After breakfast and before traveling north we tour the National Theater, a short distance from our hotel. Construction began on the Teatro Nacional in 1891 being paid for by taxes on coffee exports at a time of economic stability for Costa Rica. The building is considered the finest historical building in the capital and is now used for high quality performances, and with the ability to raise the main floor it can be converted to a hall in which to hold government functions and dinners for visiting dignitaries. The interior is rich and luxurious, statuary and murals adorn the ceilings, walls and public areas.
First stop is the Doka Coffee Estate, located on the fertile slopes of the Alajuela Poas Volcano where the rich soil, ideal altitude and climate produce an excellent coffee bean. The tour took us through the process from planting to picking to sorting, and drying at which point the beans are sold to buyers such as Starbucks who do their own roasting. Doka does not do any roasting on site.
The picking process is much more involved that we imagined and a worker must revisit each bush on consecutive days as the beans do not ripen all at once and they must finish a row before receiving a ticket that will authorize payment. If the pickers repeatedly fail to pick beans at their peak they will be fired. A laundry basket of beans will yield the worker $1.50. Pickers work from October to February, are given free housing, electric and water during that period of time. We left with a new appreciation of our morning cup of coffee. This is not easy work in the blazing sun. One interesting fact we learned, they send the beans to Germany for the decaffeination process. You won’t find decaffeinated coffee in Costa Rica; they do not like it.
We stopped in Grecia to visit its unique church, Iglesia de la Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes, is made entirely of pre-fabricated steel plates painted red. There are several urban legends regarding this church, we were told that after the church burned down twice and then was destroyed by an earthquake it was reconstructed out of metal in a coordinated effort by Grecia”s population, the Catholic Church, the Costa Rican government and a gentleman called Alejo E. Jimenez Bonnefil (1858-1922), who was a Costa Rican coffee producer and exporter, in charge of commanding and importing the church from the manufacturer “Ateliers de la Societe de Couvillet”, Belgium, in the late 19th Century.
Sarchi is an artisan hamlet big on decorative buildings and signs to compliment their famous ox carts manufactured by the Joaquin Chaverri Factory located just south of the small town square. It is located in a mountainous region not far from the Poas volcano. Recently, oxcart history was made with construction of the largest oxcart in the world for the Guinness book of world records. The cart is about 45 feet long and weighs two tons. Built to scale, it is five times the size of a normal oxcart, according to Fernando Alfaro, whose factory built the enormous wagon that went on display July 13 to celebrate the feast of Sarchí’s patron saint, Santiago the apostle, July 16. Though a parade of carretas drawn by oxen was part of the festivities, a tractor pulled the huge cart to a permanent space in front of the town culture center.
Sarchi also includes a beautiful church, adjacent to the town square trimmed with aqua paint and pretty surrounding grounds. The area surrounding the hamlet is used for coffee and sugar cane production. The Poas volcano is a beautiful backdrop from the downtown area.
Our last stop was a topiary garden in Zarcero, en route to the Arenal region – Parque Francisco Alvarado: The park sits in front of Iglesia de San Rafael at the town center. A town resident has maintained the park since the 1960s. Shrubs in the park are trimmed into the shapes of various animals, including some that are quite abstract and bizarre.
We arrived at Termales del Bosque late and after a wonderful buffet dinner collapsed into bed.