Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Final Fun Steps to the First Taste of Our Own Homegrown Costa Rica Coffee

When we last left our nascent organic coffee small-time sodbusters, we had picked our first real harvest of beans from the 3rd year plot of about 200 plants, of which about 20% are doing really well and the others so-so. This is the follow-up to the first round of post-processing after removing the surrounding cherry, fermenting off the slimy second layer and letting the beans have a good sunbath until dry.

Our cleaning lady, Ligia, had all sorts of ideas for us about different methods of initial processing and volunteered her food mill for removing the final hard shell around the beans. She processes about 5 cajuelas of her own coffee each year (over 100 lbs of raw cherries), so she knows of what she speaks.

Our Tica cleaning lady helping mill our coffee
Ligia at the food mill

So, after one morning's cleaning, she and Tamara took our small sack of dried beans down to her house to remove the outer shells.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The 7 Harbingers of Summer in the Southern Costa Rica Mountains

Whenever I mention that "summer" is coming to Costa Rica to non-expat friends, they often look puzzled. They are thinking that we share the same summer season with North America since we are above the equator, and technically they are right. However, the tropical Trade Winds pick up this time of year and they are what divide our seasons into wet and dry.

Our summer in this part of Costa Rica runs from mid-December until the middle of April when the trades begin to weaken again. Northern Pacific provinces have longer summers and the Caribbean's seasonal changes are less distinct, but roughly reversed from ours.

Right now, it's a densely overcast, drizzly day with intermittent showers, so you'd never guess that summer is just around the corner (we hope). But, there are plenty of other signs that say, yes, the arrival of La Zona Sur's summer is imminent.

Coffee Season

Ripening Costa Rica coffee
Coffee cherries ready to pick

Coffee up here in the mountains is harvested later than in the lowlands and right now we are in the thick of the harvest. That means that around the corner of any country road you are liable to have delays due to farmers' trucks loading or unloading their bursting sacks of red coffee cherries. The crop this year is a bumper and the price is high too, so most of them are smiling big.

truck off loading coffee blocking the road
Our neighbor unloading at the recibidora
 We love coffee season, not only because it signifies summer's arrival, but because the neighborhood comes alive with the activities of the harvest and there are new arrivals, the pickers, who add a bit more color to our already colorful world. Since the neighbors are out and about more, it's also a great time to stop and chat.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Costa Rica Graft for Which Every One of Us Pays

Reading a news article regarding the failure of Ukraine's new president, Poroshenko, in addressing the high rate of business and political corruption in that country led me to some statistics regarding the apparent level of graft in Costa Rica.

Hand shake that hides a graft payment
Everyone presumes it happens but are surprised when perpetrators are nabbed

The news there is not good, though Costa Rica citizens might take comfort that surveys show their neighbors, relatively speaking, to be swimming in graft whereas Costa Rica citizens require only hip boots to keep the stink off of them. Here, bribery is referred to as "la mordida" or the bite.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

8 Ways to Get Your Holiday Goodies into Costa Rica Easily or Safely

My post about how to receive packages in Costa Rica while avoiding having them snagged by Customs, which requires a trip to San José and a couple hours of bureacratic SNAFU to retrieve said package, continues to be one of my more popular articles.

Still, I often get asked the question: "Just how do you get stuff shipped into Costa Rica?"

Drone chasing Cary Grant in North by Northwest still
Attack of the Drones - CC-SA-3.0

Unfortunately, Amazon drone delivery does not seem to be on the horizon anytime soon.

So, to supplement the original article, here is a list (probably incomplete) on the various methods that I've either used or have learned second-hand from others who have found them to be successful.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Tamara Applies Her Artistic Talents to Yet Another Medium - Wood Carving

We have four eucalypto posts on the outside of our home here in Costa Rica. Last year, we enlisted the help of a local wood carver who does astounding work to carve one of them. It took him two long days to finish the carving and a couple of days for us to sand and finish it. This year, we wanted to continue with the 3 posts on the back patio, but he was unavailable due to long-term health issues.

Tamara trying to wood carve with a Dremel tool
Suited up for battle
So, as she has done before, Tamara took up the challenge to learn a new art medium and carved them herself.

Having never carved any wood before in her life. 

