Saturday, May 31, 2014

San Jose - Poas Volcano

I have come to realize that everyone's trip to Costa Rica is different -- primarily because there are so many different things to see, even though the distance between them is not that far. Add to that incredible traffic, which I had not expected, and one is grateful to see as much as one does in a short time. 
We awakened to gorgeous sunshine at 5:30 am, a stark contrast to yesterday's rain. I shot another photo of the stadium because it is much clearer today. The facility, which seats 35,000, was a "gift" from the Peoples' Republic of China, in exchange for signing a free trade agreement with them 6 years ago.
The highlight this morning was a trip to Poas Volcano National Park, the most visited one, which was designated in 1971. The volcano is 895 ft. deep and a mile wide, making it one of the largest volcano spanses in the world. Still active, it is the type which has a geyser-like eruption resulting from the rainwater that collects in its basin. When it is blue, it is clear and reflects the sky, but if it is grayish, it means there is some activity going on and tourist beware. There were signs throughout the park with info about what to do in an emergency. Basically, it was stay calm and head for the nearest exit.
We were incredibly lucky today. We were warned that, at nearly 9,000 ft. above sea level, the volcano is often in the clouds. However, we were blessed with changing views of the caldera while the fog and clouds floated in, out of and over the opening. We also learned that the lines around the interior represent individual eruptions, much like a tree with its trunk rings representing years.
Some of us chose to hike part of the Botos Trail, which led to Botos Lake. Although the trail was paved, we got a close-up look at the dense foliage common in the area, which includes stunted myrtle, ferns, mosses, bromeliads and a leggy but wiry tree called "Azar del Monte", which is resistant to the products of volcanic activity. A photo of me with a giant plant was most unusual. The Lake  is actually a dormant crater, and from the air, sits side by side to Poas.
Then we headed to lunch at a restaurant in the hills with a seating area overlooking the Central Valley. We could even see the stadium in the distance. Lunch was mahi mahi and was awesome. Can't keep eating like this. While there we toured their little garden where they grew  some coffee plants that were shaded by Mango trees and banana plants. They also had a replica of a hand painted ox cart that was used in the early days by the coffee farmers. 
From there we went to Cafe Brit, one of the country's most visited tourist attractions. It is basically a processing mill where numerous coffee and chocolate products are sold. We were treated to an informative presentation about coffee. Basically, coffee was first discovered in Ethiopa and made its way through Europe, arriving in Costa Rica around 1750. After the country gained its independence from Spain in 1821, it was considered a good product for economic development. The Central Valley has an ideal climate, soil and topography for growing, which makes it produce some of the best coffee in the world. Drinking it for 2 days, I would agree.
Coffee plants spend a year developing in a green house before they are transplanted to the fields, and then another 2 years before they produce beans. But after that, they produce yearly for 25 years. Unfortunately, the beans on an individual plant do not mature (turn red) at the same time and have to be hand picked several times during the harvest season, which is Dec- March. Pickers make $3 a basket and can fill 20/day. Over 100,000 acres of land in Costa Rica is dedicated to growing coffee and it is the 5th major industry in the country. The others are 1) tourism, 2) computer chips (who knew, but it soon is leaving), 3) bananas, and 4) pineapple.
While at Brit, the afternoon storms came in again and we headed back to the hotel for rest, dinner, etc. I hear there is salsa dancing in the bar after 9 but I will never make it, not with a 5 am awake time tomorrow. On to another city then.

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