maybe I don't like dark roast
Monday, February 25 2019
location: Room 10, Hotel Iguana Verde, Orotina, Costa Rica
There was a little dim light coming through the hotel room's thick curtains when I finally climbed out of bed this morning. I went just outside the room, but not too close to the pool, which was being cleaned by a hotel employee. The clock on my computer showed me it was just before 6:00am Central Time.
Later after Gretchen got up, we went to the breakfast dining area, and had a nice vegan breakfast, starting with piece of fruit and moving on to pico de gallo with a side of refried blackbeans and small crunchy baked tortillas, all of which made for a great and reasonably-traditional breakfast. The kitchen staff had apparently received the memo from the woman who had checked us in that we were vegans, because when Gretchen told our waiter this he said that he already knew. Gretchen reminded me of the hot sauce out in the car that I was trying to use as much of as possible before having to throw it away at the airport.
Over breakfast, Gretchen asked me if there was anything in my life that I seriously regretted, and I thought about it and couldn't really come up with anything. If I'd made other decisions (such as to, say, study harder or actually have sex with my first real college girlfriend), they would've set things in motion and might've put me in a very different place than I am now. It's possible I would be happier in that alternative future, but it's possible I wouldn't be too. Indeed, I can't even say for sure I would've wanted things I had no control over to have been different. Sure, maybe I would've benefited from my parents having been more supportive of my early interest in music, my later interest in computers, and my needs as a young man with no money in college. But, knowing me, that support might've just as easily made me lazy and complacent, and I wouldn't be so resourceful today. Even the terrible things I had no control of were factors in my getting to the happy place I am now. As I joked to Gretchen this morning, "The Holocaust was terrible, but..."
Gretchen regrets were mostly about how sexually repressed she was as a teenager. There are several boys she would definitely make out with if she could get into a time machine. And there are cringe-inducing moments of cruelty she wishes she hadn't been responsible for. Only psychopaths have none of those.
After breakfast, we had a brisk morning swim in the pool (which was fairly cold), though that was interrupted when Gretchen realized with a shock that it was an hour later than she thought and we might be late for our one last activity before boarding the plane out of Costa Rica: a tour of a mountaintop coffee plantation.
As we were loading our stuff into the Suzuki, I happened to notice that the rear passenger-size tire was low. Evidently it has sprung a leak, probably somewhere on the terrible roads between Montezuma and Playa Naranja. And then the guy who had been our waiter ran up to remind us of our beer tab from last night, which apparently hadn't been added to our room tab. We didn't have exact change and were in a hurry, so we told him he could keep the difference when he didn't have enough currency to give us all of our change.
Gretchen handled the driving to the coffee plantation, which was great, because I wouldn't've wanted her urging me to hurry so we'd be in time for the plantation tour. The roads on the way tended to be narrow and curvy, though they were paved with good asphalt. Initially drove through fairly heavily-populated countryside, but then switchbacks took us up the side of a mostly rural mountain, revealing a beautiful landscape of sharp sculpted ridge, most of it open county.
The plantation, El Toledo, was in the town of Atenas, which has been said to have the best climate in the entire world. But it was kind of hard to enjoy the scenery while worrying about the air slowly leaking out of the rear passenger-side tire. But then on the tiny road leading to the plantation, Gretchen saw an auto-parts place. So she pulled up (practically into the store, as it had no real front wall) and asked the guy running the place if he had air. He did, and he filled up our low tire for free.
Our navigation took us to an impossibly-steep and rutted driveway which we made the mistake of driving down, though at the bottom was just somebody's house (I managed to back it out without losing the SUV down the canyon). It turned out we weren't the only ones confused by Google's directions; we were soon joined by an SUV full of youngish white guys from Canada who were looking to do the tour too. It turned out the plantation's driveway was the next one down.
