On to Monteverde

On day 5 of our tour we headed for Monteverde. This time, we would follow one route while our luggage followed another.IMG_3466

We took a boat across lake Arenal, and met another bus with a different driver to head for Monteverde. The ride across the lake took about half an hour and offered some good views of the Arenal volcano behind us, which, unfortunately, was still encumbered with clouds.

The roads we took were unpaved, and the driver was very familiar with them, navigating around the bad parts with apparent ease. The country was wild, but at one point we passed an installation of wind turbines!

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We stopped for lunch at a roadside restaurant.

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A typical Costa Rican lunch: plantains, rice and beans, sweet yucca, chicken, a small salad, and fruit juice.

 

Arriving in the Monteverde community, our first stop was the Don Juan Coffee Plantation tour. We got a double tour: first the coffee tour, where we got to pick some beans and saw the traditional equipment, including the drying area, a sort of greenhouse, a sorting machine, and a roaster.

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Several stages of development of coffee seedlings

 

 

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Arabica coffee beans extracted by thumb pressure from the colorful coat

 

 

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Traditional hand-held basket containing the beans our group picked in a few minutes.

Real harvesters are paid by the basket, if and only if the beans sink in water instead of floating.

 

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Hand operated equipment to sort beans to the left, coats to the right.

 

After the beans are isolated, they are sorted by size and air-dried for two weeks or more in the traditional process, then roasted for shipping.

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Different roasting times produce different coffees. The lighter ones have the most caffeine.

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Don Juan, founder of the company. He is now retired.

 

We then moved on to the chocolate tour. Cacao is the source, pollinated by mosquitoes.

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Seed pods

 

 

IMG_3520Seed extracted from the pod is surrounded by a sweet gum. The seed itself, however, is bitter.

The seeds are fermented 5-6 days before the next step.

Process for Chocolate
Translation: 1, cacao flower; 2, cacao fruits; 3, seeds; 4, fermentation; 5, cocoa drying; 6, cocoa toasting; 7, peeling; 8, nibs; 9, grinding; 10, pouring liquor; 11, pressing

 

The liquor part can be followed by separating out cocoa butter, which is marketable as a skin treatment or food additive, or basis for white chocolate; and the chocolate proper, which is mixed with sugar or other ingredients to make various popular products.

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After the tour our guide made a chocolate drink for us.

 

We then went for dinner at Pension FlorMar, a home restaurant in Monteverde. A handmade sign promised home cooking and low prices. The American Marvin Rockwell, a Quaker ex-pat who came to Monteverde in 1951, gave us a talk about how he and a few others founded the community of Monteverde.

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Flora and Marvin Rockwell – picture by Rainer Heller

 

He spent several months in prison for refusing to register for a peacetime draft – this after having already served in World War II as a medic. A group of families, including his own, decided to seek out a more congenial country for Quakers to live. They settled on Costa Rica, where there was less inequality and no army. While some members of the community took commercial flights, Rockwell and a few friends drove from their Alabama home in a jeep, sometimes across-country, because they needed to have a vehicle. After looking at various places they purchased land in the mountains north of San José, which they named Monteverde, and started farming. Real pioneers! More information on this remarkable story can be found here. There is an online interview with Rockwell, a few minutes long, here. During dinner we had a delightful chat with him.

He had turned his hand to many activities in Costa Rica and the USA after immigrating to Costa Rica: as a farmer, cheese producer, salesman, businessman, conservationist, and educator. He even spent 6 years back in the US, in order for his wife and children to learn to speak English without an accent. What a rare opportunity Road Scholar afforded us here!

Dinner was over fairly early in the evening and we had time to relax at the hotel bar with Ron and Denise, who were our fellow rafters from a few days before.

Most of the time on tours, even though the fellow tour members were congenial, we were not tempted to stay in touch with them. This tour was different. Within the first few days we had come to know and like one another. We contributed to an email list, and one of us, Rainer Heller, set up a remote drive where we could share pictures. I have borrowed one for this post.

We were not quite done with our trip yet! But we had to count it as a great success.

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