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The Beauty of Bourbon – Cartagena, Colombia

After nearly eight years on the road we can honestly say that we don’t miss much from home besides friends, family and bourbon– so much so that we made a visit to the Maker’s Mark distillery in Loretto, Kentucky a priority when our Trans-Americas Journey was still in the US.

Makers Mark distillery Loretto KY

Karen contemplated moving into the Maker’s Mark distillery during the early days of our little road trip but they made her leave at 5 pm.

During the guided distillery tour (US$7 per person) we walked through the whole bourbon making process, marveled at the scale of the operation (some of the vats were big enough to swim in, but we refrained), tasted bourbon and even hand-dipped a bottle in the brand’s signature red wax top as a wedding gift for dear friends.

One sip and we re-live good times with good people

And that’s the heart of the matter: For us, bourbon instantly brings us back to fabulous nights out enjoying live music in New York City with our friends all around us and a glass of Maker’s in hand (you know who you are). One sip and we re-live good times with good people.

Sadly, bourbon hasn’t made its way into Latin American liquor stores or bars. You can buy regular whiskey and many other spirits, but we’ve only ever seen bourbon for sale in Panama. We’ve contented ourselves with tequila and mezcal in Mexico and rum in Nicaragua, however, our hankering for bourbon continues.

During a brief visit back to the US to see friends and family we got our fill of bourbon and even got our hands on a bottle of Maker’s 46, which is aged longer than the classic Maker’s Mark that we know and (obviously) love. Instead of cracking it open right away, we packed it up like the precious cargo that it was and brought it back to Colombia where, we said, we’d save it to share with friends.

Maker's 46 Bourbon

The bottle of Maker’s 46 that we brought to bourbon-free Colombia with us mere moments before it was devoured by us and new friends.

Making new friends with Maker’s

We’d been frequenting a bar in Cartagena, Colombia called Demente and the owner, Nicolas, was always up for trying new adult beverages, especially stuff he isn’t able to get in Colombia. When we arrived back in the city we headed straight for Demente and started sipping Maker’s 46 with Nicolas, poured over Demente’s signature handmade ice cubes.

Bourbon-Demente-cartagena

Lovely, lovely bourbon over the handmade ice cubes at Demente in Cartagena, Colombia.

Nicolas was soon hooked and the bottle was soon empty and we’d managed to create an evening that came close to satisfying our hankering for bourbon and for our friends back home. When one of those sorely missed friends made a trip down to Cartagena to meet us she did it with bourbon in her luggage too. The bourbon was different (this time it was Woodford Reserve) but the venue was the same and the three of us headed to Demente to sit and sip with Nicolas again.

The beauty of bourbon

To our delight, Nicolas had some Colombian chef friends with him at the bar including Chef Paula Silva, Leonor Espinosa (she was added to the list of 50 Best Restaurants in Latin America in 2014) and Chef Felipe Arizabaleta of Bruto restaurant in Bogota. It soon became clear that one bottle of bourbon was not going to be enough so Eric returned to our room at Casa Pombo and came back to Demente with our second bottle.

Borbon chefs Demente cartagena

The beauty of bourbon…

Before the night was over both bottles were empty and so was the bar but we’d succeeded in reconnecting with an old friend while making brand new friends and from now on every precious sip of bourbon will bring back memories of that night. That’s the beauty of bourbon.

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Around León – Cerro Negro, Flor de Caña Rum Tour, León Viejo & Casita Volcano, Nicaragua

The best way to justify extending your stay in León, our favorite city in Nicaragua, is to sign up for some of the day trips and activities you can do from the city. One of the most popular options is volcano boarding down Cerro Negro (Black Hill) Volcano but you can also make day trips to take a tour of the Flor de Caña distillery, the mudslide memorial at Casita Volcano and León Viejo, all located around the city of León.

Cerro Negro Leon Nicaragua

As you approach Cerro Negro Volcano you can clearly see why it got that name.

