Coffee Tasting in Ajuela

After the success of the quetzal spotting the day before and managing to leave the very steep road out of San Gerado relatively easily (with a quick stop or two) and that meant that once again we were nearing San Jose. 

We decided to stop off one more time at Laguna Don Manuel and treat ourselves to that lovely hot shower. The last time we had been there, we had been determined to hike some of the trails in the park but had never actually got around to it. Now seemed like the perfect time. With the afternoon to spare, we headed off into the park. 

I had imagine that it was a short trail just around the lagoon, but in actual fact we followed signs on the ‘mirador trail’. This led us on a short climb up from the lagoon, and then out through the forest to a surprisingly good viewpoint overlooking one of the neighbouring towns.

The path the returned us back around the lake to our familiar camp site. 

It’s a lovely place to stop and we looked forward to what we knew would be a peaceful night. Although the batteries were full, we decided to hook up anyway and make the most of charging up everything else. It was at this moment that we realised our battery charger had stopped working. Yet another thing to add to the list… little did we know the list was about to get bigger. 

With a sizeable list of things to do in San Jose, we decided to be out by a reasonable time in the morning. We drove towards the exit, we hadn’t even left the campground, when an incredibly loud bang came from the rear. It didn’t take a genius to see the problem, as the camper now sat with one of the exhaust nearly touching the floor, probably a good six inches lower than it should be. Our spring plate had snapped. 

After some debate, and a little tentative driving, it seemed that while we were very low, nothing was rubbing and it wasn’t about to completely fall off. While it wasn’t ideal to drive an hour and a half like this, especially with some of it on dirt road, the alternatives were not good either. Catch a bus? That’d take longer than a day. Then we’d have to try and repair this roadside. Considering the last time we worked on the van at this very spot, the jack sunk and Ruby fell on the floor it didn’t seem advisable. We only have a small jack and no axle stands, hardly the best start to a suspension job. 

And so, we drove. With some slightly horrible banging noises we made it onto tarmac. Then carefully, we wound our way out of the valley. Pulling over at the side of the road to check on the situation, I realised that the brakes were incredibly hot. The spring plate had allowed the whole hub to shift backwards and therefore was pulling on the handbrake cable. After slackening that back off, we carried on towards the city. 

I’m glad to say, we made it to the repair shop without any problems and that they had a replacement part. While they were happy to let us fix it, we were equally happy to give someone else the job. I sat there and watched the two mechanics wrestled the remains of the plate. Out came grinders, chisels and hammers. Eventually the whole torsion bar was persuaded to come out and then the hydraulic press finished off the job. That was definitely not a roadside repair. 

We could see that we couldn’t have gone much further, with the wheel off you can see where the drive shaft had rubbed on the chassis. In the middle is the replacement spring plate, next to our broken one, the remains of which was still attached to the torsion bar shown on the right.

Despite the face that the plate was replaced, the suspension was sitting incredibly low. I pointed out that we were sitting on our bump stop one side and that there was no travel left. They agreed that we could come back 2 days later to have it adjusted. 

Having a day spare actually suited us quite well ,as we had a lot of errands to run in the town and we easily filled the day with everything we needed to sort. The following day we returned to the garage and got the suspension adjusted. Now once again, we could leave San Jose. 

We decided to head out to a coffee plantation and do one of their tours. It had been recommended to us by some people we met when we first crossed in Costa Rica. As well as making the obvious coffee, this permaculture farm also uses the coffee fruit to make marmalade and more importantly coffee wine. That’s definitely something we haven’t tried and so we were interested to go and see what it was all about. 

After some winding through the valley we reached to coffee plantation. We had arrived just in time to catch the last tour. A fairly big group of people were already on the tasting part. We were waved in and sat down to join them. We were presented with three little cups of coffee; light, medium and dark roast. They also gave us biscuits and coffee marmalade to try, before we tried three different types of wine.

