Travel Diary: Adios Costa Rica

Well… All good things must come to an end, I guess. 😦

After 17 days away from home, we were ready to leave Costa Rica and breathe in a little, shall we say, fresh COLD Canadian air. Our travels home were uneventful, except for an unexpectedly long wait at customs in Houston (this is the 4th out of 4 times we have had difficulty getting in or out of Houston in anything less than 4 hours… Note to the wise, if you can connect ANYWHERE other than Houston, just do it. Do it. Really. Do it.)…

But, before I sign off on Costa Rica for go0d, I wanted to leave you with some photos of our adventures in Monteverde each afternoon when we WEREN’T picking, roasting, grinding, or packaging coffee… There is A LOT to do in Monteverde, and thanks to Andreas, the worlds BEST tour guide ever (you can find his contact information at the end of this post), I think we almost did all of them in 4 days!

We weren't able to get a good photo, but the hummingbirds, butterflies, and even a rare Resplendent Quetzal made appearances on our hike!! It was amazing!
We weren’t able to get a good photo, but the hummingbirds, butterflies, and even a rare Resplendent Quetzal made appearances on our hike in the Monteverde Cloud forest!! It was amazing!
An amazing view from the continental divide... straight on till morning to the Caribbean Coast!
An amazing view from the continental divide… straight on till morning to the Caribbean Coast!
Poor Jake... Some lessons are learned the VERY hard way... And he wouldn't let go of Paul's hand for the entire walk.
Poor Jake… Some lessons are learned the VERY hard way… And he wouldn’t let go of Paul’s hand for the entire walk.
Except for when Maureen was willing to walk with him... ;)
Except for when Maureen was willing to walk with him… 😉
A ride in an "Ox Cart" pulled by two Holstein steers! Don Juan's Coffee Farm was THE best coffee, chocolate, and sugar cane tour we have ever been on! Go there!!
A ride in an “Ox Cart” pulled by two Holstein steers! Don Juan’s Coffee Farm was THE best coffee, chocolate, and sugar cane tour we have ever been on! Go there!!
Mmmmm.... Chocolate.
Mmmmm…. Chocolate.
We chewed on enough sugar cane to make us all a little ill!!! And we also saw a Rainbow Billed Toucan and a sloth on this tour!!
We chewed on enough sugar cane to make us all a little ill!!! And we also saw a Rainbow Billed Toucan and a sloth on this tour!!
The beginning of a beautiful thing! (There are cocoa beans in that thing!)
The beginning of a beautiful thing! (There are cocoa beans in that thing!)
ANOTHER tasty cup of goodness (this time with chocolate on the side).
ANOTHER tasty cup of goodness (this time with chocolate on the side).
A Strangling Ficus tree... Lee and Maureen climbed up almost 100 ft to the top of the tree!!l
A Strangling Ficus tree… Lee and Maureen climbed up almost 100 ft to the top of the tree!! Cole stayed just about where you see him… And me too.
This Ficus set its roots down as a very convenient bridge across a deep gorge.
This Ficus set its roots down as a very convenient bridge across a deep gorge.
Ready for some zip lining. Selvatura Adventure Park was amazing! Go there too!
Ready for some zip lining. Selvatura Adventure Park was amazing! Go there too!
I might look calm... But I wasn't.
I might look calm… But I wasn’t.
Tarzan (A.K.A Jake) seemed to think this was all in a day's work... Both boys had a blast!
Tarzan (A.K.A Jake) seemed to think this was all in a day’s work… Both boys had a blast!
Can you spot the giant iguana? He lives behind the police station in a town somewhere between Monteverde and Liberia!
Can you spot the giant iguana? He lives behind the police station in a town somewhere between Monteverde and Liberia! Andreas hooked us up.

So, there you have it… A picture-by-picture account of our adventures! If you are travelling to Costa Rica and require transportation services or tourism assistance, particularly in the Monteverde area, you should absolutely look up Andreas at http://www.farotravelcostarica.com or on Facebook at Transportes Freylid. He was fantastic to deal with, speaks English well (for those of us that are still desperately trying to learn Spanish!), and has reasonable and competitive prices.

Also, if you are interested in La Bella Tica Organic Coffee Farm, they can be found online at http://www.bellaticacafe.com or on Facebook at Bellatica Monteverde.

So, until we travel again… I’m signing off on the travel diary for now…

… And thinking about how (and where) we might learn how to grow grapes?!

