Category Archives: Costa Rica 2015

Floating above the clouds – last day in Costa Rica 

After a wonderful breakfast at Orosi Lodge (yam yam!),  we headed for the Irazú Volcano. We drove about an hour in the mist wondering If we would get to see the volcano at all. Half way up, the clouds gave way to the blue sky. What a pretty scenery it was!

We walked up to the top of crater (3’500 m) and felt the thin air!  The view was magnificent. All around the mountain but considerably lower, there was a thick base of white clouds. But we could see many mountain tips “floating” above the clouds. It looked amazing.

After a short pick-nick at the top (rudely interrupted by an aggressive raccoon which was aiming at our fruits!), we drove through the backcountry, enjoying a nice scenery, with a late, tasty lunch at the beautiful Finca Rosa Blanca.

Today we start the return trip home with a short overnight stop at Nicole’s & Zenon’s place in Santo Domingo. Nicole was more than helpful and will be our favorite travel agent of all times. Muchas gracias!!

Now cooold Switzerland is waiting for us at the other end of the Atlantic. 

End of season 1 😉

Finca Cristina – Linda’s Organic Coffee Farm

What does it take to produce good coffee beans and eventually drink a great cup of coffee?

This were the questions I had as a hard-core coffee drinker (that’s what Yasuko thinks I am). So we decided to join Linda’s organic coffee farm tour at Finca Christina. Heck is it hard to produce coffee. “First, to have good coffee trees”, Linda says, “one needs to create a good environment, letting Mother Earth take control”. Then you need to plant sturdy shade trees among relatively short coffee trees. Those shade trees play an important role and need to be taken care of in several ways. If the tree is too tall, the coffee tree will not get enough sun. If it is too short, it will burn the leaves. Therefore, the trees need to be pruned every other month. 

The pruned branches and leaves are left on the ground and create vital biomass for coffee trees. 

Linda also plants banana trees and other plants, let bromides and air plants live on the trees, in order to have maximum biodiversity. Of course, an organic farm (no chemicals) means that weeds grow rapidly and the biggest part of their farm’s job is to do the weeding regularly… That’s just the start. 

Ripe beans harvested between November to February.  Harvesters walk the ground up to 15 times to get all the fruits. They carefully choose the ones which are ripe each time. At the end, no fruit may remain on the trees as this would attract bugs. 

Then machines take control. The shell of the fruit needs to be removed. Then we see the slimy two shells inside. Apparently these slimy juice is harmful so here their two pigs come into play: they mix these removed slimy part with pigs’ poo and turn them into biomass. Conventional farmers used to just dump these toxic elements into river… 

Then the beans are sun-dried and sorted out based on their quality. That’s Linda’s husband job. Then the beans go back to Linda to be roasted. This takes about 20 minutes at 200+ Celsius depending on how dark the coffee should be.  

For one cup of coffee, it takes a multitude of steps and hard work. If you put this in relation to the short time it takes to drink an espresso, it is almost unreal. I will certainly cherish my next cup of coffee with more humbleness.

Little joys in the Orosi Valley

Sometimes we are fed up with bad bread, weak filter coffee or carelessly or unimaginatively prepared food. Theses are the moments when a small thing can make our day.

In the Orosi valley, we had a few of those moments 🙂

Almost hidden next to a colorful fruit shop, Yasuko walked into a tiny smoothie  shop. She ordered a mora (blackberry), fresa and mango smoothie and fell in love.

Next to it, there was a Swiss bakery where we had a nice chat and an impromptu jam tasting with Swiss native Francisca in her Panaderia Suiza. An excellent espresso and some delicious pastries gave me a zen moment.

Then we made one of our many “let’s check the menu” stops at restaurant Don Juan on the other side of the Orosi Valley. Well, this stop turned into a meal. When you see many locals in a restaurant, you don’t need Tripadvisor anymore. We had an excellent meal with a lime & mint Juice for Yasuko and my favorite local beer Bavaria Gold. Lots of families, likely from the nearby capital, sharing the terrace and the views.

Wet, wet, wet – Tapanti National Park

Today we decided to try “the wettest national park in Costa Rica”. After driving through the bumpy gravel road and passing the bridge with a “bridge in a bad state” warning and arriving at the park, Philippe and I tried a short trail, Sendero La Catarata, leading to the river and waterfall. The forest is moist and very wild, thick with verdant ferns,  abundant epiphytes (air plants) and towering trees. Eclectic blue butterflies were flying around above the stream and we could hear several bird calls including a very distinctive, metallic call of the black-faced solitaire. We were completely alone on the trail in the dense jungle-like rainforest. Even though it started raining slightly, I decided to put on my rain gear and aim for another trail, Sendero Natural Arboles Caidos. Philippe opted for waiting for me, as it seemed uphill and too sweaty for his liking. It was a 2 km trail only, so I thought it must be easy. As I started, however, it went up and up and up only! The trail was muddy and the montane rainforest was getting thicker and more misty due to the rain. It became also darker and darker. I felt as if any wild animal could lurk in the jungle-like forest and jump out in front of me anytime. I had to admit I was a bit scared!  At the park entrance we saw stuffed wild cats so I knew there were here…. I was also certain that nobody was on this trail (this national park is not so frequented by hikers on weekdays) and we saw only a couple of cars in the parking. I tried to hike through the trail tangled with tree roots and mud, and getting over several fallen trees, not getting my foot caught. After a never-ending (it seemed) trail down, I was greatly relieved to come out to the main road. Philippe was standing in the rain and waiting for me, a bit worried…

