Sunday, March 4, 2018

Trip to Cartago

Friday, 2nd March.

We got up early this morning to head to the Irazu Volcano near Cartago. I read yesterday that rain and drizzle was expected at the site with temperatures in the low 40s. Brrrr! I have got used to the 70s and 80s so will need to pack a sweat shirt and jeans for both of us.
The journey was uneventful and we arrived in sight of the volcano on a fairly cloudy day down in the valley.

However, the volcano was not in the clouds and we got a good view of it.

The dip in the photograph is the volcano. We were very surprised it had vegetation growing almost to the very top.

Set in its own National Park, the volcano rises to 11,260 feet and its summit has a complex of 4 craters. The Diego de la Haya crater has a greeny blue lake in the bottom. Next to the crater with the lake is another crater that is 1080 feet deep. Both Gary and myself huffed and puffed at the high altitude and had to take frequent rest breaks on our walk (you could drive to the top of the volcano).
The volcano is still active and last erupted in 1963, the same day John F. Kennedy visited the country.

To give you an idea how wide one of the craters was, I took a photo of Gary standing in the middle. You probably need a magnifying glass to spot him. He is in the center of the photo.

 We were way above the cloud line but because of the clouds we could not see The Pacific
Coast but could spot the Caribbean Coast way, way off in the distance.

What amazed me was the flowers flowering at 11,000 feet. They must be quite hardy.

Even dandelions were at the top of the volcano.
What was a very pleasant surprise was the temperature - we guess it to have been in the 60s with a very strong wind that blew my hair in every direction. So much for the weather forecast!!

On the way down from the top of the volcano we passed a motorcyclist exercising two horses and the usual cattle in the road. We never did see anyone accompanying the cattle.

We also passed a truck carrying farm hands and there must have been at least ten of them either sitting or standing in the back of the truck.

To end our trip to Irazu, we had a nice view of the city of Catago down in the valley. Even Cartago was at an altitude of 3,500 feet.

Saturday, we visited Lankester Botanical Gardens run by the University of Costa Rica. The garden specializes in orchids and is world renowned for its research. Costa Rica has more than 1,400 varieties of orchids, and almost 800 species are on display at the botanical garden. Unfortunately, for us, the majority of the orchids were not in bloom.
I took some photos of the ones that were.

There was a very nice display as you entered the orchid greenhouses that housed many, many orchids.

 Some of the orchids were growing in pieces of coconut shells.

Others were growing on the walls of the greenhouse.

I have never had any luck with growing orchids. I think that may be due to over watering them. My cousin, Jean has a wonderful collection and they are always in bloom when I visit her in the Wirral.
Walking through the gardens we came across some strange looking palms with roots growing down into the soil. I do not know the name of palm, unfortunately.

The garden also had a nice succulent/cactus section. I would not have thought succulent/cactus could survive the wet season but they seem to do well enough.

The above Crown of Thorns is one of the biggest I have seen and I have visited many botanical gardens around the world.
After the succulent garden came the fern garden. Now, ferns fascinate me due to the way they unfurl their leaves. I took the next photo of a fern as it reminded me of a boxer holing up his arms after winning a match.

The garden though known for its orchids and bromeliads did have some flowers I had not seen in Costa Rica before.

Many of the trees in the garden had bromeliads growing out of their trunks. How they manage to attach themselves, beats me.

There were plants growing on the roof of the entrance to the Japanese Garden.

The last part of the garden was dedicated to bromeliads and there were hundreds of them but not in bloom, unfortunately. I spotted a bird I had not seen before.

On our way out we decided to have a drink. On the table we chose to sit at was a huge bug (I guess to be 4") that gave the good impression of being a leaf. He crawled down the table leg and towards Gary's foot. Gary was having nothing to do with it so kept moving his foot out of the range of the insect.

On our way back to the hotel we had to cross a one lane suspension bridge.

Some of the hedgerows were quite pretty as we rounded a small lake.

Well, that ends our trip to Cartago, the Irizu Vocano and the Lankester Botanical Gardens.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Last day in La Fortuna, chocolate tour

It is our last day in La Fortuna and we decided to have breakfast outside on the balcony so I could keep my eye on the volcano to see if the top ever cleared of clouds. It never did during breakfast.

