2019 Costa Rica Tour Day 9

By Susan Mahr

January 24, 2019

Those of us staying at Trogon had a relaxed morning, with breakfast anytime after 7:00, luggage needing to be outside the rooms by 7:30, and departure at 8:30. It was a little bit warmer this morning than yesterday (53) and there were a few birds around, including the ground-foraging large-footed finch, a Talamanca hummingbird feeding on fuchsias and other plants, rufus-collared sparrows flitting around, the tiny volcano hummingbird busily zipping from orange flower to flower on the marmalade bush, and flame-colored tanager moving through, but no quetzal sightings. There was a red-tailed squirrel running up into the tree tomato shrub, grabbing ripe orange fruits and running off with them. The five staying at Savegre arrived in the dining room about 7:45 and hung out for a while, but most people drifted off to pay bar tabs, return to their rooms for a bit, or wander the grounds looking for birds and flowers.

We were a little delayed in leaving, as there was still a line of people paying their bills in the office at 8:30, and the small gift shop had opened so some people needed to make extra purchases. We were on our way at 8:45, bouncing up the road, slowing to creep by an oncoming delivery truck, with the two vehicles clearing each other’s large exterior mirrors by only about an inch on the narrow road. We made it up to the main road at 9:15, turning left to follow along the Pan American highway that we were on the previous day under bright blue skies. We were headed toward Cartago, the original capitol of the country because it was at the confluence of two main rivers, making it convenient for transport to both sides of the mountains. Margherita told about the legend of the origin of the Cartago Cathedral and the black Virgin de Los Angeles. We got stuck behind a large truck going very slowly for a while – as Margherita discussed the political situation in the country – until Andreas was able to pass it. When we got to Los Santos (where we’d turned off to get to Santa Maria de Dota yesterday) a little before 10:00 we were stopped on the road in a line of traffic waiting to go through a short construction zone (maybe replacing a culvert under the road) where a large truck was blocking the road as soil was being loaded into it. It took about 10 minutes before the truck was full and moved out of the way and they let the oncoming traffic go on the single open lane. A constant parade of cars, trucks and buses went by for a full 5 minutes before it was our turn to go by the blockage.

Just a few hundred meters further we pulled off at a row of shops for a quick bathroom break. Margherita purchased beverages for those who wanted a soda, and also got packages of local cashews to pass around the bus. Other people also passed around plantain chips and other snacks to share as we left there at 10:40 to continue jostling down the rough road twisting down the mountain. Margherita pointed out Irazu Volcano and the smoking Turrialba Volcano off in the distance. Further on there were a number of large wind turbines on the mountainside. Margherita gave the depressing news of our airport transfer times the next day as we continued descending, ears popping periodically as we went down, arriving at the flat land and the outskirts of the urban area of Cartago about 11:15 and took a series of side streets past tightly packed contiguous mixture of brightly colored and pastel houses, shops and businesses with tin roofs, a little park of El Guarco and the nearby modern church, a school, and more residential and commercial areas.

We arrived at Jardín Botáníco Lankester about 11:35 (an hour later than planned because of all the road construction and other delays). It was warm and sunny, with just a few puffy white clouds over the distant mountains as we disembarked and assembled inside the reception area as Margherita paid the entrance fee. We wandered past the non-native jade vine (Strongylodon macrobotrys from the Phillipines) before assembling in front of the orchid house. The new director of the gardens, Adam Karremans, greeted us and told us a little about the place before leading us on a nice tour through the orchid houses. This 27-acre garden, administered by the University of Costa Rica, is internationally known for its collections of epiphytes, including many orchids. Costa Rica is home to about 1,400 orchid species, 20% of which are endemic. The orchid collection includes over 15,000 accessions from nearly 1,000 species, most of which are native to Mesoamerica. The collection of miniature orchids is one of the largest and most renowned in the world. Once inside the orchid house we learned about the different orchids in bloom, first the large ones in the display house – including Costa Rica’s national flower, Guariantha skinnerii that goes by the common name guaria morada, with purple cattleya-type flowers with a white throat. Behind the showhouse of dramatic-flowered orchids is a long greenhouse with an extensive collection of miniature orchids in small pots that filled the steel mesh benches in the larger shadehouse. The miniature collection here includes more than 2000 specimens, including almost 100 species of Lepanthes, a complete collection of Costa Rican Dracula and Masdevallia, dozens of species of PleurothallisStelis, and Trichosalpinx, as well as vast collections of Zygopetalinae and Oncidiinae. They even have specimens of Platystele jungermannioides, the world’s tiniest orchid. Many of them were in bloom with very tiny, cryptic flowers that would be very easy to overlook, especially in the wild. As we examined one tiny exotic bloom after another in an amazing array of bizarre shapes and interesting colors, rain began to fall on the roof.