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Travel Diary: Costa Rica (6)

Down a long, winding, picturesque country road… past a few tiny towns and brilliant green hills spotted with cows, banana trees, coffee plants, and jungle we found our little home for the week…

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Home of Oldemar and Elsie (and their lovely daughters), and far, far away from all the hustle and bustle of city life, it is striking to me almost immediately that this humble little place contributes coffee to our vastly metropolitan life. That the origin of the lovely bean that many of us rely upon for our morning mojo is a most tranquil, relaxed, and peaceful place. A paradox to be sure.

To answer a few most obvious questions about our week away right out of the gate…

1. The food was FANTASTIC. Elsie is a tremendously good cook and prepared for us a great variety of delicious dishes – stews, fried chicken, pasta, home-made corn flour tortillas, picadillo, and of course beans and rice 18 different ways (all yummy!)… all that accompanied with fresh fruit and coffee… oh the coffee!! We were surprised that we were not offered coffee breakfast, lunch, and dinner though ;). We sort of thought that since the place was swimming in the stuff, we should basically be given the option to bathe in it if we could ;)!! We weren’t. And we didn’t… maybe next time. ;)-

2. Our bunk house was modest (wood frame with corrugated tin roof), but comfortable. We had plenty of electricity and there is wifi… On that note, can someone please explain to me why I can get an excellent wifi signal and good cell phone reception in the middle of the Costa Rican jungle but lose calls regularly driving down Hwy #2 between Calgary and Red Deer?! Seriously?!

The view from our bunk house door... tarzan vines and all.
The view from our bunk house door… Tarzan vines and all.

The showers are typical to Costa Rica with a small heating system in the shower head. So, once you figure out exactly how much water pressure equals a steady stream of warm water, you have about an 85% chance of a warm shower as far as I can tell ;).

3. The owners of La Bella Tica Organic Coffee Farm (Oldemar and Elsie) are just absolutely lovely human beings. We felt terribly blessed and humbled to be allowed to share in a tiny bit of their business, which they are very proud of and work hard to maintain. They earn a living income from their farm and are able to sell all of their coffee locally, mainly to tourists who participate in tours of the farm, or those who visit for extended periods of time such as ourselves. They have a small cafe-style shop area in the kitchen of their home where they display their coffee (in environmentally friendly locally produced bamboo packaging and biodegradable plastic). Many other farmers in the area sell their coffee to the local fair-trade coffee co-op, which is then sold in larger quantities to buyers around the world. Many local farmers do not have the equipment to process and roast their own beans, so Oldemar also processes and roasts coffee for neighbors and friends (for use in their own homes) for a small fee.

So… now to the nitty-gritty… what were the Irvine’s and Cameron’s up to during their time on the farm?! Well… let me tell you…

Did you ever wonder about that little bean you spin around in your grinder before brewing that delicious nectar each day? Well… here’s the low down from bean to cup.

These are coffee cherries.

Coffee cherries high up on the mountin
Coffee cherries high up on the mountain

Our motley little crew picked 5 sacks (about 100 lbs per sack) full of them in two days (4 sacks day one… relatively flat picking ground and bushes that were quite full; 1 sack day two… EXTREMELY steep picking ground (some war-wounds in our group to show for it) and more sparse cherries on each bush).

Heading to work.
Heading to work.
My basket full of cherries!
My basket full of cherries!
Paul and Maureen hard at work!
Paul and Maureen hard at work!
Cole working hard on the steep mountain slope - billy goat style!
Cole working hard on the steep mountain slope – billy-goat style!

A good day's work!

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Cole and Jake watching the beans being carried down the mountain
Cole and Jake watching the beans being carried down the mountain (very steep) on Oldemar’s strong shoulders.

Of course, picking the beans (although the most difficult among the jobs involved in coffee production), is only one step in the process of producing finished coffee beans.

We were very lucky during our stay at the farm, to also participate in drying, roasting, and packaging the finished beans.

