"" Writer's Wanderings

Friday, July 13, 2018

Costa RIca - More Pickleball, Great Dinner, Goodbyes

Our last few afternoons playing pickleball on our Pickleball Costa Rica tour were spent indoors at a rec center. Thankfully it was inside because there was usually rain--sometimes heavy.

Several times the local pickleball players joined us. Most of them were ex-pats living in Costa Rica. Someone brought a container of fruit punch and a canister of some type of soda that, under pressure, would foam the punch. Kind of like milk that gets steamed and frothed for a latte only this was cold. It was very sweet and we were told that it is a real treat for the kids at birthday parties.

Some of us broke play a little early and went back to the hotel to shower and change. Dinner was to be at a private home owned by an ex-pat couple who loved to entertain and the husband was a chef. Tony and Celeste had explained that the house was amazing--something out of House Beautiful. They were right on in their description.

The house sits on a mountainside and looks out into a valley. We arrived and were greeted by a trio of dogs patiently waiting for us to ascend the steps. Each step was decorated with different tiles. I almost hated to leave the garden area though as it was well tended and unusual.

Inside, we crossed a bridge just inside the door that was over an indoor swimming pool. We were in a huge area with bedrooms off to the side and a corner area where there was a green egg grill set up as if it were an outdoor grill area. It was then I realized that the roof overhead was a series of windows that retracted so the area we were standing in would be like an outdoor patio.

Moving further in, there was a sitting room to one side and a large kitchen in which our host chef was busy putting the finishing touches on our meal. Past the large banquet table we stepped out onto the balcony. The sunset was a bit iffy with rain clouds but still an impressive sight to view from their balcony.

The food was spectacular--Tuscan soup followed by chicken parmigiana, green beans, potatoes, and an apple pie dessert.

It was time to start saying our goodbyes. Several of us would return to the hotel and take a shuttle to San Jose for flights in the morning to avoid the early 3 AM departure for the early flights. Our shuttle was waiting for us when we returned to the hotel and we loaded up and made the 50 minute ride to San Jose.

Landing in Honduras

On our way home our flight took us to Honduras for a stop before continuing on to Houston and then Cleveland. We'd never been to Honduras before. I wondered if we could count that as a visit. Or not.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Costa Rica -- The Coffee Farm Part 2

Coffee. It's the fuel that starts a morning for many people. The coffee farm, Finca Edgar Fernandez, was a beautiful place. After our lunch and walk and squeezing the sugar cane, we settled in to hear how the coffee is processed. The farm does it the old fashioned way to show how it was done in the old days. Their beans are shipped off site to a larger processing place but we were about to get a treat experiencing the process first hand.

The green coffee beans turn red and white  (depending on variety) here when they are ripe and ready to pick. The beans are actually like a soft fruit with a seed inside. In order to get to the seed, the part that we want for the coffee, you have to smash the softer part on the outside.

Hulled beans.
A large old mortar and pestle was the place where the beans are smashed and then separated from the pulp.

I wasn't quite clear on how the beans are separated out once the hulls are removed but eventually they are set in the fogon or stove and roasted.

Next came the part we were to participate in--the grinding. Beans that had been previously roasted were put in a hand grinder and we were all invited to give it a few turns. Not an easy exercise but worth the effort.

When there was enough ground coffee, hot water was brought out from the kitchen and was poured over a large bag of ground coffee that dripped into a carafe. Sort of a manual drip coffee maker.

And of course the best part was tasting the coffee. It was delicious.

I hated to see our time at the coffee farm come to an end. Edgar and his family had been so gracious and we had learned so much as well as enjoying a wonderful lunch. It was time for some more pickleball with our Pickleball Costa Rica tour.

Monday, July 09, 2018

Costa Rica -- The Coffee Farm

It would be difficult to have to choose what was the most interesting part of our PIckleball Costa Rica tour but right at the top would be our trip to the coffee farm, Finca Edgar Fernandez. The area where we spent the last three days of our tour, San Ramon, is in the mountains. It is cooler than the area near the coast and at the beach and not nearly as humid. It is a perfect area for the abundance of coffee trees that grow there.

