Cynthia in Costa Rica

Day 1, 1/18/18

Got up at 3:30 am to be picked up by a cab by 4 am and be on a plane at 6 am. The only advantage to leaving that early is that there is NO traffic and NO lines. Of course just when I didn’t need it, the gate was right outside of security!

The temperature was about 15° when I left Chicago; even Houston, where I connected was 23°! The flight and the customs were smooth. I walked outside into the 80° sunny day and a woman called out my name. It was Sarah, the tour leader and the rest of the tour, which consisted of a husband and wife from Columbus, Ohio. They were permitted to join the tour (which is ordinarily for Quakers, Church if the Brethren , people from Wilmington College and a few other select groups) because they were Unitarians of all things! (Some may remember that I spent 25 years as a Unitarian.) Originally, there were 8 people on the tour, but one woman got sick and was bringing two other people and one couple couldn’t get off work . So the tour transportation will be Sarah’s car and I will get to know Marybeth and Bill very, very well. I will no doubt be an expert on Columbus ( and they on Chicago) by the time I return.

Landing, in the plane, and driving around, the place looks exactly the way you would expect-a tropical paradise with blue waters scattered with islands, low rising, volcano looking mountains all around, fields with cattle, brightly colored, pink and red and yellow flowering bushes and palm trees everywhere. We drove from the airport to the Pacific Ocean and are staying in Hotel Valero a modest but very nice hotel right on the beach.

I went swimming briefly in the Pacific, which was very warm with moderate waves and a beach with more black, muddy sand than white sand. Costa Rica is 10° above the equator so technically it is winter but summer and winter aren’t too much different from each other here. From about December to May, the trade winds blow, keeping the clouds, and therefore the rain away. Come May the trade winds slow down allowing clouds to form and thus begins the rainy season lasting from May until December. Sarah said that the predictability of previous times has been thrown into a cocked hat by global warming and they really can’t predict the weather any more.

Next, we sat and waited for the sunset which comes at about 530 in winter time and 630 in summertime. Again being so close to the equator they never have really long days or really short days. The sunset over the water was stunning and I took lots of pictures. I still really don’t know how to set my camera like an expert but tried a lot of different things and hopefully got some good pictures.

We stayed where we were sitting and had dinner at the hotel restaurant. Being so close to the ocean, sea food was very fresh and I had mahi-mahi which was excellent. During dinner we learned a little bit more about Costa Rica. The subject of sales tax came up and we were told that people who have an income of less than $20,000 do not pay any income tax, however to make up for that, there is a 13% sales tax. The sales tax does not apply to essential items such as bread, eggs, milk etc. Gas is $5/gallon, but public transportation is plentiful and cheap. The property tax is low and you self report the value of your home! The multiplier is the same nationwide. Their schools and their single payer health care are funded by the government. It all seemed so well done until I found out the population of the country- 4.5 million, 1/2 the size of metropolitan Chicago.

After some nice conversation and good food, we all said our good nights and so ended my first day in CR.

Cynthia in Costa Rica day 2 , 1/19/18

After a good night’s sleep, I woke up to the sounds of monkeys howling and birds calling. I got up and took a walk down the beach to try to see the monkeys, which I did not. Had a conversation with a woman who wanted to give me a massage, if not that she wanted to sell me a house in Liberia. The good thing was that the conversation was in Spanish, which made me happy. I spoke to another man who offered to take my picture and he did a very good job!

Then I went back to the hotel and had breakfast with Mary Beth, Bill and Sarah.

I had a typical Costa Rican breakfast of rice and beans, tortillas and eggs.

Sarah, our tour guide is a very interesting person. She came to Costa Rica from the US when she was three to live in the original Quaker community which arose out of the post war World War II draft. A group of Quakers decided that they did not want to stay in the United States due to the military conscription, in fact some of them served time in jail for resisting the draft. Eleven families left the US and settled in Costa Rica. But more about that later. Sarah is a fount of information about Costa Rica. There doesn’t seem to be anything she doesn’t know. She is completely and totally bilingual. Her English is flawless and when I hear her talking to the natives, of which she is one, her Spanish sounds as if it is flawless also. She has a tourism business and also she and her husband manage what was previously her parents dairy farm. She says that they produce all of their own meat, eggs, dairy products and some vegetables. She has two children, one of whom she adopted at 10 years old, the age at which Costa Rica declares children un adoptable and puts them in an orphanage.