Volcano boarding down Cerro Negro

It should really be called volcano sledding, however, that’s a lot less sexy. Anyway, you huff up a steep trail for about 40 minutes, suit up in day glow coveralls in a vain attempt to keep from getting an involuntary full-body exfoliation, sit your butt down on a piece of wood, grab the “steering” rope at the front then plummet down the black pumice-covered slopes of Cerro Negro Volcano, hopefully wearing a helmet.

Cerro Negro volcano boarding - Nicaragua

An orange-jumpsuited traveler goes volcano boarding down Cerro Negro in Nicaragua while a dude at the bottom clocks his considerable speed using a radar gun.

Cerro Negro is an active volcano and the youngest in Central America. Time has not worn down its slopes and the thing is steep – more than a 40 degree grade in places. The volcano is 2,388 feet (728 m) tall and it take most boarders about a minute to slide, swerve and sometimes wipe out from top to bottom. One woman topped out at 54 miles (87 km) per hour.

In 2002 “high speed specialist” Eric Barone smashed his own world record for fastest downhill speed on a bicycle when he reached 107 mph (172 kmh). Check out the video of his ride to see why that ride as very nearly his last.

We drove out to Cerro Negro but we did not go volcano boarding. However, our friend Matthew over at The Expert Vagabond did and (barely) lived to tell the tale.

Here’s our video of volcano boarders on Cerro Negro.

 

Cerro Negro volcano boarding - Leon Nicaragua

Our trusty truck at Cerro Negro Volcano in Nicaragua. The dust trail on the left of the slope is a volcano boarder. The dust trails on the right of the slope are people running down the access trail to the top, perhaps after chickening out…

Flor de Caña Rum Tour

We also drove about half an hour north of León to check out the tour offered at the Flor de Caña rum distillery in Chichigalpa where we learned why Nicaragua’s years of war and revolution were good for their rum, why you might want to think twice before buying a rum made using the “Solera” method (check your labels people) and how to spot top quality stuff (hint: wash your hands with it).

Tag along in this piece we did about the Flor de Caña tour which we did for TheLatinKitchen.com (the foodie web spin off of Latina magazine).

Flor de Cana Run, Nicaragua

This steam engine, once used to haul sugar cane from field to factory, now greets guest taking the Flor de Caña run tour in Nicaragua.

Flor de Cana Distillery Visitors Center - Chichigalpa, Nicaragua

This bar, gift shop and small museum is part of the tour at the Flor de Caña distillery in Nicaragua. The building’s design was inspired by rum barrels.

Flor de Cana Aged Rum, Nicaragua

Outside the barrel aging room where the rum magic happens.

Rum aging barrels Flor de Cana, Nicaragua

Rum barrels waiting to be filled and filed away for aging.

Mudslide memorial at Casita Volcano

Not eager to dig volcanic pumice out of every nook and cranny for the next three weeks (or worse), we chose to visit the Casita Volcano where, in 1998, Hurricane Mitch dumped 67 inches (1,700 mm) of rain on the area triggering a massive mudslide that killed more than 2,000 people.

Casita Volcano disaster Memorial, Nicaragua

This strange pyramid-like creation is a memorial to the more than 2,000 people who died in a massive mudslide in this area in 1998.

Now there’s a small museum on the site which includes an eerie diorama which shows the path and scope of the massive flow which came barreling down the volcano at 40 miles (65 km) per hour. A local man in the museum told us the slide happened in seconds.

mudslide stretched nearly 10 km

This diorama in the small museum at the site of a deadly mudslide in Nicaragua shows how the six mile (10 km) slide traveled from the rain-swollen crater of Casita Volcano down through hillside villages.

Just a few months after the slide US President Bill Clinton toured the destruction and a plaque in honor of his visit has been placed on a boulder that rolled down the slope.

Prsident Clinton visit to Casita Volcano Memorial, Nicaragua

A plaque commemorating the visit of former US President Bill Clinton to the site of the deadly Casita Volcano mudslide.

Casita and active San Cristobal Volcano Nicaragua

You can still see part of the path of the deadly 1998 mudslide on the slopes of the Casita Volcano (right). That’s San Cristobal Volcano puffing away on the left.

