And I finally get my bath!
15.03.2016 - 15.03.2016 15 °C
16 March 2016
San Jose, Costa Rica
Good morning, good morning! I am ever so chipper this morning, blog fans, because I finally found the holy of holies: a BATH TUB! And it’s a whopper—nice and deep, perfect for reading and relaxing. I had two baths yesterday evening, in fact, one before we went to the Gold Museum and one after! (You shower people cannot truly understand what it means for a bath girl to be separated from her tub.) More significantly, through several rearrangement efforts, everything went back in my suitcase except for the three nature books I bought, and I left those out more because of weight than space. Yay me!
But you all don’t really care about those issues. You want to hear about the travel adventures, don’t you? Of course you do! So yesterday was our last full day in Costa Rica, and it was a transfer day, as in transferring from one hotel to the other, with a few interesting stops thrown in. We rolled out of the Tilajari Resort at oh eight hundred, per Siggy’s plan and took a particularly curvy road out of town. Being from West Virginia, it didn’t particularly bother me, but I could see a few of my compadres popping a little Dramamine. Our first stop of the morning was a “comfort stop” (and you know what that means) at a little road side mom-and-pop bodega kind of a place that had loads of homemade Costa Rican candies and confections for sale. They were all absolutely beautiful, but as near as I could tell, about every single one of them involved coconut, so I was forced to abstain. (Side note: yuck!)
Then it was on to our first stop-stop of the day, in the village of San Ramon. San Ramon is known as the Village of Poets (although Siggy and Alejandro didn’t actually name any poet from there), but three former presidents of Costa Rica are from there, as well, including Don Pepe Figueres, who is pretty revered in Costa Rica. Apparently, there was a quasi-junta in power in 1948 who tried to nullify the election results when they weren’t to that president’s liking. So Don Pepe raised his own army of retired military folks, forced out the junta, instituted 834 constitutional reforms (seriously), including dissolving the army, and after 18 months in power, turned over control of the government to the legally-elected president. He was subsequently elected as president twice more. Anyway, there is a Don Pepe museum (and I use that term in the absolutely LOOSEST sense of the word) in San Ramon, and we paid a courtesy visit before heading to the central market to learn more about Costa Rican fruits and vegetables that are not common in the United States.
Okay, who can guess what this is?
If you guessed a cashew fruit, you are obviously a botanical genius and you can stop reading right now. However, if that wasn’t what came immediately to mind, you might want to continue. Yes, this is the “fruit” of the cashew tree. Actually, the orange/red thing is the epiphyte, and the nut is the fruit. Each thingy, for want of a better, more technical term, results in only one nut, which is one reason cashews are so darned expensive. The second reason is that cashews are a member of the same family as poison ivy, and the nuts are surrounded by a membrane that, if it touches your skin, will cause blistering, so it must be carefully removed. Makes you a little less resentful about paying $10 a jar at Costco now, doesn’t it? Anyway, the orange thing is full of iron, and, while not exactly sour, sort of dries your mouth out and puckers you up when you eat it. And yes, I tried it…
We also learned about the soursop plant, which I believe I mentioned in this forum before. It is not exported to the US because it ripens so quickly, but some of its benefits can be obtained in pill/extract form. Another one was the actual passionfruit, which looks like an orange, but with a skin that is easily punctured before the seeds inside are consumed. And no, I didn’t try that. It looked like eating a snotty pomegranate, and I had to pass. Alejandro also showed us a cassava root, which is the source of tapioca for you pudding fans. It can be peeled and cooked much like mashed potatoes, or fried like a potato chip. However it is eaten, though, it must be cooked: it contains cyanide that is destroyed by the cooking process! Yeah, that’d be a giant oopsy. The last thing on the day’s syllabus was how to tell if a pineapple is ripe. Costa Rica is the largest source of pineapple for the U.S. market (sorry to dispel your illusions that it is Hawaii), so these folks know some pineapple. He says to look at the eyes around the botton. They should be showing some gold, and the fruit itself should be symmetric, with round, even-sized eyes. The trick of pulling a leaf out of the top—nope. (And technically pineapple is a bracht, or a bromeliad…I’m going to have to look that one up…somebody remind me.)