We left the Pacific beach and drove down the Nicoya peninsula. The country there is said to be the Texas of Costa Rica. There are lots of cattle and it is dry and getting dryer. They have not had any rain for two months which is normal, since it is the dry season. Eventually the leaves will fall off of the trees and the grass will dry up completely. Right now though, it is quite attractive with the remaining green contrasted against the yellow grass and the blue Mountains.

On the peninsula, we stopped for lunch. Although technically this is winter, they treat it like summer in that the kids are out of school. Historically this harkens back to the times when children helped with the coffee picking and therefore had three months off of school, November December and January. Now that we are in modern times, children don’t pick coffee but they still have off the months of December and January. Costa Ricans go on vacation this time of year. It is also the time of the year of festivals and celebrations.

The town where we had lunch was having a festival of horses. Later on during the day they would have a horse parade. When we were there the people were gathering with their horses. We saw one man ride right up to the bar on his horse and order a drink! There was a lot of excitement in the town which was fun to see. The restaurant where we ate was kind of a cooperative to help women make a living. It was very traditional with an oven in the back to cook traditional tortillas and all of the food was cooked on

several fires they had burning. They had meals like “casados”-meat or vegetables “married” with beans and rice, soups and tamales. It was very good. We sat on a covered patio of sorts picnic style.

To get to our next destination, Monteverde, we left the Nicoya peninsula and crossed over onto the mainland on a bridge built by Taiwan . Taiwan built this bridge for Costa Rica because they hoped that Costa Rica would recognize them over mainland China. Just about a year after the bridge was built, a new government came into power and signed a trade agreement with China which included repudiating Taiwan. The Chinese built them a soccer field. Costa Ricans are absolutely wild for soccer, so they might have liked that better than the bridge!

We took a rest stop at a little takeout restaurant, which had one thing going for it: in the trees in the back were Scarlet Macaws. We saw them at the restaurant and then again farther down the highway. We were very lucky to see them, since there are only a few left in the world.

Next we climbed the 30 km hill to Monteverde going from an elevation of zero to an elevation of approximately 1500 m. The road was very steep and had lots of potholes and mud. The area was affected by hurricane Nate and they got 24 inches of rain in two days. This did a lot of damage to a road that is already extremely difficult to maintain. As we went higher and higher, the views were breathtaking-rows and rows of mountains, sometimes dotted with flowering trees, mostly yellow and behind that the Pacific ocean.We stopped to take a picture and a bonus was that in the tree behind me were two blue colored birds called Magpie Jays.

We arrived at the lodge where we were staying and checked into our rooms which were very basic. By that time the mist had rolled in from the sky and turn to rain. The winds were fierce. The temperature went from about 80 to 85° on the beach to 55° or so.

We all went out to dinner at an Italian restaurant very nearby. The food was excellent and the conversation was very stimulating. It is a lot of fun to get to know people that you have never met. They have never heard your stories and you have never heard there’s, so all in all a great end to a great day.

Cynthia in Costa Rica day 3, 1/20/18

This was the busiest day yet. We started off the day with a full breakfast consisting of fruit, eggs, rice, beans, plantains and fresh juice. While we were sitting in the dining building, some excitement occurred – a Capuchan white faced monkey was outside the window. I ran to get my camera and on my way back I was lucky enough to see a Motmot bird sitting right outside the dining building on a post. Took a picture of him and then ran to the backyard to try to get a picture of the monkey. He was eating some watermelon and I was able to get lots of pictures of him. Down below was a rather ugly mammal that I have never seen called in agouti.

I really never expected to see that much wildlife, since I have been other places where I saw almost none. Once in Panama we went to a road called the Pipeline Road where there were supposed to be 500 species of birds and we maybe saw two birds.

We started out at the home of our tour guide’s parents and heard a talk from her father about the Monteverde Quaker community. He started off telling us about his personal journey, having been to Monteverde in his childhood for six months, again in high school for two years and finally settling there in 1980, 30 years after the original community began. The son of a farmer, he started off as a dairy farmer in Costa Rica but as his fortunes downturned, became an agricultural consultant worldwide, later coming back to dairy farming. They have a brand new, beautiful home with a magnificent view, which they built out of concrete, since their previous home was destroyed by termites. They also have solar panels on top of their roof which provide most of their electricity although they are required to be tied into the grid.