As we traveled through the area, we could see the shorter coffee trees growing beneath taller trees that give some shade to this variety of coffee that grows better if shaded. At the beginning of our Pickleball tour, Tony and Celeste, our hosts had given us each a bag of coffee from the area. It was giving our suitcase quite a good aroma.

I didn't know exactly what to expect but I was pleasantly surprised by a huge covered area with cloth covered tables and chairs set and ready for us to have lunch. Tony introduced the family that owns and operates the farm. Edgar and his wife did not speak much English but their daughter had taken off work in town to come and lead the tour. Her English was excellent. But first lunch!

Edgar's wife and I think it was her sister had cooked the meal for us. A typical Costa RIcan meal is called a casado and consists of a meat, a salad, rice, black beans, and fried plantains served with a fruit juice. Our hostess poured a lemonade made from their own lemons (not sweet but not tart--refreshing) and a nice pineapple juice. Our plates of food came out of the kitchen heaping with rice, beans, a salad that was like cole slaw, chicken with a delicious sauce, and my favorite, a fried plantain. Finally, a real Costa Rican meal and it was worth the wait.

After we finished our main dish, a plate of sweets was passed around. It looked a little like a fudge but tasted almost like a Bit O'Honey candy. Tony called it trapiche which has to do with the sugar cane. I think it twas made from pressing the sugar cane sometime in the process of getting the sugar. It reminded me of the pure maple sugar candy back home.

It was time to walk off some of our lunch. Before taking us into the coffee fields, our guide and her father showed us their bio-farm. I didn't understand all of the mechanics but somehow one pig was able to provide enough waste to be processed into methane to use to fuel their stove. There were also chickens and a cow and in the small barn we were shown a worm farm where the little critters were making compost.

Worms at work composting

There was a little stream from the house that somehow filtered through rocks and stones and plant roots that was able to remove cooking oils from the water and provide clean water for the ponds that they used to irrigate their garden. I wish I had taped all the explanation. It was fascinating.

We started on a path through some of the coffee fields. It's hard to call them fields when they are planted on the hillsides and under taller trees but it was a nice walk--a bit challenging for those of us with bad knees. Some of us went back down the way we came and a few others ventured on. The coffee beans were not ready for harvest yet. They turn from green to white or red depending on the variety. When it's time to harvest they hire extra help to pick the beans.

When we were all settled back at the tables, our guide began telling us about the sugar cane. Trapiche is also the word used for the process of squeezing the juice from the sugar cane. She brought stalks of sugar cane and cut them into manageable pieces and invited people to feed them through the machine that shredded them and squeezed out the juice. It didn't take long to fill a container.

As her mother strained the juice and put it into a dispenser, our guide explained that to get sugar, the juice would be put into large bins with a fire beneath them fueled by dried pressed sugar cane stalks. The juice would simmer until it was thick and then left to cool. Eventually it can be pressed into a mold and sold for use in baking and cooking. I'm sure the large refineries process a little differently to get sugar granules.
Processed sugar cane

We were invited to try the sugar cane juice. I don't know what I expected but it was pleasantly sweet--not overly sweet. Good, very good. I went back for a second taste.

Next we settled in to hear how the coffee is processed. But I'll tell you about that tomorrow.

Friday, July 06, 2018

Costa Rica -- The Butterfly Farm

There were a lot of winding narrow roads in Costa Rica. In all fairness there were some nice highways too. But this day we were on the ones that wound around, up and down, and sometimes precariously--like the creek that we crossed on a bridge that barely went over the top. We may even have been fording the stream. I was in the back and couldn't tell. I could however see the road almost disappear at a spot where it had obviously washed away. Our driver was amazing though and got us safely through. All the bouncing and swaying was worth it. We arrived at the family complex of Jardin Mariposas La Paz.

