Coffee and I

My very Hispanic step-mother from Bogota, Colombia, whom I endearingly called by her first name Edith, survived on coffee. The first thing she did after waking up was prepare coffee. She drank coffee in times of great happiness, and great sadness. She drank coffee to help her raise my two younger brothers Mateo and Santiago, who were never short of energy. She even somehow drank coffee at night, prior to going to sleep. She and coffee were one and the same. After my many visits to Bogota, I quickly learned that, for her and her family, coffee wasn’t just an energizing refreshment, but rather, a way of life.

Edith had these three red, ceramic, air-tight jars that she kept in the cabinet above the oven. Each one was a different size, and within each, she kept coffee beans, sugar, and rice, respectively. Every morning on the weekends, I would like to treat myself to a big bowl of oatmeal that I could eat while I watched cartoons in my pajamas. Of course, as a sweet toothed teenager, nothing went better with my big bowl of oatmeal than a generous tablespoon, or two, of sugar. Well, of course, I could never get the jar size right. “Last time, I tried the middle one, and it was coffee…so it has to be the big one,” I would think to myself. And every weekend, without fail, I would open the wrong one before finally getting to the sugar. Well, each time I guessed incorrectly, and opened the jar with the coffee beans, I would spend a good minute with my nose in the jar, taking in the smell of the beans and its entire aroma. At the time, I thought coffee was just coffee, I had no idea where the beans came from, that there were levels of roast, or even that there were different kind of beans. All I knew was that I was in love with that smell and everything it reminded me of.

Flash forward ten years and I’m on a U.S. Naval Warship, having just graduated from the Naval Academy. It’s three in the morning, pitch black, and I’m standing my first duty night-watch, guarding the ship. To say that I was struggling to stay awake is a gross understatement. The person I was standing watch with, HM2 Deane, a young medic originally from Guyana, asks me in his heavy Guyanese accent, “Sir, would you like some coffee to help you get through this watch?” Growing up, I had never really had coffee. Edith would offer me a sip from time to time, but my father was worried my growth would be stunted had I enjoyed too much coffee. I carried this mentality with me to the Naval Academy, and I never really drank coffee, always desiring to be in top physical and mental condition. I told HM2 Deane that I was appreciative for the offer, but that I didn’t really drink coffee. Again, in thick Guyanese English, “Sir, you’ll be able to breeze through this night watch, without the pain of your brain trying to fall asleep.” “What the hell,” I thought. I was no longer at the Naval Academy, competing against my peers. It was the first time in my life that I was awake at three in the morning, with the expectation that I would have to stay awake, guarding the ship, until seven in the morning. “Sure, why not,” I thought, “It couldn’t hurt.” My eyes were so heavy. All I could think about was placing my heavy head on a pillow and sleeping the night away. HM2 went to get the ship’s coffee for me.

By the time he returned, I was barely clasping to consciousness, praying for any situation that would give my eyes just a fifteen minute break to rest. As soon as he handed me the Navy Coffee Mug, I got a whiff of the smell, which looking back, I’m sure was terrible, and my entire childhood flashed before me. I saw Edith in the kitchen preparing coffee as Mateo and Santiago got ready for school. I remembered the weekend morning cartoon session with my big bowl of oatmeal and three, maybe four tablespoons of sugar. I even remembered my step-mother yelling at my brothers and I for using all the milk before she could have her morning coffee, and my Father in the living room chuckling. I was instantly awake and I did in fact, breeze through the rest of the night-watch. I spent the remaining four hours, reminiscing on the fortunate childhood I had, my loving step-mother and father, and the best younger brothers a former only child could have asked for. All of these memories, brought about, by the unforgettable and enticing smell of coffee.

I’ve been drinking coffee ever since. Fortunately, I’ve been able to get my hands on better quality coffee. I can’t imagine that the Navy’s twenty year old, instant coffee machine, filled with 3 week old coffee grounds, was anything taste-worthy. Since that first cup, I’ve become fascinated with coffee culture. I’ve always considered myself a man of science, and the coffee bean is nothing short of that. The variables on altitude, bean selection, processing methods, roasting level, and exposure time all fascinate me beyond belief.

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Come check us out!! More captivating stories, breathtaking pictures, and now added with some great coffee to bring it all together. at or at our Facebook.
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End of a Chapter

Ladies and Gentlemen, I write this with a penetrating, stinging sadness as I announce, the official ending of our adventures with



What started as nothing more than a sightseeing hobby of mine, hiking through Japan equipped with only two boots and a camera, has miraculously turned into one of the greatest projects of my life. Topped perhaps, only by my 5th grade Presidential Campaign popup book that I somehow managed to complete the night before it was due after a 6 week trip to Bogota, Colombia. Jokes aside, YamaKataGo was what kept me sane my last few months in the Navy. A creative outlet, a platform to tell me story, and a way to connect with you.


I can honestly say that I challenged myself to bring you a side of Japan and Costa Rica that is not often captured by your typical Japan Blogger or Costa Rican travel book. We journeyed together to the Mountaintops of Hokkaido, found ourselves face to face with a Bear Cub in Western Japan, traversed through Costa Rican jungles, and traveled through a Coastal City in Eastern Costa Rica that resembles Jamaica more than it does a Central American country.


Alas, that has all, much to my regret, come to a termination. I am by no means a writer, but I’ve heard (read) many writers say many times, that the best way to reflect, is always, through travel. And, fortunately for me, the last three months has given me that time to figure things out.

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I ventured through the capital of Colombia, Bogota, and saw her historic beauty.

“Woman in Red”

This photo above looks like a really simple photo, but this is, by far, my favorite picture that I have ever taken. I can close my eyes and remember the exact scenario, the entire feeling in all its contrast, the intense mixture of warmth and coldness, love and isolation, vibrancy and dullness, that was the moment this picture was taken.

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View of Bogota from Monserrate 

I got to see a small Colombian River town and go white water rafting through it. First time rafting, first and last time cliff jumping.

The moment before my first and last cliff jump

I checked out the Caribbean Santa Marta of Colombia where singer Carlos Vives is from (whose album “El Amor de Mi Tierra” was my entire childhood).


I then took a small detour to Richmond, Virginia and checked out the Civil War Museum.


Followed by a much overdue visit to my Alma Mater, The United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.



And finally, thanks to much luck and fortunate timing, have found myself back in the exciting world that is Tokyo, Japan.

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What has that extensive traveling taught me? What has it allowed me to reflect on? Well, primarily, my reasoning for shutting down the project, In travel, I have realized, that rarely does anyone ever get to choose how they go or when they go, only what they do before they go. Excuse the somber drawback, but dwelling on that exact thought has pushed me more than ever, to spend my time living, chasing, doing what it is that gets my heart, my soul, racing. And in the pursuit of such happiness, I’m afraid I cannot commit enough time to AND provide quality content.

Tokyo Living

As such, this will be my last post on But…..Ladies and Gentleman, I am more than thrilled to officially announce the creation of Yugen International as Creative Director and Coffee Roaster. Our content here at YamaKata will be shifting over to, as will my time and dedication. I really am sad to see YamaKata go, but thrilled to see what lies ahead for Yugen International.

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What is Yugen International? Well, some of you may have seen snippets of it during our development phase or heard rumors of us on Reddit, but, in the last three months, we have found a much sharper, more refined direction for Yugen and are thrilled about where we’re headed. If you’re interested in learning more, check out the website! And since is migrating to, there will be a lot of admin and maintenance to take care of, so please bear with us and with the change. As always guys, thanks for reading, look forward to seeing you over at Yugen!


On Costa Rica

When you think of Costa Rica, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Beautiful beaches? Wild, dense jungles filled with exotic animals? Or simply, an adventurous escape from the mundane 9-5 with your best mate or soon to be wife or husband?


I can’t deny that Costa Rica is all of this. It is captivating nature that will fill you with regret as you prepare to board your departing plane back home. It is spectacular wildlife that you will be hard pressed to find anywhere else in the world. And of course, it is the adventure of a lifetime that will be told to coworkers for years to come when they ask for recommendations on where to vacation to. But, tucked away in a seemingly neglected capital filled with over 300,000 residents, lies a Costa Rican reality that is nearly the complete opposite of everything mentioned above.

Farmer selling his produce at the weekly Feria

(Author’s note: Allow me to apologize upfront. During my time in Costa Rica, as with anywhere, if something caught my eye, I took a picture of it. For me, that normally (read, almost always) consists of something nature related, the unspoken beauty of Earth. And, while Costa Rica is a country filled to the brim with nature, this article tackles the inverted reality that is Costa Rica for its average citizen. Of that polarized reality, the partially disheveled, sometimes disheartening Costa Rica, I have very few photos. In fact, yesterday, knowing that I wanted to write this article, I went to a part of town that always saddened me just so that I would have a photo to convince you, the reader, that I’m not making all of this up. As you read, the pictures above and beneath words will be in high contrast to the words I have written. I hope you, as the reader, take this opportunity to experience just how much of a contrast there is between the Costa Rica that the tourist experiences and the Costa Rica its citizens know.)

Monkey outside my hotel window. I accidentally left my bad outside full of bananas and fruit the night before. Heard a screech in the early morning. Needless to say my bananas were long gone.

Costa Rica, a former Spanish colony, gained independence from Spain in 1821. Due to the sudden power vacuum, a civil war erupted between Imperialists who wanted to join the Mexican Empire, and Republicans who wanted full independence. Republicans won a decisive victory at the battle of Ochomogo in 1823 and the capital was moved from Cartago to San Jose; however, Costa Rica was still a part of the Federal Republic of Central America. In 1838, due to the inefficiency of La República Federal de Centroamérica, Costa Rica withdrew and became fully independent.