We also had a discussion about climate change in which he and Sarah explained in detail how climate change is affecting Costa Rica and the rest of the world. It was fairly technical and had to do with jet streams, el Nino, the melting of the polar ice caps and a number of other factors. I have never been good at physical science or astronomy, but decided I would like to study about it and learn more.

Costa Rica has two levels of land ownership – title and occupancy. So historically people have occupied land that perhaps is owned by someone else but they develop it and they have some rights to it. In the 1980s one man managed to buy up all of the land in the San Luis Valley from farmers who had developed it somewhat but needed the money and accepted his offer to buy their land. Later on about 1/4 of this large tract of land became available for sale and the Quakers worldwide raised enough money to buy it. Over five years, They distributed it to 28 families who qualified by not owning any land, being willing to work the land, and having a family. We visited the farm of one of these families.

The man who owned the farm told us his story. He recounted how before they had this land, it would take them three hours on horseback to take their child to the doctor. They started off on the land with just a shack they built where they stayed for 14 years. In the beginning, they produced coffee but only the raw coffee beans, which they sold to a coffee co-op. This did not make very much money for them and although they knew something about growing coffee they still had a lot to learn. Eventually Moldemar decided that they should take the coffee from growing the plants to picking the coffee to stripping off the outer husk to drying to stripping off another husk and finally to roasting, the complete process. Now they package the coffee and sell it and are certified organic, which in itself was an arduous process. They were able to build a new very nice house, buy a used car, and send a daughter to college. Now they have a dormitory where they house people who want to come and work on the farm and learn about coffee production, mostly students and young people from other walks of life.

We saw the farm and the coffee trees at all stages. It was so interesting to hear about all of the challenges a coffee farmer, or any farmer faces. After that his wife had prepared lunch and we had a sumptuous meal of chicken, rice, beans, salad,plantains, potatoes and a dessert made of plantains.

Next we saw the local school for San Luis. It consisted of a small building containing a classroom and a residence for the teacher. There are 20 children ages grades 1 to 6 enrolled in the school and one teacher who lives at the school during the week, in other words, a one room school house. The children are fed breakfast, a snack and lunch. They go to school from 7 AM to 1 PM. Ever since the1948 revolution after which the army was dissolved, healthcare and education have been very important in Costa Rica. The literacy level has grown tremendously since that time.

Then we saw a large scale coffee processing plant, followed by a sustainable farm. This farmer raises tilapia in several ponds that he has. He also has a small restaurant where he serves food that he produces and has recently built two cabins for tourists. The thing that I found most fascinating was that he keeps three pigs and he has found a way to take the methane from their excrement and use it as fuel for the kitchen in his restaurant. Once again we ate! He caught some tilapia out of his pond and they cooked it in the kitchen and that is what we ate with some side dishes. Talk about fresh!

No, our day was not over yet. Lastly we went to the home of one of the original Quakers who was actually born in Monteverde three years after the community was established. She showed us a slideshow of pictures that were mostly taken by her father who is now deceased. It showed how difficult or sometimes impossible it was to navigate the roads, how they built the first houses out of wood floors, partial wood walls and army surplus tents. She had pictures of some of the rituals of the community such as pageants,music events, square dances, Christmas celebrations and celebration of the anniversary of the beginning of the community.

After a ride back to our hostel over wet, bumpy, windy mountainous roads, we returned home for the night.

Cynthia in Costa Rica day 4, 1/21/18

In the morning, we visited the home of Marvin Rockwell, 95 years old and one of the original founders of the Quaker community, which the Quakers named Monteverde. He had fascinating stories to tell about the founding of Monteverde and his own personal life.

We then attended Meeting for Worship in the beautiful timber frame building they built about 10 years ago because someone visiting for a period of time was expert in this type of construction. There were about 100 people in attendance.

Next we heard about the library from Sarah‘s mother. It is a nice little library with all donated books. They have a board that has a fundraising event once a year that provides the budget for the library. It runs with a card catalog, no computers of any sort. It is open 24/7 and is open to anyone who wishes to use it. You simply sign the book out that you want and are on your honor to return it. It is so moist here that they have to pay someone to come four days a week to wipe off the books so that they do not mold and spread the mold to the rest of the library as well.

On the way home we visited Lucky Guindon another one of the Monteverde pioneers. She is also an artist and showed us some of her work. Like many of the Quaker families, her house is built up on a hill and has a gorgeous view.