I've been on a few tours of distilleries and breweries and the like, and they all follow a familiar pattern. Here at El Toledo, though, our guide started with a somewhat long-winded (and frequently-interrupted) lecture stressing how wasteful mainstream coffee cultivation is in terms of water use, and how it wasn't the best use of water, since coffee (being unnecessary for human survival) is just a luxury. He made the mistake of saying water use for making meat was more justifiable, which quickly got him into a little argument with Gretchen, though his point and Gretchen's point (that using water to grow plants is always better than using it to grow meat) were somewhat different. At around this time we were joined by some stragglers, several skinny older white guys from Michigan. Also in attendance were a middle-aged couple comprised of a guy from France and his talkative American wife.
Gretchen was loving the lecture, but for some reason for me it was torture. Sometimes I feel that when people are talking, there is some unpleasant combination of stating the obvious, talking past one another, and feigning interest that just feels like a waste of time, and that was definitely happening here. Of course, part of the problem was my general grumpiness about being at a coffee plantation without a cup of coffee in my hand. Why wasn't that the first order of business? When others began to grumble, a woman whose job it was to do such things came around with a tray of shot glasses containing some sort of strong sherry-like wine made from fermented coffee fruits, which are normally thrown away in the production of coffee. The main point of today's lecture was El Toledo has a method of coffee processing that uses orders of magnitude less water than what is usually used. Unfortunately, other coffee producers have been slow to adopt it, including nearly all "fair trade" and "organic" coffee brands.
After more lecturing (and more not-especially helpful diagrams scratched into the dirt floor of the building we were in), we were relocated to some tables and given actual coffee, which was provided black, without sugar. That's the way I drink it, but there were some there who were asking (and only barely jokingly) if there was cream and sugar. We were presented coffees of three different levels of roasting: light roast, medium roast, and dark roast. As we drank each cup, we were told to slurp, which, we were told, would give us a more complete coffee drinking experience, because it would allow the vapors to mix with air. The flavor difference that came from slurping came as a revelation, and that was just the first. Another revelation was that the more the beans are roasted, the less caffeine they contain (and the more bitter they get). I'd also discovered in the taste test that I'd actually preferred the least-roasted beans, suggesting that I should probably switch my preference from dark-roasted Zanzibar to something else. This was all unexpectedly eye-opening. The coffee itself was also eye-opening, though not unexpectedly so.
Later we stood next to vintage coffee roaster as it roasted some low-grade coffee beans, crunching on beans removed at various stages (they were like "uncorked popcorn," according to the American wife of the French guy).
The last part of the tour took us out to the special low-water coffee sorting equipment in a large shed, and beyond that the actual coffee trees. The "trees" were more like heavily-pruned shrubs, and formed a layer along the ground beneath a mix of larger trees. The assemblage produced a range of products (such as chocolate and perhaps avocados, rubber, and cashews) in addition to coffee. The view from the coffee plantation was beautiful, though I don't think the photos I took did it justice.
The tour was running late, and,not wanting to miss another form of transportation, Gretchen kept us on schedule by departing from it early. We bought a bunch of coffee (and even a token amount of "coffee wine") at the gift store and then hit the road, with Gretchen continuing with the driving. The countryside now resembled the Hollywood hills, mostly because of how heavily-irrigated the Hollywood hills are. Otherwise it wouldn't be anywhere near as lush. The houses also looked similar.
We climbed up switchbacks out of a gorge only to join a highway that had crosses that gorge on a high bridge (10.022629N, 84.358706W). The highway was Route 1, the Pan-American. It took us straight towards San Jose, though we wouldn't be going that far, since the airport was west of there.
As we neared Vamos Car Rentals, directions from Google Maps broke down, and we ended up having to bust at least one U-turn. We'd been hoping to find a gas station so we could return the SUV with the correct amount of gas, but there must be some sort of conspiracy to keep visible gas stations far from the San Jose airport. So once we'd found Vamos, we gave up on our search for a gas station and just turned the damn thing in.
At Vamos, a guy came around to check the vehicle out. He quickly noted that our tank wasn't at the level we'd taken it with, and he assessed us a charge of 10 per eighth of a tank to get to full, which is a gross markup. So that would be $40. And then he noticed the thing with the bumper I'd been fretting about since the 10th. He took a picture of it with his phone and went off to show el jeffe.
