Our 3-week trip started in the San Jose Valley, where more than half of the countries population lives. This is also where you can find one of the most visited places–Poas Volcano–that sits up on the edge of the valley. This is a very active volcano with a nearly constant cloud of steam rising from the crater, though it is often enshrouded in fog and can’t be seen. Believe it or not this picture was snapped in a few seconds when the fog drifted away, and then immediately returned. In this park we also got our first taste of “birding” since one of our program directors, Professor John Marzluff, studies birds.
In Sane Jose there was also this place called the Souvenir Museum. This store was unique in that it promotes sustainable tourism, which is a growing industry in Costa Rica. This three people started the project as college students looking for a way to preserve Costa Rican culture. They travel and work with people all over the country including indigenous people and purchase their projects to sell in the shop. The idea is to find ways to make the production of these items sustainable, creating less waste while showcasing traditional arts and crafts. Each item is hand made in Costa Rica by a Costa Rican, so there is no doubt that the gifts you buy here really do support the economy and the people.
Terrazu was a unique region we visited. It is a valley with hills shooting up on every side, each of them cloaked in coffee fields. Coffee was once the main crop of Costa Rica, launching their economy forward with exports to Europe and North America. As it stands today, it is still one of the largest producers of coffee in the world. We visited a coffee Co-Op in Santa Maria where we learned the process of growing, picking, processing and roasting coffee. There was also a “quality control” test, where we went through several steps of seeing, smelling, and tasting some of the coffees to compare them with each other. This Co-Op also has two very eco-friendly coffees, one that is Rainforest Alliance Certified and another that has zero carbon emissions from start to finish!
After spending a few days in the valleys, we were surprised by the chill in the air. With the exception of San Jose in the heat of the day, the valleys were much cooler than we expected. We also saw our first rainstorm the day we visited Poas, where the streets become rivers and you are soaked to the bone in less than a minute. In Terrazu we did our first night hike as well. There wasn’t very much wildlife, but we did see many insects including our first tarantula! We hiked up one of the ridges surrounding Santa Maria, and the lights below were as stunning as the stars above us. Now it is time to head into the mountains…