Between Sarah, her father, Marvin, Martha Campbell’s Slideshow and visiting Lucky Guindon, we had a pretty good picture of the history of Monteverde.

In 1950, the US government instituted the first peacetime draft. After some discussion, four young men who were members of the Fairhope, Alabama Friends meeting (Quaker) decided to refuse to register. One of them had actually already served during World War II. They were sentenced to one year and one day in prison. They decided that when they got out, they and their families were going to leave the United States to try to find a place that was less militaristic. After considering Canada and Australia, they settled on Central America, and since Costa Rica was more democratic than other countries in Central America, and had just abolished its army, they decided to go there.

The 4 men served 4 months in prison and two weeks after they got out they headed to Costa Rica. There were 11 families and 44 people in the first group, mostly young married people and young married people with children, although there were some older people. Most of the group flew down to San Jose, the capital but four men and a woman took a jeep and a large covered truck and drove down through Mexico, Nicaragua and El Salvador. Highway one had not been completely built yet and at one point they had to drive through the jungle 12 miles which took them 30 days. They hardly spoke Spanish. At one point one man asked a Spanish speaking man , como se llama usted ? (What is your name?) The man said, “Quien, yo?” (Who, me?). From then on they called him Kenyo! The whole trip, with non-existent roads and border crossing delays, took 3 months.

When the whole group finally arrived in San Jose, they rented housing in the area while they looked for a place to settle. They had numerous offers but they had three criteria: the land had to be affordable, it had to be high elevation above where the mosquitoes go to avoid malaria and yellow fever and it had to be somewhat level in order to farm. Through a series of negotiations and discussions a piece of land was offered to them in Monteverde and they purchased it at a price of $50,000. The land was about 3500 acres. They kept the watershed and divided the remainder of the land amongst the 11 families, each family picking a tract according to what they could afford. They slowly moved the families up to the area, working collectively to make decisions. In addition to purchasing the land from the old title owner they also had to buy out the squatters at a price of about $10,000. The squatters in turn had left some housing and the first families stayed in that housing. The road up to Monteverde was very very difficult to traverse, but with jeeps, an off-road vehicle and sometimes with winches or oxen pulling, they were able to make it up. There was already someone operating a saw mill close by and they went about the task of building homes, the earliest ones being just a floor and half wall with an army tent for covering. For water, they ran piping from the mountain springs which existed and did not need filtration. They had no electricity, so used kerosene lanterns and candles for lighting.

They had enough capital to buy food in the towns down the hill and cook it on camp stoves or wood stoves. Here with the help of the Costa Ricans nearby, they figured out which vegetables to grow and began producing vegetables. They had been dairy farmers in the US and so decided to do the same here. They acquired some Guernsey cows and brought them up the mountain a few at a time and begin raising them, planting grass and creating pastures. But how to market the milk? One of the group had experimented with making cheese and they decided to build a cheese factory. This was their third major expense, however it created a source of income for the community and soon they were also buying milk from Costa Rican farmers. Working in the cheese factory also created jobs.

After a few years they had stable food production, a school, a meeting house, their own saw mill, a store, a furniture factory, the cheese factory and someone had built and installed a generator and created a hydroelectric power station sufficient to provide electricity to the entire community. This was truly a group of pioneers, and all because their conscience would not allow them to go to war.

The afternoon was free and I didn’t do much, but photographed a few hummingbirds.

In the evening the four of us went to dinner. It is amazing what a good time we have and how we always find interesting things to talk about.

Cynthia in Costa Rica day 5 1/22/18

In the itinerary, this was called “Nature Day”. We got up fairly early and went to hike in the Monteverde cloud preserve, the most famous in the world. Our guide was Carlos and like all nature guides, he wanted to make sure we saw some nature right away. So he led us to a humming birds nest and explained how the hummingbirds make their nests out of spiderwebs. As you would expect the nest was very small. Next, we saw a red and black tarantula in its home inside a rotted out tree stump. We could see it very well, but I just couldn’t get a very good picture. We saw various birds, many of whom we didn’t get really close to, but the paths were very well cleared and had waffle like concrete blocks embedded. We walked about a mile and went out onto the suspended bridge which vibrated whenever someone walked over it. From there we could see above the treetops. The plants in the cloud forest are very interesting. There is a lot of simbiosis with mosses and vines growing on the trees. Some of the trees are very tall, perhaps several hundred years old, however some species of trees grow very fast, not putting out branches until they have reached a good height, hence they have an umbrella-like look. Every so often, we would see a bright red, orange or pink plant- a flower, a leaf, or even a fungus.