Then it was back on the bus and off to lunch and a tour at the DOKA coffee farm. Mom and I actually visited a coffee farm living museum when we were in Hawaii, so I knew a little bit about how coffee is grown, but this was on a much more commercial scale. After lunch, we had a fabulous guide named Adriana who gave us a tour of the plantation and processing/roasting operation. The coffee beans are picked by hand when the coffee “cherries” are ripe, aka bright red (hence the name cherries). For you coffee types, and you know who you are, it is the unintended inclusion of unripened cherries by mechanical picking that gives coffee its bitterness. Here in Costa Rica, the coffee is picked by Nicaraguan immigrant laborers, with each bush typically being picked three or four times during the harvest season as the cherries ripen. Makes you feel a little less unhappy about the high price of fancy coffee, now, doesn’t it? Anyway, the beans are separated by density, with the highest quality beans sinking in a water flotation tank. These are processed through a mechanical peeling machine that removes the outer cherry and the sugar “slime” that coats the actual seeds (or “bean”) inside. The beans are dried, preferably in the sun for five days, where they are raked every 45 minutes during the day! Alternatively, they can be mechanically dried, but the producers believe this results in an inferior coffee and is a less preferred option. From there, the beans are stored for three months to age before they are shipped to the farm’s international customers, who do their own roasting. DOKA also roasts coffee for local sale at the farm, and we got to tour the roasting room. WOW does roasting coffee ever smell good! It’s a shame it tastes like swamp water to me. Much like wine, I guess it’s an acquired taste, and I’m just a plebeian. Anyway, 15 minutes for light roast, 17 for medium, and 20 for dark, and then it’s bagged for your morning worship! And finally, a tour that ended in the gift shop—I am back in civilization!!!!!!
After a couple of purchases, it was back on the bus for the short trip into San Jose, where we said good-bye to Alejandro at the bus station. He had to catch a ride back to Guanacaste to meet his next tour group. <sniff> <sniff> Adios, Alejandro! Then we headed here to bathtub heaven, the Intercontinental Hotel. When traveling with Tauck, they take care of putting the luggage in your room, typically. I saw the hotel gift shop, and made a detour there first before going to my room. Now, you all know how I can browse, so I was really shocked when I got to my room, saw the miraculous bathtub, and had no suitcase, no toiletries, and no change of clothes with which to enjoy said miracle. So I just hied myself down to the front desk and said, “Donde esta mi equipaje?” Turns out, I was supposed to be in another room and that’s where my suitcase was. (The same thing happened to another couple on the trip, but they waited almost an hour before they followed up with a personal visit, so they didn’t get to have two baths yesterday!)
After the marvelous bath, it was off to the Pre-Colombian Gold Museum for our private tour and farewell dinner. The museum was closed for the night, so it was just the 21 of us and the staff, which was really swanky! No lines, no crowds, no pushing, and good photo ops. The museum houses artifacts from before Columbus’ contact with the New World (that’s their definition of Pre-Colombian), and we got a private tour of them. They used two techniques, lost wax casting and lamination. Now, if you think about it, that’s pretty advanced technology for pre-1500s people with limited equipment, especially since a lot of gold refining today uses some pretty nasty chemistry involving cyanide or mercury. I really, really wanted a book on the metallurgy, but they didn’t have anything like that. (What they DID have in the gift shop was an absolutely stunning fused glass bowl that WOULD have been mine if they shipped, but there was no way I was even going to try to get that home.) Lots of frog motifs, which represent fertility, and birds to be seen, but nothing that I would have chosen to wear! They had a local artisan there, Dominga, who was demonstrating some of the crafts of the indigenous peoples of the Guanacaste region. She was carving jicara, which is a non-edible fruit that is hollowed and dried, then the shelled is carved in a chiaroscuro fashion that was incredibly detailed and beautiful. (Of course I bought something—why do you even ask such silly questions?)
After dinner, it was back here to finish packing and watch the Super Tuesday results (in English this time!). And now I’m waiting on my airport transfer and my flight back home. It’s been an absolutely fabulous trip, and I would urge all of you to consider coming to Costa Rica. It’s a beautiful country, and the people are warm, friendly, and hospitable. Tourism is a huge focus here, so most everyone speaks at least some English, and you don’t even have to change your money! How easy-peasy is that? Just don't come in search of a bath!
Hope you have all enjoyed my ramblings, and thanks for riding along on this installment of “Heidi’s Travel Adventure.” It’s been fun sharing it with you.