Hummingbird Farm at the Poas Volcano

Well, it’s really not a hummingbird “farm.” What is the word, a pod of hummingbirds? A pride? A gaggle I think.

Near the waterfalls of the Poas Volcano here in Costa Rica, there was a cool area that had a few hundred hummingbirds. They were not kept inside an aviary, but they were just flying around free. Nearly two dozen hummingbird feeders crowded the area, so I figured that word just got around the rainforest that this was a sweet place to hang out.

There were all sorts of weathered-looking American naturalists milling about with cameras larger than the Hubble. They could be seen jumping out from behind ferns in their flopsy khaki hats saying things like, “Oh my God, that is a purple-throated worble-meister,” and “I think that is the blue-tongued channa hummer — NO! It is the blue-tongued worble chunnle!”

I have no idea what kind of hummingbirds they were, but they were definitely pretty. I’m not one of those people that takes pride in being able to identify obscure species of animals. I’m great at identifying rocks from back when I used to have a double-major in Geophysics, but I don’t go around telling people what kinds of rocks they are admiring.

In that, I think there are two kinds of people in the world and their attitude towards self-education. Some people learn things so they can say smart things and impress other people; others like to learn to impress themselves. I’d like to think I’m the latter. Ooops, hold on, there is a guy over there admiring the granite counter – I think I better go tell him that the tiny black spots in the granite are actually radioactive. Oh look, there is a red-throated super floofer…I wish those naturalists would just shut up and go hug another tree and stop ruining my bird watching experience.

I’m also proud that my pictures with my tiny little digital camera probably came out better than the pictures from their 50 pound cameras. Thus, I continue my quest to annoy self-important naturalists.

Butterfly Farm in Costa Rica

Okay, there is nothing that sounds more lame than a butterfly farm. Ironically, it was the COOLEST thing I did while I was in Costa Rica. It was just part of this tour I took, so I reluctantly went along.

We entered a huge enclosed area that had thousands of exotic butterflies fluttering about. There were hundreds of types of flowers and plants. Every other leaf had some crazy-looking caterpillars on them and under each plant was a new type of chrysalis.

Here is a picture of some rare blue butterfly with a crazy Latin name that not even Nero could pronounce.*

They had a wall on which they would take chrysalises and pin them in long rows. They had about 1000 of these things pinned up, and you could literally stand there and watch a new butterfly being born every 30-45 seconds. Here are a few of the colorful ones – many are covered in shiny gold, silver, jade, and other iridescent colors.*

Below is a picture of one of the butterflies just after it emerged. It spends the first 30 minutes of its life pumping out fluid from its bloated stomach into its wings to help them unfurl and strengthen.*

Here is another row of some green chrysalises. I am still not used to writing the plural version of that word, and I don’t think I ever will be.*

Here is a picture of another butterfly that was just born. If you look at the left side of the wing, you can see the pattern has evolved to look like a snakehead to scare away birds.*

And last, no trip to a butterfly farm would be complete without me doing something stupid like licking a caterpillar I found. It actually numbed my tongue for about 10 minutes. It was ill-advised, but I am slowly building up a resistance so I can lick insects and not have to worry about the aftereffects. That’s planning ahead.*

*(Pictures in metamorphosis.)

Baby bananas

The coffee fields were full of these banana trees that grow multiple shells of tiny bananas betwixt each of the layers of the leaves. These trees are scattered all over the coffee crops to deter wind erosion.

Sometimes the tiny bananas fall on the heads of migrant workers, which is nature’s way of punishing them for being migrant workers.

Coffee gifts

I bought some coffee and other treats for some of my friends in Austin. Yes, Gustaf, that espresso is for you. I am sure the guys in U.S. customs will think that I am using the coffee to smuggle in something more clandestine.

Customs Officer: “What are you bringing back from Costa Rica in that rustic thatchwork sack?”

Me: “Coffee.”

Customs Officer: “Bend over.”

Doka Estate Coffee Plantation

Gustaf recently turned me on to coffee, forcing me to pick up the habit, since he has to go to Starbucks three times a day to get a double espresso. I finally got tired of resisting his charms, so I tried some. For the sake of scientific experimentation, I decided to see if I could actually convert something I HATE into something I love. It didn’t quite work, as I am not to the “love” stage yet, but I do like it.

So I decided to go try some of the famous Costa Rican coffee here. I have local Costa Rican friends down here that say they can’t even drink coffee at Starbucks any more. Perhaps they are just being sensationalist, but I gave them the benefit of the doubt.