After that, we climbed a steep trail that was mostly steps. All in all we walked about 4 miles- a good workout. We saw several mammals, A white nosed koati which is in the raccoon family and an agouti.

The wildlife highlight of the walk was seeing a resplendent quetzal, a bird revered by the Mayans. Carlos got it in his telescope and it sat for quite a while, so we had a good opportunity to see it.

We ended the outing with a picnic lunch by the hummingbird feeder, where we were able to see several types of hummingbirds, as well as an olingo, who raided one of the hummingbird feeders .

We went back to our rooms at El Bosque ( the forest) and I took a nap. Got up in time to go to an early dinner at an Argentinian restaurant. We sat outside and watched as the sunset over the mountains.

No, the day wasn’t over yet. We went to see frogs at a place that had many of the native Costa Rican frogs in large terrariums. My favorites were the famous red eyed tree frog and the poison dart green and black frog.

The rooms are simple with just beds and a bathroom and not much else except that they do have excellent wireless Internet connection and therefore in the evening I can write emails or do other things online.

Cynthia in Costa Rica day 6 1/23/18

We got up early and left Monteverdi bound for Sarapiqui and the Arenal lake and volcano. For a while we were riding along the continental divide and then we crossed over onto the Atlantic side for the first time. The views coming down the mountain were breathtaking. I don’t know when I have enjoyed a ride so much. Winding roads, rolling green hills, cattle, sheep and farms -it was like something out of a storybook.

We crossed Lake Arenal in a boat. This lake generates power on the Atlantic side and sends it through tunnels to the Pacific side. It was a cloudy, rainy, day so we could not see the Arenal Volcano to the top. We only saw 1/3 of it. Sarah had to deal with the logistics of crossing the lake with us while somehow getting the car to the other side. Her husband was nice enough to drive it around and take a bus back to Monteverde .

Around the volcano, there are openings in the ground that create hot springs. We stopped at a natural hot springs and stayed about an hour in the different temperature pools, some with waterfalls so you could massage yourself. It did wonders for my back!

We stopped in a busy tourist town on the other side of the river and had lunch at a “Soda”, a local restaurant with typical food.

We were only a few miles out of the town when the car started making a terrible squeaking noise. It was raining and Sarah and Bill got out and tried to figure out what was wrong. There didn’t seem to be anything dragging or caught in the car and yet when she drove it a little further it continued to squeak. Sarah has amazing resources and she called her brother who is a mechanic. He told her a stone was probably caught in the brake and that she should back it up and then go forward and see if that solved the problem. Sure enough it did and we were on our way and had no further problems with the car!

We arrived at our hotel which was a ecotourism lodge in the middle of the low lands. The lodge has beautiful tropical flowering plants, a birdfeeder where all sorts of birds come, a butterfly garden, two swimming pools, a frog pond, and a vegetable garden. It is quite a beautiful place with ceramic tile floors in the outdoor, covered lobby and covered paths joining the rooms to each other.

We partook of the buffet in the hotel restaurant. The topic of conversation was genealogy, Marybeth had some interesting stories to tell.

A little more about Costa Rica:

Food: Costa Ricans eat rice and beans three times a day, with a small amount of meat or chicken. The rice and beans are served with sour cream which tastes very good and is called pico de gallo. They often make a salad out of cabbage with a dressing similar to ranch and they seem to eat a lot of tomatoes also. Fried plantains are popular as is arroz con pollo and ceviche ( raw, marinated sea food with celery and tomatoes.) The food is simple, fresh and delicious.

Weather: there are two seasons in Costa Rica, rainy and less rainy. It is very moist and in the Highlands you often get strong winds gusting to 25 mph and more. The temperature is never much less than about 55 in the Highlands and warmer most of the time. In the low lands it is 80 or 85° most of the time.

Economy: Costa Rica has two main segments of the economy, tourism, especially ecotourism and agriculture. Costa Rica is the biggest exporter of pineapples and also grows coffee, bananas, mangoes, papayas, sugarcane and cassava root. There is also lots of dairy and beef farming. The country is fairly prosperous with about 20% of the population living in poverty, 60% being middle class, and 20% being wealthy. There are about 1 million Nicaragua ones who have come to Costa Rica since their country has become so unstable. There is some prejudice against them by the native Costa Ricans but since the government has insisted that Nicaraguans and other immigrants must get work permits to work and therefore pay into the Social Security/healthcare system, it is less. There are a fair number of ex-pats from both the US and Europe who have come here to retire. Apparently it is easy to settle here if you fall into that group.

