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We finally get dry | Esme discovers coffee | Shotguns and banjoes

I know we're here in Costa Rica in rainy season. I know that means there's a lot of, well, rain. What I didn't know is that this can then translate into a damp problem for many properties here.

The first hotel we stayed in to get over the jet lag was a Radisson. I thought I was playing it safe. Apparently not, it was awful. Damp, smelly and nothing would dry.

Fear not said we! It's only for a few days then we're off to our own apartment in Monte Verde, it'll be fine.

It wasn't. The apartment must have been left empty for some time as the place was musty, the bedrooms were damp and there was the occasional whiff of cat pee. Considering that was only an occasional scent (ie a cat hadn't come in and done it's business) I googled it. It's a sign of black mould, which can be hazardous to your health.

Coming to a tropical country I was prepared for the threat of venomous snakes, large spiders and ubiquitous mossies but I wasn't expecting to be taken down by mould. But I was hopeful. Surely not everywhere could be like this.

We'd been walking past a hotel each day on the way into town that intrigued me. It was called Hotel Claro de Luna, ie named after one of my favourite pieces of music (Clair de Lune by Debussy in cased you'd not guessed!). A quick search on google and things were looking good. We popped in, asked if they had any availability and they did! For 2 nights! Most places are fully booked up so it was a SIGN! But we were taking no chances, we asked to check the room first, It smelled amazing and was, wait for it, DRY!! So we decamped (and de-damped at the same time).

Not only did we get a far better view, but a comfortable dry bed, breakfast included and peace and quiet (as opposed to fighting dogs and building work taking place just outside our door).

ie we went from this as our view:

To this as our view:

The only plus of the original place was that it came with a washer and dryer (American style, so huge!) so we're back here for a final time before we head to our final location in Monte Verde. One I'm very happy we had already booked. The approach you see was to find places to 'live' here for a bit (ie our own space, our own cooking, washing cleaning etc), then throw in some nice hotels along the way. So we're heading to our nice hotel soon. Please God don't let it be damp!


Anyway, now we have had a couple of nights in a bed that isn't likely to kill us (and Ali's chest infection is better, funny that) we were full of beans again and back on the adventuring. For this one we decided to walk the 'short' distance to a 3 in 1 tour, that covers Coffee, Chocolate and Sugar Cane.

Tip of the day: there is no such thing as a 'short' walk here in Monte Verde as everything is either up a very steep hill or down a very steep hill. Either way you're not bounding along like normal!

It was also lunchtime so I had a grumpy, hungry Esme in tow as we made our way to the tour. It was at this point that the weather turned too, from lovely sunshine to basically walking in a cloud so thick that we could only see about 10ft in front of us. I loved it. It was like we were heading on a mysterious expedition with things looming in front of us as we went. It also helped that Google maps wasn't in a cloud and was showing me exactly which way to go.

We made it to lunch (after a small 1km detour that Esme was seriously not happy about!) and as we sat down the cloud cleared and everything was bright and beautiful! Including, it turns out, the food and drink. We'd arrived at the Monteverde Brewing Company, one of only a handful of microbreweries in a country that is mostly dominated by lager. A few bevvies and an exceedingly delicious burger later and we were off down the road to start out tour.

The Don Juan 3 in 1 tour was great! We even had a visit from the original 'Don Juan' himself who's now in his 80s and still working every day on the plantation it seems! The pics below aren't of Don Juan but instead our guide for the day, Christian.

We'd already done one coffee tour so wondered what else we'd learn. Turns out quite a bit. One thing I didn't know for instance is that they use every single part of the coffee fruit. The skin is used to make gluten free flour, the 'musilago' ie mucus bit is used in fertiliser, the 'parchment' layer is used to make actual paper and then there's a final layer, the 'piel plateada' or 'silver skin' which is used by tobacco manufacturers. Want to know how? Well they mix it with the tobacco to make it burn faster! Tricky little devils...

Then, of course, you have the bean, which is used to make coffee.

The next bit was the best though as we came to the sugar cane section. See, sugar cane:

I have to admit that, by this point of the day, after the sun, the cloud walk up and down hills and the general heat, I was starting to get a headache. Little did I know that I was also about to find a cure.

It was at this point of the tour that three volunteers were needed to press the sugar cane. Esme was of course right up there together with two lovely ladies from Guadeloupe. Together they worked the sugar cane to squeeze out the juice. Here they are on their last 'squeeze' :-D

We all got to try the results of their hard work. DEEEEEELICIOUS!!!! Even better when we joked about adding rum to it and they produced a bottle! A couple of glasses of that and my headache was well gone.

The final section was all about cocoa. We got to try the slimy bit around the cocoa seed (a bit like lychee, not recommended). Here's Christian trying to convince us this was going to be fun.

What was fun was the next part, where he poured a jar of cacao nibs into a grinder and asked for a volunteer again...

(This was supposed to be a video but I was laughing at Esme's determination to grind those nibs too much and pressed the wrong button. This picture sums it up well though!)

The end result was mixed with hot water, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and a little chilli powder. I swear I could have happily eaten it like a pig at a trough. Luckily we were provided with some sliced bananas to dip in it instead (spoilsports).

The final part of the tour was the coffee and cocoa tasting. There was cacao tea (really nice, they take the husk of the cacao seed and steep it in water with some honey), hot chocolate and three types of coffee.

Esme has been amazing this whole trip about trying new things. She tried the coffees on the last tour and wasn't impressed, but we're already seeing her change. She tried them again and declared that 'the light roast is actually quite nice'.

Note: we were hoping that this trip would change us all in some way, purely by exposing us to so many different things. For Esme, not only does she look like she's taller after just 10 days here, but she's also getting so much more confident. She's speaking in Spanish, and last night went up to the bar staff to ask for a pair of scissors (in Spanish) so they could cut off the wristband from the tour. And now she's drinking coffee. Goodness knows what else we'll see over the next few months!


One final thing to add about our recent adventures as it's not all about tours and experiences. Mostly its the small things that stand out. The things that you don't necessarily blog about but which make the whole trip special. Like this pic of Esme and Ali on the wooden rocking chairs in the porch area outside our new hotel room (you know, the dry one!). Esme was doing a cracking impression of an old US Southern States woman with a pretend banjo and shotgun. I swear she's going to be an actor one day.

Talking of acting, we also spent the evening introducing Esme to Kung Fu - namely the classic movie Drunken Master staring Jacky (now Jackie) Chan. I'd forgotten just how funny that film is. Esme loved it. You may be wondering 'why', well mostly it came about because we'd been talking about how old Kung Fu movies had incredibly bad dubbing which Ali and Esme played out over dinner (I should have videoed it but again was laughing too much!). She's already an incredible daughter but she's certainly turning into an incredible young woman too. Can't wait to see what's next.

Pura Vida everybody!

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