And don’t forget to visit the first León

About 20 miles (32 kms) from modern León lies the site where the Spanish originally settled the city in 1524. Now called León Viejo (Old León), earthquakes forced inhabitants to abandon the area in 1610. The ruins of the city, which is one of the oldest Spanish settlements in the Americas, were excavated in 1960 and the place was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000.

Leon Viejo Nicaragua dog attacking indigenous sculpture

This grisly statue in León Viejo stands in memory of a brutal attack that happened there in 1528 during which the Spanish government used dogs to kill 12 Indian hostages.

Leon Viejo Ruins World Heritage site Nicaragua

Some of the excavated ruins of León Viejo.

Cathedral Leon Viejo Ruins Nicaragua

Excavated areas inside what was the Cathedral of León Viejo.

Mombacho volcano Nicaragua

León Viejo was founded at the foot of Momotombo Volcano.

 

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From Volcano to Vase: The Long Journey of Your Valentine’s Day Roses – Ecuador

Valentine’s Day approaches, bringing with it the requisite red and pink overload, heart-shaped silliness and sudden craving for roses (do NOT believe anyone who assures you that they don’t want a dozen right about now). Colombia is the biggest exporter of cut flowers to the US but Ecuador isn’t doing too bad either with US$166 million in cut flowers exported to the US in 2012. Many of those flowers are the Valentine’s Day roses you are being mercilessly pressured to buy or receive this February 14.

Here’s what we learned during a behind-the-scenes tour of a major rose producer on Ecuador’s “Avenue of the Volcanoes” sandwiched between three giants: Chimborazo Volcano (20,703 feet/6,310 meters), Cotopaxi Volcano (19,348 feet/5,900 meters) and Tungurahua Volcano (16,480 feet/5,023 meters). Those last two volcanoes, by the way, are currently erupting.

Red Intuition Roses - Nevado Roses, Ecuador

Red Intuition roses at Nevado Roses in Ecuador.

Inside Nevado Roses in Ecuador

On a normal day Nevado Roses ships 75,000 stems. The frantic build up to Valentine’s Day starts 65 days before February 14 during which time staff is tripled, plants are “pinched” to increase output and Nevado Roses ultimately manages to ship three times their usual number of daily blooms to meet demand. That’s 225,000 roses. PER DAY. And Nevado is just one of dozens of rose farms in Ecuador.

Processing Roses - Nevado Roses, Ecuador

Workers on the processing floor of Nevado Roses in Ecuador keep up a frantic pace to stay on top of demand for Valentine’s Day roses, shipping more than 200,000 per day in the lead up to February 14.

Packing Roses - Nevado Roses, Ecuador

It’s mostly female employees that handle the final processing and packing of blooms at Nevado Roses because they’re more gentle than their male counterparts.

These specially-bred roses grown at Nevado come in white, red, yellow,hot pink, pale pink, almost green and combinations thereof and have names like Gigi, Red Intuition, Fragrant Delicious and Pink Intuition. Then there is the small room where white roses have their stems spliced and placed into tiny pots of dye to produce a weird, fakey technicolor “tinted” rose that’s not our cup of tea, but whatev.

Tinted Roses - Nevado Roses, Ecuador

Okay, “tinted roses” are not our cup of tea but there is a market for these white roses which are placed in small pots of dye to create results like these.

Roses - Nevado Roses, Ecuador

Just four of the many varieties of roses grown at Nevado Roses in Ecuador.

Nevado Roses greenhouses in the sky

Nevado Roses, which has been family owned since it was created in 1965, produces blooms on more than 170 acres (70 hectares) which is covered in long greenhouses which protect and nurture thousands of rose bushes.

Rose greenhouse - Nevado Roses, Ecuador

There are more than 70 massive, rose-filled greenhouses like this on the Nevado Roses farm in Ecuador.

Nevado means snow and there’s plenty of that in view from the farm (on a clear day) as you look up to the flanks of the Chimborazo volcano behind the massive sprawl of greenhouses. The snowy peak of the volcano is at 20,703 feet (6,310 meters) and the roses themselves are grown at more than 9,042 feet (2,756 meters) above sea level.