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In the early 19th Century, Costa Rica experienced significant economic growth due to the export of coffee, along with tabaco and cacao. (For a more in depth history of Costa Rican coffee, be sure to check out my “History of Coffee in Costa Rica” post). In order to provide a faster, more efficient transportation of coffee from farm to shipping port, Minor Keith, a United States businessman, was contracted to build a railroad to Limon in exchange for land and a lease on the train route. Keith, being a shrewd (read: exploitive) business man, used this lease to produce a “Banana route” for exportation. As banana exports grew and competed with coffee as the major export, foreign investment also grew and foreign corporations began to hold a lot of power in the direction of Costa Rica’s national economy. Some of its historic symptoms (read: exploitations) can still be seen in Costa Rica’s economy today.


Compared to the rest of Central America, Costa Rica enjoyed an extremely peaceful 20th century. The only exception was a 44 day Civil war in 1948 that left 2,000 Ticos (Costa Rican’s) dead. Following the civil war, a new constitution was drafted, true democratic elections were held, and the military was disbanded, making Costa Rica one of the few nations without an armed force (alongside Kiribati, Grenada, Andorra, and Iceland).

And that brings us to present day Costa Rica. Since 1953, Costa Rica has held 15 presidential elections and is deemed, rightfully so, the region’s most stable country.

[If you’re not interested in Mexican history that is more or less not directly related to this article, skip this paragraph] Ok, I’m going to derail a bit here, but I think you’ll enjoy it. I initially began writing “Just to provide some perspective, here are the internal conflicts other Latin American countries have had since gaining independence with Spain.” I began my research and, I found that in 1926, Mexico experienced a Cristero Rebellion, a battle against the secularist (think Separation of Church and State) and anti-Catholic policies of the Mexican government at the time. Then President Plutarco Elias Calles enacted a statute that would place restrictions on the Catholic Church. It would require all churches to register with the state, priests and ministers could no longer hold public office, nor could they “inherit property from persons other than close blood relatives.” In this reform, which came to be known as “Calles Law,”  penalties were places specifically on members of the church. Wearing a clerical garb in public was punishable by a fine of 500 pesos ($250 at the time, or $4,250 now). Any religious figure that criticized the government would be imprisoned for 5 years. And lastly, church property was seized, foreign priests expelled, and religious schools permanently closed. As a result, a rural uprising, supported by the church of course, temporarily tore the country apart. The rebels called themselves Cristeros (Of Christ). Peaceful resistance quickly turned to violent uprising, government troops were killed in raids and priests were tortured and murdered in public. In 1929, US ambassador to Mexico Dwight W. Morrow was able to draft, and have signed, a peace pact that would allow worship in Mexico to resume; however, the church would be held to some secular law (only some priests would have to register with the government and religious instruction could only resume in churches, not schools). The interesting part, perhaps more trivia factoid, as if the above wasn’t interesting enough, is that in the mid 1920s, high ranking members belonging to, none other than the Ku Klux Klan, offered Mexican President Calles $10,000 to aid in fighting the Catholic Church. They appeared to share his sentiments that “The Catholic Church…must be eliminated in order to proceed with a Socialist government free of religious hypnotism which fools the people.” I find it incredible that the KKK, an organization that believes in the success of the white race, and only the white race, would support the Mexican government, but I digress. [End tangent]

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As I was saying, compared to countries such as Mexico, that have had 5 internal conflicts since independence from Spain, Guatemala with a bloody 36 year Civil War, El Salvador with a Civil War that left 80,000 dead and 8,000 disappeared, a CIA backed army unit in Honduras that was responsible for the torture, murder, and disappearance of 184 students, professors, and journalists, Nicaragua with its infamous Banana War along with its Civil War and Revolution that left over 40,000 dead, and lastly Panama with its US invasion that resulted in over 300 dead in the span of one month. Relatively, Costa Rica has been a place of political paradise in the region.

Young Nicaraguan FSLN rebel soldiers

Today, Costa Rica continues to enjoy a stable democracy as well as, for the most part, economy. In 2017, the estimated GDP for Costa Rica was at $57 billion, ranking 76th in the World. The country also has  a high level of quality health care as well as one of the highest literacy rates in Central America at 97%.

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Well, with all of this, how is Costa Rica not the perfect country to live in from any perspective? Well, for starters, even though GDP has increased significantly over the last 20 years, the national debt has been steadily increasing as well. In 2015, it accounted for 41% of the national GDP. In June of 2017, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) expressed concern over increasing deficits and public debts, as the proposed 2017 budget was $16 billion, 33% of which accounted for debt payments. In August of 2017, President Luis Guillermo Solis stated that the country was facing a “liquidity crisis” and declared that higher income taxes were desperately needed in order to pay debts AND keep government services operational.

Former President Guillermo with Former President Obama

Compared to other Latin American nations, Costa Rica is easily the most expensive country to live in. A tax is placed on every imported good (as seen here), which in turn drives retail prices up, costing citizens more money. Things that are found for reasonable prices in The States such as clothing, electronics, and automobiles, are rather expensive in Costa Rica, sometimes double the price.

Manuel Antonio

Where does all of this tax money go? I truly have no idea. The cost of living in Costa Rica is extremely high, while salaries remain low, with the average salary being $730. A good portion of that is taxed, either directly or indirectly. And yet, you cannot drive down any road in Costa Rica for more than five minutes without having to swerve just to avoid a tire flattening pot hole. Still, trash litters the streets of downtown San Jose, as well as the highways, and even parks. Still, there is a soul numbing rush hour that could easily be avoided if major “roundabouts” were done away with. And while crime rates are relatively low for the region, they have also increased significantly in the last ten years. Ticos are investing heavily into their government and country, be it willingly or not, but the return on investment may be taking longer than expected.


Whats more, Costa Rica is hailed as a country with one of the best health care systems in the world, but if you ask a Tico, would he rather go to the public hospital on insurance, or a private one, I can guarantee that all would say private. The wait time for the public hospital is, all jokes aside, sometimes life-threatening, taking weeks, sometimes months just to get an appointment. And the treatment by staff at a public clinic lacks hospitality in comparison. At a private clinic, you can be seen within a couple of days if not hours and are treated like the money you spend. Of course, not everyone can afford this exclusive attention.

Hospital Calderon

To make matters even worse, a base salary for a nurse in a public hospital in Costa Rica is a mere $550 a month, which is under the national average for salaries. It’s a bit difficult to compare directly, but the average nurse in The United States makes $5,660 a month, ten times as much as here, and still, the cost of food in both countries is the same, and the cost of clothing, electronics, and automobiles is much more expensive in Costa Rica. Everyone pays for health insurance and everyone can get it, and while I’m sure it has helped, saved, cured many poor workers, homeless, or those that just wouldn’t be able to afford health care, it has left many middle class Costa Ricans frustrated and disappointed.

Typical road in San Jose. Passed by this every morning on my way to work.

This frustration and disappointment is not just felt in health care. On any street in Costa Rica, along with 2-3 foot potholes, you will easily find brand new BMWs, Porsches, Audis, mixed with beat up used cars from the 90s, even the 80s, that your average Costa Rican drives. The class disparity in Costa Rica is unbelievable, seriously, ridiculously unbelievable. The middle class seems to be shrinking dramatically, almost to the point of non-existence. Upper class Ticos, enjoy a relaxed life, as they should having earned their wealth; however, the rest of Costa Rica, struggles simply to get by, trying to emulate the wealthy in whatever way possible so that they too, may escape financial stress. But, with 20% of the country below the poverty line, a ridiculous amount of imposed taxes, and a laughable salary in comparison to the cost of living, escaping a paycheck to paycheck lifestyle for the majority of Costa Ricans does not seem plausible, not any time soon at least. And without a strong middle class, consumer spending plummets and takes the Costa Rican economy with it. Luckily, the country’s saving grace is, still, foreign investments, due to Free Trade Zone which brings American companies seeking tax breaks along with their investments.

Coffee Expo with Cafe Doga at the beginning of the year.

Costa Rica, is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful countries in the world filled with beautiful people. Its nature, beaches, and world class resorts make it a prime destination for travelers world-wide. However, if the country continues on the path its headed, there may be little that separates it from one of its less politically stable neighbors to the North.

Irazu Volcano

For those of you who’ve made it this far, thanks for reading. If you disagreed with anything I’ve said, feel free to send me a message, would love to discuss. If you have any questions, feel free to ask away.

Bonus treat for reading. Me 300 miles deep in the humid, exotic rainforest with my unkempt survival beard. Jk, I was at a nature walk 5 minutes from my car….




Cafe del Barista

What separates a good cafe from a mediocre one? What motivates loyal customers to continue choosing your cafe instead of the competition just down the street? What encourages new customers to give your spot a chance? Is it the atmosphere, the customer service, or the quality of the coffee? These were the questions that I came down to Costa Rica to have answered in my crazy pursuit to one day have a cafe that I can call my own.

I’d been in Costa Rica for a little over a month, and I still couldn’t find any real work. I applied to every, single, cafe in San José (That is no exaggeration) and even to a few outside of the city. Every interviewer always immediately asked me, a bit arrogantly it seemed, “Well what cafe experience do you even have?” I’d reply, “My five years in the Navy has not given me much direct experience with hospitality, or coffee for that matter, but I can assure you that what I lack in experience, I can more than make up for in dedication and willingness to learn…” Didn’t seem to matter.

