Costa Rica Culture and (Coffee) Cultivation

Costa Rica’s long cultural history gives life there today its special flavor. Yes, smartphones and satellite dishes are ubiquitous, but they exist alongside healthy remnants of the past. We didn’t see any of the remaining villages of several pre-Columbian tribes that sparsely peopled the landscape that became Costa Rica. However, our Tropical Comfort Tours guide Jose told us a lot about them in the car ride on our “culture day.” When the Spanish came in the 1500s, they were most interested in the mountain-dwelling tribe, the Boruca, who they hoped might have more gold. They brought with them their religion, and the country remains heavily Catholic.

Liberia Church

Immaculate Church of the Conception, Liberia

Liberia Church Altar

Altar decorated for Lenten services

Late one afternoon we took a cab into the provincial capital of Liberia (a 40-minute ride) and observed a jam-packed Ash Wednesday service. The cross-shaped piercings on all sides of the church let the breezes through, and the priest’s vestments billowed dramatically. The altar has been prepared to look like a grotto, with an entombed Christ in the center in preparation for Easter. The photo captures only a small portion, including a man in black still working on the lights. I’ve never seen anything like it!

Costa Rica pot

We were delighted with a demonstration of traditional pottery-making by a young man from Guaitíl. The pots from there are made on a hand-operated wheel and include representations of local plants and animals, as well as symbolic elements that date back hundreds, if not thousands, of years. The pot I selected features a bold toucan.


A Coffee Quiz

We toured a coffee cooperative that takes beans from many small local farmers and combines them for processing and export. How much do you know about coffee?

  1. coffee roaster

    Coffee Roaster

    The tall coffee plant variety grown in Brazil must be mechanically picked. This is faster and cheaper, but is the quality better, yes or no?

  2. In Costa Rica, an expert coffee bean picker makes about: $10 a day; $20 a day; $40 a day.
  3. When coffee beans are processed, the defective, unripe, partially worm-eaten beans are separated out and: thrown away; used for planting the next crop; sold to the food industry for use in candies, cookies, liqueurs, etc.
  4. Dark roast coffee has more caffeine than light roast. True or False?
  5. Who produces the best coffee: Colombia, Costa Rica, or Hawaii?

Answers: 1. NO! 2. $20 a day. 3. Sold to the food industry. 4. False. 5. All three!

Costa Rica house

Surprisingly, in a country with no military whose people are legendarily congenial and non-confrontational, so many people even in remote areas have outfitted their windows with bars, erected chain-link fences around their property, and not uncommonly topped them with barbed wire. We ate at a seafood restaurant in Liberia (Tierra Mar) surrounded by a fence topped with razor wire.

(All photos by the author.)

2 thoughts on “Costa Rica Culture and (Coffee) Cultivation

  1. Scenic Costa Rica. Were you on the side where so many Americans have retired? If you ask, most Costa Ricans who are forced to come to the US to earn a living, would rather be home. No military, no war. Barbed wire, crime. Another paradise lost?

    • We were on the Pacific Ocean side. The Americans we saw were mostly tourists. I don’t know where they’ve mostly settled. But you say “crime,” and I’m not sure there is a lot of crime. Just bars & barbs. As for “Paradise Lost,” the Costa Ricans have done an amazing job of preserving their natural beauty, with a quarter of the country part of a national park or private reserve. So, despite the onslaught from the North, they’re doing a great job!

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