Arrival in San Jose

Published: March 12th 2016
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Things can only get better? I'm starting this trip in a rather bad mood, having come down with a horrible cold (or flu?) with fever and cough for about three days and now a socked-in head. Time for the tropics!

A 3-hour flight to Miami, then a 3-hour layover to stretch our legs before going on to Costa Rica via American Airlines. We met our Overseas Adventure Travel guide, Esteban, at the Studio Hotel, Santa Ana, San Jose, a very first-rate hotel. Esteban is 27, very well organized, with prefect English, and, it would turn out later, he's an excellent birder. In the morning we met the rest of our group (15 total), mostly retired and all from the States. Breakfast fruit was especially excellent: papaya, pineapple, melons.

Soon we were off to our first stop, the National Theater, which looks like a European opera house, very ornate, with interesting artwork honoring the sugar cane industry.

Then north toward the Central Valley. Costa Rica's top industry is tourism (followed by microchip manufacture, bananas and pineapples). It is a peaceful country of 5 million people, with no standing military. It is the size of West Virginia, but the biodiversity is some of the best in the world due to being an isthmus uniting North and South America and also to having very diverse. 25% of land preserved for conservation.

Soon we reached the Doka Estates Coffee Farm. Coffee was brought here by the French although originally discovered in Ethiopia, supposedly by a shepherd who happened to ingest the berries and felt "happy." By the 1890s the "golden bean" made the Central Valley the wealthiest area of Central America.

Doka had a butterfly enclosure and also a tour of the coffee plants and mill. The plants get a white flower that smells like jasmine. The berries are harvested about three times between October and January. Pickers are mostly from Nicaragua. They get only $2 for a 28-lb basket, which can take 45 minutes to 3 hours to pick. The berries are separated into three grades, with the best used for export. We tried several varieties milled and roasted here, but I have to admit I didn't care for any of them much!

We stopped at a little roadside cafe run by a family that had been displaced from here for a year when their home was destroyed by an earthquake in 2010. The many bird feeders attracted hummingbirds, blue gray tanagers, silver throated tanager (yellow) and an emerald toucanet. We had a very sweet, hot cane juice and some cheesy tortillas.

Finally in the late afternoon we arrived at Hotel Tucano, near Aguas Zarcas, with a thermal pool, oropendola nests in a great kapok tree, and scarlet macaws nesting in a dead tree just off the parking lot! We finished off the day with a relaxing swim in the warm pool and slept well.

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