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Green-crowned Brilliant hummingbird flying at La Paz Waterfall, Costa Rica

Pura Vida en Costa Rica

By Shakia Stewart

Last updated: 17th November 2011

My last week in San Jose has been great fun and so diverse. After getting back to the city on Monday evening after my weekend away and settling back in with my host family, I head off super early Tuesday morning (I was at the bustop at 5.30am, not natural…) for a day tour around the Valle Central.

Coffee beans during processing

First stop was Doka coffee farm, where we witnessed the process of making coffee as we know it from start to finish. After the coffee plants are planted, it takes 4 years before they even start to flower and produce anything usable! The seeds are taken from inside the berries, and these are dried out in the sun before being roasted and ground to make coffee. Costa Rican coffee is some of the best in world and is one of the country’s most important exports. The smell from the coffee roasting machines was so delicious and enticing.. definitely got a bit overexcited in the gift shop! For any friends or relatives reading this, you might be able to guess what you’re getting for Christmas…

Shakia with lush greenery and a misty lake in the background

We carried on up the mountain and then arrived at Poas Volcano National Park.. unfortunately, it was pretty cloudy up there, so I could only see about half of the crater clearly. But the half I did see was pretty impressive – this bad boy has erupted no less than 39 times since 1828! We then walked up to Lake Botos, an inactive crater further up the mountain which was named after the indigenous tribe that used to live in the area before the arrival of the Spanish. The views were impressive, despite the clouds…but the general smell of gone–off eggs that hovered in the air due to the sulphuric acid of the volcano was less impressive!

A toucan sitting on a tree branch in an enclosure

I then walked back down the mountain through the lush, green vegetation…all was going well until I heard this sound…it was like a cat purring…or was it a large cat growling?! I suddenly tensed up, freaked out, I was on my own at this point as I’d wandered off and all I could think about was that woman I’d met in El Silencio telling me about that mountain tiger that had got into her friends village that time and eaten her friend’s cow… and suddenly a list of people I wish I could call to say my final goodbyes starting flashing up in my head…

I ran back to a couple who were walking behind me. Did you hear that? I asked frantically..Ah yes, the hummingbirds! They replied. What a WALLY. Such a city girl. I could hear their wings flapping so rapidly it sounded like purring and my gut tells me, TIGERS! Dear, oh dear..

A blue butterfly on a leaf

Well, that embarrassment’s out the way..I made it back to the bus in one piece and we head off to check out La Paz waterfall..the walk there took us through Peace Lodge, where we were able to see the most colourful tucans, parrots, butterflies, humming birds (!), scarlet macaws, monkeys, sloths, leopards, frogs, snakes….it was amazing! Such a wild range of wildlife it was incredible.

Still in awe from the animals, we arrived at La Paz waterfall. It was chucking it down with rain by this point, (and there I’d been, laughing at my friends in England who were going to be stuck in the rain whilst I jetted off to the land of eternal sunshine…), and the waters were so rapid and powerful. Certainly a fair cry from the chilled out waterfall at Montezuma but magnificent all the same!

Kids in an orphanage

Not only have I spent this week witnessing some of the best Costa Rica has to offer in terms of nature, but I also visited several volunteer projects in the city of San Jose. I spent one day helping out at an orphange round the corner from the language school. The oldest kids who live here are 7 or 8, and the youngest one was only 9 months old, having been abandoned by his parents at a hospital when he was born.

The kids were great fun, so much energy and enthusiasm! They absolutely knackered me out playing a game of tag in the morning and I was so grateful when it was time to break for a midmorning snack! We did some drawing, played with jigsaws, played piggy back..all sorts of fun and games. The volunteers who come here really help the full time staff by playing and engaging with the kids so they have time and space to prepare food, do the laundry etc! It was a great experience.

Three small children at an orphanage

The next day I visited a children’s play centre, which helps look after children from poorer families when their parents need to work or need a break..the volunteers here help out with playtime, and they also help to give IT skill lessons to the older children. It was then on to the Comedor de Tirrases in time for lunch.

This place offers free meals to kids (and often their mothers too) in one of the poorest areas of the city I have visited so far. Even though Costa Rica is one of the most stable and developed countries in Central America, there are many families who live in poverty. The volunteers here help look after the many children who come here every day for a hot meal and a place to chill out and play with others.

I’m now preparing for my second escape out of the hustle and bustle of the city. This time I’m heading east to the town of Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean Coast. And I have been assured by the locals, it will be sunny there!!

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