It was certainly an interesting experience to try the wine. It was a strong wine, more like a port in the way but not only did you get the coffee taste but also the caffeine. I’m not sure if it’s genius or a health hazard to have caffeinated wine, but we decided once we had finished the tour to buy a small bottle. 

The majority of the group had just finished their tour, ending with tasting. While us and another group of latecomers had just started. It’s a small family business and so one of the sons took us around the farm. He talked a little about permaculture and organic farming as well as how destructive the coffee business actually can be for the environment. We never realised just how much water it takes to produce the beans, a standard cup of coffee, depending on the factory methods, can have a water footprint of  over 100L of water in its production. 

After giving us a little history, he showed us the drying racks where the beans are dried and the machine that separates the fruit and skins from the bean itself. It’s also possible to control how much of the fruity residue is left on the beans and this is one of the ways of changing the flavour. 

As we moved on we walked through the fields of the farm. He explained how instead of using pesticides and chemicals to control pests, they grow other plants in amongst the coffee. A tree whose fruit the bats love, to divert their attention away from eating the coffee fruit and other types of fruit trees that not only can provide the farm with produce but also enrich the soil and create a more natural balance. They also grow different species of coffee plant, that way if one pest attacks on variety, they will still have coffee to produce from the other plants that will be unaffected. 

He showed us turmeric and ginger growing in the ground as well as letting us try some of the edible plants including stevia. It was very interesting, especially for me being quite interested in growing things already. It seemed so logical to manage things in this way, rather than pouring tons of chemicals over everything.  On our return back to the start, we bought a little bottle of wine as promised before heading back to the van. 

It was getting on in the day, and we realised that a spot Hanna and Kikki had recommended to us was not far away. We could make it by dark. It’s an abandoned gold mine, situated by a river. A lovely free spot, we pulled in at dusk and went to sleep with the sounds of the water in the background. 

The next day was Saturday and with that came the crowds. An enthusiastic local in a hi-vis jacket and a whistle presided over events. He asked us to move the van so that more people could fit in the car park, which we gladly did. He then proceeded to try and sell us things at different points throughout the day in between his lively car parking instructions.

Our enthusiastic car parking attendant showing us the rocks excavated from the old mine.

While it was fairly busy, by around 5pm the car park had cleared out. We relocated ourselves in a corner, knowing that tomorrow would likely be busier and waited for the arrival of some online friends. 

A couple from Australia who had just recently returned to their camper in El Salvador had messaged us asking if we wanted to meet up some time ago. Finally our paths had crossed in this spot and that evening they joined us. It’s always nice to meet other travellers and Costa Rica has been the first time for a long time that we have met new people living this lifestyle. 

When Sunday morning arrived, with the reappearance of the parking man, things did indeed get hectic. They were not impressed by the early whistling either and I was happy to hear that I wasn’t the only person who could barely understand a word he was saying. We find that generally Sundays are better days to get on with other jobs rather than to sightsee as they are the busiest days. Better to do some van maintenance or catch up on the washing rather than pile in with the crowds. In light of this, we spent some time changing our front crank seal, while I wrestled with the fiddly internal springs of the windscreen wiper stalk. 

We spent a final evening with our new friends, with us both having plans on going our separate ways in the morning. While they headed towards the Braulio Carrillo National Park, we planned to head north. Before we left this spot though, it was about time we had a look around and so we walked up to the abandoned mine. The path to it strewn with old mining equipment, slowly being reclaimed by the jungle. 

Having not brought a great torch, we didn’t venture far into the mine itself. Just enough to meet some bat and a giant spider.

Time to cool off in the rather refreshing river before loading up the cats and heading off.

Priority number one was fuel, yet again we were running on empty without our usual back up jerry can and so we were glad that the road down to the nearest fuel station was mostly down hill, allowing us to freewheel into the town. Now we were back at the beach and here the road dives inland and upwards once again toward the famous Monteverde cloud forest, our next stop. 

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