Monday, June 30, 2014

volcano, coffee, & oxcarts, oh my!

This morning dawned fairly overcast, but we headed out early to try to catch a peek of the craters at Poás volcano. The drive up from the central valley was beautiful, if a bit hazy under the clouds.

We paused briefly to view a statue of Juan Santamaría, a Costa Rican hero.

Interestingly, although we passed many coffee plantations on the way up to the volcano, the plantations stopped before we reached the top of the mountains because the Costa Rican's don't grow coffee above 5500 ft altitude. (Poás volcano reaches 8800 ft.)

Everywhere you looked going up the mountain, you could find either bananas, mango trees, avocado trees or coconut palms. What a bounty!

When we reached the base of the trail up to Poás craters, we stopped to buy ponchos. The cloudiness changed to full rain and high winds. The temperature was only about 50°.

Our guide was wonderful about pointing out local vegetation and information about the ecology in the volcano area.

This particular leaf is thick and long-lasting, to the extent that someone could carve initials and a date that we found 3 years later!

My favorite things to photograph are all the amazing flowers here. I could fill an entire blogpost with them. I probably should and label them so I can remember later.

Finally we reached the main crater! Can you see it there behind Paulie? No? Us either. We waited around for 10 minutes or so, but it was clear that the clouds weren't going to move along that quickly. The kids did have fun letting their ponchos whip about in the crazy high winds.

Here's some info just in case you ever need to know what to do during an eruption:

The next several shots are from a different trail we took when returning from the craters. It was steeper but had a bit of different foliage and more birds which made it worth the extra climbing.

We even spied this wee hummingbird nest in a plant alongside the trail.

Finn found a loose fern leaf on the side of the trail. It was nearly double his height!

Once we made our way out of the soggy volcano trail, we headed to a coffee plantation for some lunch and a tour.

I was shocked at the number and size of hydrangeas that grow at the higher elevations here. This hydrangea bloom was easily 18 inches in diameter. Crazy!

We learned the process of growing and harvesting coffee, from seed to cup.

Did you know that many other types of plants and trees are grown at coffee plantations to aid in the coffee tree's growth and maintenance. Some trees help with shading and protection from high winds. Banana trees help with moisture in the dry season. According to our guide, the bananas grown at the coffee plantations are some of the sweetest around but the plantation owners don't even care about the bananas, they just let the workers take them home when they ripen.

Every where we looked, both driving up the mountain and all over the coffee plantation, we could see huge clumps of green coffee beans. They won't be ready for harvest until much later this fall.

The view from the plantation we visited was quite lovely. The mountains provide such a lovely view of the central valley below.

The flower below was definitely the most unique flower I've seen so far. I can't figure out what it is though. Any ideas?

After we learning about growing the coffee, we headed into the warehouse to see how the coffee is processed after picking.

I think the kids just enjoyed digging their hands through the sacks of coffee.

How beautiful are all of these beans drying in the sun?!

Following our education on the different types of coffee roasted at the plantation, we saw a traditional Costa Rican oxcart. They used to be used for carrying coffee down from the mountains. Each province had a different style of painting that they used on the oxcarts in that region.

Then came the tasting, which Philip had been asking about ALL. day. long. And of course, we bought a few bags of coffee too.

Upon leaving the coffee plantation, we stopped briefly at a famous metal church, manufactured in Belgium and built in the late 19th century.

It truly was beautiful and unique to visit.

Not too far from the church in Grecia is the town of town of Sarchi, the only remaining town that makes the famous oxcarts. The photo below is actually of the largest oxcart in the world, verified by Guinness Book of World Records. The town of Sarchi makes most of the furniture in Costa Rica, as well as many other wood and leather hand crafts. We saw some beautiful work there!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Hello Costa Rica!

Our first full day in Costa Rica is pictured in the photos below. We largely spent our day recovering from the long day of travel yesterday and getting acquainted with our surroundings. We did venture briefly outside of the complex we're staying in for groceries. The kids, of course, were all consumed with playing in the apartment pool, which sounded like an ideal first day here in Costa Rica. We did explore some outside of the pool, mostly the lush greenery and flowers here where we're staying. Everything is so beautiful and unique, particularly the flowers. Elizabeth was especially enamored with a fallen hibiscus bud she found, and Paulie couldn't get over the mango tree right by the pool! He clamored to climb the tree, of course, but as I doubted the staff would appreciate that, we settled for buying a mango at the market.