Meet Pabrö Sanchez, Costa Rica’s Monkey Whisperer

pabro sanchez curu wildlife reserveA good guide can help a traveler interpret the local culture. But sometimes a guide can sanitize and filter your experience by telling and showing you only what they think you want to hear and see. Pabrö Sanchez, a guide I hired through the Florblanca Resort in Costa Rica to take me to the Curu Wildlife Refuge on the Nicoya Peninsula, is not such a person.

Before we’d even arrived at Curu, Pabrö, a 32-year-old anthropologist and archaeology student with roots in both Costa Rica and El Salvador, had given me an earful of his opinions. According to him, Costa Rica’s President, Laura Chinchilla, is the worst in the country’s history. And most of the businesses in town are owned by foreigners who hire other foreigners, most of whom have no legal right to work in the country.

I like a guide who isn’t full of shit, even if I don’t agree with all of their opinions, so I liked Pabrö immediately. But I realized that he was worth his weight in gold just a few minutes into our hike at Curu, a gorgeous, 175-acre, privately owned nature reserve near the Tambor airport, when we came upon a cluster of howler monkeys in a tree. They were unleashing their trademark deep, guttural howls and I asked him if he could imitate them.

“Of course I can,” he said, and proceeded to let out a series of calls that, if you closed your eyes, sounded almost the same as that of the monkeys (see video).

He explained that howlers are vegetarians with big throat cavities, which explains why their howl is so deep and haunting. We talked about how important monkeys were to Costa Rican tourism and the country’s economy and Pabrö said, “Maybe they should be running the government. They’d probably do a better job.”



curuAs we hiked through a dense, tropical forest on a bright sunny day, we had the place nearly to ourselves, and I couldn’t have been happier. Every time we passed a bird or another creature, Pabrö could immediately recognize it. Hoffmann woodpecker. Mangrove black hawk. White-tipped dove. Owl butterfly. Black headed trogon. White tail deer. Jesus Christ lizard. Coati. Mot mot. Great tailed crackle. He knew everything or at least sounded confident enough to fool me.

Pabrö also knew about all the soaring trees we were walking past but lost me trying to explain how his fellow native Meso American peoples had a deep connection to trees and nature.

“Trees are very interested in humans,” he said, before going on to explain that trees signified 13 realities, and one needed to go up a tree in order to experience them all.

“To access reality, you have to use a tree to get there,” he said, as I nodded thoughtfully, fascinated but unsure of exactly what he was talking about.

Pabrö talked a bit about native people in the area and mentioned that there is a tribe that lives near the Amistad National Park in Costa Rica that has no interaction with the outside world and is hostile toward visitors.

“Even I couldn’t go there,” he said. “I would not be welcomed.”

We crossed a rickety bridge over a mangrove swamp and caught a glimpse of Tortuga Island in the distance, as Pabrö plucked some leaves from a pochete tree and insisted that I eat them. They were tart, citrusy and oddly tasty. As we heard more howlers bellowing in the forest, Pabrö said that there were four types of monkeys in Costa Rica: howlers, white faced capuchins, titis (on the Carribean side) and spider monkeys.

“But the spider monkeys are nearly endangered,” he said. “People poach them because think they taste amazing and some farmers believe the monkeys come and steal children at night.”



After a long walk on a deserted beach, we retreated to the car and found Hilberth, our driver, slumbering in a reclined positioned in the car. He was a bit overweight and his tight pair of jeans, weren’t really appropriate for hiking in the heat.

“Come on man, you could use the exercise,” Pabrö teased, goading him into joining us.

The three of us set off towards a mangrove plantation and I asked Hilberth why he didn’t like hiking.

“He’s lazy and also he’s probably embarrassed to be seen walking around with a tourist,” Pabrö said in his typically blunt fashion, answering for him.

Hilberth spotted a coati, and Pabrö could barely contain his excitement.

