Onward to Guanacaste

Trip Start Jan 15, 2013
Trip End Jan 27, 2013

Loading Map
Map your own trip!
Map Options
Show trip route
Hide lines

Flag of Costa Rica  , Province of Guanacaste,
Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The best event of today was by pure serendipity. As we were traveling on a gravel road through a very remote area of the Guanacaste Province, Rafael made a quick signal to Coca, our driver, to stop our minibus. We were in front of a farm, and looking closely we could see a two oxen walking in a circle. They were the power source for a sugarcane mill.

Rafael hopped out of the bus and asked if we could come in and watch. Soon we were all trooping across the front pasture to the shed where the oxen were working. As they walked continuously in a circle, one of the men fed large stalks of sugarcane into the mill, which crushed the cane, extracting the sweet liquid within.

The farm family was friendly and welcoming, and the process, just as it has been done for hundreds of years, was fascinating to watch. On one side of the shed a huge caldron, suspended over a roaring fire, bubbled with the boiling juice. When sufficient water was evaporated, the resulting syrup was poured into molds where it cooled, ending up as a solid cake of dark-brown cane sugar. A long row of finished cakes of sugar were cooling on a rough-hewn table. We were offered samples to taste; they were delicious.

In another corner of the shed were a series of well-used semi-spherical molds carved from a large half-cylinder of a log. They were also filled with the concentrated syrup. One of the men began stirring the syrup vigorously with a wooden spatula. Gradually, it became lighter in color as more and more air was incorporated. Eventually it hardened into a grainy, fudge-like consistency that was even more delicious than the pieces of sugar we had previously sampled.

The farm family sells one-kilogram blocks of cane sugar to local retail outlets for 500 Costa Rican colones, which is the equivalent of one dollar. The cane-sugar fudge sells for about twice that amount. The retail stores then sell sugar to their customers for 800-1000 colones and more for the fudge. Several of us purchased cane sugar and one member of the group purchased fudge, which we all shared this evening as we watched the sun set over the Pacific Ocean.

This has been a major travel day. After breakfast we said goodbye to the Chachagua region on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica and headed northwest to the Buena Vista Lodge on the Pacific side. Our new region to explore is in the Guanacaste Province; it is situated in the dry tropical forest of the Rincon de la Vieja National Park.

Leaving Chachagua, we drove alongside Lake Arenal, which sits at the base of the volcano of the same name. The lake is the largest in Costa Rica and was constructed to provide hydroelectric power as well as irrigation water to the Pacific coast side of the nation. The water is channeled to the Pacific coast regions through tunnels that were constructed for that purpose through the country's central mountain range.

This morning the Arenal Volcano was still partially obscured by clouds, so we never got a full view of what is reputed to be an impressive sight. Still considered the most active of the country’s more than 100 volcanoes, it has not been very active over the past ten years. It is interesting to note, as Rafael told us, that until the volcano had a major eruption in 1968, most of the people who lived in the region did not even realize that it was a volcano. In fact, its name up to that point was Sugar Loaf Mountain. The eruption of 1968 killed 78 people and approximately 45,000 head of cattle by toxic gasses that spewed forth during the eruption. It could have been much worse with thousands of people killed if the eruption had occurred on the other side of the volcano, which was much more densely populated.   

Moving on, we crossed the continental divide through a pass between several inactive volcanoes. The pass acts as a tunnel for the wind, which hit us hard as we stepped out of our vehicle. The tops of the surrounding ridges were studded with windmills, evidence of the fact that Costa Rica generates much of its electrical power by hydroelectric plants and wind turbines.

About mid-morning we stopped at a typical Costa Rica soda (open-air, road-side café) where they were expecting us for coffee. The cook had also prepared what she called tortillas, but they were different than any tortillas we have ever had. They were made from corn-meal masa with some fresh cheese added and then deep fried. They also must have had a leavening agent such as baking powder or soda as they had a delicious crunchy exterior, with a thick but light, fluffy interior. They were not health food, but they certainly disappeared quickly. The soda’s cute little dog made the rounds and acquired a bite of tortilla from more than one of us.

The owner of the soda was also a horse trainer and took great delight in showing off one of his favorite subjects, a Costa Rica stepping horse considered to be a unique Costa Rican breed. The horse preformed beautiful high-step prancing, much like a Tennessee walking horse, and it responded to the slightest touch from his trainer. The trainer did not ride the horse, but instead stayed right at the horse’s side, giving subtle commands by touch and words. At times the horse and the trainer performed a beautifully choreographed dance together. The performance was much more amazing when we learned that the horse was not acquired by his owner until it was eight-years old and, because it had been severely abused, had a habit of biting and was touch adverse. The trainer spent a long time describing his gentle training techniques, which had certainly worked wonders with this particular horse.

Lunch today (yes, we are never far from food) was at another Costa Rica soda that was a couple of hours further down the road. Lana ordered the vegetable plate, which was dominated by the usual rice and black beans, plus coleslaw, and a steamed veggie mixture of cauliflower, broccoli, and carrots. Bob branched out and had a fish soup and a heart-of-palm salad.

Lunch was a peaceful interlude to our day of travel. As we all sat together at a long table overlooking a rushing stream and enjoying our food, the conversation flowed for well over an hour. By now we’ve all gotten to know one another fairly well, and we all seem to enjoy each other’s company. Over our days together the conversation has moved on from where are you from, how hard it is to remember each other’s names, and how many and the favorite trips we have taken with OAT, to learning about each other’s children, grandchildren, hobbies, volunteer work, and even some discussion touching on the touchy topics of religion and politics.  

 Now we are tucked in high in the mountains of Guanacaste at our new home for the next two nights, the Buena Vista Lodge. The sunset this evening was beautiful as we watched from high in the mountains. From our location, we can also see the Pacific Ocean in the far distance. This is a very windy area of the country; as we write this the wind is literally howling outside. In fact, we don’t think we have experienced this much wind since landing at Cape Horn during our Patagonia trip. 

We are hoping that the wind dies down by morning when we are scheduled to take a trip to the canopy of the tropical forest by way of a zip-line and spend a couple of hours of riding a horse to a naturally-occurring hot spring. We had lots of talk of this over dinner tonight (rice and beans again) with some folks quite anxious about tomorrow’s planned activities and others saying they have done it before and it’s fun, nothing to be worried about. We will just have to see what tomorrow brings.  
Slideshow Report as Spam
  • Your comment has been posted. Click here or reload this page to see it below.

  • You must enter a comment
  • You must enter your name
  • You must enter a valid name (" & < > \ / are not accepted).
  • Please enter your email address to receive notification
  • Please enter a valid email address


Barbara Roberts on

I enjoyed hearing about the making of the sugar and fudge. Ken has always talked about his uncles doing this when he was a little boy. One of them even lost a few fingers doing it. I am looking forward to seeing pictures of the two of you on a zip line. You are braver than I am! Ha! Thank you again for sharing your trip. I am really enjoying it.

Use this image in your site

Copy and paste this html: