Thursday, May 26, 2011

Coffee Tour Boquete 26 May

We had been told by a guy at a tour office that Cafe Sitton coffee growers and processors
located on the continental divide, with a spectacular view to the Pacific ocean in the distance
offer tours for just $3 per person. Since other coffee producers charge upwards of $30 we decided to try our luck at a tour in Spanish for a fraction of the cost. Felipe was our guide and he was smashing. Together we managed just fine and reckon we had a far better interactive experience 'cos it was so much fun trying to make ourselves understood!
Here are some photos of the process of getting coffee to your cup. It all starts here, in the mountains where the best coffee beans are grown
After flowering
the fruit sets
and when it is ripe
in December after about 8 months of growing, it is picked. Local Mestizo Indians usually provide the labour. Ramon agreed to pose for a photo
and was quite tickled when we showed him a picture of himself! The fruit is soft at this point and if you squeeze it, the bean pops out covered in a soft moist coating which actually tastes quite sweet. Once the bean is harvested, it is put through a machine which removed the pulpy exterior, this is then used as fertilizer. Next the bean is soaked in water for 24 hours then dried and the husk removed
This husk is used to build the fires along with logs
to warm the bean driers, and also as a fertilizer.
Once the bean was dried, it was put into another machine to be dehusked
and bagged
The next step is to 'classify' the beans. This is done using a vibrating machine,
which sorts the beans into premium grade on the left
a secondary in the middle and third grade to the right (which tends to be smaller and has lots of brown dried husks with it) both of which will be re-sorted separately.
Then the bean is bagged up and sent to Panama City to be roasted or the green bean is exported, all over the world
Although Cafe Sitton only grows a small amount, it is a processing point for many small Fincas locally. Naturally we bought some coffee from Rafael, for ourselves to enjoy
Then it was off for a taste of the bean-an espresso of course
Here is a painting depicting the coffee producing process. It is very colourful and somewhat romantic, but in no way conveys the labour intensive hand picking necessary in baking heat, being attacked by flying and crawling insects
Philipe our guide
was fantastic. He took us around the processing plant and talked us through the detail of the process. He was patient whilst we formulated questions and answers, and we really enjoyed swapping stories about music and travel. Thank you Felipe.
After our coffee tour, we strolled around another small garden/exhibition/market area on the banks of the river
The colourful dots in the distance are mum and daughter washing and drying clothes
Although the temperature here is around 80F it is winter and the flowers are just going over!
David said he wanted to have a ride in the flower cups, but I had to tell him they were just seats!
Next we took off before the rains started, for another scenic bike tour further up into the mountainous jungle
Although Boquete is a strange little town, lacking the colour, vibrancy and bustling atmosphere often created by street vendors, cafés, tourist shops, usually found around town squares (the town square in Boquete is currently under some reconstruction), it does though seem to provide most of what you might need to buy. It is certainly very popular with Americans, who apparently flock here to buy Fincas, and buy/build the biggest houses you ever saw in your life for two retirees! But the bonus rather like Plymouth in Devon UK (also somewhat spare in atmosphere, due to major rebuilding post WW II) is the location. Nestled in at the side of the Caldera River, in the highlands of Panama, Boquete is surrounded by cloud forest, and it has to be one of the most mystical and beautiful places we have visited. Just a few minutes over the bridge and out of town and you are transported to another space in time.

The heavens opened to pour her bounty on us at around 12.30hrs so we dived for cover and lunch and to spend the afternoon updating the Blog and preparing to leave for somewhere else in Panama, (possibly Ocu on the Peninsula de Azuero to buy David a woven hat, a replacement for his Panama that flew out of the top box at Volcan Arenal!) tomorrow morning.

Mi Jardin... Boquete 25 May

We spent this morning biking around doing a few scenic routes, ending up at Cafe Ruiz de Panama for a locally grown, processed and roasted coffee-we went back the next day and bought some beans. Then we ambled up the road to visit a private garden open to the public for free. 'Mi jardin es su jardin' is apparently the work of a 99yr old gentleman. I think it is a wonderfully imaginative and fun garden, with interest around every curve. We haven't added our pictures 'cos those on the link say it all...

Pipeline Trail Boquete 25 May

A more sedentary day followed the adrenaline rush of yesterday. We had been told about a short walk (about 45 minutes) to a waterfall, which wound its way through some pretty landscape. The ride to the trail head was lovely
The pipeline clearly visible along the roadside
The trail head was as to be expected invisible to the naked eye. Eventually we guessed the opening and strolled on. The trail
criss-crossed the river for about an hour, with many tiny bridges
over rushing water
The pipeline guiding our route all the way
onwards through the jungle
until we could here the gentle sounds of falling water
After a half hours rest and relax, we took the trail back passing huge trees
moss covered stop valves in the pipeline
and through more jungle
with bromeliads growing out of tree trunks It was a lovely walk-about 2 hours return. I wished we had taken a picnic along, it was just so magical sitting by the waterfall.