“He’s a male – look at the size of his balls! Usually they travel in groups but sometimes the alpha males like him will travel alone.”

We walked up to a distinctive Guanacaste tree and Pabrö talked about their significance to this region, which was the last province to join Costa Rica. Pabrö told me about how the Costa Rican army defeated William Walker, a diminutive American white supremacist and “filibuster” or military adventurer, who attempted to conquer Nicaragua and Costa Rica in the hopes of annexing them for the United States in the 1850s. I was struck by the fact that while I knew nothing about this episode in history, it’s probably taught in every school in Central America.

After a few hours hiking at Curu, we repaired to a Costa Rican “soda” or humble canteen and sat on plastic chairs next to a river enjoying a round of cold drinks. After a long talk about politics the conversation turned toward Santa Teresa and how much it’s changed since Pabrö moved there in 2001.

“The place is five times bigger than it was,” he said. “People come here to see nature and virgin beaches. How can we keep that?”

IF YOU GO: If you’d like to hire Pabrö as your guide while in Costa Rica, contact him at Pabro@sapoaadventures.com, 506-8996-9990, Sapoa Adventures on Facebook.

[Photo/video credits: Dave Seminara]

The World According To A Costa Rican Cab Driver

taxi I would never think of getting in a cab in my hometown of Chicago and asking for a lift to Indianapolis, Iowa City or Milwaukee. But when I’m outside the U.S. without a rental car, I sometimes resort to long-distance taxi rides as a way of getting from point A to point B. On a recent trip to Costa Rica I took a three-hour taxi ride from Heredia, near San Jose, to Manuel Antonio National Park and two more long rides to get from Manuel Antonio to Santa Teresa on the Nicoya Peninsula after failing to find a reasonable car rental.

Costa Rica is blessed with incredible natural beauty. It has 26 national parks with a ridiculous array of wildlife and every type of natural terrain you can imagine, from beaches to volcanoes to mountains and more. But like any country, it has some grubby areas as well and while driving in the outskirts of San Jose, I couldn’t help but wonder why so many homes and businesses had barbed wire fences.

“You can buy drugs really cheap here,” said Mario, my 36-year-old taxi driver, when I asked him what was up with all the barbed wire. “Drug addicts need to feed their habits so they steal and people are afraid.”I was surprised to hear that drugs were cheap because it seemed like everything in Costa Rica was expensive.

“You can get some drugs here for like a dollar,” he said.

“Drugs for a buck, what kind?” I asked.

“Crack,” he said.

I was confused by the cut-rate Costa Rican crack but also a little perplexed as to why there were white horses tied up outside tiny, very humble looking urban homes that seemed to have no real space for animals.

“The people like to take their horses into town and show them off for parades,” Mario said, explaining the phenomenon.

Mario spent a huge amount of time fiddling with his mobile phone and I resisted the urge to ask him to concentrate on the road. Eventually I realized that he was trying to stream Toy Story 3 for my children, who were sitting in the back seat of the minivan. My sons were excited to hear Buzz and Woody at an ear-splitting volume but they couldn’t really see the movie from their vantage point on his little phone and quickly lost interest.

As we barreled southbound on the highway, Mario kept fiddling with his phone until he found a song he liked. Sadly, it turned out to be John Waite’s truly reprehensible, “I Ain’t Missing You (At All).”

And it’s my heart that’s breaking down this long-distance line tonight.
I ain’t missing you at all
Since you’ve been gone away.
I ain’t missing you
No matter what my friends say.

He was humming it and tapping his fingers on the steering wheel to its loathsome rhythm and when I noticed that my wife was sleeping and both my boys were entranced in a movie on our Kindle, I decided to nod off myself, hoping to avoid more American power ballads.

I woke up in a town called Jaco to Roxette’s “It Must Have Been Love (But It’s Over Now).” The earworm stayed in my head for days.