A couple bathroom breaks later, the Vamos guy tried to tell us our bumper damage was going to cost us $300, exactly what damage-to-the-vehicle insurance would've cost for the month (and which we had declined). Unfortunately for Vamos, they were going to have to get through Gretchen to get that $300. I sat out in front while Gretchen dealt with those negocios. She appeared about 20 minutes later with a look that told me negocios hadn't completed. And they hadn't. She went back in. About then minutes after that, she emerged with a look on her face that told me she was trying not to gloat and that she was victorious. Indeed she was, though she repressed the urge to gloat for the whole shuttle ride to the airport. During that ride, I told her that what she was doing reminded me of how the administration of George H. W. Bush acted after winning the cold war (not knowing it would be lost three administrations later).
After checking in at the San Jose airport, Gretchen told me how she'd just saved us $300 at Vamos. Apparently el jeffe back in the office had tried a power play on Gretchen when she refused to pay the $300, leisurely eating his lunch in a back room while she stewed in her juices out in the waiting area. But she was in no hurry; for some reason she'd arranged to arrive at Vamos four full hours before our flight, so it was worth it for her to wait for him to eat his stupid lunch. When he later agreed to talk to her, he acted like the cost of repairing the bumper really was going to be $300 and that he would definitely need to be doing that before renting the vehicle again. To this, Gretchen said that she comes to Costa Rica all the time and that Vamos was her preferred vehicle rental. But if it was going to be like this, she was going to be taking her business elsewhere. What's more, she'd be telling her many friends to do the same. Gretchen exudes a kind of charisma in altercations like this that lends credence to her words, even when (as in this case) they are complete bullshit. El jeffe backed down, saying he'd make an exception and she would not be charged. He then said something that seemed to contradict what he'd said earlier about definitely needing to repair the bumper, which was that he'd need to take note of the damage so that the next person renting the vehicle would not be charged. But we all know about that system: it involves a little diagram where dings and dents can be indicated. Such things occurring on the Nicoya Peninsula are the least of one's worries. (I wonder when he discovered that the rear passenger tire had developed a leak.)
Our experience with security and procedures in Latin American airports has generally been good. They seem to be run with sensible efficiency, as if they are just trying to get people through with as little unnecessary hassle as possible. Tourism is important for these countries, so there is no sense in putting people through crap they don't need to go through. It wasn't long before we were at the gate, and, because we'd burned so much time at Vamos, it wasn't much longer before we were on the plane. Gretchen had paid extra to put us at the very front of the plane, which meant extra leg room and that we would be the first to get off in Ft. Lauderdale. The plane wasn't very full, and the guy across the aisle had a cluster of three extra-leg-room seats all to himself. He went on to complain several times about the sun coming in through the window on our side, eventually precipating a hostile comeuppance from Gretchen, who was using the light of the setting sun to read by. People should just know better than to fuck with my wife.
On the flight from Costa Rica, I processed pictures using The Gimp, did some online journal writing, and rewatched parts of the time-travel movie Primer.
We landed in the international part of the Ft. Lauderdale airport and proceeded to go through all the shit people coming into the United States now go through. If landing in a Latin American country is mostly a joy, landing in the country where I was born has become anything but. First there was a line to get to the machines where a robot scans your passport and takes your picture (and, if you're not a citizen, demands to take your fucking fingerprints). After that, there was a very long line to a guy whose job was to (I think I have this correct) look (but not take) the tickets with our pictures on them. In that line there was an unfortunate African American gentleman who feared all this customs bullshit was going to make him miss his flight to Baltimore. So we (the crowd) conspired to advance him past the others in the line. Ultimately this did no good; he didn't advocate for himself, so he didn't advance except by the shouting ahead of people around him in the line. And it made us (Gretchen and me) engage with someone in line (let's call her Eldra) we shouldn't've. Eldra was one of those people who, when you've talked to her once, assumes you are her lifelong friend, and she will talk at you any time she sees you from that time forward, and much of her talking is the sort that demands a response. But you don't want to respond. You want to be left alone.