Tree Canopy Boquete 24 May

What possessed us fifty-somethings to swing between 60 meter high trees in the jungle I will never know. But it seemed like a good idea at the time. We only have a couple of photos for now. The rest we will download from the CD of the whole escapade when we get home (we don't have a CD drive on the Netbook). The road up to the start of the tour was very very steep and rocky and we rocked and rolled and slid along the bench in the truck trying to hold on. I think David looks quite composed! HQ included offices, restaurant, and cabañas
and was very smart set high up in the mountains.

The canopy tour with Boquete Tree Trek started a short distance from here. There were six of us in the group,with 6 instructors. It was really professional and I felt completely safe-well once I had whizzed along the first zip-wire and landed on the platform about 60 meters up a tree, successfully!

Coming home

It seemed like a good idea to check out flights home since there is a travel agent in town. Glad we did. We managed to get a deal for around $700 each. They were the last cheap seats on a flight that only leaves Panama City once a week. Had we left it later we would have been paying luck was on our side. So we are flying out of Panama City at around 10.00hrs on 10th June going via the Dominican Republic and Frankfurt to Heathrow where we land around 09.00hrs on 11th June. Then all we have to do is clear Nancy who will have flown on ahead, with Customs. It is a strange feeling having booked our return. We still have two weeks left-the length of some folks holiday here-so we still have plenty of time for a few rays (if it stops raining!) and one last frolic in the sea - I fancy San Blas No not a pop idol- a wonderful island paradise to the east of the Panama Canal!

Boquete Panama

We headed for Boquete but before long that cloud poured its contents. We managed to put on our waterproofs, but eventually had to pull over on the side of the road where we sheltered under our trusty umbrella. As the rain lashed down and we got drenched by every passing vehicle, we looked around and spotted a dairy farm with what looked to be a car port of sorts-perfect, so we quickly turned the bike around and snuck in. Phew, the rain just kept on coming-huge dollops bouncing off the ground like super balls. Before long we were joined by another vehicle, which we thought belonged to the farm owner, so quickly tried to explain in our rudimentary Spanish, that we were taking shelter, but it turned out that the windscreen wiper on the drivers side of his truck had bust and needed a quick repair, so he needed shelter too! And the rain kept coming. We offered the use of David's Leatherman and some moral support, and eventually the job was done. Before he set off Amed gave us some wonderful avocados, a pineapple and some oranges. Turns out he owns an organic farm. Thank you Amed they were delicious. Once in Boquete we finally found a Hostal where we could house ourselves and keep Nancy dry. Hostal Baru is a quiet non-touristy/backpacker place with a decent size room, and a kitchen for $20 - a snip! The next day we spent some time doing laundry-but it doesn't dry very well in the rain and humidity-it tends to remain damp, develop a pong and worse go mouldy! Then we walked the town, and visited a tour company or three. The main activities hereabouts are tree canopy zip-wire tours, hikes, white water rafting, coffee plantation tours and horse riding. We booked the canopy tour. Next we spotted a travel agent for Panama Air! Time to plan our return to the UK?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

The route to Manuel Antonio was lined with manicured lawns and big houses We stopped off for a quick bite to eat at a Paneria
and set off on the Autopista payroad (not intentionally, it was the only road we could find!). We were having some difficulty navigating our route due to the vagueness of the map, non-existent GPS mapping, and road signs. We saw a pretty main looking sign indicating the direction we needed to be going in and turned off the autopista, to suddenly find ourselves confronted by a dirt road and big puddle.
Na we thought this ain’t right, so we reversed Nancy and got back on to tarmac. Some time later, a guy and his wife from the USA showed us to a nice place on the beach where we had our picnic lunch
observed by lots of lizards.
Lovely spot..thank you! Passing pylons spewing power lines
we finally made it to Manuel Antonio We checked in to Hotel Costa Linda for $20 dollars a night (a steal!)
The following morning we planned to visit the National Park, just a few meters from our hostal
We had a fabulous day, took too many photos to show here, but here's a few to give a taste of it's beauty: the beaches
the tiny crabs on the beach
and in the jungle
the flora
lookalike toxic crab apples
Coral washed up on the shore
the wildlife we think it is an Agouti
and a three fingered Sloth

jungle and trees

And finally the tide. We had been told that the path to the park exit was cut off at high tide and that we would have to pay for a short boat ride across the beach. So here am I enjoying the safety of a boat as the tide rushed in and David walked it


And last but not least it's really weird what treasures you can find on beaches...