After DJ Mario played Gangnam Style for us, he told me he learned English working as a waiter on cruise ships. It was good money, by Costa Rican standards, but he worked at least 12 hours a day for 9 months at a time with no days off.

“You can’t even really meet girls,” he said as we motored through a stretch of road that was encircled by dense palm oil plants. “But when you get into the ports, well, you have to do something.”

He signed his first contract without telling his wife he was leaving the country, just days before he leaving town. She was annoyed but got over it. But after four years, once he had saved up enough money to buy a house, he decided it was time to move back to Costa Rica.

“I only needed a little big of money,” he said. “I don’t need to get rich.”

As we approached Quepos, the nearest town to Manuel Antonio, we saw derelict men sleeping off hangovers on benches, lobster-shaded gringos walking on the side of the road with next to no clothing on, and a host of signs advertising surf schools, lodges, adventure tours and even a “gentleman’s club.”

“They got a choice of girls,” Mario explained. “Costa Rican, Colombians, and plenty of Nicaraguans.”

Mario said that Costa Ricans are getting a little soft and there are tens or maybe hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans in the country doing the jobs Costa Ricans supposedly don’t want.

I asked him about Laura Chinchilla, the country’s (first) female president.

“She changes her mind too much and she’s not very powerful,” he said. “But at least she’s honest.”

We caught a few tantalizing glimpses of the Pacific, dotted with a few rocky little islands, and as we pulled up in front of our hotel, Mario handed us his business card.

“I’ll come back and drive you anywhere in the country you want to go,” he said. It made no sense to me at all, but I just thanked him. As he drove off, I wondered what his profit margin on our $150 fare was. And I wondered what horrible American power ballads he planned to blast on the way back to San Jose.

[Photo credit: twicepix on Flickr]

Monkeys Are Big Business At Manuel Antonio National Park In Costa Rica

white faced monkey manuel antonio national parkIt was 6 a.m. and I was hiking alone in the lush, tropical forest below the Hotel Parador near Manuel Antonio National Park in Costa Rica when I heard a noise that stopped me dead in my tracks. It was a deep, throaty guttural call that almost sounded like an animal clearing its throat. I was on the so-called “Monkey Trail” on the hotel’s extensive grounds, so I was expecting to see howler monkeys. But I imagined the howler monkeys call to be more like a high-pitched shriek.

I picked up my pace in the enervating, early morning jungle humidity as my mind started running through the possibilities. Hadn’t I read that there were jaguars and leopards and pumas in Costa Rica? Was I about to become the first tourist to get mauled by a wild animal before he even left his hotel?


manuel antonio national parkI knew that whatever it was, I had to avoid the impulse to run, but I hustled away as the animal continued to howl at a frightening volume. In a distracted state, I somehow managed to lose the trail and eventually found myself down at a rocky lookout over the Pacific.

I regained my bearings a few minutes later and on my way back to the hotel pool I saw more than a dozen howler monkeys jumping from tree to tree, but none of them made much noise. Back at the hotel pool, I sheepishly asked a young man who worked the Hotel Parador’s adventure desk about the terrifying howl I’d heard.

“It is possible that was a leopard or a puma?” I asked quietly, so that only he could hear me.

“Sir, we don’t have leopards and pumas on the hotel grounds,” he said. “You heard a howler monkey.”

guide manuel antonio national parkAn hour later, I was at Manuel Antonio National Park wondering why it was easier to see monkeys at my hotel than at one of the country’s premier tourist attractions, know for its wildlife. My wife and I hired Flander Sanchez to take us on a guided walk through the park and a half-hour into our tour we had yet to see a monkey. Still, Flander had an uncanny knack for seeing things we would have just walked past if he wasn’t with us.

Just steps after paying the $10 entry fee to the park, he stopped dead in his tracks and started to set up a telescope on a tripod. He noticed a huge golden web spider sitting in its web and then a green lizard we never would have seen. Flander picked some petals off of a plant and has us breathe in the delightful citronella scent, but I wasn’t as interested in eating the fistful of termites he picked up off a tree on the side of the path.