That may seem way too high for growing roses but the Nevado operation is also very, very close to the equator where temperatures stay warm enough for growth (especially inside the greenhouses). The equatorial location has other benefits as well.

Fragrant Delicious Roses - Nevado Roses, Ecuador

This rose variety is called Fragrant Delicious.

5,000+ roses on a cart - Nevado Roses, Ecuador

A load of 5,000 roses on their way to the United States.

Exquisite roses on the equator

The sun in Ecuador is strong, constant for basically 12 hours a day and comes down in super straight rays nearly perpendicular to the earth. Solar panels, which are angled to catch slanted rays in most of the world, lie practically flat down here around the equator.

These unique sun conditions are said to produce more vibrant color, a larger flower head and some of the longest, straightest stems in the world, some reaching more than 40 inches (100 cm).

Six foot tall rose stem - Nevado Roses, Ecuador

The equatorial sun is said to produce some of the longest rose stems in the world. At Nevado Roses stems are sometimes taller than you are.

Size matters

Average Nevado Roses stem lengthy is 15 inches (40 cm), but some buyers like them longer. The Russians, for example, are big buyers of Ecuadorian roses and they like their stems super tall, preferring stems that are 35 inches (89 cm) or longer. Yes, that’s a nearly three foot (one meter) long stem.

Measuring rose stem length - Nevado Roses, Ecuador

Workers at Nevado Roses in Ecuador sort roses by stem length which ranges from 15 inches to more than three feet.

Calssifying roses - Nevado Roses, Ecuador

Workers at Nevado Roses in Ecuador sort roses by stem length which ranges from 15 inches to more than three feet.

Stop and smell the controversy

Roses are not immune to politics. Since August of 2013 Ecuador pays nearly 7% duty on the roses it sends to the US after the current government of Ecuador backed out of a duty-free flowers deal with the US in protest over the Edward Snowden affair (Ecuador was one of the nations that offered Snowden asylum).

There are additional rose controversies too, mainly to do with chemical use and worker conditions as nicely laid out in this article about Ecuadorian rose production in Mother Jones magazine. At Nevado Roses they’re proud of their certifications from environmental orgs including the Rainforest Alliance and since 2006 workers at Nevado have had a medical facility on the farm offering free treatment.

For more reasons to think twice before ordering that bouquet, check out our post about the complicated environmental and border issues associated with the xate ferns that are often used as filler behind the flowers.

Processing Roses - Nevado Roses, Ecuador

Valentine’s Day means demand for blooms from Nevado Roses triples from 75,000 stems a day to more than 200,000.

Pushing roses - Nevado Roses, Ecuador

A worker pushes a heavy load of romance at Nevado Roses in Ecuador.

Packing Roses - Nevado Roses, Ecuador

It’s all hands on deck at Nevado Roses to meet Valentine’s Day demand for their blooms.

How to make your roses last

Though Nevado Roses sells their roses for about 50 cents per stem on the wholesale market you, no doubt, will pay much, much, much more. Here’s what Nevado Roses experts told us about how to make your roses last.

1. cut the stems neatly at a steep angle

2. put them in cold, clear, clean water and change the water frequently

3. add flower food – dumping that mystery packet that comes with many bouquets or can be purchased (cheaply) into the vase before adding water may add 5-6 days of life to your flowers

Pink Roses - Nevado Roses, Ecuador

Lavender roses after being sorted by stem length.

Red Roses - Nevado Roses, Ecuador

Almost ready to ship.

Colored Roses - Nevado Roses, Ecuador

What’s your favorite rose color?

So, what flowers to Ecuadorian women want?

Not roses. A female Nevado Roses employee, one of more than 500 full-time employees on the farm, told me that in Ecuador women crave sunflowers and orchids, not roses.

Nevado Roses, Ecuador

We visted Nevado Roses during a day excursion that was part of our trip on Ecuador’s new  Tren Crucero four day/three night trip through the country. Individual visitors can pre-arrange a guided tour of Nevado Roses.

