“Let me wake up next to you, have coffee in the morning and wander through the city with your hand in mine, and I'll be happy for the rest of my fucked up little life.”
Charlotte Eriksson, Empty Roads & Broken Bottles; in search for The Great Perhaps
Today we're off on a combo tour to visit the Doka Coffee Estate, Poas Volcano and La Paz Waterfalls. To catch you up, we've been in San Jose, Costa Rica for a few days now, staying at Hotel Balmoral, right in the downtown core and as interesting as the colourful and chaotic street scene has been I'm totally ready to get out of the city and see what's out there in the great, green beyond.
We wake at 6:30am, shower and head down to the hotel restaurant to grab a coffee for the road (The tour is supposed to provide coffee and breakfast but who knows how long I'll have to wait for that). Our tour bus picks us up at 8:00am and off we go. There are 17 of us on today's tour, along with our tour guide Donald and driver David. I am surprised to note that so few of us speak English – just one other couple – but thankfully our driver says everything in both Spanish and English. We stop to pick up a few passengers along the way and the city soon fades to green, lush countryside. We pass rolling fields where cows wander, feasting on tall grass, as well as numerous strawberry and fern farms. Ferns surprisingly are amongst the top exports of Costa Rica, just behind tourism, hybrid electronic circuits, medical equipment and tropical fruit. Coffee actually comes in around number seven, according to our guide.
Arriving at Doka Estate an hour or so later, we are welcomed and directed to the main hall, to start our tour with a typical Costa Rican breakfast of rice and beans, eggs, cheese and a tortilla; and of course coffee. It's quality food but pretty small in portion; which we come to learn is common in Costa Rica. I sample Doka's 3 roasts and decide that I favour their medium roast, the Peaberry. Alarmingly no cream is available but rather only coffee whitener?! What in holy hell? Thankfully, Peaberry (which incidentally is marvellously named) is so mellow and balanced it really doesn't require any cream or sugar added. But still…
After breakfast our guide Donald tours us around the Estate. We start in the seedbed, learning the various stages of the growing coffee plant, how two plants are planted together to get a full bush (but no more than two, to avoid too much root), the parts of the bean, how the coffee beans are picked as they turn red and how the 3 harvests each year differ, producing a different quality of bean. Next we're on to the coffee processing plant, the fermentation tanks and finally the roasting plant. There are, it seems, an inordinate number of steps involved in coffee production.
Apparently Peaberry (my favoured coffee roast) is made from the 5-10% of the coffee crop which produces only a single bean, rather than the usual two. This “peaberry” is smaller and rounder than a normal coffee bean and many producers consider it defective and either discard it or mix it in with the regular beans. Doka however is the only producer to have figured out the perfect processing and roasting to bring out the best in this bean, creating an exclusively peaberry product. After a trip through the gift shop, where I pick up a couple bags of peaberry, we're back on the bus and on to Poas Volcano.
The bus climbs the rolling mountainside and it's not long before we arrive at Poas Volcano. We walk as a group to the majestic mile wide main crater. The view of the crater is partially obscured by smoke and steam coming off the sulphuric pool in the middle of the crater.
Next we are given the option of hanging out at the visitors centre or doing a hike up to Botos Lake; with the warning that if we go, we should take it easy as the combination of elevation and exertion can cause light headedness. Sure enough, as we head through the dense jungle to Botos Lake we have to stop several times to rest and breath deeply to fight off faintness. Along the way we spot some colourful little birds and meet some extremely friendly squirrels who walk right up to us, stand on their hind legs and put their hands out expectantly. Who knew there were little squirrel beggars on top of a volcano? Botos Lake is a lovely turquoise green and we stop for pictures before heading back down to the bus and on to our final destination: La Paz Waterfalls.
On the way from Poas to La Paz we stop at a little roadside shop where they give us samples of local strawberries and wine. The strawberries are pretty ordinary but having never heard of Costa Rican wine I am quite excited to try it. As I try my first sip, I quickly realize there is a good reason I haven't heard of it. While the first wine sample tastes like grape juice the second is straight up cough syrup.
Tummy rumbling, we arrive at La Paz Waterfall Gardens and are given the option of exploring right away or starting with lunch. We opt for lunch first; or rather I herd Emrys in that direction. Thankfully lunch is a delicious and varied buffet and much revived we head out to explore the park, which as it turns out is much more than just waterfalls but rather a wildlife park replete with an aviary, monkeys, butterflies, insects, snakes, frogs and jungle cats.
We wander around and I spend entirely too much time staring wide eyed at the capuchins, as they swing playfully from branch to branch and snack on watermelon. All of the animals in the park are rescues and have large enclosures, filled with lush foliage. The butterflies scare me when they fly at my face and terrified I'll step on them when they land, I make a quick exit. The birds are quite captivating, particularly the macaw's who we observe affectionately feeding and grooming each other. We meet up with the group again to check out the wild cats (which hold little appeal for me) and then on to hike to a series of waterfalls. The waterfalls themselves, while majestic, are not that exciting for Vancouverites who are spoiled by pretty amazing waterfalls at home.
Finally, we meet up with our tour group at the bus loop, climb on the bus and wind our way back down the mountainside, through the central valley and into the city of San Jose. We finally arrive back at our Hotel Balmoral around 5pm. Pleasantly exhausted from all the fresh air and a busy day we opt to lay around the hotel for an hour or two before finally heading out into the hot, humid night in search of food.