I’d been looking forward to today a lot. It was nice to finally get out of San Jose and see what Costa Rica is all about. It was an early start, getting picked up at 6am. I don’t recall the name of the tour guide but she spoke that quickly in both English and Spanish, barely breathing, that it was difficult to understand what language she was speaking in. We headed up into the mountains to visit a coffee plantation, where we also got some breakfast. There were six types of high quality coffee available to sample and although I’m not hugely affected by caffeine, six cups will make anyone wired. We were then given a tour through the coffee making process. Apparently most coffee is picked by Nicaraguan immigrant workers who can earn three times their typical salary from back home by picking coffee beans in Costa Rica. That assumes that they survive the snakes and spiders that live among the coffee plants. The beans are then sorted into three different quality categories by throwing them in water and separating according to floating density. The lowest quality usually remains in Central America. The second category is commonly used in the high street chain coffee shops, while the high end variety is usually exported abroad as a top of the range product. We tried some of the fancy stuff but I could barely tell the difference between it and the middle grade, certainly not enough to justify the price difference. I also learned that the dark roast coffee tends to have more of a flavour but less caffeine content which kind of makes sense if the longer roasting process removes caffeine. Previously I’d always presumed that a stronger tasting coffee would contain more caffeine.

Visiting a volcano in Costa Rica is kind of like a must-see thing. We went to the Poas Volcano National Park, the novelty of which is that it is of the live variety of volcano. And when I say active, there was smoke coming out of the thing today! Apparently the visibility can be a bit hit or miss due to mists from the nearby jungle. The tour guide had a web cam of the volcano on her phone and advised us to run to the viewing platform as it was currently clear. It was and although the view was good, you’re a bit of a distance away. However after reading all the health warnings that may not the worst thing ever. Pregnant women and anyone with cardiac problems are advised not to visit. Those with respiratory issues are told not to stay for long. There’s a sign requesting that visitors do not to stay on the viewing platform for longer than 20 minutes. Initially I thought that this was to ease congestion but having seen all the health warnings its like that every minute over twenty that you hang around for will take time off your life expectancy!

We were taken to a gift shop on route to the next stop. Everyone was given a free sample of half a strawberry on a cocktail stick and about 5-10ml of wine before being invited to purchase some of their overpriced produce. I don’t want to sound like a tightarse but who would pay £4 for a small bar of chocolate, no matter what credentials it claimed to have? The next proper place was a wildlife sanctuary. I don’t really like zoos but apparently these animals were all rescued from being illegally kept and would not be able to survive if they were let out into the wild. If that’s true then great. We saw plenty of exotic birds, snakes, big cats, monkeys and frogs. The frogs we’re behind any glass screens but lived in their own greenhouse among the plants. Although they were within reaching distance we were advised not to touch them as some are poisonous. What? You’re allowed within feet of poisonous frogs? We were told that as they’re nocturnal most will be asleep so don’t worry too much!

The final stop was a rain forest where we could walk along trails and see some waterfalls. Again this seems to be a major tourist attraction with well organised paths taking you around the route. The waterfalls were quite impressive although unlike the ones in Mexico you couldn’t swim down these! We made it back to the van before the rain forest lived up to its name and it started lashing down. The traffic back to San Jose was horrific. What should have been an hour-and-a-half drive took over three hours.There was a girl from Nebraska behind me moaning about the traffic for the whole of the last hour, really whining away for maximum annoyance. Someone asked her if the traffic was bad where she came from. She replied that the only time you ever get a traffic jam in Lincoln is if a slow tractor is on the road and then it delays everyone by about two minutes. I could still hear her jabbering on over the top of my iPod music!

Today was a really nice day. It was great to see some of the good outdoorsy stuff that Costa Rica has to offer. In hindsight it would have been better not to have gone anywhere near San Jose but that was difficult given the flight times and the somewhat tight timetable.

Coffee plants
The final product
Government health warning for volcano visitors

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Zoomed in a bit but definitely some activity happening
A sleeping frog, allegedly poisonous
Just before it poured down in the rain forest