Thus far and no farther

Breakfast was (surprise!) a buffet in the hotel restaurant – I liked it much more than the dinner buffet the night before.

My doctor had told me to try to drink a glass of apple juice every day on the trip – that was easy at the Marriott in San José, but I couldn’t find any apple juice here, so I asked the waiter. A few minutes later, he brought me a glass of very fresh apple juice!

After breakfast, we got on the bus to go to Arenal Hanging Bridges Park for a nature walk. We broke into groups based on walking speed and took off with our guides. We visited the Pollinator’s Hotel first.

Our group was going to take the full walk, crossing 16 bridges in all, 6 of which were the famous hanging bridges.

We arrived at the first bridge; I was a little nervous because I don’t like heights.

From Wikipedia, taken by Liz DeCoster, used under CC License; click image for original.

I got on the bridge and took a few steps. It started shaking. I went a little further, and I started shaking. There were five more hanging bridges ahead – I realized I couldn’t do it, turned around, and got back to solid ground. The rest of the group, including Diane, continued on the walk; I retraced my steps and enjoyed the parts of the park I could reach without hanging bridges. I still got to see flowers!

I bumped into one of the other groups and got to see birds through the guide’s scope, too.

Eventually, Diane’s group returned and we all got back on the bus for the trip into town. La Fortuna is a small town, but it had lots to look at and a wide choice of restaurants. We joined Mike and Debbie from our group at Pizzeria La Parada for a nice veggie pizza, followed by gelato (it was a hot day!).

We wandered around town until it was time for the bus to bring us back to the hotel, doing a little shopping and looking at the volcano.

We relaxed at the hotel, then got back on the bus to go to Eco Termales Hot Springs for an enjoyable dip. We had dinner poolside back at our hotel and called it a day.

¡Adiós, San José! ¡Hola, La Fortuna de San Carlos!

We packed up our belongings to be put on the bus and enjoyed a final great breakfast at the hotel (this time, inside). Then we boarded the bus for a quick tour of downtown San José, beginning at the Teatro Nacional.

The theatre opened in 1897 by demand from the wealthy families who had sent their children to Europe to study and wanted culture when they returned – the families even started to pay for it, but it wasn’t completed until the government kicked in revenues from import taxes. The theatre wasn’t quite finished for its first performance (Faust) – there weren’t any windows, doors, or seats! The capacity is 1200 people – these days, big name performers want a bigger audience, so they play in stadiums; the theatre actually gets more money from tourism than from performances.

The ceiling of the theatre lobby features “The Allegory of Coffee and Bananas”, which was on the old five-colones bill. The artist never visited Costa Rica, so there are more than a few mistakes in the paining, such as the lampposts and coffee pickers on the beach!

We dodged the street vendors outside the theatre (several of whom would have been happy to sell us the old five-colones bill!) and walked a few blocks to the National Museum, which occupies the former Bellavista Barracks of the former Costa Rican Army. You can still see bullet holes on the outside of the museum from the 1948 Civil War (the Army was abolished after the war).

Once inside, Frank gave us a quick tour of the pre-Columbian section of the museum and left us to wander around on our own.

We enjoyed a last view of San José from the roof of the museum and got back on the bus.

Our next stop was for lunch at La Finca Restaurant in Sarchi, where we enjoyed grilled sea bass.

We had a little time to walk around Sarchi and admire the public art (and do a little shopping).

Three hours later, we were at our home for the next two nights, The Royal Corin Thermal Water & Spa Resort Loto Spa, on the outskirts of the town of La Fortuna de San Carlos, very near the Arenal volcano. The town got its name in 1968 when the volcano erupted, killing 82 people, but the eruption spared the town. The hotel was beautifully-landscaped with outdoor pools fed by hot springs; dinner was a buffet.

The view from our room was quite pleasant!

Coffee and Chocolate

The hotel provided a great buffet breakfast in their open-air restaurant – we chose to sit outside in the shade to enjoy the atmosphere. After breakfast, we met our guide for the day, Frank, and got on the bus for Doka Coffee Estate on the slopes of the Poas Volcano.