Even after we thought we'd gotten past Eldra due to the way staff segmented the line, she would catch up to us and then talk at us. Or else she would just talk and then giggle in a way that seemed like an auditory hallucination. This was particularly true in cases where she would mutter something very loud outloud just as you would be thinking the same thought. She didn't know how to keep things to herself and she had no sense that anyone around her wouldn't be absolutely delighted to engage with her. But for us, she raised the general misery of being trapped in a line by maybe 50%. As I said to Gretchen later, the possibilty of such people is perhaps the main reason that I generally keep to myself and don't interact with strangers. In the course of all of our unwanted interaction with Eldra, we learned she had a 26 year old son who was waiting for her outside. This was great because it meant that Eldra (a New Yorker) would not be on our flight to JFK.
There were more lines, though at some point enough people (in addition to the unfortunate Baltimore-bound guy) were in jeopardy of missing their connections that the security checks became a joke as the one guy tasked to process everybody just took their documents without looking at them. I don't know what the fuck is wrong with Ft. Lauderdale's international processing, but at some point it went from kafkaesque to hilarious.
Gretchen and I ended up in the same domestic terminal where we'd boarded our plane for Costa Rica (I know that makes no sense, but I get the feeling flights to international destinations can happen from domestic terminals because the USA doesn't care whatsoever about the security implications of people leaving the country). That terminal has particularly bad vegan options, and all Gretchen could find for us to eat was some Sabra-brand hummus-with-pita-chips, pistachios (complete with shells), and a salad[REDACTED]. Gretchen was so punchy from the absurdities of the Ft. Lauderdale airport that she burst into laughter at sight of a grown man reduced to trying to drink from a barely-functional kiddie water fountain. And then when I saw Gretchen trying to cram some trash into the small circular hole at the top of a trashcan, I was reminded of Chris Watts stuffing the children he'd killed through an eight-inch hatch into a huge tank of crude oil. I was about to mention this to Gretchen, but then I realized that she knew nothing about Chris Watts, that my obsession with that case had been a completely private thing.
Everything about Ft. Lauderdale was horrible, including a dim, blinking fluorescent light we were stopped beneath on the jetbridge just before boarding the plane.
The plane to JFK was completely full, of course, so our plan of having an empty seat between us didn't work this time. Gretchen moved to the middle seat while some random woman who had been placed between us took the aisle seat. I would've liked to sleep on this flight, but instead I watched part of the pilot episode of iZombie and the beginning of Can You Ever Forgive Me.
Since we'd already been fully processed in Ft. Lauderdale, it took no time at all to get to the surface of JFK after landing. I was still wearing shorts and a teeshirt, so in the baggage claim area (near the doors to the street) I put on a sweater and sweat pants (it was 30-something degrees Fahrenheit outside and windy) while Gretchen texted with the guy who had our car. We love Charles and his car parking business, but he was on vacation and had handed operations off to his brother-in-law, who was no Charles. He kept asking Gretchen questions he already had answers for, and he was running late. But then he turned out to be such a nice guy that Gretchen couldn't justify being mad at him. The guy has five kids and his day job is as a body guard for a CEO, so go figure.
Gretchen drove us through the city all the way to Suffern, where I took over. We got home at around 3:15am. Neville barked at us initially but then realized we were the people he'd assumed he would never see again. So we rolled around on the floor with our adoring dogs. Clarence the Cat was almost as happy, and a few of the other cats weren't far behind. Don't let anyone tell you cats don't miss people.
Our housesitter Dana was still up, and she came down and we talked about how the month had gone. Dana's plan was to leave tonight for her next destination, but it was taking too long. At some point I said, "the thing is, I need to go to sleep." Soon thereafter I was in bed, though I was a little too hyped-up from the day to just fall asleep.
The road to the coffee plantation. Click to enlarge.
The coffee farmer during the initial lecture phase of the tour. Click to enlarge.
The digram explaining all the water wasted in the growing of coffee. Click to enlarge.
The vintage coffee roaster machine. Click to enlarge.
Beans in various stages of being roasted. That woman is the one married to a French guy. Click to enlarge.
A gorgeous view from the coffee plantation. Click to enlarge.
The coffee shrubs and various shelter trees. Click to enlarge.
The road from the coffee plantation. Click to enlarge.
Entering the country in Ft. Lauderdale. I was feeling punchy and didn't want this to be another sad-faced border photograph.
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