Costa Rica Day 2: Monteverde Horseback Ride & Coffee Tour

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September 4th, 2011

Santa Elena / Monteverde, Costa Rica

A Turismo van picked us up from the Arenal Observatory Lodge at 7a.m. and deposited us at the shore of the Arenal Lake for the first leg of our journey to Monteverde – by boat!

Arenal Volcano by boat

After a pleasant 20-minute ride across the warm blue lake, chatting with the nice young couple from Texas who were on the tour with us, we reached a forested edge where our next, much anticipated, four-legged rides awaited.

I adore horses. I always have, taking lessons with 5-year olds at the Lahore Polo Club to forking out 60 bucks an hour at Kensington Stables, just so I could be close to the creatures.

I also have a theory – tried and tested, believe me – that if I don’t find my horse attractive, we just won’t get along, and the ride will be a miserable experience for both of us. So, quickly scanning my four options, I spotted a favourite – a strong, slender chestnut mare – and hurried to bag it, lest one of the Texans got to her first.

Hurriedly mounting Mariposa!
We saw a toucan!

I didn’t regret my choice. Mariposa just flew – through woods and dales, over brooks and hills – neck and neck with the lead guide Mariano, effortlessly carrying me behind her. The others in the group, including Z, were left far behind, and for 2 hours it was just me and the spry, sun-wizened Mariano,  communicating with gestures and my broken Spanish, a permanent smile on my face. “Cómo se llama esto? Esto? Esto?” I pointed to birds, fruits, flowers that grew in tangled bunches along the way, and Mariano would smile and silently respond by offering me a ripe guava from a tree, or a fragrant white orchid that I happily tucked behind my ear.

Mariano & me
Damn good pineapple!

I was sad when the ride came to an end (and a little alarmed, when I got off Mariposa and realized my thighs felt like two immovable planks of wood!)  After a brief stop at a roadside Minisuper for some fresh pineapple, we were whisked away into a jeep for the last leg of the journey to Monteverde.

There were other tourists in the jeep, including two British girls in their mid-20s, who revealed to us that they were currently in the 10th month of a year-long around-the-world trip.  “One day, we decided we hated our jobs and where our lives were going. So we quit, gathered up all our savings, and bought a round-the-world air ticket, from London and back.” There were gasps of disbelief and wows of admiration. “We’ve covered 20 countries so far,” they continued, “from South East Asia to South and Central America, on our way to the States…” I told them they’d better write a book about this when they were done. “Yes, that’s the plan!”

Mariano at the Minisuper

Soon, we reached Santa Elena, the charming, cobble-paved little pueblo closest to the Monteverde Cloud Forest, where most budget travelers stayed.  The jeep dropped us off at our hostel, Sleepers Sleep Cheaper, where we checked in with the jolly proprietor Ronny, showered, changed, stuffed our faces with bread and cheese from the nearest Supermercado  – we hadn’t eaten a bite since breakfast save the piña! – while another one of those ubiquitous Turismo vans arrived to take us to the coffee tour at Don Juan.

The Don Juan Coffee Plantation was established some 60-odd years ago by a now ancient Don Juan, who greeted our group of 6 with a sweet toothless smile at the reception. Our guide, Elizabeth – a chubby, exuberant Costa Rican woman – proceeded to show us around, demonstrating each step of the traditional coffee-making process, from planting and picking to drying, cleaning and roasting,  while throwing in interesting facts about coffee (Did you know that the coffee plant originated in Ethiopia, that there are 40 different varieties, that only 2 are drinkable, that it’s the most traded commodity in the world after oil?)

Coffee seedlings in the nursery
Unripe coffee berries
Sifting through dried beans
Dried and cleaned beans

By the end of the tour, damp from the persistent drizzle, we were desperate for the pure Arabica coffee that awaited us in hot thermoses at the reception. I tasted all three roasts – light, dark and “farmer’s” – before downing 3 cups of the one I liked best (farmer’s, smooth and subtly sharp), accompanied by sweet corn bread and chocolate candy. Z, on the other hand, a religious caffeine-abstinent, decided to go for a shot of the bitter dark roast, sans milk and sugar. “If I’m going to do this once in my life,” he reasoned, “I might as well go all the way!”

The Don Juan Cafe...such a nice place to sip a cup of coffee!

That evening, we roamed around Santa Elena – a cluster of souvenir shops and picture-perfect restaurants,populated almost entirely by tourists – and had a fantastic, though surprisingly expensive dinner ($20 per head!) at a place called the Tree House Cafe.

Red snapper with coconut curry sauce - yummyyyy!
"Comida Tipica" - Fajitas with beef & chicken, tortillas, beans and fried plantains

It was barely 9p.m., but sleep was warm and welcome back in our cute, woody little room at the hostel – replete with excellent comida and toasty coffee, blissfully aching from the horseback ride, watching fireflies dance at the misty, lace-curtained window.

Next week, Day 3: Ziplining in the Cloud Forest

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7 thoughts on “Costa Rica Day 2: Monteverde Horseback Ride & Coffee Tour

    Zuhaib said:
    October 16, 2011 at 5:42 am

    Awesome!! Hmmm wondering how does farmer’s blend tastes like :)

    mefatima said:
    October 17, 2011 at 1:57 am

    wow..even though i dont like coffee that much, i sure do want a cup now!

    Amna K said:
    October 17, 2011 at 3:46 am

    It’s like you’re on a honeymoon. Again, I’m thinking.

    iamjoe said:
    October 25, 2011 at 11:38 am

    Look at that almost perfect cone! Just a majestic sight and seen against a beautiful golden backdrop. And I can smell all that coffee from here!

    bebestyles said:
    October 27, 2011 at 5:36 am

    I’m jealous…haven’t got time to go for trips like this with my partner. Those photos looks so beautiful…especially the Toucan!

    Kona Coffee Tours said:
    March 21, 2013 at 8:34 am

    Glad to read your wonderful experience of coffee tour. I am impressed with your writing skill and quality information shared here, never find it any where. Thanks a lot for sharing.

    […] Next week, Day 2: Horseback ride to Monteverde and a Coffee Tour!…… […]

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