We started with a cup of iced coffee with cinnamon, milk, and chocolate in their snackbar.

Jonathan from Doka took us on the tour of the plantation and processing facility. Ripe coffee cherries are red, and there are typically two beans per fruit. The pickers use the red baskets to collect the cherries; each plant is visited multiple times as beans become ripe. They are paid by weight ($2 for 13 kilos) and a good picker can pick more than 150 kilos in a day. Most of the pickers are from Nicaragua because picking doesn’t pay enough for Costa Ricans!

The processing starts in the coffee receiving station – they drop the beans in the water to separate them by weight and density. The heaviest beans are the highest quality, but nothing is wasted.

The next step is “coffee peeling” – the machines use friction to remove the pulp from the fruit and sort by size.

The beans then ferment for 32 hours and are taken outside to dry in the sun, followed by mechanical drying.

The coffee is then bagged and rests for four months.

Most of the coffee is exported unroasted, but they roast some for their own line, “Cafe Tres Generations” which is sold locally (and also available online). Low-quality beans are sold unroasted into the local market. I bought a bag of roasted beans to bring home.

We left Doka just before noon and Frank passed out some snacks to tide us over on our trip to Sibö Chocolate. I was surprised to notice that the cassava chips were Kosher, complete with the Orthodox Union’s hechsher!

The trip was uneventful, except for one hairpin turn when the bus stopped, hanging over the edge of the road. Frank had to get out and direct the driver around the bend.

We arrived at Sibö Chocolate a few minutes later; it had started raining, so we dashed inside for lunch and the “Chocolate Experience”.

Lunch was delicious, but it wasn’t the main attraction – we were there for chocolate, and the owners (Jorge and Julio) obliged with a 90-minute presentation and tasting.

We began with a fresh cacao bean (and instructions to suck on it, not bite it).

It had a slightly fruity taste and was slimy – not what I expected! As the tasting continued, they told us about the history of chocolate around the world and especially in Costa Rica. Along the way, we enjoyed a reconstructed Mayan chocolate drink (supposed to be an aphrodesiac and a cure for Montezuma’s Revenge), but the main attraction was a selection of six truffles made by Sibö.

We brought a few bars of their chocolate back to the hotel – none survived the entire trip, of course.

We finished the evening in the Executive Lounge at the hotel, talking with one of our new friends, Desi (who was the host for the Nebraska group on the main trip).

Super Bowl Sunday

We had an uneventful flight; I did think it was unnecessarily cruel of American to put the flights to San Jose CA and San Jose CR at adjacent gates, but we picked the right one.

The scenery was interesting as we approached San Jose.

We had no problems getting through Customs and rode to the hotel (Marriott Hacienda Belen) with a few of the other people we’ll be traveling with for the next couple of weeks.

Because I’ve got status with Marriott, they gave us a nice welcome platter with a couple of local beers to tide us over until dinner!

The hotel grounds are lushly landscaped – we wandered around a bit but only took one photo.

We had a nice dinner and then wanted to watch the Super Bowl, especially the ads, but even though there was an English-language broadcast on the hotel TV, the ads were all local and in Spanish. Oh, well.

Off to Dallas!

We left today for our Panama Canal cruise (with lots of additional travel in Costa Rica and Panama). There are, unsurprisingly, no non-stops between San Jose CA and San Jose CR, so we’re overnighting at DFW.

There are two Hyatt Hotels at DFW – the Grand Hyatt inside the airport and the Hyatt Regency “adjacent to Terminal C”. I had enough points for either hotel, but only the Regency was available, so we stayed there. “Adjacent to Terminal C” means that you can walk to the hotel through several parking lots or take the shuttle – we wound up doing both, taking the shuttle with our luggage but then walking back to the terminal through the parking lots to get exercise. It wasn’t a bad walk, but there were lots of stairs, so I’m glad we didn’t have to carry our luggage that way.

The view from our room wasn’t bad, but next time, I think I’ll try to stay on-airport.