Government: there is a democratically elected government in Costa Rica. Right now, they are in a presidential election year and 13 candidates are running for president!

They will then have a second round to determine the winner. They still have no army and declare themselves to be in the truck country. When they have disputes with other countries they go to the international court of law to settle it. That seems to work quite well.

Cynthia in Costa Rica day 7 1/24/18

Woke up at 5:30 to take pictures of the birds at the feeders and elsewhere around property. I probably could have gotten up later but I made myself get up because I said to myself I will only pass this way one time and I don’t want to miss the birds. There are lots of birdwatchers and others staying at this lodge. They seem to be from all over but the language that I hear the most of is French. I can’t tell you I have made friends with any French people, I have always found that they have disdain for Americans.

We had a nice breakfast and then started off for our river cruise. This was supposed to be a wildlife cruise on the river which is bordered by the jungle. I had no high expectations because I have gone on these types of excursions before and seen very little. In fact I could not have expected to see more wildlife than we did! We saw howler monkeys high up in the trees, and a Capuchan white faced monkey lower. We saw a blue heron, an snowy egret, a motmot, tricolored heron, anhinga, mangrove swallow, green macaw, black vulture, green ibis. Also, many green iguanas, male and female, a black river turtle, some long nosed bats, a Jesus Christ lizard and a large caiman.

It was all fabulous, but for me, two highlights were watching the lizard walk on water and the monkey jump down and catch a mouse and jump back up and eat it. I have never seen bats so close before

And we were about a foot from the caiman!

Next we had lunch at a place that had a bird feeder and spent an hour or so watching even more varieties of birds.

The rest of the afternoon was free and I needed the rest! Dinner was in the restaurant and we heard all about raising dairy cattle, Sarah’s other job. Fascinating!

Cynthia in Costa Rica day 8 1/25/18

We departed Sarapiqui at 8 AM. After driving about an hour and a half, we arrived at the home of a Quaker couple who are living in a rural area and arrived in Costa Rica 25 years ago from California via first Nicaragua and then the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. Brian is a bamboo artist. He first came to Central America as part of a project to construct affordable housing out of bamboo. He then came to Costa Rica on another bamboo project. The project ended and he and his wife decided to buy a house in Guapiles. They bought a house that had been owned by a Costa Rican family and gambled that the family that owned the front yard would sell it to them! The house is very interesting; it looks like a restaurant or a takeout place because the kitchen has a counter that goes all around it. It is also very colorful.

Brian showed us the bamboo that he raises, which takes about four years for most varieties. He also showed us the different projects he was working on such as chairs with curved backs and various types of lamps. He has bought another property in addition to their home to raise his bamboo and to use as a workshop.

Patricia is a self-taught artist and does colorful and somewhat modernistic paintings. All of her paintings have a story about how she decided to paint that particular scene. The faceless human figures are primarily Afro Caribbean because she started painting when she lived in the Afro Caribbean area of Costa Rica. I was fortunate to be able to buy one of her paintings. She and her husband are about to do a joint exhibit so we also got a sneak preview of the paintings in the exhibit. They have been living in that house for number of years and like most Costa Ricans they have dogs. In their case they have five dogs that they have rescued in various ways.

We drove another hour and stopped at a typical, cafeteria style restaurant for lunch. Then we headed for Limón , the main Atlantic/Caribbean port. From here, Dole and Delmonte ship the massive numbers of pineapples and bananas they produce in central and eastern Costa Rica. We saw the ports with the huge cranes and massive ships for bringing it to us in about a week.

In the 19th century, the government decided to build a railroad going across Costa Rica. An American named Henry Keith was in charge of construction. At first they thought they could use Chinese labor as had been done in the American west, but the Chinese could not tolerate the heat. Next they brought in the Jamaicans and worked them very hard to build a railroad in about 10 years. Many of the Jamaicans stayed after the railroad was completed. Like so many other countries, the Costa Rican government discriminated against the people of African descent and said that they could not move beyond a certain line of demarcation close to the Caribbean Sea. Therefore for many years this area was primarily people of Jamaican descent. Now Limon and the areas to the south are still primarily Afro Caribbean, however there are also other Costa Ricans who have settled here.