Coffee cherries drying in the sun (Oldemar says this "natural" coffee has the best flavor and is far superior to machine-dried coffee). He has a dryer, but prefers not to use it unless absoloutely necessary due to a large order.
Coffee cherries drying in the sun (Oldemar says this “natural” coffee has the best flavor and is far superior to machine-dried coffee). He has a dryer, but prefers not to use it unless absolutely necessary due to a large order.
Shelling the beans (these ones have been dried and washed by machine, not the "natural" method, but natural beans are also shelled in the same way).
Shelling the beans (these ones have been dried and washed by machine, not the “natural” method, but natural beans are also shelled in the same way).
Sorting out the chaff... old school (Oldemar knows when the wind is just right)!
Sorting out the chaff… old school (Oldemar knows when the wind is just right)!
Raw coffee beans ready for roasting.
Raw coffee beans ready for roasting.
Oldemar roasting the beans (he is careful not to drop a single bean on the floor, so we weren't allowed to do this job ;)).
Oldemar roasting the beans (he is careful not to drop a single bean on the floor, so we weren’t allowed to do this job ;)).
Beans cool before they can be packaged or ground.
Beans cool before they can be packaged or ground.
Grinding the coffee.
Grinding the coffee (Oldemar sells coffee in 300 g bags as ground or whole bean, but the majority of his customers prefer whole bean).
Preparing the packaging for the finished product!
Preparing the packaging for the finished product!
Bagging "our" coffee... this is the batch we will be packing in our suitcase tomorrow!
Bagging “our” coffee… this is the batch we will be packing in our suitcase tomorrow!
Almost done!
Almost done! Bags are sealed and placed in labelled packaging according to roast and grind, and are ready for the sale shelf!

And voila… 6 Canadians, 3 of whom drink A LOT of coffee (you can decide for yourself which 3), are a whole lot more educated about where our food comes from. Of course, during our week we were able to ask lots of questions about coffee production on a larger scale – Who works for the big companies? Are they paid fairly for their labor? Are local farmers in Oldemar’s region paid well for their products etc. These are big questions and the answers are not simple. But, hearing answers from the horses mouth, so to speak, was encouraging, eye-opening, and educational to say the least.

Here’s what I now know for sure… we drink A LOT of coffee… most of the people I know drink A LOT of coffee. Most of this coffee comes from places most of us have not visited, produced by people most of us don’t know, in cultures most of us don’t fully understand or appreciate, sold on markets most of us don’t follow. Therefore, the very least we can do is to try to support those places and people in whatever way we can to allow them to continue to produce the coffee we love in a way that is beneficial to them also. Knowing that there are farms such as Oldemar’s where good coffee is being produced and purchased at a fair price and allowing families to live a lifestyle they find satisfying and rich, encourages our family to seek out that product and support that industry as much as we can.

In the end, this little group of farmers (well, at least two farmers, and a family of almost-farmers) quite easily slipped in to the routine around this farm. Rise early, work hard, tell some stories as the day goes by… do it all again tomorrow (although Oldemar and his family work full days, we were lucky as guests to only work until lunch time each day ;)). We shared meals with Oldemar and Elsie and found that farming, well, farming is farming. Oldemar also has a few beef cows which he keeps nearby on land that is owned by a family member. He does his best to produce the best quality coffee beans possible so that they can be sold at a premium price. He is careful with his livestock to be sure that they are in good health and can be sold at the best time for the best profit. He does all of this because he loves farming, he loves his family, and he loves providing food for people. It’s not such a foreign story at all, is it? In fact, it’s a story we know well in Alberta too. And for the zillionth time during my relatively few trips around the sun, I realize that we are all so much more the same than we are different. I am reminded of one of the “Habits” our kids learn at school… “Seek first to understand, and then to be understood…” and it seems all the more important when we consider differences between people far and wide.

I’m going to muse a little more about that while I drink my next cup of Joe.

Travel Diary: Costa Rica (5)

For this next leg of our journey, I will be using my IVHQ travel diary as a platform. There will be LOTS to share in this short week, but our transition from vacation week to volunteer week most certainly started with a bang ;).

Click on the photo below for the tremendous tale of our journey from Tamarindo to San Jose, and back up to Monte Verde again!

Costa Rican Style
Public Transportation Costa Rican Style

Although I don’t wish to give anything away… yes, that’s us stuck on the side of a busy highway with all of our luggage (for 2 hours) after our bus broke down… 😉

Travel Diary: Costa Rica (4)

We are not the kind of family to lounge by a pool for long… but we have managed to fit in a great deal of pool lounging ;).

So… if you are the adventurous type and wonder what you might find to do in Costa Rica, many local tour companies in Guanacaste will set you up with an “All-Day Adventure” or “Combo Adventure.” Our adventure included zip-lining, rappelling, rock-climbing, Costa Rican lunch,  horse back riding, white water kayaking, and then some relaxing in volcanic mud and hot springs!