Tony, of PIckleball Costa Rica , introduced us to the owner of the butterfly farm we were about to see. He led us between a couple of homes that faced the street. I'm guessing one was his mother's as he made reference to her garden. We stopped just outside of an enclosed back patio that looked to have a lot of plants inside. He pulled out a box and set it on the table and began to talk about his butterflies.

Changing from his job in tourism to raising butterflies was a risky proposition and one that required a lot of study. He seems to be doing well as he told us that he is shipping chrysalises all over the world. But back to the stages of the butterfly.

The farmer took us through how the eggs are laid on the leaves of plants after the butterfly has tested it for poisons. The plants in their back patio were obviously good host plants--butterfly approved.

The family members pitch in and hand pick the eggs from the leaves to place in containers where they can hatch into caterpillars. The caterpillars are then placed on the host plants that they feed from.

The caterpillars will grow into the stage that forms a pupa or chrysalis. Once they have transformed and completely been encased, they can be harvested and there is about a 15 day window where they can be sent to their destination to be hatched into a beautiful butterfly.

This butterfly looks like an owl when wings are spread.
Predators are scared away.

Once we were educated about the process, we were able to explore the butterfly house where the adult butterflies joyfully flitted from plant to flower to fruit. Tony had told us to wear our bright Pickleball t-shirts for this tour and the butterflies really loved them. Those of us with the shirts on attracted dozens of butterflies. I felt my shirt tickling my back as they landed and flew off again.

As we explored someone called out that there was a large toad in the plants at one end of the house. The farmer called out his thanks for the discovery. The toad was looking for a good meal. He would be removed as soon as we were done there.

The ride in the van over the winding roads had been well rewarded. We were all in awe and left amazed.


Thursday, July 05, 2018

Costa Rica -- The Artisan Market

When I saw Artisan Market on the itinerary for our tour with Pickleball Costa Rica the image of a straw market came to mind. What we found was far from it. The place we visited is call Fabrica de Carretas Eloy Alfaro. It is an oxcart factory that has been making the traditional carts with beautiful paintings for over 120 years.

The factory is the only one in the world still making these decorative carts on a regular basis. While farmers could choose to use a more modern convenience many would rather stick to tradition and use the beautiful carts for their work. The factory only produces about three full size carts a month. When you see all that goes into the making of one you can understand why.

"Henry" our guide talked about how the making of the wheel evolved from a flat piece of wood to the pie shaped wedges they now use. The old way was difficult first of all in finding a piece of wood large enough. Then the grain in the wood caused the wheel to wear unevenly creating an oval shape. Someone figured out that wood cut in pie wedges and placed around a metal bushing made a better wheel.

Once the wedges are set in place, a metal ring a centimeter smaller than the wheel circumference is heated and it expands to fit around the wheel wedges. As water is poured over it, it cools and shrinks until the wedges are held tightly in place to make a sturdy wheel.

All of this work is done by machinery that is powered by a water wheel whose source of power comes from a nearby river. Water was diverted to the wheel which used to be wood but has over the years been replaced by metal wheels. The latest is of iron.

When he started the water flowing over the wheel the crankshaft over our heads began turning. Henry picked up a piece of wood and used a table saw powered by the wheel to cut it. There were a half dozen other pieces of machinery (a band saw, a hack saw and a metal lathe) that were all powered from the same source.

Henry told us that they guarantee their wheels for 30 years but many last as long as 50 years. Of course they need a couple of paint jobs throughout those years. And the painting is quite an art.

There is a crew of painters painting the cart pieces and wheels as well as smaller pieces that are sold as souvenirs in the retail store that fronts the factory. There are also artisans that do wood carving and much of that is sold there as well.

There is a great explanation of the factory's work and probably better pictures than I have at this travel site if you'd like to take a look.

It was a fun place to visit and shop and we even got to have lunch on their outside upper deck.

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