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Volunteering at Cafeoteca, a good 8 pounds lighter than when I arrived to Costa Rica

Tired of waiting for so many 2nd calls or emails that never came, I began thinking that coming to Costa Rica, the source of quality coffee, to learn about coffee maybe wasn’t such a good idea after all. Looking back, I was carrying a decent amount of stress with me and I was losing a good amount of weight. I began toying with the idea of getting a job outside of coffee. Get something that wouldn’t have anything to do with specialty coffee, or even hospitality for that matter, but could afford me the opportunity to survive financially and volunteer after work or on the weekends at a cafe since I “lacked experience.” Swallowing my pride, I accepted a volunteer position (via a good family friend) at Cafeoteca, one of the previous cafes that more or less scoffed at my inexperience. They just happened to be one of the best speciality coffee shops in Costa Rica.

I began volunteering there just about every day from 8AM to 3PM and would use my downtime to search for a paying job. Luckily, I was able to learn quite a bit while “working” from how to use an espresso machine, to how to prepare “Metas” or brewed coffee (Chemix, Aeropress, French Press, V60, Gondola), how to properly steam milk for a Cappucino or Latte, and, most importantly, how to provide great customer service, all in Spanish mind you (It had been a quite a while since I had spoken Spanish daily). After about three weeks of what seemed like indentured servitude at best, I had finally been accepted as an English teacher at a learning academy. The pay was absolutely atrocious, but I could work nights, keep my day schedule at the cafe, and afford to buy food without much stress (Costa Rica is an expensive country contrary to popular belief, its just the salaries that are low).

The English Academy had planned to send me to a “teacher prep course” a month after I accepted the position; however, about two days after I officially accepted the job, one of my “co-workers” had gotten pretty irritated that the cafe wasn’t paying me, but still expected me to work so much. He recommended that I talk to a friend of his, an owner at another cafe, after he put in a good word for me. Not even a day later, I found myself face to face with the world famous Manuel Dinarte, Costa Rica’s 2008 National Barista Champion, and owner of Cafe del Barista. After a brief conversation and demonstration of my recently learned skills (I’m sure the recommendation helped more than anything), I was offered a position as manager at one of his cafes. And that was that. I immediately called the English Academy and regretfully informed them that I was no longer available and got to work.

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Jose preparing a V60

I quickly fell in love with everything about the cafe. The employees were all a part of Costa Rica’s budding 3rd Wave Coffee scene. Eager to both teach and learn anything and everything there is to know about coffee. The repeat customers were in love with the customer service that they received at the cafe, and that showed not only through their repeat business, but more so with how they interacted within the cafe. Nothing but laughs and smiles the entire hour or hour and a half in the shop. Only once had I ever seen a customer have a bad experience and that was because we closed at 530 PM, but they hadn’t taken the hint by 615. The kitchen, bakery, and baristas all loved what they did and that was easily reflected in the products that we delivered to the customer, be it a delicious, glazed cinnamon roll, mouth watering white wine sauce chicken with rice and beans, or our coffee, at the time, a natural processed Geisha from Herbazu, Costa Rica.


My coffee knowledge seems to have quadrupled, luckily, while working at Cafe del Barista. I was fortunate enough to go directly to the farms from where we bought our beans and see the (sometimes manual as seen above) 1st, 2nd, and 3rd selection process that dictated how much a sack of coffee would ultimately cost.


I was able to, under the guidance of owner Manuel, get hands on roasting experience. Seeing first hand, what it meant for a coffee to “Yellow,” how the official first crack was noted, and what parameters to use to determine when to stop a roast depending on coffee variety, process, and desired taste.


At the time this picture was taken I was still learning about Quakers…



I even got some hands on experience baking. Although, as Cindy, our baker below, can tell you, I have much to learn in the art of baking, and it may just be that I’m not cut out to be a professional baker.

This was one of the few times in my life “You make it look so easy” applied perfectly


As you can see, my empanada (Above Left) looks nothing compared to Cindy’s (Above right)


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Silky espresso shots

Our cafe was even featured in a TV program on best cafes in Latin America. Guess who the only other cafe was in Costa Rica that made it onto the program…..Cafeoteca.


The kitchen crew, Monica, Enrique, and Ariel who probably provided me with 95% of my laughter throughout the day

And in everything that I’ve learned through my experience at Cafe del Barista, I’ve finally figured out what the secret is to running a great cafe. Its not how well the beans are roasted, nor is it the quality of the coffee beans, or the baked goods, or even the food. What turns a good cafe into a great one, is, as you’ve probably guessed, the people. The basic essence of what a cafe is, a place to escape the stressors of life and relax, a place to enjoy good company, share a cup of coffee, and laugh away your thoughts. The baristas serving your cup of coffee, with care and attention, take it from a mediocre cup, to an excellent one, and the difference is easily tasted. The chefs eliminate your growling stomach, with carefully prepared dishes from the heart. And, cafes fortunate enough to have an in house baker like ours, the baker provides the perfect, mouth watering complement to your great cup of coffee.

Love these guys to death

I’ve heard stories of cafes, in Costa Rica at least, that seem trendy, seem hip, seem like a great place to relax, but the owners treat the employees like trash. I’ve visited these cafes myself. Sure, they have great coffee, good food, and everyone greets me, but each time, there is something that is just off. I’ve never felt a burning desire to go back to these places, to waste away my quiet Saturday afternoon enjoying their coffee, or even support their organization with my money. I strongly believe that is because the people were not taken care of, so how could they possibly fully take care of me.


“You can smell it. The warm subtle notes of fresh Costa Rican coffee calms you as you breathe it in. The steady drip from the pot reminds you of when mother would pour her coffee early Saturday mornings. As you bring the warm cup to your mouth, your taste buds expand, anticipating the beautiful embrace of perfection. Come join us for a cup of coffee.” -Cafe del Barista, written by yours truly.


Catarata Del Toro

Just two hours North of San Jose, Costa Rica (much less if you’re able to leave before 7 AM, much more if you leave after 8 AM) lies a spectacular waterfall by the name of Catarata del Toro (Waterfall of the Bull). The waterfalls are situated in a National Park, which is open from 7 AM to 5 PM everyday except Sunday. $10 for Nationals and Residents and $14 for foreigners.


Getting there from San Jose (if you have a car) is simple enough (Just type Cataratas del Toro into Google Maps); however, I would highly recommend something equipped with 4×4. On the way there this morning, we passed a sedan that must have been FWD spending a good 10 minutes trying to get up one of the inclines. After they had burned enough rubber, filling the air with smoke, and making my car smell like an industrial plant, they decided to turn around and return home. Or at least get enough speed on the downhill in order to physics their way up.

I had never actually seen one of these signs in person before. I do believe that the incline shown here was in fact drawn to scale.
The photo does not do the incline justice.


As we continued to push through the beautiful winding roads and near vertical inclines, we came across a bull (ironically enough). In an attempt to capture everything that was Cataratas del Toro through my camera, I decided it would be a good idea to get out of my car, approach the bull, and take a picture of it. The first snap of my camera went off, no problem. Seeing that the bull was on a bit of a ledge and could not immediately charge at me without falling and breaking a leg first, I imagined that my Factor of Safety was at least doubled. As I approached and took the second photo, the bull looked directly at my from the side (if that makes any sense). I inched a bit closer, took a third photo, and the bull snorted. My feet were telling me to turn around, but my curiosity and desire to take the perfect picture got the best of me.


I pushed even closer. Click. Fourth photo. Now, the bull, never taking his eyes off of me, let out another snort, and stood up. I thought “Ok, he probably doesn’t want me to come any closer, but I can still get a picture or two before he rushes down the cliff. I take the fifth picture (seen above) and my stupidity tells me to get just A LITTLE bit closer to get a better picture. I shuffle my feet forward, heart beat accelerating a bit as it nervously chuckles at my stupidity. Now, ladies and gentlemen, I am not a farmer. I did not grow up on a farm, have never really been to a farm, and can count the number of times I have seen a bull in real life. I know bulls, and any wild animal can be rather dangerous, but I don’t know what behaviors to look out for that indicate aggressive behavior. Keep all of this in mind. Now, as I went to put the camera to my face, for what I had already determined would be the last picture, regardless of quality, I realized. The bull, had, a full on erection. I had…obviously, never been quite been in that situation before. Confused, startled, and a bit unsure as to how events in my life had led me face to face with an aroused bull, I decided, regardless of the outcome, further interaction with this beast would not be life-enriching. I put the camera down, accepted where I was currently at in the universe, out of all of the possible options, and continued on what I would hope to be a more life-enriching journey.

After another 20 minutes of scenic driving, I finally arrived to the park, parked my car, and eagerly began a hike I had been long overdue for. Unfortunately, the hike through the park is a BIT disappointing if you’re looking for more traditional hikes. The initial trails are covered in what appeared to be Basalt.

Never seen this guy before in my life.

Once you pass all of the Basalt, which feels great on your feet, but takes away (in my opinion) the connection with the trail and the hike, you reach a set of at least 300 stairs (estimating).

Endless Stairs

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Finally, after a short, 30 minute hike, you’ll be rewarded with a stunning view of Cataratas del Toro. You can continue your descent, which I highly recommend, but unfortunately, due to the acidity of the water, you cannot swim in the water.