I have to be honest... watching my babies get hooked up to a line 100 ft above a canyon didn't seem like a great idea when I really thought about it... but "When in Rome..." right?! It turned out they both had a blast!!!
I have to be honest… watching my babies get hooked up to a line 100 ft above a canyon didn’t seem like a great idea when I really thought about it… but “When in Rome…” right?! It turned out they both had a blast!!!
For those that know me well, you can imagine that this was a *little* outside my comfort zone. But actually, after the first one or two zip lines, I enjoyed myself quite a bit! No hymn singing required ;).
For those that know me well, you can imagine that this was a *little* outside my comfort zone. But actually, after the first one or two zip lines, I enjoyed myself quite a bit! No hymn singing required ;).
Our guide warned us that although all of us would easily be able to do the rapelling, it was a difficult climb up (and in the bright sun!)... so Lee and a few of the other guys in our group were the only ones that gave it a go!
Our guide warned us that although all of us would easily be able to do the rappelling, it was a difficult climb up (and in the bright sun!)… so Lee and a few of the other guys in our group were the only ones that gave it a go!
It was a very hot, very long climb up!
It was a very hot, very long climb up!
We all felt a little badly at the look of these horses and tried our best to make it an easy ride for their sake!!
We all felt a little badly at the look of these horses and tried our best to make it an easy ride for their sake!!
The white-water portion of this trip was a little hairy if you ask me... but for the adrenaline junkies in the crew (CT and JJ included), it was a hit!
The white-water portion of this trip was a little hairy if you ask me… but for the adrenaline junkies in the crew (CT and JJ included), it was a hit!
Volcanic mud in Costa Rica is about as close as I plan to every get to a "tough mudder" ;)!
Volcanic mud in Costa Rica is about as close as I plan to every get to a “tough mudder” ;)!
Even the guys got in on the action!!!
Even the guys got in on the action!!!
Everyone needs a little natural hot springs after a hard day of fun!!
Everyone needs a little natural hot springs after a hard day of fun!!

You can imagine that after this day of fun in the sun (the temperature here has hovered between 33 to 36 degrees C for our entire trip), we had two VERY tired kiddos (and their associated grown ups) at the end of the day. Supper tasted good that night, and it didn’t take very long for anyone to fall asleep!

In addition to this fun day, our excursions have also included some surfing… well, the boys did the surfing… I bobbed in the wonderful bath-tub temperature water! We ate at a wonderful restaurant called “Eat at Joe’s” in Tamarindo located next to the Witch’s Rock surf shop after surfing. Excellent service, good prices, and very tasty food!

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Aaaaand… An awesome day at a local national park, where we saw over 20 species of birds, some very cute monkeys, some not-so-cute crocodiles, and enormous iguanas! We also had the opportunity to feast on a customary Costa Rican lunch… it was delicious!! For some great photos of this excursion, hop on over to Cole’s blog where he and Jake have written a little bit about their adventure so far! But, here is one of my favorite photos from that day!

We are LOVING Costa Rican coffee!!
We are LOVING Costa Rican coffee!!

To cap off our daily adventures, we took this show out on the high-seas for some ocean kayaking and snorkelling. The water was absolutely brilliant blue and clear. After a short paddle to a small beach, we were able to see several species of fish, coral, a sting-ray, and even an eel! I LOVE snorkelling, so this was by far my favorite excursion of the trip!!

So, there you have it friends. If you are looking for some excitement on your vacation, Costa Rica will not disappoint!

Pura Vida until next time!!

Travel Diary: Costa Rica (3)

In Costa Rica, they say “Pura Vida.” Although directly translated as “pure life,” as far as I can surmise, we can take this common phrase to mean “it’s all good,” or “no worries.” After a day spent lounging around the pool at our rented house (located in Hacienda Pinilla, near Tamarindo), we quite readily adopted this attitude ;). Well… almost all of us. CT and JJ have their first sunburns (seriously, first ever)… we are Canadian after all. After 7 hours (yes, 7, pardoning a short break for lunch) in and out of the pool in the blazing sun, the sunscreen just didn’t keep up… we will reapply much more regularly from this point on… and two boys found themselves with very sensitive shoulders and cheeks. LUCKILY, you will recall the pharmaceutical supply chest I brought along with us, so there is plenty of aloe vera gel and solarcaine to go around. 😉

So, what to do after a day in the sun? A day in the shade in the local town of Tamarindo. Our house full of people (there are 18 of us in all) seems to go through an inordinate amount of food each day, so another grocery run was in order! We organized travel to town and a stop at the grocery store through a fabulous local company (Yellow Fin Tours). If you are ever in this area, we all highly recommend this company. Dervin and Anna are courteous, kind, and exceptionally accommodating. They provide transportation services, and can organize any adventure your heart might desire in Guanacaste. Definitely look them up!

