Monday, July 25, 2011

{Costa Rica 2011} - Day 3 - Monteverde

I'm pretty sure mother nature was trying to freak me out before my Canopy Tour.  After breakfast we had an hour or so to kill before the Canopy Tour so we were relaxing in our room. Tony jumped off the bed where he'd been reading and shouted "Temblor!"  I just looked at him like he was nuts and asked what he was talking about.  He said he felt an earthquake.  I told him that it was wicked windy outside and since our building was standalone and not terribly well built that it was probably just the wind.  Nope, Tony is a walking seismograph.  It was a 5.5 magnitude earthquake that probably felt more like a 3.5 by the time it got up to us.  That's imperceptible to many, but apparently not Tony.  So, add to the super terrible, walk at an angle to get anywhere wind from hell the chance that there'd be an aftershock and you have one freaked out zip line virgin.  They don't cancel the zip line canopy tours unless the wind is at 100mph and, while it felt that strong, it wasn't even close.
We headed to the Sky Trek location and my confidence was improving since it didn't feel as windy when we got there.  I was feeling confident in my lovely helmet and harness and was ready to dangle from a wire over the cloud forest.

The wind was a sneaky bastard though because he kicked back up right when it would scare me the most.  We were about halfway up the tram line to our first zip line location when it really started gusting.  After I caught my breath I turned around to try and take some photos of the amazing view.  I could see the Gulf of Nicoya, Arenal Volcano, and obviously the cloud forest all at the same time.  It's a little hard to see in the photo below but it was the best I could get in the 10 seconds I was willing to let go of my seat to take a photo.  Look to the right under a wire and you'll see Arenal.  To the left is where you'll most easily see the gulf and the general haze is thanks to the little cloud we were going through at the moment.

When we got to the top we had to climb a tall tower to get to our first zip line.  We had to wait a while for all of the people in our group to get up and off the tram.  During that time the wind was trying to kill me.  We had to hunch down on the wet tower otherwise we literally felt like we were being blown across the metal platform.  This first zip line took us to a hight of 200ft and a speed of approximately 30mph.  Probably faster because the wind was behind us.  On a few zips we had to double up because we were going against the wind and the extra weight would increase our speed.  Even then it was possible to get stuck.  Below is a picture of Luis Guillermo and his zipping buddy pulling themselves into the landing area since they got stuck about 30 ft out.  Luckily it wasn't in the middle!

After about the third line I started to feel a little better but the wind was still brutal.  You can see the line blowing to the right a bit in this picture below.  Imagine it with a person on it to actually catch the wind!

I'm glad it didn't take me long to relax a bit because when you're on the zip and look to your left or right the view is truly breathtaking.  Seeing the gulf, the volcano, the forest, etc all without anything in the way is pretty awesome.  Now, I'm not saying I could handle the zip lines where you ride like superman but I'd at least consider it. :)
Luis Guillermo and Lucy had both done zip line tours more than once before and enjoyed my nerves.  I'm glad they were there with me, it made it easier to just jump in and do it when you see your boyfriend's 13 year old sister heading to the front of the line.  But even they admitted the wind was crazy and Luis Guillermo said that it was probably the strongest wind he'd ever experienced on a zip tour and that it was quite the sensation to feel it blowing you as you went on the line.  The picture below was taken as we got ready to go on the 5th line, which is the highest of them all.

There were supposed to be 9 lines total but the longest and fastest was under repair so we did a couple extra lines that seemed to me to be "backup" lines because we had to hike to get to them through the forest and across a very tiny and seemingly flimsy suspension bridge that wasn't even wide enough to walk straight on with our gear.
It's hard to get good pictures as you're doing the real lines, but at least they took one on the practice line at the very beginning.  Granted, it was only about 20ft off the ground and not nearly as fast but you still get the idea.  I, of course, had to buy that one for $15 after the tour but it was worth it. :)  I did have Lucy try to take a couple of pics of me as I went on the lines and got a couple short video clips as well.
After it was all over I was so glad that I didn't chicken out like a couple of people on the tour.  After the zip tour I only had a little bit of time to explore the suspension bridges but it was wroth it!  And even Tony is okay with the bridges (he hates zip lines and will never go on one again, I guess). :)

I wish I could have checked out all of the bridges but we had a coffee tour to get to!  And let me tell you, after that zip line tour and the cold, wet weather I really wanted a cup of coffee!
Monteverde is known for its coffee (and general awesomeness).  There are a ton of places in Costa Rica to do coffee tours but knowing that Tony's mom's favorite coffee comes from Monteverde it seemed like the best place to do it.  I wasn't exactly sure what to expect with the tour but it turned out to be awesome.  They picked us up and took us to one of many small farmers that grows coffee in the region.  The farm is only about 3 hectares (or a bit under 8 acres) and is run by a man and his three sons.  Not only do they grow coffee but they grow pretty much everything else they need as well!  They have chickens, cows, herbs, vegetables, honey, bananas, etc!

Of course, coffee is their primary crop and we got the grand tour of the operation.  The explained the entire process from planting to harvest and beyond.  Victor was one of the few farmers in his particular area (the little town was even sort of named after Tony's family - Cañitas) that was smart enough to leave the forest surrounding his crop.  Over the years it's proven to be great protection and nutrition for his crop...and it looks pretty.

We saw the various stages of the coffee beans.  The green isn't ready to harvest yet.  Once it turns red it's ready to be picked.  Each one of these berry like things can hold one to three actual beans.  Two is ideal.

Once the beans are harvested and shelled they are set out to dry.  Some are sun dried which gives them the darker color.

After the tour at the farm we were brough to a cafe and roasterie for a mini roasting demo and our free treats!  They were in the procces of setting up a smaller farm tour behind the cafe for those that didn't have time to do the on-site tour like we did.  They even had some corn but that wasn't too exciting for me. :)

The payoff was at the end, of course.  We got any cafe item we wanted and I got a huge piece of chocolate cake which served as my lunch since I didn't have time to get anything after this zip line tour.  And we tried the various roasts of coffee.  I learned that for a high quality coffee you should always get a medium roast.  Also, there's only about 30 seconds between each stage of roasting (light to medium to dark).  All of it was delicious but the most interesting was their special blend that is made by roasting the beans in their parchment shell. This is a method of roasting that practically no one uses anymore because it takes so much longer than traditional shell-less roasting.  But the flavor is totally unique.  I made sure to pick up a bag for myself and for a few other people that I know would appreciate it.  This is half of the coffee that I ended up buying on the trip for myself and for others in the states.  The ones in the brown bag are the special roast that I mentioned.

After the tour we stopped by a little yoga studio/shop that I had spotted called Rio Shanti which was in the very first quaker house from 1949.   I browsed around a bit, longed for some expensive jewelry, and then we headed back to the hotel to clean up for dinner.  We also got treated to a lovely sunset with the gulf tucked into the background.

Dinner was at a fusion place called Trio that had some really good food.  Tony was particularly smitten with the Coco Trio drink.  They messed up my order but didn't charge me for it and gave me a free drink so I can't hate too much. :)
Another great day!  The trek to Arenal volcano awaited us in the morning so we all made sure to get a good night's sleep for the early departure.

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