“Come on,” he said. “These things are delicious. Try them- it’s part of your tour, no extra charge!”

My wife gave them a try and said they tasted like dirt, so I declined. Flander seemed a little hurt.

“I can’t believe you don’t like them! I love termites.” (see video.)




Another 15 minutes or so up the park’s main path, Flander spotted a white-faced capuchin monkey sitting in a tree overhead.

“I feel like he’s going to climb up to the top of the tree and then jump across to the other side,” Flander said, as two other clusters of tourists gathered around to gawk.

And just as I started to think, how the hell does he know what the monkey is going to do next, the monkey did just as Flander predicted, making a huge leap over the trail to the other side of the jungle as the cluster of tourists gave him a small round of applause for the effort. It felt a bit like a well choreographed show.

A big crowd gathered to watch a three-toed sloth scratch himself high up in the trees and a woman from New Jersey seemed thrilled.

“Look at him!” she bellowed. “He just keeps scratching his ass!”

By the time we reached Playa Manuel Antonio, I had a small mutiny on my hands. Flander still had plenty more to show us, but my sons and wife wanted to hit the beach. It was sweltering and my 5-year-old son Leo was dripping with sweat.

“Why are we on a tour, dad?” he asked. “You said we were travelers, not tourists. Only tourists take tours.”

I prevailed on the group to press on and we were immediately rewarded. There were white-faced capuchin monkeys everywhere on the path towards Playa Espadilla Sur, most of them hovering on short trees, hoping to scavenge for food.

monkey manuel antonio national parkAt the entrance to the park, there were gruesome photos of dead monkeys with a warning about the dangers of feeding them. One feisty little monkey tried to raid a nearby garbage can and bared his teeth at Flander when he shooed him away from it with a stick. It’s sad and dangerous that the monkeys in Manuel Antonio are conditioned to scavenge for human food but the fact that they flock to humans makes for a remarkable experience for visitors.

The monkeys stop to stare right into your eyes and they seem to find the paparazzi fascinating. They’re also pretty damn smart. One tourist held out his flip-flop and was trying to encourage a monkey to come grab it but the monkey just looked at him like he was a dumb ass, as if to say, dude, I know that’s not food, why would I want your smelly flip-flop?




playa espadilla sur manuel antonioWe walked on with Flander toward Playa Espadilla Sur, which is a huge, stunning beach that’s flanked by lush tropical jungle that encroaches onto the beach. It was nearly deserted, partially because the guides were telling people that there were crocodiles in the water. Flander still had more to show us but we parked ourselves in the shade of a huge tree and told him we were done. I felt a bit like a castaway that had just found paradise and didn’t want to move a muscle.

“Are there always that many monkeys out prowling around?” I asked.

“Not always that many,” he said. “They like to come out on the weekends.”

“Come on man, the monkeys don’t know it’s Saturday,” I said.

“They don’t know it’s Saturday but more people come here on the weekends and they respond to all the noise because they know there’ll be more food,” he said.

My guidebook said to avoid Manuel Antonio on weekends in the high season but if you want to get up close and personal with the park’s white-faced capuchins, there’s actually no better time to be there.

IF YOU GO: it takes about three hours to get to Manuel Antonio from San Jose. We were surprised to discover that it was slightly cheaper for us to take a private taxi than any of the group shuttle services that go to the area. If you have less than four people in your party, the shuttles will probably be cheaper though. We used Mario Rosales Melendez (86-27-62-95, Mario_tour76@yahoo.com) who charged us $150 for the ride.

