Thursday, August 29, 2013

Volcano, Coffee, Wildlife, and Waterfalls

I mentioned the other day that I had a lot of activity planned for today and boy did I ever. I don't think I've had as much packed into one day since Semuc Champey. Today's undertaking was completely different from that, but it was still crazy fun and interesting. Let's begin, shall we?
That's a picture of coffee cherries. They are ripe when they turn red, so these clearly aren't ready for the picking yet, but luckily harvest season doesn't begin until November. I'm getting ahead of myself, though. The day began at Doka Coffee Estate, where we got a full tour of the coffee growing, harvesting, and roasting process. Having been to both whisky distilleries and wineries in the past, it was interesting seeing the ways in which they are all similar.

Next up was Parque Nacional Volcán Poás. The main crater, seen below, has a lake of milky blue water with sulfurous fumes wafting all around (yum!). A second, now extinct crater is a lake filled with acid rain water where very few organisms can grow and thrive. The park had a couple of pretty easy, paved trails to get to these two craters with unobtrusive signage along the way, explaining things about the area's foliage or wildlife. One sign cracked me up. It was an "in case of volcanic activity" sign that suggested such things as going back to the visitor center if you feel bad or can't breath, and not staying for a long time if you have asthma or hypertension. Uh...yeah?! What about keeping calm and evacuating quickly, that type of thing? :-) (Don't worry; there were signs that had those warnings, too.) According to our guide, we were very lucky because the volcano was completely clear - sometimes clouds and fog roll in super quickly and when that happens you can't see anything.
Our last stop of the day was La Paz Waterfall Gardens and, to be honest, I thought this would be the least interesting part of the day. My guidebook described the gardens as a "series of self-guided riverside trails linking five waterfalls" which also had a "butterfly observatory, aviary, trout lake, frog exhibit, and serpentarium." My thought was, meh. I've seen waterfalls, butterflys are boring, and trout? Really? 
I'm actually happy to say that I couldn't have been more wrong. That toucan up there wasn't the first one I'd seen (although it was the first chestnut-billed one), but it was certainly the first I'd seen up close and personal. (Can you tell it's freaking me out just a little bit?) The butterflies were pretty (still boring, though. Ha!), I wanted to pet the snakes, and the frogs were AWESOME. There were even jungle cats - cougars and ocelots - that my guidebook hadn't mentioned. (None of the animals were removed from the wild, FYI. They were all rescues, as most had been kept as pets illegally, at least according to our guide.) Even the waterfall was pretty cool because our guide showed us this neat optical illusion. From a viewpoint opposite the waterfall, we stared at the middle of the falls for 10 seconds and then looked to the right of them totally looked like the wall of rock was moving up as the water was flowing down. Neat-o. There are TONS more pictures, if you're interested.

It was also a really good food day, too. :-) Breakfast at Doka was a traditional gallo pinto, huevos rancheros, fruit, and coffee, but it was probably the tastiest gallo pinto I'd had in awhile. Lunch was buffet-style at La Paz and included things like potato and beef hash, frijoles molidos (mashed beans), roasted chicken, beet and potato salad, pasta, pizza, rice pudding, carrots and green beans, and a salad bar, plus other stuff I'm probably forgetting. For dinner this evening I was already back at my hostel, but I walked around the corner to a cevicheria and had a big-ass portion of ceviche that was quite good. It wasn't as good as what I had in Belize, but still pretty good.

Like I said, it was a long day. I had so much fun!

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