Costa Rica 2016 – Day 1

Irazú Volcano National Park, La Florita Dairy Farm & The Botanical Garden

After a long day of travelling yesterday we arrived in San Jose, Costa Rica. We had already travelled through 2 provinces, which were Alajuela, which we flew into, and San Jose. One comment that I can make about driving in San Jose compared to back home is everyone is crazy! Motorcycles can basically drive anywhere that they want; people pass going up and down hills and around bends. Merging lanes into traffic is horrid. But thankfully Marcelo was an amazing driver and got us everywhere safe and sound and I was so glad that I was not the one driving.

This morning we headed out to Irazú Volcano, which was last active when it erupted in 1963. The elevation of this volcano is 3200m above sea level and the soil is acidic and not very fertile at the moment. We drove from an elevation of 1400m up to the top where the change in vegetation was evident. We went from tall trees to short shrubs. It is noted that the biggest temperature changes are between the daytime temperature and the night time temperature and not from season to season. On our way up to the top of the volcano the roads were very zigzagged and it reminded me a lot of Newfoundland roads because of the steepness in some areas. We drove above the clouds in some areas and when you got off the bus you could feel that the temperature had dropped significantly and the wind had picked up substantially. The diameter of the volcano opening was 1500 meters wide and 300 meters deep to the crust. Around the top of the volcano you could see both primary establishment of grass and the secondary shrubs. The soil was like black sand and was warm to the touch. Since the volcano is located in the national park there was wildlife everywhere and we were able to see a whole family of agouti. Once everyone was able to take a look around we loaded the bus and headed back down the mountain and off to our next stop; a small dairy operation.

Finca La Florita dairy farm was our second stop of the day and this was where we ate lunch. Lunch consisted of rice and beans with fresh vegetables for a salad and chicken breasts. There was also a delicious dessert. Carla is the fourth generation and current owner of the farm. She mainly has jersey cattle with one exception, a Guinness heifer. In total she has nine milking cows. All of the milking is done by hand, by either herself or her hired helper that comes in on her day off. Milking is done twice a day, which takes about 2 hours per milking and produces around 90 litres of milk per day. Due to the elevation and steepness of the farm, Clara told us that about how the electrical company came and taught farmers how to reduce the inputs added to the farm so that there was less runoff and residue into the water below them. 80% of the electricity in Costa Rica is hydroelectric so water quality is important to most residents. For feed Carla grows most of the grasses and then buys corn. She feeds the cattle around 10% of their body weight per day. In terms of sanitation for the cattle their udders are rinsed with water and then dipped with iodine and cleaned with either newspaper or leaves. This is somewhat similar to what we do in Ontario, however we use terry cloths instead of newspaper. For reproduction purposes artificial insemination is used and Carla tries to have one calf per cow every year.

After milking, the milk is placed into a large drum that contains hot water to help sterilize the milk. And then rennet, which is raw stomach enzymes, are added to the raw milk and then the liquids and solids are separated. Once the liquids and solids are separated about 2 tablespoons of slat is added to the solid. Once this process is done you wait 8 hours for the cheese to be ready. On the farm there is also a biodigester, which is used for fertilizer on the farm as well as for heating the house and the cheese making area. At the farm we also got to make our own cheese. Nadine and Valerie were the volunteers who made the cheese for the two different teams and neither cheese had enough salt in it according to Carla.

After the dairy farm we got back on the bus and headed towards CATIE, where we stopped at the Botanical Gardens. In the Botanical gardens there are approximately 500 species and 71 families. Some of the interesting species within this garden were the star fruit which tasted sour but surprisingly very good, the cannonball tree which produces a fruit that is shaped like a cannonball, the monkey trap tree which produces fruit that can trap a monkey’s paw in the fruit, black sappoe which is a fruit that tastes like condensed milk but is black so consumers do not buy it. Another is the Jackfruit, which is one of the largest fruits in the world and is heavy to hold onto. The Kapok tree is the largest tree in the world and is grown mainly in Africa but was introduced to Costa Rica and is suited for its climate. The Kapok tree roots grow in the shape of a triangle and are really shallow so that they will help balance the tree and prevent it from toppling over. Finally there is the miraculous berry that if you suck on it and eat a sour fruit the fruit will taste almost sweet.

Overall, my three learning points of day one were about how close the buildings were to the road, the steepness of some of their roads which reminds me of Newfoundland and how amazing it is that people can live and farm such steep hills. The second learning point was seeing primary succession at the volcano and to see the type of soil and vegetation that exists along with that. The third learning point was to be able to see and understand how a dairy farm works with the landscape, variety of crops, and amount of cattle as well as the business model behind it because most small farms have some sort of value added product and are not just solely dairy farms.


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