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Not Your Grandpa’s Cigars: Drew Estate Factory Tour – Estelí, Nicaragua

Forget what you think you know about cigars. Drew Estate Cigar Co. is redefining the art of cigar making and marketing, as we found out when we traveled to the town of Estelí and took the hippest cigar factory tour in Nicaragua (and maybe the world) full of cool art, irreverent names and inventive, modern cigars for a new breed of aficionados.

Mural Drew Estate Cigar Co. - Esteli, Nicaragua

This 50 foot (15 meter) tall mural is just one of the many pieces of cool original art at the Drew Estate Cigar Co. factory in Estelí, Nicaragua.

The rebirth of cigars

That’s the slogan of Drew Estate Cigar Co. and the personal goal of its co-founder Johnathan Drew, a 43-year-old guy from New York City who was selling cigars in a tiny kiosk in the World Trade Center in downtown Manhattan while dreaming of bigger things.

In 1998 he and his partners started Drew Estate Cigar Co. and began making some of the most unorthodox and successful cigars in the world from a massive factory in Estelí.

Blunts Mural Drew Estate Cigars - Esteli, Nicaragua

Cigars in the making at Drew Estate Cigar Co. in Estelí, Nicaragua.

Estelí is well known as a cigar producing region and there are many other cigar factories in town. As in other tobacco and cigar producing regions, Cubans brought tobacco seeds and know how to Nicaragua and the rest is history.

Inside the coolest cigar factory in Nicaragua

We’ve toured cigar factories before, including the Plasencia cigar factory and the Flor de Copán cigar factory, both in Honduras. That’s how we know Drew Estate is really doing something different. While the other cigar factories in Estelí and around the world are busy doing things the old-fashioned way, Drew Estate took a left turn at traditional and decided to go their own way.

Drew Estate Cigar Factory - Esteli, Nicaragua

One of the young workers at the Drew Estate Cigar Co. factory in Estelí, Nicaragua with a tray of finished cigars.

Rock music plays in the massive warehouse and factory facility. The staff is remarkably young. There’s cool art everywhere, a modern riff on traditional cigar box art inspired by tattoos and graffiti.

We spent hours gawking at the range of cigars (they even make square ones), learning about tobacco curing and cigar rolling and probably getting some sort of nicotine contact high in the process.

Drew-Estate-cigars-tobacco-storage

Part of our tour of the Drew Estate Cigar Co. facility in Estelí, Nicaragua included a peak into their massive tobacco warehouse where the best leaves from around the world are carefully stored before being turned into millions of cigars.

It’s not just the music and the art work that makes Drew Estate different. We learned that at Drew Estate they don’t call their cigars puros, as many other regional makers do, since they aren’t made with tobacco from a single source. Instead, Drew Estate blends tobacco from around the world, sort of like how a winemaker would blend grapes from different regions to come up with the desired flavor and aroma.

Also, unlike most other cigar makers, Drew Estate doesn’t rely on a machine to measure the “draw” of each cigar. That’s checked primarily by weight.

The only area we weren’t allowed to see during the Drew Estate factory tour was the on-site graphic art studio, called the Subculture Studio, where staff artists were busy cooking up new top secret marketing materials.

Drew Estate Cigars drying tobacco - Esteli, Nicaragua

Tobacco air-drying at the Drew Estate cigar factory in Estelí, Nicaragua.

Taking the cigar world by storm

Though there were some lean years, today Drew Estate makes millions of dollars and millions of cigars with names like My Uzi Weighs a Ton (an uzi is an official measurement in the world of cigars). And then there’s Acid.

Named for the artist Scott “Acid” Chester (that’s him on the motorcycle in the Acid logo) this is one of Drew Estate’s top sellers. Cigar purists call Acid a “flavored” cigar but Drew prefers the term “infused” since the tobacco used in Acid cigars is steeped in a secret blend of flavors.

Drew Estate’s Liga cigar is not flavored or infused and even the purists love it. It was scored as high as 89 points by Cigar Aficionado magazine.