Adam bade farewell and we followed Margherita on a walking tour through the gardens to see the authentic Japanese garden with its red arched bridge, tea house, and the bamboo collection followed by the native forest (regenerated from former cattle pasture, starting in 1973, it was planted with native species and allowed to grow naturally) with underplantings of huge-leaved Anthurium salvinii(the world’s largest anthurium, with rosettes of huge, broad leaves several feet long and elongated purple inflorescences) and several of the very large golden orb spiders in their very strong webs strung out amid the vegetation. The shady trail led into the sunny succulent garden, an area filled with plants from diverse families (cactus, agave, crassula, euphorbia and lily), where we saw the tallPereskia, a true cactus with leaves and tufts of vicious spines on the trunk and stems; the huge, smelly flowers of carrion flower, Stapelia giganta; a number of interesting cacti and other succulents; and a couple of colonies of stingless bees entering and exiting through their waxy tube leading into the hidden nest in a hollow post. From there it was a series of areas devoted to specific plant groups: bananas, ferns, heliconias and gingers, and bromeliads, all mixed in nice combinations with other vegetation along the winding path. On we went into the fern gallery where tall tree ferns lined the pathway that led to a mesh-shaded fernery with other types of ferns. We meandered back toward the entrance, through collections of blooming heliconias and by all kinds of bromeliads (there are 200 native bromeliad species in Costa Rica), with epiphytic ones encrusting the trees – many of the small, native Tillandsia – and beds filled with terrestrial types. There were bromeliads, agapanthus, amaryllis (Hippeastrum), and bird of paradise (Strelitzia regina) in bloom, a large stand of traveler palm with whitish bird-of-paradise-like flowers, and even one of the native dahlias (Dahlia imperialis) in bloom. We returned back to the entrance, and after a few purchases in the gift shop, were on our way about 1:45.

As we slowly made our way along the congested streets through Cartago Province, Margherita told us about the church ruins we passed, a cathedral that was in the process of being built when the big 1910 earthquake struck. With the foundation damaged too much, the partially-built structure was never completed. We drove through crowded city streets, for about half an hour to Curridabat.

We stopped at Restuarante Doña Lela, a traditional open air Costa Rican restaurant, for lunch, with a row of bright orange-flowering poró trees across the street. Most people sat at a series of long tables pushed together into one long table with wooden benches, with the last four sitting separately at a nearby table. We were given a choice of casado, soup or arroz con pollo, with most people choosing a small soup. Soursop or cas juice and water was delivered to the tables, and Margherita ordered appetizers of guacamole, pico de gallo and black bean dip to share. The portions were huge, especially for the soup because they ran out of small bowls, so served large ones instead! Most of us couldn’t quite finish all the tasty food – but were reassured that it would not go to waste, as the restaurant owners also raise pigs and would feed any leftovers to them.

It was only a 5-minute drive through the nice residential area of Curridabat before passing through the security gates of the property we would visit next and wound up the narrow road through the coffee plantation into the residential area where Fernando and Ileana Terán live. Ileana has been interested in gardening and plants since she was young and has long been an advocate for the protection of Costa Rica’s natural areas in general, and orchids in particular. She is a founder of the SACRO Foundation (http://sacro.or.cr/).

