Day 2 In Bogotá, Colombia

After eating breakfast in the morning, we hopped onto the tour bus and drove to La Candelaria, a historic neighborhood in downtown Bogotá. It is said that Colombia is one of the most bio-diverse countries in the world, with 1,887 species of birds alone in the country. Besides for its bio-diversity, our tour guide explained that Colombia is also known for four major features— coffee, emeralds, flowers, beautiful women, and cocaine. The size of Bogotá, specifically, can be compared to that of New York or London, and is the one of the three largest cities in South America.

It rains in Bogotá 250 days of the year, so rainy season is practically year-long. During the 19th century in the 1800s, the British arrived in Bogotá to build railroads and neighborhoods, so the fact that so much architecture in the city is based around red brick is due to the English influence. Something interesting about the city is that it is divided by numbers, with each number representing the class of individuals who live there—1 being the lowest socioeconomic level of status and 6 being the highest. The city’s minimum wage comes out to $280 per month, and for apartments in the level 3 district for middle class citizens, apartments cost $290 per month.

The first site that we came across was Santuario Nacional de Nuestra Señora del Carmen, a beautiful church in the city that has become a staple, followed by a church from the 1600’s that survived the Civil War nearly 60 years ago. From there, we walked to Palacio de Nariño, or Nariño’s Palace—the official home and workplace of the President of Colombia. Antonio Nariño was the first person to translate human rights from French to Spanish. He had these rights printed on pamphlets and began passing them out, but was soon imprisoned for doing so. The palace sits on the same location where Nariño was born, and the President lives on third floor, while the rest of the palace contains important artifacts from the country’s history.

Outside the palace stood various military guards, and upon inquiring more information, we learned that one year of military training is mandatory for everyone upon graduating high school unless you have money to get yourself out of the requirement or unless you go directly to college.

As we continued walking, we came across balconies from hundreds of years ago that were influenced by the Arabians. The balconies were designed for the women of the house with the purpose being that the women could look outside, but no one could see inside.

We then saw the first observatory in all of South America that was built in the 1800s. It was meant to be taller than the Catholic Church but the architect was told if he followed through with his plan, he would have his head cut off.

The next sight was a cloister where firstborn girls were sent to spend the rest of the their lives. Their bodies would be painted when they died to preserve them. The second girl in the family would be married off to a wealthy lord, and the third daughter, or the youngest in the family would have to stay with their parents until they died, which some say is a different type of imprisonment as opposed to being sent to the cloister.

Following the cloister, we came across Plaza de Bolívar, named after President Simón Bolívar. The Plaza is home to the National Capital, the Palace of Justice, and the Cathedral of Bogotá.

As we continued walking, we spotted a building where President Simón Bolívar lived. He had a close female friend who often hosted parties and purposely invited various guests—some of whom were known to like the President, and others who openly voiced their dislike towards him. After getting the guests drunk, she approached them and asked what they thought of him. It was in this way that she found out about an attempt to kill him. She told Bolívar about this plan to kill him right before it happened, and he jumped out the window (pictured below) to escape and run while the people who planned to kill him were entering his house.

Across from this building is a theater built in 1793 but completed in 1800 which is very similar to the one in France, with the only difference being that this one is a little smaller. Shortly after seeing the theater, we came across a house where the Colombian version of Dr. Seuss was born, as well as the Red Cross building in Bogotá. From here, we took a tour of Fernando Botero’s museum, but that will be discussed separately in an upcoming post.

Days 6 and 7 In Costa Rica- Last Night and Day In San José

This morning we left the Cloud Forest of Monteverde, and headed back towards San José to spend our last full day in Costa Rica. The scenery that we came across during the drive was breathtaking and we couldn’t have asked for better weather! We even managed to spot monkeys in the trees on the side of the road as well as some interesting looking birds too. We stopped at a local snack and smoothie shop, where we had the opportunity to sample some typical Costa Rican treats, but we were more interested in the smoothies since the fruit here is so fresh and delicious.

Pictured below is also a sign that says, “Pura Vida,” which is a saying you’ll hear a lot throughout the country! The exact translation in English is “pure life,” but the phrase is also used for purposes of saying, “Take it easy,” “Enjoy life,” “All good,” “Purity in life,” “Hello,” “Goodbye,” and even “This is life!” “Pura vida means that no matter what your current situation is, life for someone else can always be less fortunate than your own. So you need to consider that maybe…just maybe, your situation isn’t all that bad and that no matter how little or how much you have in life, we are all here together and life is short” which is why we should live it ‘pura vida style’ (http://www.bestcostaricantours.com).

