Day 8 - Tuesday
Bus was to pick us up at 8:30 for the “jeep boat jeep” trip to Monteverde. The jeep was actually a bus, called a “coaster,” a nice larger van that holds about 25 people. After our group of 15 we made two other stops for passengers on our way out of town and out to the lake. It must not have been over five miles and was the most comfortable part of the trip! We were dropped off at the side of the road on the other side of the dam. There was a steep road, more like a boat launch ramp down to the water’s edge. Everyone had to roll or tote their bags down the steep grade to the lake shore. We loaded onto a large flat bottom boat with a canopy over it. It would be about the size of three pontoon boats and equipped with formed fiberglass benches. Life vests were stowed in a rack overhead near the roof. The boat ride was calm and the steady hum of the motor and the sound of splashing water was relaxing. Some dozed off on the boat ride. It must have been about 30-45 minutes to the shore where we disembarked. I took several pictures of the green pastures, trees, and beautiful countryside.
When we arrived there were about six vans waiting to transport everyone to Monteverde. Our group was divided in two and assigned to two vans, eight in one and seven in the other. Our vans were number 1 and 3. We found our assigned van and loaded up for the hour and a half ride up to Monteverde. Much of the road was gravel and pretty rough. As we climbed in altitude we found ourselves on a ridge road with sloping green pastures and trees on either side. About halfway we stopped in a small little village for restrooms. There was a little snack shop where we were able to buy water or sodas and chips.
For part of the trip to Monteverde we picked up another passenger. He was a young man from Massachusetts and was backpacking around Costa Rica for the first time. He was interesting and quite inquisitive about our group. He seemed impressed that our youth would come to Costa Rica to do humanitarian projects. His family was originally from Mombai (Bombay), India. However, he obviously was raised in the US because he had no trace of an Indian accent.
We finally arrived in Monteverde around noon and dropped our rider off in front of another hostel. We continued on about a half mile and arrived at our second Sleepers Hostel. We were able to check into rooms for most of our group. One room for the guys was not ready so we put their stuff in our room so we could get out for some of our activity tours.
We bought tickets for the coffee plantation tour, the cheese tour and the night cloud forest tour. The night tour was optional but everyone wanted to do it and shelled out the $15 for the tour. A local transportation van picked us up about 1:30 for the tour on the Don Juan Coffee plantation. It was really cool. We learned all about coffee, the plants and the process to make high quality coffee. We actually met Don Juan. He was elderly and retired but was happy to meet with us and pose for pictures. With the coffee tours I guess he’s somewhat of a local celebrity. We were also given a ride in an ox cart down the dirt road. It was rougher than you might expect and makes me thankful for pneumatic tires and paved roads … oh, and cushioned seats!
This is a rather small family owned operation. At the end of the tour we were given samples of coffee (light & dark roast) and little snacks. The snacks consisted of a cheese corn ball, a small dish of rice pudding, and chocolate covered coffee beans. Of course, they had a small gift shop where their coffees, chocolate coffee beans, and souvenirs were available for purchase. They have a unique coffee maker here in Costa Rica. It is a wooden rack with a white sock like filter that holds the coffee. You pour boiling water through the coffee grounds in the sock and collect the coffee in your mug below.
Our van driver picked us up and took us to the cheese factory tour. The factory here in Monteverde was started in 1953 by Quaker immigrants from the United States. During the Korean conflict some Quakers left the country because of the opposition to the draft for military service. Because they were pacifists and did not agree with capital punishment, twelve families from Alabama came to Costa Rica. There were about 30-40 initially. In 1948 Costa Rica had dismantled their army and they were also a democratic State. These were incentives for the Quakers to choose to come to Costa Rica.
The Quaker families were seeking to find a way to make a living in a new land. They chose the higher elevation of Monteverde to escape the risks of malaria and yellow fever associated with the lower elevations of the tropics. They purchased land from the mining companies that controlled must of the land in the area of Monteverde.
They decided on cheese because it could be produced locally and transported down the mountain to other market areas. Then they had to learn out to make cheese! That was the part that was so incredible to me. They chose cheese making as a means to make a living with virtually no knowledge of the process. A German cheese maker came and helped them learn to make it and get started. They now buy milk from diary farmers in the area and make several million dollars a year supplying a large amount of cheese for Costa Rica with some exports to Nicaragua.
We ended the tour with a video presentation of the history of the Quakers who came to Costa Rica, then we sampled some of the cheeses she talked about on the tour. There were about six cheeses and the caramel that is made from the cheese whey. It was all good. I think my least favorite was the provolone smoked with wood from the coffee trees.
We concluded the tour about 4:45 and went into their café to eat something before our night tour in the jungle. Someone there was not happy with 15 people coming in to eat so close to closing time. I guess they normally close at 5:00. The unhappy one spoke Spanish and the other lady tried to translate without the attitude. Finally, the translator called someone and discussed the issue for another 5 minutes. Our bus was supposed to be there at 5:10 so it was a big issue. My wife and I just bought some cheese, caramel, and drinks and went outside to wait on the bus. They did finally agree to fry some hamburgers so 7 or 8 of the group got their hamburgers to go. This was our first and really only bad experience with anyone. Everyone else was very friendly and only too happy to serve. Of course many make their living on tourism.
Our same driver showed up with the van to take us to the night tour in the jungle looking for nocturnal creatures. When we got to the place for the tour, only about 10 minutes drive, we were divided into two groups to walk with a guide. They passed out LED flashlights for us to carry and try to spot wildlife. We began pretty good. There was an animal that is similar to the raccoon but is a day time creature with a longer tail. We saw him just as it was getting dark. There was another large rat looking thing up the trail.
We did pretty good until we saw a big spider. Josh freaked out. He has a strong aversion to anything arachnid! I’m sure his hollering fits helped clear some of the nocturnal creatures. 🙂 (We love you Josh!) We still had fun and saw more spiders than anything. We tramped around in the woods for a good hour and a half before returning to the parking area where we would catch the van. It was there we say a raccoon coming down out of a tree.
The other group returned and we went back to the hostel. Some wanted to walk down to the small shopping area about ½ mile from us so my wife and I had the van driver drop us off there on his way home. We gave him a tip and went in to a souvenir shop while waiting for the group to come up. We met up with some of them in the gift shop below Don Juan’s Restaurant. By now we were famished and tired from all the walking tours. Gayla and I went upstairs and got a table, ordered, were almost finished eating when a few more of the group came in to eat. I had the Casado Especial (the traditional dinner with chicken) and Gayla had Fettuccini Alfredo. It was very good. We finished our meal, paid out, told the group goodnight and walked back down the hill to our hostel and went to bed. It was a long day.