El Toledo Coffee Tour

Costa Rica is famous for its coffee (and who doesn’t love a little pick me up?), so of course we had to do a coffee tour when mom and dad were in town. There is an excellent organic coffee producer in the Atenas area called El Toledo so we signed up for a tour and lunch. We did this back in December and I had meant to write about it then, but somehow life got in the way.  Anyways, it was a pretty cool experience.

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El Toledo is a family run coffee farm and our tour was given by Gabriel who works together with family on the farm. He first spoke with us a bit about organic farming and how important it is to keep in mind that all living things are interconnected and that using chemicals or depending on only one product is harmful for the environment and for the future success of the farm and therefore the family’s livelihood. img_2950
Their family seems to be very progressive and throughout the years, they have made adjustments and major changes to the way they farm their land. From using chemicals to going organic and from only growing coffee to diversifying their crops.

We first had fun with a taste test of the different coffee roasts which they made using the traditional Costa Rican chorreador (hot water poured over the grounds which then drips into the cup below) method. img_2949We blind tasted the light, medium and dark roast and tried to guess which was which. It seemed that almost all of us preferred the dark roast, while he explained that the light and medium roasts offer much more complexities in flavor whereas the dark is easier to produce as it is less complex. We also learned how many things affect the flavor when making coffee such as the temperature of the water, if the grounds are fine or more course, the amount of water versus coffee grounds, and how long the coffee brews.

Gabriel’s father was roasting beans in their retro roaster which is a pretty cool machine! It was quite a process and he seemed to just know what the the right temperature should be and when the beans were ready to be taken out of the roaster and cooled depending on which roast he was going for.

We then took a walk through the farm. We were lucky to do the tour just as they were starting to harvest the beans so the coffee plants were ready to be picked, which is all done by hand. Gabriel also pointed out many other plants and trees of interest on the farm and we all learned a ton about farming in Costa Rica.

After our little walk through the farm, we ended up back at the farmhouse for a yummy typical casado lunch and some time to relax…or play and be crazy as was the case for Oscar and Alice.

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Driving in Costa Rica

Our 2010 Honda CRV – aka ‘white lightning’

Driving in Costa Rica is a little hairy as most of the roads are two lanes, very narrow, windy, hilly, and not in the best condition…though there are some nice exceptions. On the other hand, for all those same reasons, the drives around here are gorgeous and the vistas are often breathtaking. As we’re approaching the 6 month mark here (!!!), I thought I’d share a few things we’ve learned to watch out for while on the roads.

  • Landslides – As much of the country is mountainous and roads are cut through the mountains, landslides are very common after heavy rains and especially in the rainy season, and it sometimes take a day or two before they are cleared so it’s common for roads and major routes even to close after heavy rainfall.
  • One lane bridges – There are very few two lane bridges in Costa Rica except on a few of the highways, so you will often come across one lane bridges. There is always a “Ceda el Paso” (yield) sign on one side of the bridge and the other side has the right of way so you have to make sure to look for the sign so you know if you have the right of way or if you have to stop.

    ‘Ceda’ en Limón province
  • Potholes – They are everywhere and they can be deep.
  • Deep drainage channels at edge of streets means tricky parking in town and even on the highway so don’t go over the ‘cliff’ as there typically is no shoulder.
Atenas Centro after repaving
  • Use your 4-way flashers. Everyone loves their 4 way flashers and use them for just about everything: making a turn, slowing down, pulling over, and oncoming cars use them to warn of accident, landslide, police or just about any hazard ahead. If you see someone flashing them, best to slow down.
  • Motos are very common and love to pass on the left or the right (!!) especially when there is traffic.
  • Cyclists – Another bogey! I wouldn’t have thought cycling would be so popular here with the steep, narrow roads, but it’s huge! Again, there are really no shoulders here so passing can be tricky if there is heavy traffic.
  • Accidents – You can’t move your car if you’ve been in an accident in Costa Rica for insurance and police report purposes so traffic can back up for literally hours depending on the severity of the accident.
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We waited for over an hour in this spot waiting for an accident to clear.
  • Always be ready to merge. Even the major highways (the Interamericana and Route 27) go from four lanes to two lanes with little to no warning so you always need to be paying attention and be prepared to merge into one lane at any minute.
  • Roadside stands are fantastic. Stop and see what’s fresh and local.
One stand on the Interamericana selling jocotes, honey, peanuts and other local products.
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One of the many coconut oil stands in Limón area. 

And here are just a few more interesting driving related photos. 🙂

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Interesting maneuver – cars going off-roading and through barricades to pass cars on the right in San José.

Tractor trailer hauling oranges from Nicaragua to Costa Rica, banana plantations and truck hauling yucca.

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Beautiful views looking south from the Ruta Vieja (old road – route 3) between Atenas and San Mateo.