Puntarenas, Costa Rica: Coffee Farms, Ox Carts and Sand Sculptures

Published: March 18th 2015
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Puntarenas, Costa Rica: Coffee Farms, Ox Carts and Sand Sculptures

After 3 days at sea coming up from Lima, Peru we are in Puntarenas, Costa Rica in middle of Central America. We are quickly reminded that we are, once again, in the land of very hot and humid. The air feels great.

Well, it turns out that we have a brand new Marcopolo bus today. It is the inaugural run and Miguel will be our driver. Both Miguel and our tour guide, Jonathan are very proud of this bus, as well they should be ;-) It has leather seats, sits 18” higher than their old buses and has, according to Miguel, a huge engine ;-)

We are heading out into the mountains and countryside today. As we leave Puntarenas, we have water on both sides of the highway. To our right is the Pacific Ocean and to our left is the estuary where three rivers come together heading for the ocean. In the estuary are sailboats and fishing boats. There are hundreds of birds flying around and a few herons fishing.

This is going to be a great morning as we have a scenic drive for two hours through the countryside to the towns of Naranjo and Sarchi. Since this is such an environmentally conscious country with 25% of the land put aside for protection, we see pristine countryside with small towns along the mountainsides. There are shanties as we see throughout Central America, but they are well kept and clean and intermingled with small homes and large luxurious ones. We see children sweeping patios, men working on cars and women walking back from the market. 43,000 American’s have chosen to make Costa Rica their home. For part of our trip, we will be once again, on the Pan American Highway.

Costa Rica does not have an army as they have powerful alliances with Canada, the United States and China. A few years ago when Nicaragua decided to try to take over some land in Costa Rica, the Canadian’s immediately came to their assistance followed by the Americans.

After about 90 minutes of winding our way up steep, curving mountain roads (Miguel’s dong a great job with the new bus) we find ourselves at 4000’. The air is so refreshing, the humidity gone and cool winds are blowing. We see coffee plants all along the mountainsides. We are visiting the Espirito Santos Coffee Farm and Cooperative in Naranjo (meaning Orange). Evidently many, many years ago there used to be orange groves here. Today the hills are covered with coffee plants.

Our coffee farm/cooperative guide, Edgar, is 28 and was raised on a coffee farm here in the area. As we start the 1 ½ hour tour we find out that there are no “coffee plantations” in Costa Rica; they are “coffee farms”. Costa Rica decided many years ago that rather than grow a large quantity of coffee on huge plantations, they would go for smaller farms and grow only high quality of coffee. Clearly this has paid off. Edgar makes us a delicious sample cup of coffee from scratch as they did it years ago. He picks out beans, grinds them by hand, places it in a filter and pours in hot water. The typical coffee farm here is 3-6 acres and all of the coffee is Arabica coffee, which is typically of a higher quality than beans grown in Columbia, Peru or Ecuador. We loved hearing a true story about “Juan Valdez”. You remember all the TV ads about Juan Valdez growing coffee? Well, the country of Costa Rica was sued for saying that Juan Valdez drinks Costa Rican coffee. ;-) So Costa Rica produced in court 118 people named Juan Valdez who routinely drink Costa Rican coffee. Case closed! ;-)

This coffee farm and processing plant is a cooperative of many small farmers with a total of about 300 acres. We see seedlings to full grown plants which are about 4-6 feet tall. We are here in March, so the beans have already been harvested. They are harvested from December through February. The coffee berries start out green and are hand picked when they turn dark. Each berry has 2 coffee beans inside. Sometimes though, there are “mutants” where a berry only has 1 bean. This is called a teaberry and they make espresso coffees from this bean. People hand-pick the berries and put them in baskets that they carry which, when full, weigh 25 pounds. The picker receives $2 per basket. Pickers can pick anywhere from 8 to 30 baskets a day depending on how fast they are.

Edgar told us he had picked beans for his father when he was young and quickly found out he wasn’t any good at it. He wasn’t fast and he had too many green beans mixed in with the ripe ones. So… he knew he needed to learn English so he could be a tour guide instead of a picker ;-)

Edgar tells us that the first step in the coffee process is to take the skin off the beans. Next the beans are dried and sorted before going to the roaster. One of the many things we learned is that it is not only the coffee bean quality, although that is important, but the amount of roasting time that determines final quality and amount of caffeine.

We saw the beans being roasted, cooled, ground and packaged according to the quality and color. Since Costa Rica does not have the equipment for making decaffeinated coffee (and that’s about all we drink), we buy coffee for friends and family in the gift shop and buy ourselves chocolate covered coffee beans ;-).

This has really been an interesting stop but now it is time to head over to the nearby town of Sarchi. Sarchi is the ox cart making capital of the world ;-) We drive by the world’s largest oxcart LOL; it is elaborately and beautifully painted, 15 feet tall and maybe 30 feet long. Next we head to the hand cart manufacturing plant where hand carts have been made in the same way since 1923. The carts were used to move coffee, bamboo, bananas and other products from the mountains to the ports for export. We pass by a beautiful local church with two magnificent angels guarding it.

Stopping nearby, we see large sheds surrounding a lovely patio area, that house the ox cart building business. A water wheel still runs all the belts and pulleys that operate the machinery for making the ox carts. Artisan’s sitting around the courtyard, hand-paint not only the finished ox carts, but also yard chairs, wine holders and anything else of wood. The carts and other crafts are absolutely beautiful and of high quality. Lots of people, both tourists and locals, are buying gifts here. After the tour we are served fresh papaya, watermelon, cantaloupe and bananas. This is really welcome since it was 2:00 and a lunch was not included in the tour.

Miguel is doing a good job driving the new bus and about 90 minutes later and another trip on the Pan American highway we are back to the ocean and our ship. After being dropped at the ship, we decide to walk back down the dock to collect some sand and then into town. As we near the beach, down below us on the sand we see some incredible, huge sand sculptures. For $1 we can take pictures of them. After leaning over the dock and putting the dollar in a cup, we walk off the dock and clobertoavila@facebook.com

Time for a treat. We walk down the boardwalk through the vendors and veer off to the main drag where we find an ice cream café under a palaypa roof. We order a leche con papaya (papaya milkshake) OMG, delicious. And… we get free wifi ;-)

Next, San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

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18th March 2015

Costa Rica~
Although I loathe coffee, that's an interesting bit of Costa Rican culture! Good idea to post a smattering of pictures at the end of the blog! Looks like fun!

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