From the Irazu Volcano to the Orosi Valley

Tuesday, May 10

Today we went east. We were in a tour van with 2 other couples, our driver Emilio, and our guide Max. The first exciting thing happened even before we left town: a train merged into traffic on rails that ran down the right lane of the street. We were driving right next to it!

The first city we went through after leaving San Jose was Cartago, which seems very nice. You definitely do NOT want to live in Cartago and work in SJ, because the commuter traffic is awful. We’ve been told they are working on rail to connect the cities and ease the traffic, but it is not in place yet.

From there we headed up the side of Irazu, lazy switchbacks that offered gorgeous views of the valley below & slopes around us. Many brightly painted houses, crops laid out in interesting geometry, cows and horses grazing right by the road. The volcano top was cloudy, and right after we arrived the wind picked up and it started raining. We were at 11,000 feet, and it was COLD. Mick and I walked out and took pictures of the two craters we could see from there, and then hustled back to the cafe/gift shop to warm up & dry out. We had a fair amount of time to kill, and there were some interesting things to look at. The best was the sculpture of a toucan made out of an old tire. Then the sun came out, and a coati came out with it and started wandering around the parking lot! Even though there are signs saying “No Alimentar a Los Animales”, clearly this coati had learned that people=food and was quite openly begging. They are cousins to the raccoon, and equally endearing.

By the time we left, the weather had cleared up quite a bit and we took a little detour to see the other volcano, which is closed to tourists due to being active. We got some great pictures.

Our next stop was back in Cartago at the Basilica de Los Angeles, which is the largest church in Costa Rica. It was gorgeous inside, but there was a funeral mass going on so we just walked in enough to see but not intrude.

Then we were off to Lankester Gardens, which used to be a coffee plantation but was donated as a park by Mr. Lankester. It has an orchid house, a second-growth rainforest, a cactus garden, and a Japanese garden in addition to lovely open grounds. The Japanese garden was lovely and tranquil, and had some of the tallest bamboo I have ever seen. In the second-growth rainforest, Max showed us a tree that lives in symbiosis with ants. They live inside the tree, and it produces a jelly-like food for them. In return, if anything (like monkeys) tries to eat the tree or its leaves, the ants come rushing out and and bite the attacker. He pounded on the trunk for us so we could see the ants come swarming down the trunk.

Our last stop before lunch was the ruin of the oldest church in Costa Rica. What was left of the walls was beautiful against the green foliage of the trees around it.

Lunch was at La Casona del Cafetal Restaurant, located on a working coffee plantation in the Orosi Valley. On the way there, we learned a very interesting thing about chayote, or water squash. This is a major crop in the Orosi Valley, and guess why? They are bought by McDonald’s, which chops them up and puts them in their “apple” pies. Chayote is a lot cheaper than apples, and apple flavoring takes care of the rest. Evil bastards.

Our lunch was fantastic, on the lovely and tranquil grounds of La Casona. The patio where we ate was surrounded by flowers, and right next to a lake which sadly is becoming choked with water lilies. They are an invasive species here and are causing many problems.

Then it was back to San Jose. We hung out in the room for a while, then went to a restaurant called Kalu for dinner. This is a very neat place with an interesting menu, and they surprised us with a discount coupon for the boutique. So I was able to get the bag I wanted for even less. The great thing about the shop is that they sell locally made goods, and most of them benefit the community in some way. For example, the bag I bought was made from fabric remnants by people working in a small cottage industry in a depressed neighborhood.

Tomorrow is another free day, and we are not sure what we are doing.

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