blended together. Everyone who likes coffee gets to taste the different roasts. I still hate the stuff! All this talk of roasting has encourage the sun to shine and we are much more hopeful of actually seeing Poas volcano as we set off in the bus again.

As we are driving to Poas Melvin points out some fields with black mesh material shading the crop underneath. It turns out the crop is fern! The leaves are sold for export to be used in flower arrangements. As we climb higher the crops change and we see loads of strawberry outlets - we are promised at stop at one on the way back.

Arriving at Poas volcano we find out that yes, it is active and has phreatic eruptions of gas and ashes - no lava flows! As these happen quite frequently it releases pressure and ensures that the eruptions remain quite weak. There are two craters to see - if we are lucky with the cloud cover both filled with water, one hot and one cold. The main crater is about a mile wide. I love the evacuation panel advice:

"Keep calm; Evacuate quickly on the trails; In case of eruptions, be careful of falling rocks!"

Basically they may as well just say 'Your f**ked!'

As we approach the rim we begin to smell bad egg sulphur. We are in luck as there is just enough visibility to get a quick glimpse of the crater before the clouds engulf the site. Wow what an amazingly atmospheric place to be and a bit freaky that Poas could literally blow its top at any moment. I take a selfie photo to claim my virtual earth geocache and note the altitude as 2503m, which is the answer I have to submit to prove I've been at the right spot. As the cloud has come down I decide to head for the next crater where there is supposedly a geocache box hidden. Sadly I'm not able to find the cache that's meant to be hidden right at the viewing spot. It's pretty hard to search with so many people about, but the clue is good and I'm sure it's not where its supposed to be. I'm not surprised it's gone missing with so many people around all the time.

I decide to tackle the circular walk that Melvin had shown us could be done as there's just one more chance to get a proper Poas volcano geocache and I think it might be along this trail (virtual caches don't really count!). The walk takes me through dank and dripping tunnels of trees and jungle vegetation with loads of mosses and ferns clinging to everything. There are some great interpretive boards on the way round. For example:

"Waking up our senses: As you begin your walk towards the main crater observe the wonders that surround you in this majestic park. Feel the kiss of the brisk mountain breeze for it will be your constant companion as you explore the beauty of the volcano. Breathe deeply and let the fresh air relax your mind and body. Notice the lush colours of the forest and listen to the songs of tropical birds that float in the wind. Let the life of the forest refresh your senses."

The mists have made the many spiders webs look like jewels adorning the trees. I have to remind myself that I'm in Costa Rica not back home and try to remember not to lean on anything or grab a branch to steady myself. There could be anything lurking waiting to get me! As I approach the geocache I realise I'm going to have to put my hand behind the tree and move a few branches and ground coverage! So much for not touching anything in the jungle. I'm determined to find this one and can see the edge of the box so I carefully inspect the hole to make sure there's no obvious snakes, spiders or poisonous frogs lurking. I manage to prise the box out and inside is a log book with hotzenplottz and x-franzi's entry. This was the geocache box they had dropped off the helicopter travel bug in that I'd found in Monteverde and now had in my suitcase ready to take home. I quickly sign the log book and replace the box before some more people come along the track. Result - Poas Volcano geocache in the bag! I realise all this searching for geocaches has made me a lot slower at getting round the trail than I should have so I up my pace to make sure I get back in time to not be the annoying late person that everyone has to wait for at the bus. I'm in luck as I'm not the last one there.

Our final part of today's tour is the La Paz Waterfall Gardens. On the way we stop to admire a view across the valley and down into the flatter landscape beyond and then stop at the promised strawberry store. I grab a punnet and guzzle the whole lot down in one go. LOVE strawberries! When we arrive at La Paz we realise it's more than just a waterfall. There are many enclosures, aviaries and displays housing birds, animals, frogs, snakes and butterflies to view. A notice explains that the animals are those taken from Costa Ricans who had been keeping them illegally in their homes as pets. As they are not able to be released into the wild - too accustomed to humans - they are now looked after here. I really hope this is the case as I'm not that into zoos as a concept, especially for the birds and larger animals. It is amazing be so close to such amazingly colourful and striking birds flying around my head though. At one spot there are lots of toucans flying around us and they are so used to humans that they come and sit on your arm if you hold it out. What crazy birds they are - so colourful and clown like; they don't look real even close up.

In the butterfly section I finally get to see the amazing blue morphus butterfly with its wings OPEN while resting. I've been trying to capture this beautiful big butterfly on film the whole way around Costa Rica ever since I saw my first one at the Basilica in Cartago. I see some crinkled butterflies just emerged from their cocoons and some a little bit older opening and shutting their wings to dry them off. What an insane life cycle and what short lives. The colours and patterns are stunning and I could have spent all day here admiring this amazing creatures. We also get to see some more of the delicate and agile little humming birds as there are feeders and flowering plants for them.

We then sit down to the best buffet lunch I've ever had. So many fab salads and great veggie selections. We all over fill our plates as there's just so much to try. I even finish my lunch off with some nutmeg rice pudding! What a pig out. I really will need to go on a diet when I get back home! While we are inside the heavens open and we are treated to proper rain. Well it is the rain forest after all. It just doesn't look like it's clearing so we think to hell with it and carry on through the down pour towards the waterfall. It's actually quite hilarious getting such a soaking on our way to see a waterfall. We have to take care not to slip over but make it down the steps to the viewing platforms for the two falls. They are pretty impressive and a likely wonderful to see in the heat of the day but with heavy rain crashing down on us we don't stay long and make our way down, down, down to the waiting minibus. Although I have a waterproof coat my legs are completely soaked and it's a very steamed up minibus of tired but happy people that are whisked back to San Jose and the many hotel drop offs.

Back at my hotel I shower and change and head towards the bar for a beer. I see Dan and it turns out he hasn't had the day he'd been hoping for - the gallery he'd been planning on visiting had been closed for renovations so he'd just had a wander around kind of day instead. We parted ways and that was the last I saw of my group. I had a chilled evening relaxing at the hotel, writing up a bit of my blog and packing ready for my flight home. Now that it was time to go I was actually quite looking forward to being home with my kids again and back to my normal routines. A busy week ahead was in store for Lottie Let Loose in the UK but for now Costa Rica was where she was at and what a great country it had turned out to be!

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