Drew Estate cigars - Acid, Liga Privada My Uzi Weighs A Ton

A selection of Drew Estate cigars with distinctive names including Acid, Liga Privada and My Uzi Weighs a Ton.

Here are some more of our favorite shots from the Drew Estate Cigar Co. factory in Estelí and don’t miss the aficionados-only info at the end of this post.

Drew Estate Cigars sorting tobacco - Esteli, Nicaragua

Sorting tobacco at the Drew Estate cigar factory in Estelí, Nicaragua.

Drew Estate Cigars rolling room - Esteli, Nicaragua

Unlike other cigar factories we’ve toured, the work rooms at Drew Estate were airy, well-lit and even had rock music piped in.

Rolling cigars Drew Estate Cigar Factory - Esteli, Nicaragua

Rollin’ and smokin’ at the Drew Estate cigar factory in Estelí, Nicaragua.

Cigars rolling Drew Estate  - Esteli, Nicaragua

Many believe that women make the best cigar rollers.

Cigars rolling Drew Estate cigars - Esteli, Nicaragua

This guy could probably do this in his sleep.

Drew Estate Cigars - Esteli, Nicaragua

Almost done…

Drew Estate Cigar Factory - Esteli, Nicaragua

This wooden box helps ensure every cigar is well-packed so it has a good “draw” when you smoke it. Unlike other cigar makers, Drew Estate does not use a machine to measure the draw of each cigar.

Drew Estate Cigars sorting - Esteli, Nicaragua

Finished cigars pass through manual quality control at the Drew Estate cigar factory.

Drew Estate Cigars quality control - Esteli, Nicaragua

More quality control at the Drew Estate cigar factory in Nicaragua.

Drew-Estate-cigars

Finished cigars in all shapes and sizes at the Drew Estate cigar factory in Nicaragua.

Drew Estate Cigar wrapper - Esteli, Nicaragua

Fancy labels and protective packaging are added before Drew Estate cigars are ready to be shipped around the world.

Drew-Estate-cigar-box

Fancy labels and packaging are added before Drew Estate cigars are ready to be shipped around the world.

Drew Estate - Buy More, Smoke More

The unique art of Drew Estate Cigar Co. is created by in-house artists who put a modern twist on traditional cigar box motifs.

Want to really get into the cool, cool world of Drew Estate cigars? Sign up for their four-day Cigar Safari guided tour of parts of Nicaragua and, of course, the factory which includes accommodation in the very hip and plush house next to the factory. There’s a swimming pool, decks with epic views, a poker table, full staff and, of course, all the cigars you can smoke. Just don’t hold your breath: the Drew Estate Cigar Safari is already sold out for 2014.

Estelí Travel Tip

Estelí doesn’t see a lot of tourists and hotel options in town are a bit slim. We were hard pressed to find decent budget accommodation with parking. There’s a budget hostel but they don’t have parking, there’s an over-priced seen-better-days hotel with a parking lot that just felt like a rip off and then there’s Hotel Los Arcos. Rooms start at US$45 but they’re big, clean and include breakfast and there’s a secure parking lot.

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Hot Coffee and Hot Springs – Orosi Valley, Costa Rica

As scenic drives go, the road to the Orosi Valley in Costa Rica is hard to beat. You travel through mountains and past coffee plantations.  You see actual pine trees. Then you reach the Orosi Mirador with epic views down the lush valley including the town of Orosi and the wiggly Reventazon River and Tapatini National Park beyond.

The mirador (or viewpoint) is a great place for picnics or just an excuse to stretch your legs. There are lawns and covered picnic tables complete with sinks and grills. The main draw however, that view, was not to be. The day we stopped at the mirador light drizzle and clouds obscured the valley below.

Orosi Mirador Costa Rica

The Reventazon River, Tapatini National Park and the town of Orosi as seen from the Orosi Mirador in Costa Rica.

