Saturday, December 14, 2013

Our First Costa Rican Wedding!

We were invited to attend the wedding of Carmen and Cesar at the beautiful church across from the park in Atenas.  Ceasar is the brother of Marcella and Louis whose house we are renting. The wedding was December 1st, 2013.

Atenas is about an hour from Berlin and we arrived early giving us a little time to enjoy the park.  This photo of the front of the church was taken across the street.

Don took this photo of the huge palm trees in the park lying on the grass.  The trunks of this particular palm look like they are made from concrete.

The inside of the church is beautiful and the last time we were there, a number of years ago, it was over flowing with flowers for a young boy who had been killed in an accident.  Today we were there for a much happier occasion and were looking forward to experiencing our first Costa Rican wedding.

The handsome groom, Cesar, and his parents, Juvenal and Roselin were first to walk down the isle.

Next the ring bearers, Elian (Marcella and Luis's son, and a pretty young lady that we did not know. 

Followed by the Best Man, Louis, husband to Marcella, and the Maid of Honor, Marcella Sister to Cesar.

The beautiful bride, Carmen, and her parents were last, much like weddings in the US.  I really liked that both parents brought their children to the alter for the wedding ceremony.

The service was longer than the weddings we've been to in the U.S. and once the bride & groom kissed we assumed the service was over but not so.  The Priest had more to say, in Spanish of course, and then the plate was passed and communion received.  At this point we expected the bride and groom to head down the isle and out of the church but, once again we were surprised.  The service ended and people started to get up and mill around, the bride and groom had photos taken and eventually came outside to the waiting crowd in front of the church.  Unlike in the U.S. there was no introduction of the new couple  to the guests as man and wife followed by the grand exit.

Here we are outside the church waiting for Carmen and Cesar with the other guests.  

Photos were taken of the families.  Carmen and Cesar with her parents and brother.

Then with Cesar's parents and Brother, Dario and the little ring bearer.

Upon arriving at the recption, this was the view  and when the lights of the cities came out it was spectacular!

Dana, Marcella and Louis's daughter and Cesar's niece,  having a good time at her uncle's wedding.

At the reception we were seated with Cesar's parents Jovenal and Roselin. Jovenal's brother, Victor,  his wife, Carmen, and their driver, Juan  and his wife, Laura.  As usual, we were the only ones speaking English but we managed to communicate none the less.

There was no shortage of great music.  At the church there was a group of three that played beautiful music and sang.  At the reception we enjoyed live music all night long, including a spectacular Mariachi Band.  Unfortunately, by the time they arrived my camera battery was dying and we have no photos!!  I loved watching the dancing.  We tried once but the beat is so different from what we are used to we decided not to embarrass ourselves too much.  There was, however, much talent and we are determined to learn the steps!

Even the children had a special place to entertain themselves while the adults watched the festivities.

The area also included a swimming pool which was filled with floating tea lights when night fell and the effect was spectacular!

The area where the reception was held was beautiful inside and out.   The food was delicious, plentiful and the service first class!  At the end we even enjoyed a chocolate fountain with fruits, marshmallows and cookies!  We had a very enjoyable time and are grateful that Carmen and Cesar invited us to share their special day!

Monday, December 09, 2013

Where the Coffee Goes After Picking!

Last year we joined the Palmares Coffee Cooperative or Coopepalmares.  They have recibidoras in Berlin and have an annual production of about 50,000 bags of 46 Kgs. (100 #) of coffee.  Last year they celebrated being in business for 50 years and have over 1,400 small coffee producers like us.  
A couple weeks ago we were invited to the processing plant for an introduction to the coop and the processing of coffee.  Unfortunately, the meeting was in Spanish and we understood very little.  Nicely, the are sending us an English translation!  The meeting finished and we were taken on a tour.  Again, in Spanish, but we have lots of photos and some understanding of what they are about.  We will pass on what we understood and hope you enjoy the tour as much as we did.

The drying of coffee is done the old fashioned way with wood!  One of the first things we walked by was endless stacks of wood and a storage silo.

So much of what we saw was very interesting to look at but we weren't sure what we were seeing.

Everything seemed large!

We weren't alone on the tour but we were the only Gringos.  We don't think there are too many Gringos working coffee farms here in Costa Rica.

This is a recibidora like the one we go to in Berlin, however, it is located at the plant and has many stations.  If we are unable to get to our local recibidora before it closes, we can bring our coffee here.

It is my belief that the coffee is washed here before it is dried.  When the coffee is picked it is very sticky and wet.  Washing it cleans of this stickiness and helps to remove the skins.

 Once the coffee is washed it is placed in these bins that turn and the berries go through rollers that forces the two coffee beans away from the skins.  This also shows the grated walkways we used throughout the plant.

OSHA would not approve of our tour!   We walked on grated walk ways, up and down grated stairs and around numerous cords and things along the way.

More washing of the coffee!  Once the skins are removed, the coffee beans are washed once again before being put into vats for drying.

Moving the coffee from one step to another.

This is one of the wood heated vats where the coffee is dried.  These vats go round and round and are loaded and unloaded through small doors.

Moving from one step to another.

Not sure what this is used for but I found it unusual! Probably for carrying large burlap sacks!

This is the big wood fired furnace.  The logs that are used are huge!  While we were there a guy was shoving wood in through a door and the size of the furnace was amazing!