I did take a photograph of the very large swimming pool at the hotel. It could not have been more than 9 feet at its longest point.
You could not even begin to swim in it. It looked like a child's paddling pool but deeper.
Before returning to San Ramon we are going to visit a chocolate making demonstration in La Fortuna, the town nearest to our hotel. The demonstration started with a talk about the history of chocolate and I was proud to see in 1847 Mr Fry of the United Kingdom was the first maker of chocolate candy bars. I remember from my child hood a candy bar called Fry's Five Boys and in the chocolate were imprinted the faces of 5 boys. After the talk, our guide Kevin took us to see some cocoa trees.

 I was surprised to see the cocoa flowers and pods growing directly out of the trunk of a fairly small tree. It was too small to be bothered by monkeys who would feel vulnerable on the low branches. They were however, bothered by squirrels taking the fruit. Kevin then showed us how to open a pod and what the inside looked like. It look like this-
It actually looked rather yucky and nothing like I had imagined. Kevin broke off pieces of the individual beans which were coated in some form of goo

and gave it to us to try, advising us to suck it and not eat it as it would be very bitter. With my lack of sense of taste I could not taste it but Gary said it was rather pleasant (the goo). After the beans have been removed they are dried for 7 days and undergo a color transformation.

Each compartment represents a day with day 7 being in the bottom right hand corner. The beans are then dried for about 7 days in a type of greenhouse. If it is very humid, it may take longer to dry the beans.

After the beans are dried it is time to separate the inside bean from the husk and this is done using a mortar and pestle.
Now, we need to separate the separated bean and husk from each other and this is done in the following way-
The heavier husk will stay in the top bowl and the ground bean will flow into the bottom bowl.
We now have a substance that looks like this-
The substance is then rolled using a hot, hot piece of lava to separate the oils from the ground up cocoa. Gary attempted to do the rolling and was surprised at how hot the stone was.
The next stage involved grinding up the cocoa finely with sugar using a Spong like mincer.
I had a go at turning the mixer and was unable to get the mixer going until Kevin helped me. Once the handle had started to turn it was easier to turn the handle without assistance but it was still hard going. They handed out a sample of the ground up mixture and it was far too bitter for my liking (I prefer milk chocolate) as it was now dark chocolate. Kevin and his assistant then made a drink out of the chocolate and had several flavors you could add to the concoction. I chose coconut and vanilla and added sugar to the drink to make it sweeter. I still did not like it. Dear Gary drank it for me having drunk his concoction of chocolate, hibiscus and chili (yuk).
Kevin then brought out a melted chocolate mix that had had sugar added and had us try this hot, chocolaty liquid. We were told we could have as much as we liked of this mix. It was certainly better than anything I had tasted before so I did have seconds. Gary had thirds, I think. The demonstration ended with Kevin handing out small bags of cocoa beans which we could keep or hand back in for 2 pieces of hardened chocolate. Gary kept his bag of beans and I handed mine back in for the 2 pieces of chocolate. Again, I was not too keen so I gave Gary one of the pieces of chocolate and thus ended our chocolate demonstration.

In the grounds of the cocoa plantation were some plants I had not seen before.
The next photo is of the same plant in different stages of its life cycle. If you look closely, you can see the baby bananas at the base of the plant in photo number one. Apparently, monkeys will not eat the bananas because they are quite bitter. They are not for human consumption either.

After the demonstration we set out to find a post office so that I could mail my postcards and would you believe it, the city of Fortuna actually had road signs, the first we have seen in Costa Rica.

On our journey to the post office, we got a super view of Arenal Volcano with its top free of clouds. Yippee!
On the way back to San Ramon we passed several flower nurseries on the hillside. One of them was growing a plant that was quite popular in Costa Rica that I do not know the name of.
We also passed several trees that had buttercup yellow blooms on them and stood out amongst the other trees around them.
 I took a photo of a lake we passed hoping for reflections but it was not to be. I guess I got a little reflection of the clouds in the water.
Arriving in San Ramon I finally got a photo of the gullies to the side of the road.
You have to be careful not to get your car wheels in them otherwise you may need help to get the car out. I have not mentioned before that Costa Rica is a quarter the size of Scotland so it is a very small country. What has surprised  me is that nearly all of the homes are have either barred windows and doors or are in a gated community like our bungalow. Even cars are parked behind bars to the side of their houses. This goes for the poorest of houses to the poshest.
I have never been aware of crime but I guess there must be some around. We have found the Costa Ricans or Ticans as they like to be called very kind and helpful. I have tried to speak their language so that may have slightly endeared me to them.
We are now back in our "home" and getting ready for our next trip to the Irazu Volcano. This volcano has a paved trail up to the top so that you can take your car up to see the crater. See you then.