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Continuing down you will find that moss is covering just about everything. If you misplace your step and put your hand on the mountain-face for support, your hand will  actually “fall into” the moss. A slightly disturbing experience that quickly made me pay more attention to my foot placement.



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Miniature Waterfalls


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There was a Howler Monkey somewhere here that I assume was heckling at us.

As we departed the park and started our journey back to San Jose, there were plenty of animals along the way. Having learned my lesson previously, I neither got out of my car, nor approached any of the wild beasts.



Being an easy two hours away from San Jose, I would highly recommend checking out Cataratas del Toro as a day trip (even closer if you’re coming from the airport). If you would like to stay overnight, or use the area as a layover on your way North, there are a few lodges that you can book in the area.


Hope you enjoyed reading and the pictures. Don’t approach bulls or stuff could happen!

Limón, Costa Rica

My first time back in Costa Rica, I sat down with my fairer skinned family members from Costa Rica and asked them all about this beautiful country. I asked them where the best beaches were, where the most exotic wild animals lived, and of course where I could find the best hikes. As they explained to an eager 20 year old adventurer the history and geography of Costa Rica, I followed their stories with my finger on a map. Instantly I was taken to the paradise beaches of Guanacaste in the Northwest. I imagined the lush rainforests surrounding Arenal, filled with species I had only ever seen on National Geographic. I envisioned the tourist frequented cabins and lodges to the Southwest in Manuel Antonio surrounded by Nature. And of course, the national treasure of coffee fields spread throughout the eight coffee growing regions of Costa Rica. As my finger traced the destinations on my small map of Costa Rica, I noticed that no one was mentioning anything about a small section of land to the East. My curiosity took charge and the question was delivered. “What about this Limón?” I asked. “Oh, even we don’t go there, its just too dangerous,” they replied. In fact, everyone said that.


I decided to see for myself, just how dangerous Limón really was. With a population of 60,000 people, 14,000 of which are black (the largest percentage in Costa Rica), the first thing I noticed upon arrival was the amount of racial diversity compared to San Jose. I mean, it would be hard for anyone who has spent anytime anywhere else in Costa Rica (no matter how progressive they claim to be) to not quickly realize the difference in racial diversity. San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital, boasts a population of just over 330,000 people, but only 3% of that population, just shy of 10,000 people, are black. Fortunately enough, Costa Rica is not (currently of course) a backwards country plagued with racial tension, in your face racial discrimination, and burdening stereotypes. Compared to other Latin American countries (especially Panama), Costa Rica is one of the least diverse countries; however, Costa Ricans still have a wide mix of Amerindian, European, and African ancestry, and in the last century a growing Asian population. 

American servicemembers deploy to Costa Rica

So why then, and more importantly how, did all of Costa Rica’s black population end up in Limón?

The first Africans arrived to Costa Rica with the Spaniards via the early slave trade. (I’m about to go on a crazy tangent so hold on) In fact, on his fourth and final voyage in March of 1502, Christopher Columbus, onboard Capitana, was under orders by the Spanish King to sail past Hispaniola, and instead search for a passage to the Indian Ocean. Amidst the search for a way West past Central America, a rather violent storm forced Columbus and his crew to drop anchor off the coast of Cariay, what is now Limón. Impressed by the gold and jewels that the native Bribri adorned themselves with, he sent word back to Spain that he had found an untapped, limitless amount of treasure. In 1506 King Ferdinand ordered a voyage to Costa Rica in order to colonize this “Rich Coast.” The attempt was an absolute disaster. Exotic predators, native tribe defenses, and unbearable jungles significantly delayed colonization.


It wasn’t until 1561, over 50 years of relentless attempts to colonize this wild land, that the “Rich Coast” fell under Spanish hand and the town of Cartago was established. Due to the previously mentioned fierce resistance to colonization by the native tribes, large plantations were never able to take hold and run successfully. This, along with fewer immediate cash crops like neighbors in what is now Panama and Nicaragua, led to less investment in Costa Rica from the crown, resulting in fewer slaves shipped to Costa Rica.

However, today’s black Costa Ricans are not descended from the few slaves brought by the early Spanish settlers. These Spanish colonization/slave trade descendants were nearly completely assimilated by the end of the colonial era. Their roots, remnants of their culture and facial features, are still strongest in Guanacaste where black slaves would work on colonial haciendas.


Most of today’s blacks in Costa Rica are descendants of Jamaican recruited immigrants Towards the late 1800s, coffee became the main export of Costa Rica. In order to be taken to Europe, the crops had to travel down through South America due to in-traversable jungles, which significantly increased the cost of export. In order to overcome this unnecessary journey South, a railway and the port of Limón were constructed in 1871. Due to the the lack of available local labor, workers were imported from China, Italy, and the Caribbean. In 1872, the first boat from Jamaica arrived at the port of Limón with 123 workers. Over the next year, Limón saw an increase of over 1,000 Jamaican workers in the port. Many expected to work, save enough money, and return to Jamaica, since they wanted nothing more to live apart from the Latinos, whose “language, religion, hygiene, and easygoing work habits they despised.”


In the early 1900s, work was much more scarce in Central Costa Rica than it was on the East coast, due largely to the United Fruit Company. Many highlanders (central Costa Ricans who were of European descent) went to work in Puerto Limón in search of higher wages. This immediate clash of West-Indians and Latin Americans caused significant racial tension. Ticos resented the blacks, believing that they “monopolized the high paid technical and clerical jobs just because they spoke English.”


In 1930, the United Fruit Company abandoned its Caribbean plantations and transferred its operations to the Pacific coast. It offered to resettle its workers there, but President Ricardo Jimenez, in a 1934 decree, forbade the company to transfer “colored” employees, arguing that it would “upset the country’s racial balance and could cause a civil commotion.”

Interestingly enough, the first generation of Antillean blacks born in Costa Rica, were not recognized as British subjects and Costa Rica denied them citizenship, leaving them with no country of citizenship. Forbidden to own land, they often lost their subsistence farms to Ticos with bogus documents in Spanish, a language they could not read. Finally in 1948, following the civil war, President Pepe Figueres decreed that anyone born in Costa Rica had all the rights of Citizenship. (What. A. Ride)


The vestiges of Jamaican immigrants can still clearly be seen today in Limón, with most of its residents, of black and white descent, speaking perfect Spanish, Limón creole, and English. Most restaurants that I visited played nothing but reggae music and have an Irie vibe to them. Unfortunately, due to the removal of major investments in the area in the last century, mainly the United Fruit Company, Limón has seen in increase in crime with poverty and unemployment on the rise. However, this increase in crime is no greater than that of San Jose. Any smart traveler, who does not flaunt money, stay out late, or go looking for trouble will have a great time enjoying the amazing beaches, wildlife, and caribbean food that Limón has to offer.


Just South of Limón lies the beautiful Cahuita National Park. You can walk or run down the shoreline, and if you get there early enough, won’t find another soul. If you have a car, you can drive further south and find beaches such as Playa Negra, Punta Uva, and Playa Grande.


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Sloth Sanctuary

Just North of Cahuita lies a sloth sanctuary. Its rather difficult to miss as there is a Giant Sloth Crossing sign in front. Once you pull into the parking lot, a Giant prehistoric sloth that is said to have weighed over 4 tons welcomes you in. At the sanctuary, they take in sloths, injured from electrocution, predators, or car accidents and are rehabilitated back to health. Tour guide is super knowledgable and I realized sloths can actually move pretty fast, not that fast, but faster than I had imagined. Did you know sloths are great swimmers? I most certainly did not.

We had a moment



Irazú Volcano (イラス 火山)

Just 50 kilometers East of San Jose, at an altitude of 3,432 meters, lies the highest, active volcano in Costa Rica. Since its first historically recorded eruption in the early 1700s, Irazú has erupted a total of 23 times. The most famous of which, in 1963, was the same day John F. Kennedy (US President) began an official state visit. The ash that spread across all of San Jose as a result was so profound that infrastructure was unable to operate at full capacity for an entire year. Fortunately for Ticos, Irazú has been relatively quiet with her last eruption taking place in 1994.

After FINALLY going through the heart-breaking, soul-numbing, mind-boggling process that is searching for, inspecting, and buying a used car in Costa Rica that won’t break on me the day after I buy it… I decided I would explore this beauty of Costa Rica.

The drive from San Jose to Irazú is extremely straightforward, and, if you wake up early enough, you can make it in under 90 minutes with minimal traffic. Broken into three parts, escaping San Jose, enjoying the cooler climate of Cartago, and the adventuring into the mountainside, the drive is actually extremely relaxing, which I will probably never say again about driving in Costa Rica. Once you arrive at the top, there is a toll both that charges an entrance fee and parking fee of about $4 for locals and $20 for foreigners (I’ll leave this issue alone for now).

View from the parking lot

They say that at the top of Irazú on a clear day, you can see both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. If you’ve read any of my previous hiking posts, you’ll know that one thing I’m particularly good at, is attracting clouds to whichever mountain I visit. After parking my car, grabbing my camera, and heading out to take my first few shots, I realized that this day would be no different.

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Mother Nature waving at me

Inside the Irazú National Park Area lies a rather large plateau (seen below) that will take you just to the edge of the crater (left side of image). Of course, given my abilities, as soon as I came down from the parking lot area (far right side of image), the previously clear crater was immediately engulfed by clouds. Interestingly enough, instead of moving in a horizontal direction, these clouds were seemingly shooting straight up from the crater, and then twirling back downwards after passing the plateau.