We stopped for a quick meal in San José, but more noteworthy was our dinner at a local restaurant, which is all pictured below. The food surely didn’t disappoint, and neither did the view in the late afternoon! When we woke up the following morning, we had some free time to spend walking around the city before having to make our way over to the airport. Our first stop was at the Museos del Banco Central which has an enormous collection of over 1,600 Pre-Columbian golden artifacts, dating back to AD 500. It was definitely an interesting sight, but we didn’t stay in the museum too long because there was still more we wanted to see in the city.

We walked around the center of San José for a little while until we made our way over to the National Theater of Costa Rica. The theater was built in 1897 in an attempt to show off the economic improvements of the country, all thanks to the blooming success of coffee exportation. With Italian marble, glass and wood brought in from France, and spacious seating, who could complain?

The theater was a beautiful sight, but as our tour wrapped up, we made sure to grab one last meal before it was time for us to finally depart. And so our trip to Costa Rica had unfortunately concluded, but we had definitely hoped to return sometime in the future!

Day 5 In Costa Rica Continued- Coffee and Chocolate Farm Tour In Monteverde

Seeing as Costa Rica is known for its delicious Coffee, and of course its successful coffee exportation, we had to stop by and tour a local coffee farm. But to make things even better, the farm also produces and manufactures chocolate. And right when we thought our luck couldn’t get any better, we were even provided traditional Costa Rican food for lunch before the tour even started!

We began with the coffee part of the tour which began with a brief history lesson about the start of Costa Rican coffee and its importance in helping boost Costa Rica’s economy. We started by looking at the beginning stages, which of course are the coffee seeds. We then saw how the coffee cherries are picked, and how the pulp of the cherries are removed. From there, the coffee beans must be washed and dried under the sun. They are then stored in large, fiber sacks which helps with the breathing and aging process. Selection, roasting, and packaging of the coffee beans are all completed on site. And any brave volunteers were given the opportunity to ride in a traditional ox cart which showed how the coffee beans were transported years ago.

From there, we were given some historical background into the fascinating world of chocolate. We learned how the cocoa beans are roasted and ground, once the husks of the seeds had been separated. We then tried the fruit of the cacao, and made our own chocolate too! Although the experience was incredible, I have to admit, buying pre-made chocolate is a much easier process! And as an additional treat, we were shown how sugarcane is traditionally extracted to make sugarcane juice, which was also delicious!

We had a great time touring Don Juan’s Coffee and Chocolate Farm, and much to our surprise, we had the chance to meet Mr. Don Juan Cruz at the end of the tour. Born in 1937 to one of the first pioneering farming families in Monteverde area, Don Juan was a true gentleman with delicious coffee and chocolate! (http://donjuancr.com).

As our tour came to a close, it was time for us to return back to the hotel to enjoy our last night in Monteverde. Our group went out to a local restaurant and enjoyed the evening together before having to make our way back to San José the following morning.

Day 1 In San Juan, Costa Rica

Two years ago, my family and I traveled to Costa Rica for a few days on a group trip. I have been meaning to post about our experience ever since, so here it finally goes! We flew into San Juan, Costa Rica on Sunday morning and had the afternoon to ourselves before the trip officially began the following morning. My brother, sister, mother, and I walked around the city and had lunch at a local restaurant called Nuestra Tierra, which translates to “Our land.” I ordered chicken, salsa, black beans, plantains, and tortillas, and surely wasn’t disappointed! For dessert, we had rice pudding also known as arroz con leche, along with coffee made from a chorreador.

The chorreador is a coffee making device used in Costa Rica in which hot water is poured into a cloth fiber containing coffee grounds. The coffee then seeps into the cup placed below the cloth (as pictured below). This unique method of making coffee definitely interested us tourists, and it was as delicious as we imagined it would be.

Following lunch, we continued to walk around the city until it was time to return to the hotel for dinner. We had black bean soup, homemade chips, and fish before heading to sleep for the evening. My brother and I slept in one room and my sister and mother shared another room across the hall from us.

The two of us both woke up in the middle of the night to a loud continuous banging sound in the room next door. We both assumed that it was just a couple being loud and intimate with one another, so we tried to ignore the sounds until we fell back asleep. It wasn’t until the following morning that we found out there was a minor earthquake overnight, and the loud sounds were unoccupied beds moving back and forth!