A proud ag town

The town of Orosi can’t be more than a dozen square blocks, but almost all of it is clean and tidy in that kind of way that so many proud agricultural towns are. In Orosi stay at Hotel Reventazon where US$30 got us a very basic multi-bed room with a bathroom, parking and WiFi. Honestly, the nearby Montaña Linda was a better option but they didn’t have WiFi and, you know, this travel blog doesn’t create itself.

An unexpected pleasant surprise in Orosi was Cafe Panaderia Suiza. Run by a Swiss woman named Francisca, this petite cafe sold great bread and great coffee made with beans from the area (much more about that in a minute).

Francisca also sold Hexagua which is a strong, clear sugarcane hooch. There was a witch on the label. We weren’t brave enough to try it.

Orosi’s historic church

Costa Rica isn’t exactly bursting with sites of cultural or religious significance but sleepy Orosi is home to one of them. The town’s church, Iglesia de San José de Orosi, is one of the few Colonial structures that has never been destroyed by earthquakes. Built in 1743, it is now the oldest religious structure that’s still in use in Costa Rica and a National Monument as well.

A small religious art museum next to the historic church is home to a small but compelling collection, much of it from Guatemala. When we were in Orosi a big, modern church was being built next door since the historic church was too small to accommodate the whole congregation.

Historic Iglesia de San Jose de Orosi

Built in 1743, the Iglesia de San José de Orosi in Orosi, Costa Rica is the oldest church in the country that’s still in use.

That’s a lot of coffee

The highlight of our time in the Orosi Valley was meeting Ricardo Falla, owner of Chucaras Hotsprings Estates which produces some of that great local coffee we teased you with earlier.

Ricardo Falla owner Chucaras coffee

Ricardo Falla, owner of Chucaras Hotsprings Estates coffee plantations and beneficio in Orosi, Costa Rica.

Ricardo owns nine coffee plantations including 4 million coffee trees, all at an elevation of 3,450 feet (1,050 meters) or higher which means most of his beans qualify as higher quality high-altitude coffee.

Coffee growing Chucaras Estates Costa Rica

High-altitude coffee ripening in the lush Orosi Valley in Costa Rica.

The operation, which the Falla family started back in 1900, now employs 500 people and runs on what Ricardo calls “sustainable” (not organic) principles.

For example, his coffee bean processing facility (called a beneficio in Spanish) reduces energy use because it’s built on a hillside to harness the power of gravity.

Chucaras Sprngs coffee beneficio Orosi, Costa Rica

The Chucaras Hotsprings Estate coffee beneficio uses less energy during the processing of the coffee beans because it’s built on a hill and uses the power of gravity to keep the beans moving through the various stages.

Traditional coffee bean processing uses an outrageous amount of water but Ricardo has implemented water saving measures at his beneficio as well.

Coffee cherries being delivered

Ripe coffee beans, called cherries, being delivered to the Chucaras Hotsprings Estate beneficio in Costa Rica’s Orosi Valley.

Coffee cherries delivered to Chucaras coffee

Ripe coffee beans, called cherries, being delivered to the Chucaras Hotsprings Estate beneficio in Costa Rica’s Orosi Valley.

Coffee Chucaras Hotsprings Estates Costa Rica

Ripe coffee beans, called cherries, begin their journey to your coffee mug at the Chucaras Hotsprings Estate beneficio in Costa Rica’s Orosi Valley.

Coffee depulping Costa Rica

De-pulped coffee beans continue the process of going from plantation to percolator at the Chucaras Hotsprings Estate beneficio in Costa Rica’s Orosi Valley.

Dried coffee Chucaras Orosi Costa Rica

Storage of dried processed coffee beans at the Chucaras Hotsprings Estate beneficio in Costa Rica’s Orosi Valley.

Chucaras Sprngs coffee bag

Burlap sacks like this one are filled with finished coffee beans at the Chucaras Hotsprings Estate beneficio in Costa Rica’s Orosi Valley.

Sleep with George Clooney

Ricardo wowed us even more when he invited us for lunch at his latest project. Last year Ricardo turned a 100-year-old wooden house into a five-room rental. It’s very Martha Stewart but with views of volcanoes through the windows.