Fortunately, with the exception of the crater, the clouds that would pass through the plateau were intermittent. Intense periods of low visibility were quickly followed by breaths of sunshine, allowing me to experience, albeit briefly, Mother Nature at her finest.



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Crater clouds being majestic

Even though I was still not able to see the crater due to cloud coverage, I was enjoying the short periods of clear visibility I was offered.

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Oddly enough, Mother Nature sensed that I was feeling rather lucky and enjoying my limited cloud interruptions and decided to present me with this beauty below. As I was taking a picture looking back towards the parking lot, a rather high-speed cloud flew past the camera. Thinking it was just another short interruption, I kept the camera ready, waiting for the opportunity to take the shot. An immediate 15 degree drop in temperature reminded me that it would have been real nice to have listened to guidance and taken a jacket with me.

Rule 35

After what had to be a minute of near complete darkness, I pulled the camera down, looked around and realized I couldn’t see more than 50 feet in front of me. I am humble enough to admit that an ounce of fear stirred within me as I tried to remember just how close I was to the edge of the crater in order to not accidentally tumble down. Looking back towards what I thought was the direction of the parking lot, I saw two figures in the distance. One asks the other, “Are you sure the parking lot is this way?” To which the other replies “I’m pretty sure this is the right way.” It wasn’t.

Now, finding myself five minutes into this extreme low visibility scenario and without a jacket, I started back towards the parking lot, in the opposite direction of where the two lost souls seen below were heading. Mother Nature, sensing my hurried escape, decides it would be a opportune time for a little rain. As I pick up my pace, shielding my non-waterproof camera with my shirt, the rain falling from the cloud I was immersed in picks up in intensity forcing my to break out into a sprint. Continuously wiping water from my eyes and angry that I didn’t even get to see the lake at the bottom of the crater, I curse Mother Nature and her terrible sense of humor and vow to never again return to this terrible Volcano. Of course, as soon as I get to the parking lot, open my car and throw my camera in, soaking wet, I look back towards the plateau, and it is, crystal, clear…


About 20 to 30 Irazú visitors that day got to witness a 28 year old male, sprinting, soaking wet, towards the crater with camera in hand. There was no way I was letting another cloud rob me of my crater picture.

Cafe Sol Naciente

I met Arturo, an extroverted-intellectual, at the Cafe Expo Tarrazu 2018. The first thing he said to me, “Yoroshiku Onegaishimasu,” went completely over my head. I was still rather new in Costa Rica, and getting adjusted to hearing Spanish all the time that the Japanese didn’t even register. It wasn’t until my wife, who knows a little Japanese, replied in Japanese that my mind finally picked up on the language shift.

先日行われたCafé Expo Tarrazuで外向的な知識人に出会った。彼の名はArturo(アルトロ)。彼が突如に発した「Yoroshiku Onegaishimasu」という言葉は、妻が日本語で返事をするまで、スペイン語を聴き取る頭にシフトされた私のそばを完全に素通りしていった。



The son of a rather large coffee farm owner (obviously the farm is large…the father is in great shape), Arturo dedicates his free time to helping around the farm. Whether that means harvesting, processing, or giving tours, it seems like he’s all over the place and is obviously very knowledgable about Cafe Sol Naciente’s operations. When he’s not helping his father produce quality coffee, Arturo spends his time at his 9-5 as an accountant for the local electric company, coaching professional woman’s soccer, teaching himself Japanese, or, supporting his wife at her professional hand-ball games. Fortunately for us, Arturo was able to set aside some time and give a tour of his father’s coffee farm, Finca Sol Naciente.

大きな敷地に作られたコーヒー農園の所有者の息子、(農園は明らかに大規模だ。父は偉大である…。)アルトゥロは使える限りの自分の時間を農園を助けることに充てている。コーヒーの実の収穫、処理、また農園見学のツアーなども行っている。彼の仕事ぶりから、明らかに、この”Café Sol Naciente”のオペレーションに欠かせない存在で、非常に知識深いことがわかる。
彼は普段、地元の電力会社で会計士として勤めていて、他にもプロサッカーチームのコーチングや自身の日本語の勉強をしている。彼の妻は、ハンドボールでコスタリカ代表に選ばれる程で、そのサポートも行っている。 そんな多忙な彼のスケジュールの合間を縫って、私たちは幸い、”Sol Naciente “の農園を見学することができた。

Cafe Sol Naciente literally translated comes out to Coffee Rising Sun. It’s no surprise then that Japan, Land of the Rising Sun, is this farm’s target consumer, and, fortunately enough, their leading importer.

“Café Sol Naciente “は文字通り”Coffee Rising Sun”。 “Café の出ずる場所””Café の生まれ来る場所”の意味を持つ。日本もここから生まれるコーヒーをインポートしている。


The farm itself sits just outside of the small town of San Marcos, Costa Rica. After a nerve-wracking 20 minute drive through near vertical mountain “roads” (I will never take a FWD sedan again), we arrived at the entrance to the Finca, where a welcoming sign in Spanish, English, and Japanese invited us to the farm.

農場自体は、コスタリカの首都•サンホセより南にあるサンマルコスという、標高の高い小さな町の外れにある。ジェットコースターばりの急角度の道を抜けると、(もう二度とFWDセダンでは、行くまいと、心に決めた。) スペイン語、英語、日本語でのエントランスが私たちを迎えてくれた。


The day we arrived, even though towards the end of season, Arturo and his family were in the middle of processing some recently harvested coffee fruit.



The coffee fruit is picked, boxed, and driven to the processing plant, where, depending on the finish, it is stripped of its outer layer, dried, and finally bagged.


Arturo Senior, owner of Cafe Sol Naciente (middle) and two workers from Nicaragua
Picked fruit are placed here, rinsed, and sent down the chute to be processed
Arturo Sr. performing QA
As the cylinder spins, the brushes strip the fruit of its outer layer


Since some fruit sneaks by with its outer layer still intact, as seen above, the selection is sent through again, sometimes three times to ensure uniformity. It is absolutely crucial, when coffee farms are producing a certain wash, or aspiring for a certain taste, that there is uniformity among the beans. One bean picked too early, not processed enough, or dried too little, can completely change the taste of a cup of coffee. Although some coffee defects, such as Shells or Floaters, are nearly impossible to prevent, and even harder to detect, specialty coffee farmers must go above and beyond to prevent and detect what they can, in order to provide a quality cup.


Stripped outer layer of fruit


Cafe Sol Naciente has a goal of repurposing 100% of their waste. As a result, they dry  the stripped outer skin, and re-purpose it as fertilizer on the farm.

“Café Sol Naciente”では、コーヒー作りでの廃棄物を100%利用するという目標を掲げている。

African Drying Beds
Natural Finish

Natural finish coffee, as seen above, is dried with the outer layer still attached to the coffee. This gives the cup a much frutier taste, compared to other processes.


Coffee Flower


“Honey” processed coffee, what Costa Rica is known for in the coffee industry, is dried with its mucilage still intact, as opposed to “washed” or “full wash” coffee where the mucilage is removed. The coffee dried with the mucilage still attached provides a much sweeter cup. To make matters even more complicated, there are varying levels of “honey” finish, with gold honey, red honey, and black honey. As the level of honey intensifies or “darkens,” so does the sweetness of the cup. However, black honey, dried slower using more shade to leave more mucilage intact than gold and red honey, requires much more maintenance and care as the risk of “souring” or undesired fermentation increases drastically.

豆の乾燥には時間がかかる。豆に付いている粘液を洗い流せば、早く乾燥出来るが、この粘液を残すことで、さらなる甘みを作り出せる。この粘液を業界では”honey”と呼び、そのコーヒーを”honey coffee “という。さらに、この”蜂蜜”には[ゴールド→赤→黒]と、乾燥の色の状態での分類があり、乾燥させるほど、甘くなる。しかし、黒くさせるには、日陰干しにし、多くのメンテナンスが必要になるほか、「酸味」や発酵してしまうリスクが高くなるのだ。

Coffee ready to be shipped
This is how I imagine Okinawa roasting spaces look like
Eucalyptus tree providing natural shade


Cafe Sol Naciente experiments with different fruit planted next to coffee plants. The fruit, in this case, banana, mango, or lemon trees provide natural shade for the coffee. Arturo Sr., also wants to see if the byproducts of the fruit trees will have any effect on the taste of the coffee. Very excited to try the results.


Banana Tree
Eucalyptus Tree


Chris performing some QA

As the tour winded down, Chris, Arturo’s nephew who accompanied us on the tour, was our saving grace as he asked all the questions I hadn’t even thought of. My personal favorite, “Why does coffee taste so good?” has stayed with me to this day. Some people say it’s the phenolic lipids in the coffee, but I’m more interested in what Chris has to say on the matter the next time we visit.

見学ツアーに同行してくれた、アルトゥロの甥っこ、クリス君。暑い中私たちについてきて、自分のおやつまでくれた。将来の担い手になるだろう。彼が最後に言ってくれた「Sayonara 」を忘れない。

We couldn’t be more thankful for the tour. Hopefully one of these days, I’ll be able to taste the results of the “fruit tree” experimentations or, equally as enticing, see my first professional handball game. Until then, I wish Cafe Sol Naciente and family the best of luck.

