Shae, her sister (Auntie), Frugal Boy, and myself just returned from an 8 day trip to Costa Rica. We went horse back riding in the mountains, zip lined at 50 mph past a volcano, and forded a river in our 4×4. The frosting on the cake, we did it all for just $100! * Find out how at the end of this series. See Part 1 here.
* Auntie paid some of her share of the trip and that isn’t included in our Out of Pocket total.
Day 3 – Exploring Monteverde
On our third day, we woke up early to the deafening sound of howler monkeys. They sound a lot like dogs. Speaking of dogs, there was a large population of mutts wandering about Costa Rica. They were easy going and seemed fairly harmless, but it still surprised me a bit to see so many dogs just out and about.
Shae and I were eager to try out some local baked goods, so we hiked down the hill to Stella’s Bakery. To our dismay, the panaderia section was quite small. Instead it was more of a sit down restaurant. You may have heard of “Island Time”, well in Costa Rica, it is “Tico Time”. Tico time is the pace that things get done by the locals. From when we ordered, to when the food came out, it was about an hour. If you are going to travel abroad, get used to the idea that “XX Time” is a real thing and will likely affect your schedule. I took Frugal Boy outside to play while we let Tico Time happen inside.
We had #2 of our top 5 grossest moments at Stella’s Bakery when Frugal Boy lost the contents of his stomach on Shae’s breakfast platter. Sometimes you just really wish you left the kids at home with grandma and grandpa.
With half of our party fueled up and ready to go we made the short drive to Selvatura Park so we could walk on the hanging bridges and be among the canopy dwellers.
One of the big differences that Shae and I noticed on this trip from our Mexico trip was the handling of US dollars. In Mexico, we paid for almost everything in the local Pesos, and by doing so we got a better deal. In Costa Rica, prices were advertised in US dollars and paying by colones wasn’t advantageous. A prime example was Selvatura Adventure Park. The advertised rate for the hanging bridges admission was $30 per adult ($90 all together). I paid in colones and was charged 49,000 CRC, or about $92.45. After realizing there wasn’t much savings to be had by paying in the native currency, we used our IHG World MasterCards with 0% foreign transaction fees to cover most of the remaining tours. We didn’t have these cards in Mexico and only had credit cards that charged foreign transaction fees, so it was nice to have a new option. We did encounter some places that only took CRC, but they were few and far between.
The hanging bridges themselves were very cool. It was a self guided 2 mile walk that included 7 or 8 suspension bridges that placed you either above or among the forest canopy.
It was hard to capture on camera the full scope of your surroundings, but just think Jurassic Park and you’ll get an idea.
After completing our walk we ate some lunch back at the house and then moseyed down to the Monteverde Coop. The Coop is a group of café (coffee in Spanish) farmers who are trying to grow and sell organic coffee.
There are a bunch of different coffee tours in the area, but this was the one recommended by our host so we went for it.
After riding a shuttle out to the farm, we met our tour guide who gave us a brief history of coffee, how it relates to Costa Rica, and how plantations affect the rain forest.
I had never seen a coffee plant before. They look like this:
and the coffee beans grow on them like this:
About 20 years ago, the Costa Rican government mandated that all coffee plantations switch over to an Arabica variety. Arabica is associated with premium coffee, but it also has different growing requirements.
The farm was growing several different varieties of arabica coffee. Every 7 years, the plants get too large to easily pick, so they chop them down to the ground and the root system sends up a new trunk. There can be coffee bushes that are twenty or thirty years old with 5 or 6 trunks.
Different varieties are susceptible to different diseases and fungi. The farm continually grows replacements onsite.
Our tour guide talked about the evil cattle ranchers who were cutting down the rain forest, but didn’t seem to be bothered by other coffee farmers who cleared land for their crops. The farm also was touting how environmentally savvy they were for switching over to manure based fertilizer to replace the chemicals. They didn’t explain why chemicals were bad, it was just a dirty word. Instead, the tons of manure required to fertilize the farm necessitated that Nicaraguans be bussed in and housed in small dormitories to provide the labor needed to ‘go organic’. Obviously, you can tell that I am skeptical of the personal and environmental benefits of ‘organically grown’.
Moving on, we just finished walking through a field when we arrived at the roasting/tasting/gift shop building. It was fortunate timing as well, because it had just started to rain. Inside, a new guide explained the different drying processes for the picked beans.
On the right hand side is the entire coffee cherry picked and dried. To the left of that is the coffee bean with the outer husk removed. Left of that is the same thing, except washed, and finally the left most box is the fully peeled coffee bean. So each whole coffee cherry contains multiple beans inside and then there is a husk that can be removed and a pulp. Think of it like peanuts.
The top row are the raw un-roasted beans and cherries in their respective drying strategies. The bottom row is just the corresponding beans after they are roasted.
Now that you are as confused as I was, it was ready for the taste test challenge. Could we correctly identify light, medium, and dark roast? Could we identify whole dried versus washed dried?
I’ll prefix this with a, I am not a coffee drinker and probably never will be. To me, it tasted like this:
It turns out that I am not a light roast fan. We learned that there is only a minute difference between light and dark roast coffee.
Of course at the end of the tour you could buy ground or whole bean coffee from their little shop. We saw the exact same bags back at the Coop ticket booth for $4 less. The best place to buy your coffee is where the Ticos buy theirs, the supermarket! By the end of the trip, we had purchased 2.25 kg of genuine Costa Rican ground coffee to give to friends and family for a fraction of the cost.
Cafe Britt is probably the best known coffee to Americans, but we chose to buy what the abuelas were snatching up in great big sacks. Chances are good that it all comes from the same conglomerate of farms anyway!
Frugal Boy really wanted to drink some coffee. He settled for some dregs and fruit snacks.
With our shuttle waiting to whisk us back we donned our rain gear and left the coffee plantation behind.
That night we followed our other Host’s recommended eatery. An upscale Argentinian place (Cabure) that was right next door. I had a wonderful sea bass with almond topping for 8500 CRC. It was a splurge, but it was also my favorite meal from the trip.
Continue reading part 3 here.