We arrived at our destination of the Atlántida hotel, which is located in one of the Afro Caribbean towns called Cahuita. It is right on the Atlantic Ocean (Caribbean Sea). We had some time to settle in and then we ate at a restaurant right on the Atlantic. The waves were very high and our table was in the corner so we could see the ocean on two sides. I had Seabass which was about as fresh as I imagine you could get!

Cynthia in Costa Rica day 9 1/26/18

We set out this morning to visit an authentic Bribri home. The Bribri are the indigenous people in Costa Rica. They have been mostly wiped out by guess who (the explorers and settlers from Spain), but there is a reservation in the south east corner of the country where about 7,000 Bribri live. There is no particular criteria to prove that you are Bribri to live on this reservation, however you do not actually own the land and consequently cannot sell it. The particular family that we visited consisted of four generations: The matriarch of the family who is presently in the hospital, some of her children, her grandchildren, and her great grandchildren. We drove down a dirt road and parked and then walked down a path, across a suspension bridge, down another short path to where the family was living, from my viewpoint, more or less in the jungle.

They had a community house where the family cooks and eats together. They cook on a wood stove that keeps burning all of the time. The house is made of big timbers and is on stilts. The floor is made of wood boards that kind of wiggle under your feet but it is sturdy and earth quake resistant. The roof is made of several layers of palm leaves. The house was built by our host’s grandfather.

One room is a kitchen where the wood stove, shelves, and cooking equipment are. The other room is a big room with a table and some low benches. They may do some of their work in there.

The daughter of the matriarch and her husband acted as our hosts. They told us about their lives. The children go to school on the reservation and are taught in the Bribri language. They also speak the Bribri language at home so as to preserve it. Although they have some modern conveniences such as electricity, which is relatively new, and satellite, they try to live as much as possible in the ways of their ancestors. They showed us some of the plants from the forest that they use for medicinal purposes. They showed us a bow and several types of arrows that they had made and use for hunting. They also showed us a blow gun that they use for catching fish. They fish, do some minimal hunting, they grow some things, mainly root vegetables and sugarcane and they raise some animals.

They served us lunch which consisted of a lot of different kinds of root vegetables, many of which I had never had before. I was familiar with Yuka and sweet potato. With that was a stewed and nicely seasoned piece of chicken from the chicken they had killed in our honor. It was all served in a large leaf and we ate it with our hands. It was very good.

Next they told us about the way that they make their living, which is raising and processing cacao into chocolate. First they pick the cacao fruit off the tree, which is the size and shape of a mango. They take the seeds out and let them dry. Then they remove the husks from the seeds and crush the inside into a paste. They have a huge flat rock like a table that sits on the floor and another rock they use to crush the seeds. For the basic chocolate they either flavor it with sugar cane or leave it plain and form it into cubes with an ice cube tray!

They flavor the chocolate with many other flavors such as cinnamon, almond, orange, coconut, rum, pineapple. We had a little guessing game of tasting the chocolate and then trying to guess what it was flavored with. The chocolate was excellent, and of course I bought some.

I am very glad the Bribri people are trying to preserve their language and customs. I must confess that there was a bit of a disconnect between the great room which had been built by the grandfather by hand and all of the Christmas decorations in it, though!

Next we drove a little ways to an “informal“ border crossing into Panama. There was a little parking lot manned by some men and another man who was running a boat back-and-forth across the river in to Panama. You really could have swum the river since it wasn’t that wide. On the other side was a store that was originally run by a middle easterner but had been sold to a Panamanian. The steps into the store reminded me of the buildings in Cairo, perhaps he was in an Egyptian! The store was filled with all sorts of consumer goods, probably mostly made in China or other parts of Asia. The motivation for Costa Ricans going to that store is that the tax in Costa Rica is 13% and in that store I suspect it is 0%. Evidently, the border police are aware of this crossing because we saw them in the parking lot just as we were arriving. So we spent 30 minutes as illegals in Panama!

We headed back to the Atlántida and had free time for the rest of the day. I walked into the town of Cahuita and walked around some. I bought some bread and cheese and a tropical drink and had that for dinner. Another great day!