Unfortunately, all she had at hand were some of those dollar store, cheap Chinese carving tools, which would never be up to the task even if you could adequately sharpen them. They stayed sharp about as long as it takes the driver behind you to honk when the light turns green.

I offered her my Dremel tool, however, and we bought some good quality bits downtown. She was off to the races! It was dusty, tedious work though and progress was excruciatingly slow.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Our First Real Organic Coffee Harvest

Since we first planted coffee on our small finca here in southern Costa Rica three years ago, we've anticipated harvesting enough to supply most of our own coffee-drinking needs. That is probably far too optimistic given that we only have 300 plants and we drink a lot of coffee, but nonetheless it is exciting to have our first "bumper" crop of organic coffee this year and to look forward to larger harvests each year, natural disasters notwithstanding.

bucket and bag of freshly picked coffee cherries
The first coffee picking of 2014
 Our first picking yielded 7 kilos of cherries. I don't know yet what the ratio is between cherries and the final roasted beans, but I'm sure it's at least 2:1. So, it's not much, though there's at least one more picking coming, but it's at least ten times what we gathered last year.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Rehabilitated Truck Enjoys a New Lease on Life

side view of restored Mitsubishi Mighty MaxMy very first truck was a 1950 GMC 1/4-ton, reddish-orange, 3-speed on the column. At that time, it was about 22 years old. So, my '88 Mitsubishi is officially the oldest vehicle I have owned at 26 years of age. I guess our minds start to lodge themselves in relative time when we reach 30-40 years old, because I think of the Mitsubishi as being "modern", not more than 10 years old. It would take a psychologist to explain that.

That is neither here nor there I suppose, but it crossed my mind as yesterday my "new" truck's story came to a successful end. To briefly catch up new readers, back in March, this truck rolled (with no one aboard) down a steep ravine. It appeared totalled, but the chassis and drive train were actually in fair shape. Finding a new cab took 4 months. The body shop spent another 2 months putting it together and refurbing the chassis. I spent about 2 months building a new platform bed with my trusty stick welder and adding details such as lights, tax stickers, fender flairs and so on.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

When Rainy Season Arrives, We Head to the Beach!

How to Beat the Heat at the Beach

As you have probably surmised, we are not mega-fans of tropical heat when it hits the 90s. That's why we chose to build our home in Costa Rica at 4,000 ft. elevation where temps range between the mid-60s to mid-70s most of the year. When we feel the need to "visit the Tropics", it's only an hour's drive to some of our favorite beaches. 

Tamara collecting plastic on favorite Costa Rica beach
Trash collection run on a favorite Costa Rica beach

One in particular, which we discovered recently, was the subject of our visit last weekend. It's close, small, uncrowded and has a classic tropical island look with leaning palms and reaching almond trees with plenty of sand framed by broken rocks. The nearby restaurant is high, wide and open. It's tourist prices there, but the food is not the usual gallo pinto based plate and it comes with a trio of small (non-begging) dogs that have the run of the place. One of them escorted us on the beach, happily showing us the way.

Monday, September 08, 2014

My Truck, Wounds Healed, Has a Happy Homecoming Today

Update Nov.2014: See How This Truck Turned Out in The End.

I told my wife this morning that today was going to be my lucky day, I just felt it:
  • Over a week ago, I'd sold my big GMC truck, but 4 attempts to get the SINPE wire transfer to my bank had failed even after two trips to my bank to straighten things out. But, I thought sure that today it would go through, and it did.
    old pickup rolled and cut up
    My truck after its ravine roll, in sad shape indeed
  • I needed the money today to finish paying for the repair of my pitiful '88 Mitsubishi truck that rolled down a ravine back in March. I was hoping it would finally be done today. It was!
  • Even luckier, after picking up the truck, I had a balance owing, so I went to my bank to withdraw funds and when I came out, we ran into an old friend and her daughter and while we were chatting at length, my body shop guy showed up, so I didn't have to make an extra trip to pay him off.
  • Our new 4Mbps Internet service started today, for the same price as the old.
  • Not least of all, in the morning, I finished two small kitchen appliance repairs that actually worked! 
  The new truck cab is excellent. Pictures below the fold ...

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