The town of Quepos and the area right outside Manuel Antonio isn’t very pedestrian friendly, so don’t think you’ll be able to walk many places from whatever hotel you choose. Some of the hotels have shuttles, but you might consider renting a car if you want to have the flexibility of exploring the area on your own.




hotel paradorWe stayed at the Hotel Parador and I would highly recommend it. The rooms are very nice, with comfy beds and modern amenities; the food is excellent and they have free shuttles to Manuel Antonio. But the real pleasure of this place is the lush grounds, the hiking trails and the beautiful pools with views of the Pacific. Here’s a tip for you if you stay there, or even if you don’t: check out the Fragata Restaurant at the farthest corner of the resort. It’s only open for lunch, but it’s set high up, so there are great breezes and amazing views, not to mention very good food at reasonable prices.

I highly recommend hiring a guide at Manuel Antonio. They cluster in front of the entrance and usually charge $20 per person. You can book ahead if prefer at info@manuelantoniotours.com. Café Agua Azul is an American-owned restaurant that has excellent food and great views at reasonable prices.

[Photo/video credits: Dave Seminara]


Releasing My Inner Gringo In Costa Rica

puntarenas ferryI try not to be the stereotypical ugly gringo when I’m in Latin America. I tolerate leisurely or downright rude service, I use my poor but functional Spanish, and I try to go with the flow, bearing in mind that things are just different south of the border. But no matter how hard I try, there are occasions when I can’t help but act like a gringo.

My first, and hopefully last, real gringo moment on a recent trip to Costa Rica and Nicaragua came at a ticket office in the Costa Rican port of Puntarenas. I arrived with my wife and two little boys about 15 minutes before our 11 a.m. ferry was due to depart for the Nicoya Peninsula and found a long, slow moving line with just one clerk selling tickets in a little booth behind a window.

I am not the kind of worrywart who shows up three hours early for a domestic flight, but as the line barely moved in the next few minutes, I started to get nervous. It was already well over 90 degrees and if we missed the 11 a.m. ferry, we’d have to wait three hours for the next boat in a dull, sweltering limbo, essentially killing a whole day of our trip.

Even worse, a cab driver was supposed to meet us on the other side to make the 90-minute ride from the ferry port in Paquera to our hotel in Santa Teresa. We had no functioning cellphone and no clue if the driver or anyone else would be there to meet us if we turned up three hours late.

As the clock ticked towards 11 and the ferry blew its horn, apparently warning us that it was getting ready to depart, I had so little personal space in the line that I was pretty sure I knew what the guy behind me had for lunch (I think it was rotten eggs). As we inched forward, ever so slowly, I analyzed each transaction that took place at the window and silently stewed.

Why is this woman just now digging through her purse for money? Did she think the tickets were going to be free? And what about this guy? Why is he asking so many questions? Buy your damn ticket and get out. What’s she doing now? Is she talking on the phone? No! Sell tickets!

At 10:54, there was a woman buying her ticket who seemed to be making small talk with the clerk. It was a good thing her back was turned to me because I think the intensity of my glare in her general direction could have singed her eyebrows. The ticket office was right across the street from the boat, but we had baggage, a stroller and small kids to shepherd on board, and I had no reason to believe the ship wouldn’t depart on time.

I continued to check my watch in 30-second intervals, since there was nothing better to do but worry, as beads of sweat pored down my back. At 10:56, there was only one person in front of me in the line.

But just as the man in front of me was about to proceed to the window, a woman in a uniform came by, stopped him, and made an announcement in Spanish and English. She wanted all the passengers bringing vehicles on the ferry to step forward and form a new line. About half of the thirty or so people behind me stepped forward and the woman announced that all of the passengers with vehicles would get to buy their tickets first.

Instead of being second in line, I was now about 17th and with just four minutes to spare. The woman in uniform offered us no consolation like, “Don’t worry, everyone in line will get tickets.”

I called after her to ask if the ship was going to leave without us, but she ignored me and walked away. A middle-aged American guy, a surfer type, who just vaulted ahead of me in line so he’d be next, said, “Dude, relax, you’ll get your ticket.”

