Central Highlands 1995

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January 1995 

We traveled just a half hour's drive outside of the city to see is Cafe Britt - a working coffee plantation, as well as a popular tourist destination. Go there for a couple of hours...learn how coffee beans  are processed; meet some coffee tasters; walk among the coffee bushes; and see how coffee is processed from coffee cherries through the roasting process. They put on a terrific tour complete with skits !  Of course, they also sell some of the finest coffee to be found in Costa Rica (makes great gifts).

Skit at Cafe Britt (26212 bytes) Coffee beans drying in the sun (89335 bytes) 950122.jpg (72432 bytes)

The city of San Jose can be rough in spots, so stay away from the downtown sections, if at all possible. The hotel district is much safer for tourists, and offers all sorts of things to do and see. There are shopping districts, parks, museums, restaurants, and supermarkets in this area. As you can see by the photo of a typical house in town, the Spanish influence is very strong. Although not visible in this photo, barbed wire on the walls and roofs is the norm for houses located in San Jose. To quote one of the guidebooks, "Costa Ricans don't trust each other very much, and you shouldn't either."

You might be asking yourself If it's so horrible in Costa Rica, why did this guy go there for a vacation? The answer is easy: 90% of Costa Ricans are really nice people, and are genuinely interested in helping tourists see their country. Costa Ricans are very proud of their country, and justifiably so. I can honestly say that in all my travels, I have not encountered any nation who is more welcoming of tourists. Read on to see just what I am talking about. Throughout this travelog, I will try to relate stories which reveal this pride. Look for the miniature Costa Rican flag symbol. cr-flagx.gif (1132 bytes)

OK...here's your first flag symbol:

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cr-flagx.gif (1132 bytes)   As an aside, both the Fun Sun guides and the Jungle Lodge guides are fully-trained in their profession. They went to university to get their degree in tourism...including writing a thesis! The Jungle Lodge guides took additional certification courses to show tourists the turtles laying their eggs in such a way as to minimize disruption of this natural process. In short, Costa Ricans treat their tourism industry very seriously, and make every effort to ensure every tourist has a successful vacation experience. I don't see that level of commitment to tourism in the U.S. or Canada.

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On our way to El Tucano resort in the central highlands, we stopped at Costa Flores, which is a horticultural garden specializing in the export of cut flowers to North America and Europe. There were many varieties of native plants and trees, and there were also some spectacular humming birds dipping in and out of the bushes. The main products of Costa Flores are heliconias and antheriums, although there are many other plant varieties such as Bird of Paradise. Antheriums are traditionally red, pink or white, however Costa Flores has just developed a new colour of antherium - purple. Look for this new variety in your local florist shop within the next few months, or contact Costa Flores directly (tel 288-3571, fax 716-5047).

We stayed at El Tucano Resort, which has some wonderful volcanic hot pools available. Guests can choose to either experience the hot pools right in the river itself (my preference), or go up to the pool deck and float around in the hot water pumped up from the river into hot tubs. There is also a wonderful steam bath - by all accounts a superb experience!


Bird of Paradise flower (43312 bytes) Hummingbird (37278 bytes) Antherium (30962 bytes)
El Tucano Resort  (83885 bytes) Mariachi band (41714 bytes)  

El Tucano is a quiet resort, so those who like to party all night long will not find this place much fun. They do have a modest casino open to the wee hours of the morning, however the main bar and restaurant close by 9pm or so. A mariachi band entertains in the restaurant several nights each week, and adds some fun to the atmosphere. The rooms are very well appointed, with traditional Spanish decor, although they are modern in every way. El Tucano is near the town of San Carlos.

La Fortuna is the town nearest to the Arenal Volcano. This volcano is one of the most active in Costa Rica, so we took a little side trip to see it one evening. I must say that the volcano is rather underwhelming. We certainly heard it rumbling, and although we did get sprayed with volcanic ash, there were no dramatic events while we were there.

Arenal volcano (28887 bytes)The volcano is partly overgrown now, since it has been several years since dramatic activity has occurred. A postcard picture of the volcano taken a few years ago will have to do, since my pictures don't do it justice. Despite the apparent lack of activity, the Costa Rican authorities regularly take out severely burned tourists from the area - tourists who do not heed the warning signs! Volcan Arenal erupted in July of 1968, sending out shock waves as far as Boulder, Colorado, and poisoning people with volcanic gases. At the time, lava flows engulfed the little town of Pueblo Nuevo. By the time the volcano settled down again, it had killed 78 people.

The Ticos (a nickname the Costa Ricans call themselves) have their own version of bull fights. The bull has a definite advantage, since the Ticos don't believe in killing him. The matador plays with the bull until the matador is beaten (which always happens), then some of the crowd who are feeling brave jump into the ring and take their turns with the bull. The bull always survives, but there are sometimes injuries among the matadors!

Rural Costa Rica near San Ramon (52870 bytes)Departing El Tucano, we travelled through one of the most beautiful parts of Costa Rica, over the continental divide to the Pacific Coast. We passed through the town of Zarcaro, where there are some curious sculpted cypress bushes, which are in the shapes of animals. San Ramon was also on our way, and the Saturday market was in full swing. Later in the day, we arrived at the Fiesta Hotel, located on the Pacific Coast just south of the town of Puntarenas.

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Our tour guide Cecilio Barnes (works for Fun Sun Tours) was a real gem, as was our driver Carlos. Cecilio was unfailingly cheerful, very proud of his country, and constantly regaling us with little stories about the people and history of Costa Rica. Although he had command of an incredible volume of facts and figures about the areas we travelled through, he even knew when to shut up and let us rest too!

Cecilio always phoned ahead to arrange meals for us, and always chose restaurants that served good, wholesome food, at very reasonable prices. Typical lunches cost us between 600 and 700 colones (CDN$6-7, US$4.50-5.00). Most meals at these local restaurants served beef, fish or chicken with beans and rice - local food, in other words. When you eat in local restaurants, order the fruit juices. They are always squeezed fresh, and are most enjoyable. Try the tamarindo juice - although a bit pulpy, the flavour is wonderful!




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