This coffee is dry and being released from the large drum where it has been turning and heated.

The video really gives you the experience of being there.  As you can see from all the photos, this was one of the most interesting areas of the whole process.

Round and round the drum goes and the coffee spills out in piles.

Yep!  Another area!  If we remember correctly, this is where they separate the coffee into different grades.  There are 4 different coffees as well as special coffees for individuals.  Some of their coffee is sun dried.  At the end we will post a picture of the 4 different coffees.

Coffee drying in the sun!

This machine blows the last remaining husk from the coffee.  When it comes from the vat it is dry but has a light husk that needs to be removed.

This is the end of the process and,  where the coffee is bagged!

She probably understood more of what was being said than we did and was very cute!

A very old scale used to weigh the sacks of coffee.

Machine used to sew the sacks of coffee when full.

At the end of the tour we were taken to a very nice room where we were showed the difference between good and bad coffee and how to properly taste.  Much like wine tasting with a different buzz!  Coffee was served with food and then we were sent along our way.  A wonderful experience, nice people and a process we've been curious about for quite some time. 

The 4 different kinds of coffee that the Palmares Cooperative, where our coffee is processed, sells.  It is sold here in Costa Rica as well as in the U.S.  Keep a look out and let us know if you see it while shopping!!

Here Comes the Coffee!

We have been picking coffee for approximately two weeks.  The first week Roberto, Don, Stephany. Jeffrey and I did the picking.  On December 2nd, we were joined by two sisters from San Ramon.  That day, Don made a run to San Ramon to find a gas cook top and 3 large pieces of foam to be used as beds for the new pickers, AdaLuz and Maritza, who would be staying in a concrete structure (picker's house) owned by a friend of ours. That Monday was also my birthday and ended up being a very busy day.  The pickers usually start about 6:00 a.m. and I usually start about 9:00 after walking to the finca.   Don came home from a frustrating day in San Ramon, in time to get the coffee to the recibidora before 5:00 p.m.  We helped to settle the ladies, AdaLuz and Maritza, into their new home.  Unfortunately, we were unable to hook up the cook top because we needed the hose and attachment which was in Palmares.  Don found the foam for their beds but they needed to be covered with sheets that Don had purchased at the Ropa Americana (Costa Rican Thrift Store).  Putting my nose to the grindstone and my new sewing machine, the beds were ready by 7:00 and we even had time for a quick dinner!  Since there was no cook stove, the ladies created their own stove out of cement blocks and a wood fire!  We find Ticos very resourceful and happy with so much less than us Gringos.  The bright spot of my day was a beautiful arrangement brought by by Eileen and Valaria, our special neighbors!  Their thoughtfulness made my day!!

Preparing to pick the coffee, Don is attaching his basket (Canasta).

Here Roberto is creating a strap for my basket with an "S" hook, some plastic string and a sack. I'm forever being impressed at how resourceful and creative Ticos are when doing a job.  

Our canastas are plastic but they also have natural ones.  We have a number of little natural ones that we use to put fruits and vegetables in at home. Someday I hope to have a natural one to use for picking.  It looks like they are made with a vine somewhat like a grape vine but I am not sure and could not find any relevant information.

Don is holding up suckers to give us a boost.  Picking is difficult, especially at this time of year.  Much of the coffee is still green and we want only the red berries picked.  The process of picking is a three stage process.  The first and last pickings are the slowest and least productive while the middle one produces the bulk of the coffee. 

At the end of the day the coffee is measured.  Each picker has his own sack or sacks of coffee and gets paid per Cojuelo, the metal box pictured here.  Each Cojuelo is worth 1,000 Colonies, approximately $2.00.  Jeffrey is setting things up ready to see what each person picked.

The coffee has been measured and is now being tied shut ready to be put in the back of the Galloper.  At this time we are not picking enough to require our trailer.  

Loading up to go to the recibidora where the coffee is measured once again!  The person working at the recibidora measures how many Cojuelos we have brought.  It takes 20 Cojuelos to make a Fenaga and we are paid by the Fenaga.  The price is not always the same and is actually set by the market in Brazil. 

Packed up and ready to go.  Everyone climbs in and off we go!
Don has decided that he is not fond of picking and has plenty of other things to keep him busy.  I like picking but I have a lot of respect for full time pickers.  They start their day at 6:00 a.m. and work until 3:00 p.m. with a heavy basket of coffee strapped around them all day and do the same thing the next day.  Their week is 6 days long, although a little shorter, 12:00 noon, on Saturday.  On the other hand, because we only have one vehicle I walk to the finca and work from about 9:00 a.m. (6:00 is a little early for me) until 3:00 p.m. and then walk home as the car is full of coffee and pickers.  Actually, I love the walk!  I get to see all kinds of interesting birds, butterflies, flowers and you just never know what!!  Unfortunately, 5 miles a day is rough on my feet and I'm only good for 4 days of picking!  What a light weight!!

Meet Didier!  Didier works at the recibidora where we take our coffee.  Each sack is opened and poured into a Cojuelo.  The large green box with the handles that the Cojuelo is sitting on holds 1/2 Fenaga. When we have more coffee, the sacks will be dumped directly into the bin.  Unfortunately, when we have less than a Fenaga each Cojuelo needs to be counted!