After our morning adventure on the zip lines we asked to be dropped off in Santa Elena to get some local currency. We were greeted by the first of many tropical downpours, a regular afternoon event. I was able to get only about $100 worth of Colones (or, co LON ees, as they are called) at a time from the ATM. As it turned out, that was enough to hold us for a number of days. The exchange rate is about 560 colonies to one dollar US. Not as bad as Argentina, but still enough to require mental math. The US dollar is more than welcome in most stores. In fact, one of the guides told us that their government holds a large number of US dollars in reserve and that reserve is the foundation for their currency, sort of like a twisted version of the gold standard. So here we are in the US printing dollars as fast as the presses can run and with who-knows-what behind them, and these guys are using those dollars to shore up their economy! What a tangled web we weave.
So, anyhow, Santa Elena is a very charming little town with a number of good restaurants. The locals suggested we try this one:
Don’t know why, but the place looked kinda familiar. Anyway, the food was excellent and the price was very good.
We were also pleased to see this:
Here is one of the best surprises: Dianne had inadvertently left a bag in Columbus which contained her meds. She went to this pharmacy to try to find some suitable substitute and was told that the actual meds she had lost were available in Costa Rica without prescription. The only thing they would not sell is the usual street drugs, which, of course, were not on her list. This solved a HUGE problem.
Pretty soon it was time for the coffee tour:
The Don Juan Coffee and Cocoa Tour is a tourist standard. I’m only showing the coffee part, because we later went on another cocoa tour that had more info.
I learned later that the ox and cart are a national symbol. These poor guys had to stand out in the pouring rain, just for the photo op. During the tour they weren’t even mentioned. But, the driver led them to shelter as soon as the tour started.
So, other than the old commercial that showed Juan Valdez and his donkey bringing in coffee, I really knew very little about actual coffee making going in. Coffee is more of a bush than a tree and it favors the mountains. It is, of course grown in much of Central and some of South America. It likes the tropics. Here is what young bushes looks like:
Here is a single mature plant:
The red berries, called “cherries” by the locals, are ready to be picked. The picking is still done by hand by people who carry bushel baskets through the rows. They guide said they might get one to maybe three dollars for a picked basket.
So here are the steps in making your hot cup of Joe:
I don’t see Juan’s donkey in that second picture
After the cherries are collected they are taken to a processing plant where the red cover is removed. Here is a machine that does that job:
Here is what the inside of the cherry looks like:
After the beans have dried they have kind of a tough skin. This is taken off like chaff is taken off wheat, Then the green coffee is put in bags and shipped all over the world. When it arrives at its destination it is roasted to bring out the desired flavor
As I said earlier, we’ll save the cocoa part for later, but there is one other cool thing they showed us. Sugar cane also grows abundantly in Costa Rica and our guide happened to have a few stalks handy. With a machine much like an old ringer washer he invited us to run a stalk through.
The machine collected the juice, to which he added fresh squeezed lemon juice and then distributed to the group in small cups. Oh my!
Well, that was the end of our first full day! Tomorrow we will take a morning walk through the cloud forest and then a night walk as well.