|Before we leave this area we drive up to the National Park to hike for 3 hours to the base of the active Arenal volcano. We walk through two types of rain forest. The first rain forest is dry and not very dense. The second rain forest is much denser and very damp underfoot. We look out for birds and animals but this is a well trodden path with lots of people so no wildlife to see. We finally get to the base where we can get a good view of this volcano, except for the top which stays shrouded in cloud. We can see the lava flows down the side, with the last eruption taking place in 2006. The walk back down is just as pleasant as the walk up but by a longer loop. There are still no birds or animals about. We do see lots of butterflies though, especially the large beautiful pale blue, Morpho Butterfly.
Now we drive alongside the picturesque man made lake, Lake Arenal towards Tilaran where we stop for lunch at another soda. Phil and I share a wonderful vegetarian lasagna and salad. We now have a dirt road the rest of the journey to Monteverde which could take up to 3 hours. Apparently the residents of Monteverde do not want the road to their town paved because they believe that tourists will get there too quickly and not stay overnight. Logic??? Anyway as it turns out the road has been graded recently and we get there in record time, only an hour and a half. Phil has organised his Sygic app as recommended by Brian and he gives us a running commentary on how far we have to go and what speed the bus is doing.
As we arrive early we get to do a 3 in 1 tour on growing and processing sugar cane, coffee and chocolate. We see how the coffee is processed by machine to separate the 3 layers of skins of the berry to release the seeds, the the machine that separates the seeds to to keep them a similar size and quality. During this process they get the peaberry beans which are the two beans conjoined. There is more money paid for this bean as it is better quality but only about 2% of the berries will produce this type of bean. Very interesting!
We then look at the process to produce chocolate. We are going to try the seeds at each stage. First we open up a cocoa pod and try the seeds. They taste okay, slimy and with only a hint of a chocolate taste. Then we are shown the seeds dried, then roasted and taste each one. The roasted has the most flavour, like dark chocolate. Once the seeds are crushed and milk and sugar are added, the next taste we get is like the chocolate we buy.
Finally we see the old process of extracting sugar cane juice using oxen and a mill and the more modern process of using a water wheel. The juice that is extracted is then boiled to produce brown sugar and it is put into moulds to set. We use some of this juice to make toffee. On the way back to our starting point we see a two toed sloth in one of the trees above the path. The tour finishes at the cafe with a coffee and the inevitable souvenir shop.
Next stop, our Hotel. We eat dinner across the road at a small restaurant. We both order lasagna and they give us a complimentary starter, 4 small bowls with black beans, avocado, pickled vegetables and salsa, along with some warm tortillas. Very tasty!