Tamarindo reminded me of Tofino, BC, Canada… except much warmer!! 😉 It is a surf town through and through with surf shops littering the beach and main road through town and several little restaurants, beach wear, and t-shirt shops along the way. We ate lunch on the beach and watched a local spear-fishing near volcanic rocks just inside the surf. For all you fish lovers out there, he did bring in two large-looking bright silver-colored fish, but we were not able to understand him when we asked what kind of fish it was (note to self, those spanish lessons I keep meaning to take would really come in handy here). All in all, a delicious bowl of guacamole on the beach (CT and JJ have changed their minds on guac… they have joined the hubbs and I as avid fans) while watching the surfers in the waves is not a bad way to start the day!

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After such a hard day shopping and people watching on the beach, we took ourselves to the Beach Club at Hacienda Pinilla (all residents in Hacienda Pinilla have access to the local beach club which includes tennis, a beautiful pool, restaurant and bar, and gym) for some beach combing, swimming, and a cool drink by the pool.

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Pura Vida Indeed!

Travel Journal: Costa Rica (2)

We are here!

OK. So first… remember how I mentioned in my last post that travelling with the littles is a *bit* different than travelling solo just the hubs and I?! Yeah. It really is.

In yesteryear, I do remember considering throwing in a bottle of tylenol or maybe a package of Tums… if I were being REALLY cautious I might even consider some pepto bismol. I won’t say that this policy of light packing did not from time-to-time come back to bite my posterior, but I managed OK!

Fast forward a decade or so. Mama is travelling with her brood.

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This is bag one of three of Mama’s pharmaceutical supplies. Bug bites, sun burns, upset stomach, skinned knee, headache… you name it, I have pharmaceuticals to fix it. Prescription grade. The good stuff. I considered checking “yes” on my customs form when answering the question: “Are you bringing Pharmaceutical Products into the country for redistribution?” Seriously. I did.

So, bags all packed, our adventure began with a short jaunt to an Airport hotel in Calgary, Alberta. The Acclaim Airport Hotel was a great stop over for an early morning flight. There is a very good family-friendly Italian restaurant located in the hotel (the kids particularly enjoyed the grill-your-own bread and butter option. Breakfast is not included with your room rate, so if you are travelling with kids (or you like having food readily available should the hangries arise), pack along a snack pack (mine included nuts, granola bars, pretzels, raisins, and mini chocolate chip cookies)!

We arrived at the Calgary International Airport bright and early and departed for Houston, Texas on an Air Canada flight (great flight, TV’s all worked, kids were pleasant and well-entertained ;)), then transferred to a United Airlines flight to Liberia, Costa Rica. That flight was a bit more interesting because the in-flight entertainment (only streamed through your own device) only works over the continental US… i.e. only for the first 15 minutes of your flight. Luckily, the kids are learning to play chess and had some reading to do for school, so we managed unscathed.

Our kids do not recall the last time they travelled to a tropical locale, so upon disembarking from the plane, CT remarked,

“Why is there reverse air-conditioning here? When are we getting out of it?!”

And JJ chimed in,

“I can’t breathe! What is in the air here.”

Humidity and heat son. That’s called humidity and heat. We don’t have that where we come from.

The heat, and a late arrival took their toll, and two bedraggled travellers checked in with their grown ups at the Hilton Garden Inn, Libera Airport…

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The little one clearly a bit more affected by the elements than the older ;).

The Hilton Garden Inn is a great stop-over hotel as well. It was clean, but quite dated. The food was reasonable and there is a pool to entertain the littles while waiting for the shuttle to whatever Costa Rican adventure awaits.

A few notes on our travels thus far…

– I LOVE this iPad for blogging and keeping travel notes (sure glad I bought it for the hubs for Christmas ;))

– I LOVE having a Nexus card when travelling with the kids. Not waiting in customs lines is wonderful when we are all tired and ready to get where we are going!

After a short 1-hour shuttle ride (and stop at a great local grocery store), we are safely at our lovely house near Tamarindo. The sun is HOT, the pool is lovely, and the pineapple is oh so sweet! Today is a pool and beach day, and we are all using it to catch up on some much-needed chillaxing time!!

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