I went to the Doke Estate Coffee Plantation in the hills of southern Costa Rica to see how they do things. Here is a picture of part of the plantation. In the picture below, you can see the tall banana trees throughout the coffee crops to help break up the wind and protect against erosion.*

Below is a shot from the nursery area. The first two rows are coffee crops in their seedling stage, and in the distance, the plants have aged about six months. It takes five years until these crops begin to product coffee beans, but then they produce beans for the next 25 to 50 years.*

Here are some of the coffee beans. They are held inside small-grape like shells. The red ones are ripe, and they can be eaten straight off the vine. They actually have a sweet taste and act like a laxative; the locals often use them to calm upset stomachs as well. During the treatment and processing of the bean, all the sweetness is removed from the coffee bean.*

Below is a picture of my man Clifford (see Black People Like Me) wearing one of the coffee-bean picking baskets. Each full basket is worth USD $1. Clifford then ran his 62-year old body out into the lines and started picking beans, much to the embarassment of his son, who then quickly began hitting on our tour guide. The tour guide wasn’t bad, once you got past the fact that it was a 250 lb Costa Rican man.*

And last, here is a picture of the beans before and after they have been roasted. Before is on the left and after is on the right. The top right one is an espresso bean, which is roasted at 250 degrees for 20 minutes. Below it is the slightly lighter French Roast, which is roasted for 17 minutes. Below that is the regular blend, roasted at 15 minutes. The bottom one is a unique one called the “Peaberry,” which takes extra time to create because it comes from a special single seed.*

*(In a scandalous controversy, it was discovered that the pictures were not Fair Trade and were thus removed.)

Poas Volcano

Our tour also took us to the Poas Volcano, a semi-active site that was about two hours outside of San Jose. It alternated between total downpour and nice, so I was forced to buy a weird-looking clear parka for 3,000 Colones. I don’t know if that was a rip off or not, but the cashier did look at her manager and start laughing after I paid.

As you can see from this picture below, the parka looked even more ridiculous after it completely stopped raining, right after I bought it.

(Pictures left this post to star in a romantic comedy alongside Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.)

La Paz Waterfall

Today I headed out of the city to have a bit of adventure. The only adventure I can find in downtown San Jose might result in me heading home with a souvenir t-shirt for my wife that says, “My husband went to Costa Rica and All He Brought Me Was This Stupid Disease.”

I signed up for a tour here at the hotel. I didn’t know what to expect, because I usually hate being a “tourist.” These tours can sometimes be stupid, and I didn’t want to be stuck in a huge bus with a bunch of octogenarians. I chose a fairly adventurous-sounding tour that involved a hike around an active volcano crater and a waterfall hike. It turned out to be one of the best tours of my life.

I visited the La Paz Waterfall (translated: “The The Paz Waterfall”), which was a series of three 100+ foot waterfalls that ran down a lush rainforest, which rested on the side of the Poas Volcano.

Below is the top of one of the waterfalls before it spilled over into a 140 foot drop.*

Here is a picture of me standing beside the first of three waterfalls. It’s out of focus because the master’s hand (mine) was not in charge.*

Below are a few more shots of the waterfalls. There was so much mist and waterfall-spray that my camera lens got plastered with dew, so these pictures don’t really show off how awesome these were!*

(Pictures disappeared in Costa Rica under suspicious circumstances.)

Cell Phones Covers or Grenades?

Since I have recently been worried about crazy Muslim bombers, I was a little leery when I saw this rather tan person approaching our car, draped in suspicious grenade-like objects. Upon closer inspection, they were just cell phone covers. I was so relieved, I bought four of them.

Steven Seagal’s drink is not yet in Costa Rica

Well this travel day is taking longer than I expected. Also, I don’t think my hotel down there is going to have internet or internet technology.

So I will take this travel update doldrum to discuss Steven Seagal’s new line of drinks called “Lightning Bolt.” Yes, this is a real product.

The “Asian Experience” flavor. I can only imagine what it tastes like. I imagine a mix of soy sauce and Avian Bird Flu. What I find particularly attractive about the packaging is Steven’s menacing stare, as he watches me drinking his mythical concoction, taunting me into some Aikido bout to the death.

Back to Costa Rica

Tomorrow I am headed back to Costa Rica for a while. Last time I was down there, the weather was a perfect 72 degrees the entire time, something I did not expect for a tropical rainforest on the equator. This time, I am going to shy away from the rainforest and go for the volcanoes. I understand there are nine active volcanoes in the country, so there is no excuse if I can’t find one of them.

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