Monteverde Reserve

An early morning nature walk in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.

This is the most famous natural reserve, dense, green, with massive roots and vines hanging, looks like as if it is in the Tarzan movie.

Our guide today was Oscar Castillo, an environmental educator who works for the Tropical Science Center in the Reserve.

We are lucky to have a sunny day, as this reserve is known for being wet and muddy. The walk made an exciting start: barely leaving the park entrance we spotted the world-famous colorful Quetzal! It stayed on the tree for a loooong time for us to have a real good look at his punkish green head and puffy red chest with a very long tail. Oscar also spotted a white front parrot, another colorful bird for us.

Oscar is also a proud owner of a top notch Swarovski spotting scope and happily discussed technical details with Philippe. He expertly set up his beloved scope and let us see through to amazing birds. He also showed us how to take a smartphone photo through the telescope – with surprising results (see all bird close-ups).

Oscar loves the nature and his job of explaining it to us. He explained with pride that Costa Rica, a small country similar to Switzerland in size is committed to nature preservation and currently increasing its forest surface against the world trend. He also gave us surprising facts that hummingbirds need to visit 5000 flowers every day to cover their nectar craving. This busy bird’s activity contributes significantly to pollination in the forest. Also, orchid diversity in this reserve is amazing. They simply grow on trees. He also showed us a tiny orchid, barely visible to the untrained eye.

After a guided walk of three hours, we did our own walk to a mirador where we could see the Golf de Nicoya and the continental divide. In the end we stayed from 7am to 3 pm to make the most out of one of those rare sunny days.

We walked back to town on foot, with a nice stop at a bakery and an Italian restaurant for early dinner with salad and pizza.

With another full, satisfying day in Monteverde, our understanding for the cloud forest and its ecosystem deepened. We are again amazed and awed by mysterious and intricate nature.

Sky Walk and Sky Tram

After the Santa Elena Reserve Walk the day before, we changed altitude and joined a canopy walk called “Sky Walk”. Six bridges, up to 50 meters above ground allow us to see the cloud forest from above. The higher up the trees, the more life there is. That walk made us feel like a bird looking down the forest and the gigantic trees made us “part” of the movie Avatar. We also had the opportunity to observe a howler monkey family for quite a while.

Cloud forest wonderland – Santa Elena Reserve

Our first walk in the cloud forest was with Marcela, an accountant-turned-to-nature guide. This native of Costa Rica worked as an accountant for a while after finishing school. She was locked up in an office all day and often spent time in a nearby zoo over lunch to compensate. She quickly came to realize that she was happier in the zoo than at work.

So she became a guide and has been working for the Reserve for 13 years, happily surrounded by nature.

She walked us through the dense, lush cloud forest for two hours and explained about its amazing biodiversity, fauna and flora almost non-stop (but in a very nice way). Suddenly she would grab her spotting scope, install it in no time, point it at something, focus, just to have us looking at a rare bird resting or a hummingbird feeding its newly born offspring. We wondered how she knew it was there.

Marcela explained how the ecosystem of the cloud forest works, how the Strangler ficus trees become a heaven for various orchids and other plants – one tree can host up to 200 spices of plants, how Costa Rica has uninterrupted natural corridors throughout the country connecting various national parks and reserves to allow animals to move and migrate freely and how the bromeliad (family of pineapple) is like a hotel for frogs and insects with a bath (holding lots of water) and food!

Marcela at one time pointed to the ground and a parade of ants which were carrying leaves and explained that these ants cut leaves, carry them to their nests and use them to make fungus as their primary nutrition. These leaf-cutting,  fungus-growing ants have apparently a very complex social system to work together.  These amazing small creatures embody the wonders of nature.

It was again the moment for us to feel  and awe the power of Mother Earth. It is so intricate and ingenious! We appreciated Marcela’s passion for nature and her community’s commitment to the preservation of the nature.

After two hours with her we spent another two hours hiking around the Reserve on our own and enjoyed the late afternoon quietness of the deep forest. We left the Reserve with a sense of hope and respect for the Costa Ricans’ efforts to protect their natural heritage.