Cynthia in Costa Rica day 10 and 11


We left the Atlantic coast at 11 o’clock and made our way back across Costa Rica via Highway 35 which is a fairly commercial, traffic filled highway, not particularly picturesque. Once again we saw the banana and pineapple plantations of Dole and Delmonte. We stopped for lunch at a Soda and had a typical lunch. As we were leaving, the owner beckoned us to come and see something. Up in the rafters of the restaurant was a boa constrictor. Evidently ,they don’t mind having him there since he kills mice and other pests that may eat the restaurant’s fruits and vegetables!

People in Costa Rica live outside a lot. Most of the typical restaurants are open on all of the sides and you sit under a roof only. Many of the houses also have large open areas where you sit only under a roof to protect from the large quantities of rain that fall in this country. Except in the mountains, cold is never a problem. The temperature is 65° to 85° all of the time. There is no such thing as a furnace or an electric heat system.

We climbed over the mountains into the plateau which is called the Central Valley, the most populous part of Costa Rica. Much of the valley is filled with farming and also the largest city and capital, San Jose is there. San Jose proper has a population of about 1 1/2 million people and the greater San Jose area has about 2 1/2 million people, in a country of 4 1/2 million people.

We arrived in San Jose and checked into our hotel, the Best Western. It was quite upscale, much different from Best Westerns in the US. We had dinner in the hotel restaurant and retired for the evening.


Today we set out for the Irazu volcano. We climbed from an elevation of about 1200 m to an elevation of about 3400 m or over 10,000 feet. The area we passed through is considered the bread basket of Costa Rica. Besides the crops like pineapple and banana and coffee, which are grown other places, the mainstream vegetables for consumption in the entire country are grown here.

On the way up we stopped in Cartago, at a church called El Basílico Los Angeles. The story of the church is that a native girl found a statue of the Virgin Mary by a spring. She took it home and the next day it disappeared. She went back to the spring and it was there. She did this two more times and finally she took the statue to the priest. Once again the statue disappeared and was found back at the spring. The priest decided that this was a sign from God that a church should be built on this site. So that is what was done and the spring is also still there. On 2 August, as many as 1 million people in Costa Rica go on a pilgrimage to this church, which is considered exceptionally holy. The church is very attractive outside and in.

We continued climbing up the mountain seeing beautiful vistas of checkered fields, blue skies and puffy clouds. Eventually we got to the height of the clouds and a little above and the clouds began to look like a white lake or like heaven.

We came to the Irazú volcano because the Poas volcano where the tour usually goes is active. Costa Rica is on the Pacific Rim and therefore is a very seismic country. There are over 100 volcanoes, at least one or two active at any time and earthquakes are a common occurrence. Sarah had experienced one right before we came. The last time Irazú erupted was in 1964 right in the middle of President Kennedy‘s speech at the San Jose airport. Ash rained down and after he finished his speech he was hustled out of there.

We arrived at the volcano and waited in line for quite a while to get in. On Sundays families in Costa Rica go out into the parks and into the country to relax and be together. Some come to the volcano. We were able to see three craters of the volcano with the aqua colored water inside. It was cool but exceptionally sunny and the air was thin due to the elevation. We walked all around and took pictures and then we departed.

We drove back down the mountain and through San Jose and up partway up the mountain on the opposite side. We stopped at a typical restaurant filled with Costa Ricans out on Sunday outing and we shared a huge plate of native Costa Rican foods: arroz con pollo (rice with chicken), black bean dip, chimichurri (tomatoes and onions in lime juice)

chorreadas (corn pancakes), fried plantains and puerco a la plancha (grilled pork).

Next , we visited a hydro powered oxcart factory. This factory gets all of its power from a mountain stream. There is a water wheel that can be engaged or unengaged from the stream and that water wheel is attached to other gears that power the machinery used in the factory. Oxcarts obviously have become substantially obsolete but at some point in time they began painting the oxcarts with beautiful designs and now they have become decorative objects to use as planters, lawn decorations, lobby decorations etc.

Costa Rica is very proud of the fact that 98% of their energy comes from renewable sources, water, wind and sun.

We returned to our hotel and after a brief rest we went out to a restaurant in San Jose called Tin Jo. This was an Asian restaurant that had five different types of Asian food: Chinese, Thai, Indian, Japanese and Korean. There was a room decorated in the style of each of the five cultures. The furniture in the entrance was made by our friend Brian, the bamboo artist! This was our tour’s farewell dinner. I feel as if I have made three new friends and seen the entire country of Costa Rica to boot. What an awesome experience!!

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