This post is being written in frigid weather (well, in Chicago, anyway, where My Lovely Bride Suzanne is speaking to the Chicago International Association of Near Death Studies (IANDS). This was the view from her window on final approach into Midway Airport... the temp there at this moment is 22F. I hope she packed her woolies!
Contrast that picture with this one, taken a few minutes ago here in The Villages, FL, where the temp hit 90 briefly today. This is Your Trusty Correspondent with our "back yard" over his shoulder - not ours really, but the view from our patio and lanai. Readers in Minnesnowta may note that I am NOT wearing woolies, but rather a polo shirt (and shorts, to boot)!
Before we get into our big January adventure, I would like to honor the Alabama Crimson Tide and our dear friends Judson and Donna Jo Emens in Tuscumbia, Alabama, for their favorite team's whoopin' of the Georgia Bulldogs for the college National Championship. This, of course, was Bama's fifth national title in 9 years, a record to be proud of. "Roll, Tide, Roll!"
The road up into the mountains is rugged - four wheel drive is definitely required. There were places where the road had been completely washed out and repaired, almost completely with manual labor.
We arrived at the lodge that Mike and Bill had built a few years before. It is the only two story building for at least an hour's drive in any direction. There are four bedrooms and a kitchen on the top floor, and an office and bunk rooms for workers and pickers on the ground floor. There is also a detached kitchen for workers/pickers with gas and wood stoves/open fires.
After getting settled, Mike brewed up our first pot of Potenciana Geisha coffee - it was superb; Geisha is the best coffee bean you can grow, smooth and with low acidity.
Suzanne made time every day to meditate - the view over the mountains to the Pacific Ocean was spectacular. We quickly understood why Bill and Mike picked this site for their little bit of heaven.
Mike took us on several hikes around the area - this stream marks the eastern boundary of the farm. Since we were in the dry season, the water level was relatively low. In the wet season, it is a raging torrent.
As we hiked up this lovely stream to several small waterfalls, we were on the lookout for one of the local residents, the fer-de-lance (Bothrops asper), one of the most venomous snakes in the world. Called the terciopelo (translated as "velvet") in Costa Rica, it is regarded as irritable and aggressive, and can raise up to strike above the knee. Observant readers may note that My Lovely Bride is armed with a 20 inch long machete, which Mike thoughtfully arranged for each of us to be fitted with before our hike. I asked Suzanne to lead the way in this part of the jungle... thankfully, the jaguars were nocturnal, but the terciopelo were often found sunning themselves on rocks near streams...
This is what a coffee "cherry" looks like close up - the fruit actually has a sweet taste, but it's too small to be worth separating. There are two beans in every cherry...
One of the very special highlights of our trip was the dedication of a Ylang-Ylang tree (Cananga odorata) in memory of our Marine Corps daughter Susan, who was six months pregnant with her first child when she was struck by lightning and died. Bill and Mike thoughtfully offered a tree in their memorial grove in her honor. Susan would love this tree - it is also called the perfume tree in the South Pacific, and its flowers smell like Chanel No. 5.
The next day, Suzanne decided she wanted a ride with Mike on the farm's ATV. She had fun, but said that my getting one to use at home in The Villages was not in the cards. (She can be such a spoilsport!)
We got to pick coffee cherries one Sunday afternoon when the real pickers were off work. Let me tell you, there is a reason that Costa Ricans don't do this work, but rather hire Nicaraguans to pick... it's hard work!
In 15 minutes we had picked about the same amount of cherries that a professional picks in 30 seconds... okay, maybe not quite that many. In any case, it proved to us that we would starve pretty quickly without lots of experience!
On a drive to the local schools, we encountered a farmer and his wife and several of their cows on the road. The road was so narrow that we had to stop and wait until they passed.
This was the schoolhouse that is closest to Cafe Potenciana - on average, six or eight students of all grades through high school attend this one-room school. Bill and Mike have sponsored several successful initiatives to improve this school, but there is still more work to be done.
The school in the next village down the mountain, however, needs a lot more work, and will hopefully be getting some needed improvements this year, thanks to support from Bill and Mike's foundation, Saplingsinc.com. We had brought down a suitcase-sized box of school supplies, but when we saw what the kids had, we wished that we could have sent a ship-load. Even though Suzanne and I have each traveled to 50 or 60 countries, being reminded of the difference in school facilities world-wide was a humbling experience.
On the way to San Jose (Gee, that sounds like a good song title!), we stopped at a coffee processing plant, Beneficio el Diamante in the town of Arenas. After the coffee beans are shipped here, they are dried in the sunshine for a day. Here we see MLB being put to work with a rake turning the beans over to help in the drying process.
The entire process of turning fresh beans into dried and roasted beans takes weeks, if not months, depending on how long the beans are aged. Our tour guide walked us through the entire process, and we have a new appreciation for the long process of growing, harvesting, and processing coffee before it ever gets to our cups.
Our thanks go out to Bill and Mike for their planning and hospitality for our trip, to Alex and Barbara for making us feel at home like real Ticos (and of course for Barbara's amazing cooking!), to their son Omar who was always quick with a smile, and to the citizens and children of Potenciana, whose lives are improving due in large part to Los Dos Locos Gringos. (This is the Potenciana Class of 2018.) You can help by visiting their web site, www.SaplingsInc.com; donations of any amount are most gratefully appreciated.