We pulled over on the road as Fernando drove down in his big black pickup truck (although he was back at the house by the time we got there). It was a challenge driving the big bus on the narrow streets, but Andreas managed to skillfully negotiate the way up to the house. We arrived at their beautiful house at 3:45, greeted by our hostess Ileana who invited us to come into the entertainment area (built about 20 years ago as a place their kids could have friends over to hang out). The rough stone used in some of the building is travertine from their farm in Turrialba, with wooden floors, a recessed seating area with built in seats and large picture windows overlooking the city below, and a nice collection of Costa Rican art. After greeting us and telling a little about the property, Ileana led us on a tour of the beautiful garden. Right next to the entertainment area there is a collection of stone salt licks, pre-Columbian stone artifacts and other stone items mixed with ferns and bromeliads on the slope, with a path made with stone blocks from the old streets of San Jose. Nearby an old wooden coffee mortar and tall wooden pestles sat on the path under the overhang of the building. We then walked up steep steps through an area of many different species and cultivars of colorful terrestrial bromeliads all over the slope. At the top a flat stone walkway lined with more bromeliads, self-seeded begonias and other plants led to another section of the garden. We went inside the small greenhouse filled with a diversity of miniature orchids where Ileana pointed out and explained interesting features of many of these amazing plants. We then moved from one area to the next, with Ileana telling us about the various plants, and some of the historic artifacts that are ornamental features especially in the entry area. We walked through the lush tropical vegetation along more stone paths on several levels with steps between them to see some terrestrial orchids, anthuriums, begonias, and bromeliads among other plants. We paused on the steep steps at the back of the garden for a group picture, then continued on the paths to get to the plantings above the large greenhouse. Inside the large greenhouse there were all kinds of different orchids, many of which were being cultivated in or on sections of tree trunks, and many plants of the guadia morada (none in bloom).

The sun was low in the sky as we made our way through the house and assembled in the living room to watch a video on SACRO and the important work the foundation has done for orchid conservation in Costa Rica, with the sun was blaring into the eyes of those sitting facing west. After that program was over we moved back to the entertainment area we’d started out in.

While we sat around enjoying appetizers of sangria or soursop juice and black bean dip with fried plantains, Ileana told us briefly about SACRO (Save Our Costa Rican Orchids) and its programs to preserve the national orchid through school programs and propagation for re-distribution in its native areas and the progress of the urban improvement project for Curradibat that focuses on creating green spaces in urban areas to improve happiness. (See the presentations at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ho23QH5bfE and http://sacro.or.cr/proyectos/urban-happiness/)

Since we were all still fairly full from our late lunch, we decided to delay serving dinner for about half an hour. Ileana put on some music and people wandered around the landscaped grounds or hung out chatting. Fernando brought out some of his collection of coffee plantation coins that were used to pay workers before the country started minting its own coins to show to Dan and Richard – and even gave some to Richard to add to his coin collection! Shortly before dinner was served, we gathered in the seating area to offer our heartfelt thanks to Margherita and Andreas for their excellent service on the trip. Then we got up to have plates filled from the large dishes of salad, chicken enchilada casserole, rice, and baked bananas that Ileana and her “butler” Jorge served us. (Ileana shared the recipe for the banana dish: slice ripe bananas lengthwise, dot with butter and layer in a baking dish, pour a can of condensed milk over the top and bake at 200F for 30-45 minutes). We sat around three dining tables set up in the main area of the open entertainment building enjoying the good food, red or white wine (the white a Spanish wine with the name “Pura Vida”) and interesting conversation as dusk overtook the valley below and the twinkling lights of the city came on below us. Dessert was a selection of dark, moist fruity Christmas cake, cajeta (milk fudge), butter cookies, and individually wrapped gummy guava candies. Ileana offered coffee from their own plantation, but no one was interested this late in the day.

We said our farewells and thanks to our gracious hosts and departed around 7:45, winding our way back to the main road and out into the city and into San Jose. Margherita told us about the University of Costa Rica as we passed through the campus on the main road and the other areas of the metropolitan area we were traveling through. Traffic wasn’t that bad at this time of night, although Andreas did take some side roads to avoid the worst congestion, so it only took about 45 minutes to make it to Hotel Bougainvillea (often the journey takes an hour or more), where everyone said goodbye to those who would be departing early in the morning and then dispersed to our rooms for the end of a wonderful trip!

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