Relax? In what alternate reality could one find waiting in a long line in the sweltering heat under these circumstances relaxing? In an abstract sense, I could understand why they needed people with cars to go first – it takes longer to board with a car than it does on foot. But the vehicle passenger tickets cost almost 20 times as much as foot passenger tickets. Were they using the few remaining minutes to sell the most expensive tickets to maximize profit? The old man in front of me in the passenger line look nonplussed. Perhaps he assumed the boat would depart late? Or did he have nothing better to do than wait for the 2 o’clock ferry?

I said nothing to the American who told me to relax, and waited as a few of the sanctioned line jumpers were serviced. At 10:59, the ship’s horn blasted again and, in a moment of panic and chutzpah, I barged right ahead of a meek looking man in the newly formed line and pleaded for the clerk to sell me a ticket, which she did, despite some grumbling from the people I’d cut in front of (I wanted to say, “You cut me, now I’m cutting you, deal with it,” but I had no time to spare).

We dashed across the street, baggage, children and stroller in tow and by the time I hauled all of our gear up two steep flights of steps onto the first passenger deck, I was drenched in sweat but relieved to be on the damn boat.

We pulled out of the harbor about five minutes late and I looked around to see if the man who was in front of me in the screwed over passenger line had made it, but I found no sign of him. Perhaps everyone in line had somehow secured tickets and made it on board but I doubt it.

As Americans, we carry a lot of baggage when we travel outside the country. I try to be cognizant of the fact that some of the people I encounter will formulate an opinion about my country based on how I act. There are times when you have to swallow your anger and just deal with situations as they unfold, even if it’s to your detriment.

And then there are times when you have to be assertive and follow the rules of the jungle. Perhaps I should have waited stoically and hoped for the best, but if I’d followed that course and had missed the boat, my inner-gringo would have released even more negative vibes on everyone in my vicinity.

What would you have done?

[Photo credits: Dave Seminara]

An Unforgettable Coffee Tour At Finca Rosa Blanca In Costa Rica

finca rosa blanca coffee tourCoffee! It’s the most addictive drug in the world. Many of us could barely function without it, but have you ever toured a coffee plantation? I hadn’t until I stumbled upon a coffee plantation and inn called Finca Rosa Blanca near San Jose last week. We were set to arrive in Costa Rica just before nightfall and the idea of immediately heading south to our first stop, Manuel Antonio National Park, in the dark didn’t seem enticing.

Finca Rosa Blanca (FRB) is only about 25 minutes from the San Jose airport and they offer coffee tours twice daily, so it’s an ideal place to start or end a trip to Costa Rica depending on your itinerary. Glenn and Terry, the American owners of FRB, moved to the country in 1985. Glenn’s mom purchased the land where the inn sits intending to build a vacation home, but she died and Glenn decided to open an inn on the land she purchased. Twelve years later, they bought some adjacent land that had been part of a commercial coffee estate with the intention of expanding their business to produce organic, shade grown estate coffee.


finca rosa blancaThe inn is set in a lush, tropical forest in hilly Heredia. At night, the temperature dips and there is no need for air conditioning. We slept with the windows open and woke to the sounds of chirping birds, a delightful novelty for city dwellers. After a delicious breakfast, we met Leo Vergnani, our coffee guide, along with three other visitors who’d be joining us on the 2-1/2 hour tour. ($35 per person, kids are free) Our group included two Leos, two Nicks, and two Jens, plus me and my son, James.




As we walked across the street from the inn toward the coffee plantation, Leo told me that he was born near Venice, Italy, and his father, an engineer, moved the family to Costa Rica in 1978, after he was offered a two-year contract to work in San Jose.

“But we liked it here, so we decided to stay,” he said, before pausing and adding the phrase, muy bien.