私はこのツアーに心から感謝している。上手くいけば”フルーツツリー”の実験結果を味わえるかもしれない。または最強プロハンドボールの試合を観るきっかけも。Café Sol Naciente の幸せを願っている。



Café Döga Tour

This weekend I had the honor of touring Biocafe Oro Tarrazu, located just an hour and half south of San Jose. Being March, most of the coffee had already been picked, processed, dried, and stored, however, we were still able to see all of the equipment and process of how everything functioned.

My sister’s car that is capable of driving up a 70 degree incline

The harvest season in Costa Rica is generally from December to March. Workers arrive from Nicaragua and Panama to pick the fruit, which is then sent to the processing plant via truck.

Drying fields for sun-dried coffee

Upon arrival at the plant, the coffee is sorted, stripped of its outer layers (depending on the wash [we’ll get into that in a following post]), and dried. Cafe Doga uses mostly water, gravity, and sun to achieve these goals with a “home-made” engineered system.

Altitude – 1475m

The fruit is placed into these storage tanks which sorts and temporarily holds the beans until they are ready to be sent, via water, to the “de-pulper.”


Top pipe is return water line, bottom pipe is coffee feed line

After the fruit is transferred, it is stripped of its outer layer (unless it is a natural process which we will get into later) and sorted based on quality. Sitting in water, the beans that float are not yet ripe and are pushed down the line, to be collected in another section and used “Para la casa” instead of being sold or exported.


The heavier, better quality beans, fall through the small slits in a rotating drum and are collected at the bottom on a wheel barrel. The water that brought the fruit to this stage is then recycled back to the beginning to be reused on the next batch.


The coffee is then taken to be dried on African Beds or concrete flooring. African beds are an elevated lining that provides a porous underside, which allows air to flow upwards into the beans, helping prevent moulding and fermentation. On concrete flooring, the beans are also dried by the heat of the ground, however, since there is no airflow as found in African Bedding, the beans must be raked many times a day. Both concrete and African beds take just over 10 days to fully cool the beans.


Interestingly enough, upon arrival to BioCafe Oro Tarrazu, coffee beans usually have a moisture level of about 50%. By the time they are bagged and ready to be shipped, they are sitting at 10.5%. Too much moisture and the risk of mould increases, as does the amount of money the buyer pays for each bean. Too little moisture, the coffee will lose most of its flavor and the farmer will earn less per bean.

From fruit to green bean


Once coffee reaches the desired level of moisture, it is stripped of any leftover casing and bagged, ready to be sold. They must be stored with extreme caution, as extra moisture in the bag could spoil the entire shipment.


Although Cafe Doga is a small, family owned coffee estate, they do provide quality coffee that is carefully processed. Compared to the other estates in the area they are relatively new, but have already made a name for themselves in Costa Rica coffee.

Leftover dominos set used by workers from Nicaragua and Panama

Also, Cafe Doga has started a quite intriguing Ponche de Cafe line. They offer a liquor filled and alcohol free version of the cold milk coffee beverage. I was pretty exhausted from the tour that I didn’t realize which one I had, but I do remember that it tasted amazing.

Poncha de Cafe

To the family of Cafe Doga and Biocafe Oro Tarrazu, specifically Mrs. Vargas and Ms. Madrigal, I can’t thank you guys enough for your warm hospitality and an opportunity to see a part of coffee that not many people get to experience. Look forward to running into you guys at the next coffee event!

If you’re interested in contacting Cafe Doga for more information or would like to purchase some coffee, check out their Facebook. Ask them how they came up with the name Doga! Interesting history behind it.

Sanitorio Duran (デュラン療養所)

This past Thursday, my sister and I were finally able to check out this pretty cool, “Off The Beaten Path” spot in Costa Rica I had been wanting to see for a while.

Located just 7km North of Cartago, and under an hour drive away from San Jose, El Sanitorio Duran was constructed in 1918 by Dr. Carlos Duran Cartin to treat Tuberculosis patients as well as an asylum for the mentally ill. The location was chosen due to its high altitude, intermittent winds, cool temperatures, and of course, its isolation. At its peak, Sanitorio Duran had 300 beds available for patients, different sections for men, women, and children, and a Religious Convent where Nuns came to bless and pray for the patients.

Unfortunately, well, rather fortunately, treatment for Tuberculosis worldwide saw great improvement during the mid 20th century. Due to a lack of patients, the sanitorium was shut down in 1963, and fully abandoned in 1970.

As a push to promote tourism in the area, the Sanitorium was opened for public touring in 2010 and the once abandoned building gets hundreds of visitors each month for a small fee of 1200 colones (roughly $2.50). My sister and I hand the gate attendant, who looks absolutely thrilled to be working this day (heavy sarcasm), our money and proceed to drive into the parking lot.

Processed with VSCO with hb2 presetBeing a Thursday, we didn’t expect too many people; however, only seeing one other car in the dirt parking lot was a bit unnerving. With a smile on my face, I looked over at my sister who was wearing the “I can’t believe I’m going inside” face a bit too loudly.

At the base of the steps to enter The Sanitorium, there was a tour guide, standing, waiting for what appears to be her only visitors for the day. She is dressed in all black business casual attire with a wooden rosary worn around her neck. She asks us our names, where we are from, and if we’ve ever been here before. Being the jokester that I am, I always like to give a very ethnic name when I’m asked that by strangers I’ll probably never see again. “Alejandro Fernandez, I’m Tico but I live in Canada.” My sister, having heard this one too many times simply shakes her head and just says, “Really Alejandro?”

Processed with VSCO with a8 presetThe lady then asks us to leave all smart phones and iPads in the car so we don’t deface property. “How can we deface property with an iPhone?” my sister rightfully asks. “Well, we’ve had a serious problem with graffiti ever since we opened to the public for tours. Kids will “tag” the walls with spray and put it on facebook live as some sort of bet. They do worse things, but unfortunately, graffiti is much more permanent.” “Ah, I understand,” replies my sister, as she turns her head to me, “Ok, A-Le-Han-Dro, would you mind taking my phone to the car along with yours?” A bit embarrassed that my sister may have just informed the tour guide that Alejandro isn’t my real name I smartly reply, ” Ok. Herrrr-Maahhhh-Nahhhh (“sister” for the Spanish troubled)….”

Walking back to the steps after dropping our phones off in the car, a couple walks out of the exit to The Sanitorio. Of course, Costa Rica being as small of a country as it is, my sister just happens to the know the girl in the group. “OMG!!! Hey!!!!How crazy is it running into you here!? How was it!? Scary?! How are the kids!? Yada yada yada….”

After patiently waiting for what seemed like an eternity, I politely ask if we can see the sanitorium any time soon. My sister, scowling, tells me to just go in by myself and she’ll catch up later. “Yeah, but then the tour guide is going to have to explain everything twice, and I’m going to have to see everything twice, and….wait, are you just trying to get out of going inside? We drove all this way.” “Absolutely not,” she replies, “I havent seen Jennifer in months. I’ll be quick, I promise. Just start without me.” I look at the tour guide who gently shakes her head, pressing her lips up “It wont be a problem, we’re not that busy today.”

The tour guide hands me an electronic scanner card to use to get in and out of the building, I’m assuming to combat the graffiti issue when the tours are closed. She explains that after she gives me a tour of the main building, I’m free to walk around to the adjacent buildings and take pictures as I please with my camera or just stroll around.

We walk in and the first thing you notice is the graffiti. Different names in spanish fill the walls, robbing the place of some of its natural beauty. There are a few Carlos, David, even a few Alejandros, my borrowed name for the day. The next thing you notice is the paint peeling on every single wall and the breeze that blows through the windowless building definitely calling for a sweater, something I did not bring with me.

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The tour guide, who I just now realized never introduced herself, begins explaining the history of the building. How Dr. Duran’s daughter contracted tuberculosis in the early 1900s, inspiring him to build the estate. She explained how construction began in 1915, and was scheduled to finish in 1917; however, a death on the property delayed work for an entire year.

According to her, (and believe me, I was skeptical), one of the construction workers building the Sanitorium was in a ridiculous amount of debt back in San Jose due to his gambling and drinking problems. In order to pay off his debt, he agreed to “sell” his wife to his creditors whenever they requested it in exchange for reducing some of the debt he owed. Apparently, he was laughing, telling one of his construction-mates about his easy method for getting out of payments and one of the nuns that was helping to prepare the Convent, overheard, and demanded that he bring his wife to the site for her safety, or else she threatened to tell Dr. Duran, an upstanding man by all accounts, of his sins. The man, being the upstanding man that HE was, spat in her face and told her “Some secrets are better kept between God and his devils.”

The Nun stormed off, determined to have this man fired, jailed, and perhaps excommunicated from the church. The next day, everyone came to work and noticed that this guy never showed up to work. The Nun, normally seen blessing everyone for doing God’s work, never arrived on site either. The weeks went on with no signs of either, and everyone kept asking questions, but no one had a definitive answer. It was everyone’s assumption that the man had killed the nun, but no news of it ever came. That was until construction called for a new well to be drilled, just outside the proposed entrance to The Sanitorium. A handful of innocent, unexpecting shovels started penetrating the dirt. Slowly and suddenly, a rancid smell swept through the entire construction site. The local priest, San Jose Police, and Dr. Duran were called to the scene. It was, of course, the nurse that was found, buried, strangled to death, with her ears cut off and jammed into her teeth in a most gruesome fashion.

Construction was put on an immediate halt until the City of San Jose Police could conduct an official investigation. After a year of searching, all of the evidence pointed back to the man in debt, but, he and his family were never seen or heard of again. According to the tour guide, ever since then, a woman has appeared various times in The Sanitorium. Interns reported hearing a women that would appear on cold and windy nights to bless the patients. During especially dark nights, patients would believe they saw a figure at the corner of their room that would whisper, “Believe.” Even today, during the later hours of the afternoon, on cloudier days, visitors report seeing shadows at the end of hallways that disappear after a few seconds.

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I didn’t believe ANY of it, and I think the tour guide could see it on my face. “Do you believe in the supernatural Alejandro?” “Not. At. All. I’ll watch a good scary movie and be a bit shaken afterwards, but I’m not one to believe in non-scientific,un-proven things.” “Well Alejandro, do you believe in God?” she impolitely asks. I let out a half chuckle to convey my slight irritation, “No, I went to Catholic school, but no.” “I see,” she responds, clearly offended. I knew I was in a Latin American country with less tolerance for agnostic beliefs, but….she asked….

“Well, that’s the end of the tour, feel free to see anything else you like,” she said with a smile on her face. I thanked her sincerely for the tour and the attempted spook as I walked off. The rest of the building looks interesting enough. You can see what used to be showers and sleeping areas, as well as what used to be nice garden areas outside. I use my electronic scanner card to gain access to the stairs that lead to the second floor. I look back at the tour guide to make sure I’m not trespassing on any off limit areas, and she simply smiles and waves.

I get to the top of the stairs and I realize that my sister, is still, not, in, the damn building. I poke my head out of the second floor window, and what do you know, still, talking. I yell, “That better be an important conversation, you’re missing out on quality family time.” She looks up and says “I knowwww I knowww, I’m almost finished, I’m sorry!” As I start to pull my head back from the window, I see the tour guide walk outside and join the conversation with my sister and her friend. “They obviously aren’t that concerned with graffiti,” I mumble to myself.


I continue to explore the rest of the paint peeled, graffiti filled Sanitorium and I realize that I’m actually a bit spooked out. I wasnt sure if it was the gaps in the murder/haunting story that I was filling in for myself, or if it was the fact that I was the only one in the building that was spooking me out more, but I knew I was ready to get out. The only problem was, I hadn’t really taken that many pictures since I felt rude taking them while the tour guide was talking, and I wanted to get some before leaving.

I pick up the pace a bit, and start looking for interesting rooms to take pictures of down this long hallway on the second floor. The wind continues its howl through the building, at times shaking the wooden frame. I hear a door close and I KNOW it’s the wind, but I would be lying if I didn’t picture the Nun in my head closing doors behind me. I check back outside, hoping to ease my mind by not being able to see my sister and the tour guide, but nope, everyone is still outside. I try to yell, but I have no idea what I would say. Nothing needs to be said, and I’m afraid a small tremble in my voice would betray my attempt to not be afraid. I decide I’m going to take two more pictures and get the hell out of there.

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I see two pictures that I want to take. I take the first picture, then quickly take the second picture. As I pull my face away from my camera, I see the tour guide standing in the room across the hall in her black business attire with her wooden rosary clenched in her hand. I greet her, partially relieved that I’m not alone anymore, partially creeped out that I didn’t hear her come in. “How’d you get in without making any noise?” I nervously ask her. She smiles and calmly replies, “I don’t recognize you Mario.”

Mario? Well, I guess my sister somehow mentioned my real name while she was outside. I laugh “I guess you found out my real name huh?” ……No response. Her eyes dig into mine as she lowers her chin and moves closer to the doorway. I look around awkwardly, thinking this is pretty corny to try to take the spook factor this far. “Okay, well, I think I’m going to head out now. Thanks for everything, really.” Again…..No reply.


My palms are beginning to sweat a little. I can feel my breathes shortening as I try to rationalize this crazy woman standing in front of me. I for damn sure know it’s not a ghost, but who’s to say I’m not about to be murdered at a tourist attraction by some psycho woman who needs entertainment. As to be expected from a crazy woman, she suddenly throws her wooden rosary down the hall. What. The. Fuck. My skin begins to get prickly, I rush back towards the window in fear, heart about to explode out of my chest and yell out my sisters name. Three people look up. My sister, her friend, and the god, damn, tour guide. I turn back around and see no one.

At this point I’m sweating, I poke my head out into the hallway. The wooden rosary is on the floor, broken into little pieces. I sprint down the hallway. Out of the corner of my right eye, I can see a shadow in the corner of every room I pass on the right. I slam into the door leading to the stairs. It won’t open. I try to swipe my card. It won’t work. I can’t control the shaking in my hands. I start slamming my body into the door. I feel a presence on the back of my neck. I wipe the sweat away. I can feel her watching me when I’m not looking. Every second or third slam, I turn around to see if anything is there. I don’t see anything but I can feel her getting closer. I try to swipe my card again. Nothing. I slam my body into the door.

I can feel her standing right behind me and I dare not look. I start pounding on the door. I hear a whisper “I don’t recognize you Mario.” Tears fill my eyes. The hairs on my neck stand up and I feel a hand on my shoulder. I bang on the door harder, screaming for help in between breathes. Suddenly, finally, the tour guide opens the door, looks right past me. She allows her eyes to widen momentarily in shock before catching herself. She looks at me with concern and asks , “Alejandro, Is everything ok?” Tears in my eyes, I start to stammer, “I..” but I can only get one word out at a time in between breaths. I inch myself towards the exit and slowly turn my head around. Nothing. No woman. No broken rosary. Nothing.

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I walk downstairs and exit the Sanitorium. Sweat all over my shirt and face, and hands still shaking, my sister asks “Dude are you ok?” “Lets just get out of here,” I tersely reply. My sister says bye to the tour guide and her friend and we get in the car and head back towards the city. It wasn’t until I got home that I looked through my pictures and I saw her, in my last picture, standing at the end of the hallway.

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History of Coffee in Costa Rica (コーヒーの歴史)

You can’t talk about the history of Costa Rica without mentioning coffee. In fact, if it wasn’t for coffee, Costa Rica may have suffered the same fate as The Mosquito Kingdom, a place you’ve never even heard about! Fortunately, Costa Rica possessed all of the natural ingredients for producing the savory bean we know and love today.


As with just about any “first” in history, there is still much debate about how the first coffee bean arrived in Costa Rica. Some say that the first seeds were brought from Jamaica by a sea captain under orders of the Costa Rican governor. Others, insist the bean emigrated from Panama or Cuba at the end of the 18th century. Still others argue that the bean was transported directly from Ethiopia in 1779, the theory of which I am personally least convinced. You can be the judge of which story seems most probable. Regardless, it is well known that in the beginning of the 19th Century, the Costa Rican government saw the potential value that the coffee bean had and highly encouraged its production.

After Costa Rica’s (read: Central America) independence from Spain, the government began offering plots of land to anyone that was willing to grow and harvest the plant. With fertile volcanic soil, favorable temperatures year round, a varying elevations, the crop grew quite easily in the country. By the end of 1821, there were over 17,000 coffee plants in the nation, producing a crop that, for the most part, was still not being exported. In 1825, in an effort to promote growth in coffee production, the government exempted coffee harvesters from paying a tithe. Four years later, coffee became the leading crop in production, easily surpassing cacao, tobacco, and sugar.

It's Giovanni

By 1832, Costa Rica finally began “exporting” coffee. The bean was sent to Chile, where it was rebagged and renamed “Café Chile del Paraiso” and then sent to Europe. After learning of “Cafe Chile del Paraiso’s” coffee bean’s true origin, an Englishman by the name of William Lacheur arrived in San Jose, Costa Rica to negotiate the purchase  of Costa Rican coffee beans. Don Santiago Fernandez Hidalgo, the owner of the farm prospective exporting farm, was suspicious of this Englishman and his “promise to return with silver” in exchange for his coffee beans. In 1843 he allowed Mr. Lacheur to take over 5,000 sacks of coffee and set sail for England under the watchful eyes of a Costa Rican trade specialist. Six months later, both men returned, paid the coffee growers in pounds in sterling and fully loaded another two ships for export. England had acquired a taste for Costa Rican coffee and a new market had been discovered.

Cultivation of coffee in the early 1800s had transformed Costa Rica from a remote, struggling country to a leading exporter, allowing a stable middle class and a wealthy coffee oligarchy to form. By 1850, coffee comprised over 90% of Costa Rica’s exports. The coffee industry transformed the economy and modernized the country. The revenue generated funded the first railroads connecting the capital to the Atlantic coast in 1890. In 1897 it funded the building of The National Theater in San Jose (modeled after a Paris Opera House). Thanks to the revenue brought in from coffee, Costa Rica was one of the first cities in the world to have an electric lighting system in 1884.

The National Theater located in Downtown San Jose

After World War 2, the demands for Costa Rican coffee was steadily increasing and productivity was falling short. The Typica and Bourbon varieties of low productivity, were replaced with small caturra and catui varieties. This led to an increase from just over 10,000 coffee plants per hectare to an average of over 30,000 plants per hectare. By the late 1980s, coffee production had increased from 158,000 tons to 168,000 tons.

Today, coffee is the third largest export in the country, behind Medical Equipment and tropical fruit. It accounts for 3% of exports at an export value of $308 Million. The top importers of Costa Rican coffee are the US (52%, $161M), Belgium (14%,$44.2M), Germany (4.1%, $12.5M), Italy (3.6%, $11.2M), and Australia (3.5%, $10.7M). Japan is 10th on the list at 1.8%, $5.63M. Still, with so much revenue generated from coffee exports, Costa Rica provides less than 1% of the world’s coffee production! However, the per capita consumption of coffee in Costa Rica is the highest of all coffee producing countries in the world.