In the roasting room, Leo gave us a primer on worldwide coffee production. There are 103 coffee species, and about 6,000 varietals, but only three species have commercial value: liberica, which makes up about 5% of the world supply of coffee, robusta, (23%), and Arabica, ( 72%).

coffee beansNicholas, a Frenchman who was on the tour to learn more about coffee for his job at a New York restaurant, made a joke about robusta coffee but Leo quickly corrected him.

“We never say robusta is terrible coffee,” he said. “It’s just a different species.”

Leo said that Norwegians drink the most coffee, while Brazil produces the most, at about 53% of the world’s supply. Vietnam is #2 in production at about 17%, though they only produce robusta, which was illegal to produce in Costa until 1978. Costa Rica produces only about 1.5% of the world’s supply of coffee.

finca rosa blanca coffee tour“We used to be thought of as a banana republic and a coffee country,” he said. “But these days tourism is by far our most important industry, followed by high-tech and coffee is considerably further down the list.”

Leo told us a little bit about the lengthy process of becoming a certified organic producer and about how some corner-cutting producers add all kinds of nasty things to their coffee.

“Producers used to mix in arsenic but it was killing their customers,” he said. “Some used blood, iodine, and other things and then in 1894, they started using sugar.”

Nick, a thirty-something New Jersey native, told the group that his employer was conducting research on the dangers of sugar and scared the hell out of us all when he said, “The coffee you drink from Dunkin’ Donuts could kill you.”




coffee beans“When you go to the store, the labels on the coffee usually don’t tell you anything useful,” Leo explained. “You want to know what region the coffee is from, the altitude of that place and lots of other things. You need to buy from reputable specialty stores and ask questions.”

He said that it took FBR 7 years to become certified as an organic producer and complained that the cost of the process unfortunately has to be passed onto consumers.

“Basically, the industry made such a huge mess, using sugars and all these things that today we have to pay more just to go back in time to produce coffee the way our grandparents did 60 years ago,” he said.

banana treeWe trekked through the lush, tropical plantation, with Leo stopping to show us things, like how banana trees were essentially living “irrigation systems” (see photo) and offer insights, usually punctuating each sentence with the phrase, muy bien.

It was a perfect morning. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, the temperature was about 75, the birds were singing, and there was a light breeze sweeping through the green terrain of banana plants and trees. I couldn’t have been happier.

Leo told us that in 2012 FRB produced 148 100-pound sacks of coffee, 80% of which was sold or consumed at the inn. FBR had just concluded its harvest in mid-January but there were still some beans left on the trees unpicked. Leo said that a typical workday for the coffee pickers was 6 a.m. – 2 p.m. They are paid based on productivity and good pickers make about $25-30 per day. Unroasted coffee sells for about $1.28 a pound on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

“Once roasted, we get about $16 a pound for our coffee, retail, or about $6-7 a pound wholesale,” Leo said, before noting that about 7-8% of what they produce goes to the U.S. and Canada through an importer called Café Milagro.

coffee tour finca rosa blancaAfter our walking tour, we returned to the inn’s restaurant for a coffee tasting. Leo put a big scoop of cheap coffee from a producer that uses sugar in a glass of ice water and then put a scoop of FRB coffee in a second glass.

“You see,” he said. “The sugary coffee turns the whole glass of water a murky brown, but our coffee, it sights right on top of the water.”

So there’s a litmus test for you to find out how good your coffee is.




“Coffee tasters have no manners,” Leo said before giving us two FBR varietals to try. “I want you to put your nose to the drink, then moved it along the whole cup to breath in the aroma. Then I want you to slurp as fast and as noisy as you can. Pay attention to the tip of your tongue.”

My little boys, ages 3 and 5, loved Leo’s noisy slurping and then when he spit his coffee, they were truly thrilled (see video above). Leo gave us an introduction on how to taste for sweetness, acidity and bitterness and as the tour drew to a conclusion, there was only one more thing I wanted: more of their damn good coffee.

[Photo/video credits: Dave Seminara]