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If you find yourself in Costa Rica and would like to learn more about Costa Rican coffee, there are plenty of coffee farm tours available throughout the 8 coffee producing regions (Central Valley, Tres Rios, Tarrazu, West Valley, Guanacaste, Turrialba, Brunca, and Orosi). Or you could take a coffee tour at Britt Coffee in Heredia, a quick 20 to 30 minute drive from San Jose, depending on traffic. If neither of those sound interesting to you, then head over to Barrio Escalante and check out some of the new, up and coming 3rd wave café’s that have coffee from all over Costa Rica in different plant varieties, washes, and roasts. The coolest part about Barrio Esclante is you can still see some coffee plants on the sides of buildings and restaurants, remnants of the first coffee farms in Costa Rica.

Me (probably) looking for coffee in Manuel Antonio (2014)

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Roblesabana Cofffee


Street Directory

Viva el Cafe 2018 (San Jose, Costa Rica)

Yesterday I had the opportunity to check out Viva el Cafe 2018 at Costa Rica’s National Stadium located in La Sabana District, a quick 15 minute car ride from downtown San Jose.


For me, personally, this event was nowhere near the energy level that was Expo Cafe Tarrazu. Perhaps it was the large tent we were in that didn’t allow any sunlight in despite the beautiful weather outside. Or it may have been the bigger names in coffee that were at this event that didnt feel the need to “sell” the coffee they were passionate about and instead could simply stand behind their display, knowing customers would buy. Or perhaps it was the $4 entry fee that made the “free” Viva Cafe bag seem that much less desirable. Whatever the reason, the Tarrazu event was much more intimate, with smaller, family owned brands promoting a product they’re proud of.

Of course that’s not to say that there were not enthusiastic brands, excited to tell you about their coffee, there certainly were (with amazing coffee as well) , just to a lesser extent.


Don Eli Coffee

Nonetheless, if you have an interest in coffee, it is worth the visit, especially if you live in San Jose. Unlike Expo Cafe that had beans just from the Tarrazu region, Viva Cafe had beans from all over Costa Rica, Single Origin, specialty blends, and even an anaerobic blend that had the fruttiest taste I had ever experienced with coffee (a bit too much for me, but I can see there being a market for it).


Roblesabana Coffee

The best part of Viva Cafe 2018? Running into old friends from Cafe Doga! Back at it again with great coffee and amazing customer service. I don’t think Coffee brands were ranked based on hospitality at Viva Cafe, but if they were, Cafe Doga would win, without a doubt.



Above is a $60,000 roaster that takes all of the guesswork out of roasting. Mr. Cercone and his company Espresso Latam SA are giving a roasting course using this futuristic roaster from 21-23 March in Alajuela, Costa Rica to anyone interested.


Lastly, if fresh coffee and high-tech roasters aren’t enough to entice you, simple yet aesthetic coffee “gadgets” like the one seen above and below prove that Viva Cafe did in fact have something for everyone. Now if only they could have the event outside next year…


Expo Cafe Tarrazu 2018 (San Marcos, Costa Rica)

As many of you may know, one of my biggest passions in life, besides sharing positive vibes, is coffee (see referenced coffee post here). There are so many aspects to the world of coffee. From growing it, to processing it, to exporting it, to even serving it, the possibilities are near endless. And with such a variety on growing conditions, processing procedures, and preparation methods, the possibilities are in fact endless. And with Costa Rica being the center of coffee culture, both historically and currently, it was a no brainer that I ended up here. Fortunately for me, just a few days after I arrived to Costa Rica, I learned that a pretty big coffee event was happening just 90 minutes South of San Jose, Expo Cafe Tarrazu 2018. Another no brainer.

Now, if you look at a map of Costa Rica, and see the distance between San Jose and San Marcos, where the event was being held, you might think, “Oh, only 60 km away, we’ll easily be there in under an hour.” Well if that is your first thought, then you, my friend, have never driven in Costa Rica.


If you look at the map above, and compare it to the map below showcasing the distance between Virginia Beach and Richmond (and ignoring my low battery percentage of course) you will see that the second map, is nearly double the distance of the first, but takes roughly the same amount of time. Why? Well driving here is certainly not for the faint of heart. With sudden turns, dramatic inclines, two lanes abruptly turning into one, landslides, and misplaced guard rails that allow enough of an opening to let your imagination run wild, it’s no surprise that 60 km takes well over 90 minutes to trek through.


Well, we were brave enough to make that trek today in search of coffee and we’re very glad we did. San Marcos/Tarrazu is located in a beautiful valley surrounded by the Talamanca Sierra Mountains. With a minimum altitude of just over 1300 meters above sea level, and a maximum of 3000 meters, the area is perfect for growing quality, high-land coffee. Its been said that the coffee grown in this region is the most desirable coffee in Costa Rica, which in turn makes it the most desirable coffee in the world. To prove as much, in 2012, coffee grown in Tarrazu was the most expensive coffee sold in Starbucks in The United States.


Expo Cafe is held here annually and it consists of local producers showcasing the quality of their beans/coffee at various stands throughout the marketplace. Below are a few pictures from the event, with small pieces of info about the brand, and a link or email if I could find one. The event lasts a full two days and is supplemented with clothing stands, jewelry stands, and of course food stands, all Tico flavored.

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La Candelilla Estate

Some of the show casers, like Cafe Ave del Paraiso, are relatively new to the coffee scene, introducing fresh ideas and vibrant energy into coffee cultures. Others are more established, having been in operation for countless generations, defining the standards expected of the coffee bean from the region.


Cafe Doga

Extremely friendly family with great recommendation for coffee, not just their own.


Cafe De La Tia


La Montaña Tarrazu Micromill

This photo above may have been one of my favorite pictures, but thanks to my sister’s….sorry, thanks to my camera’s mistake, the focus didn’t quite come out right. Nonetheless Ms. Tatiana Gutierrez was one of the most helpful and friendliest  owners I had the pleasure of meeting today (not to mention the coffee was outstanding) Really excited to get back down to Tarrazu to check out the source of their coffee!

La Montaña Tarrazu Micromill



La Joya


Cafe Sol Naciente

Another producer I had the pleasure of meeting today, Arturo (pictured below), was actually studying Japanese and caught me off guard with a quick “Yokouso.” Very pleasant, down to earth guy that was obviously very knowledgable in the world of coffee. Of course to make things even better he had absolutely delicious coffee as well. Also looking forward to visiting this farm. Best of luck with your Japanese!


Overall was an amazing event and I can’t wait until the next Expo Cafe. Took home a few beans today (from the three stands with great taste and excellent customer service) that I can’t wait to try first thing in the morning. Appreciate the amazing experience Tarrazu.

Costa Rica (コスタリカ)

Since I was about…6 years old, I dreamed about what it would be like to live in Costa Rica, my place of birth. Did the people live in tree houses alongside the spider monkeys? Was there a never ending supply of fresh fruit that tasted so delicious it would remind you what it felt like to be alive? Were the beaches and jungles as beautiful as the magazines made them seem?




Well, after completing a quick 5 year tour in The United States Navy, I finally decided to take the plunge and see what life was like in the country I spent so many nights dreaming about. And I can say without a doubt, everything I imagined as a kid, turned out to be true (even the spider monkey bit).


The first few weeks here took quite a bit of adjusting naturally. Not even 30 days ago, I was in Japan, one of the safest countries in the world that had the most convenient public transportation system. Now I found myself in a beautiful third world country, where the buses are rarely on time and time is rarely a concern (seriously, it can be pretty frustrating when you need to get things done).


In this slightly expensive Latin American country, you’d be a fool to walk around downtown after sunset with your phone out. Hell, you’d be a fool to walk around downtown after sunset….In my humble opinion at least. Compare that with Japan where phones are left on trains for hours, and returned to the owner by the end of the day. On top of that…slight safety concern…. I had to figure out how to make the Spanish I had been speaking since birth (which apparently had somehow transformed to Mexican Spanish with a splash of Gringo during my time in America) sound more Tico.


La Feria

Even with those negatives, there are so many more positives to this small country that make it a no brainer anyone that has a hint of wanderlust. Every weekend there is a Feria, or a Farmer’s Market, where you can buy any kind of fresh produce imaginable for dirt cheap. I’ve recently found out that I have a small addiction to papaya, and I’m able to satisfy that craving weekly, for two dollars (sometimes a dollar!) a papaya. Along with papaya, there’s pineapple, bananas, mango, guayabana, avocado, cilantro, lettuce, broccoli, you name it, its there.


Playa Ballena in Manuel Antonio

What’s even better than the abundance of fresh produce in this country is the nature. Living in the capital, San Jose, you are a quick 2 to 3, sometimes 4, hour drive to countless beaches like Playa Ballena seen above that will be almost impossible to forget. If you are more of a hiking/jungle person, Costa Rica has that as well. It seems like besides fast internet and easy to understand cell phone plans, Costa Rica has it all (including of course coffee beans but we’ll get to that later).


Spider Monkey outside my hotel

I’m not sure how long I will be here, perhaps as long as it keeps me out of Corporate America. But I am sure, that I’ll enjoy my time here and share what I can with you guys. If you have any questions about the country, travel ideas, or need some recommendations, don’t hesitate to send me an email and I’ll get that information to you. Look forward to hearing from you guys. Pura Vida mae.



Pura Vida mae.