Chucaras hotel pool Orosi Costa Rica

This 100 year old home on the Chucaras Hotsprings Estates property is now a fully renovated and super stylish vacation home that sleeps 10, has views of volcanoes and a hot springs fed pool. No wonder George Clooney stayed here.

George Clooney has slept here and you can too–maybe even in the same bed. The nightly rate for the whole house, which sleeps up to 10 people, is US$800 including breakfast which, of course, is served with great coffee ([email protected], +506 8817 5703).

Chucaras hotel Orosi Costa Rica

A welcoming porch at the 100 year old renovated vacation home at Chucaras Hotsprings Estates in Costa Rica.

House guests also get one more awesome amenity: a hot spring fed pool with valley and volcano views as you soak.

Cartago Valley and Irazu Volcano Orosi Costa Rica

Looking down the Orosi Valley in Costa Rica toward the Cartago Valley and the active Irazu Volcano in the distance behind the clouds.

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Putting 450 Horses Under the Hood – Corvette Assembly Plant, Bowling Green, Kentucky

One of the most enduring and iconic cars ever produced in the United States was debuted in 1953 at the awesomely-named General Motors Motorama. It soon became the car of choice for the likes of James Dean and Karen’s dad. This year, the Chevrolet Corvette celebrates it’s 60th anniversary. To mark the occasion Chevrolet just debuted the new 2014 C7 Corvette at the Detroit Auto Show. Our tribute takes you inside the Corvette Assembly Plant and National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky which we visited early in our Trans-Americas Journey to see how they get all those horses under the hood (and much more).

National Corvette Museum - Original 1953 Corvette

General Motors premiered the original Corvette (pictured above) in 1953. Only 300 of them were ever made and they were all white and sold for a base price of $3,498. One of these originals just sold at auction for $445,500.

 

Inside the Corvette Club: don’t forget your “mutilation prevention kit”

We expected the tour to be mired in all kinds of dull safety-first rules and regulations, but apart from the “mutilation prevention kit” that we are handed prior to take off (this turns out to be pieces of fabric that cover your watch, rings, etc and they’re meant to prevent mutilation of the cars, not of you), the tour (US$7) took us shockingly close to the action. Nothing was behind glass, the workers weren’t swathed in hazmat suits, various work stations had radios playing classic rock. It felt like a club full of friends who occasionally get together to build cars when they feel like it.

Corvette factory Bowling Green, KY - body/drive-train assembly

Putting the body on the drive train inside the Corvette factory in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Okay, there are a few rules at the 1 million square foot (10,763,910 square meter) plant where every Corvette has been made since 1981. You have to wear closed toe shoes (NO sandals) and you can’t bring in cameras, backpacks, purses, fanny packs or electronic devices including cell phones, camera phones, or walkie-talkies.

Luckily, Eric was allowed to bring his camera into the plant where we saw (and photographed) everything from neatly stacked rows of exhaust systems to workers checking every inch of paint under special, super-bright lights to the monsoon room where every car is bombarded with water to make sure all the seals are properly sealed to the lady who gets to carefully put the Corvette logo on the hoods.

Corvette factory Bowling Green, KY - engines

A few thousand horses stacked up in engines waiting to be put into brand new Corvettes.

 

Corvette factory Bowling Green, KY - assembly line doors

Doors on the assembly line inside the Corvette factory in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

 

Corvette factory Bowling Green, KY - corvette body assembly

Body assembly workers doing their thing at the Corvette factory in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

 

Corvette factory Bowling Green, KY - corvette assembly line

They may not be strictly hand made anymore but a lot of human touch goes into crafting every Corvette.

Every Corvette is made to order and a surprising amount of the work appears to be done by hand (no robots in sight), which is part of the reason why, we were told, it takes 32 hours to make just one car. For the truly obsessed, Chevrolet has a program that gives new Corvette buyers a VIP tour of the factory during which they get to watch their car in the final stages of being built.

Corvette factory Bowling Green, KY - corvette assembly line

It’s a Corvette Merry-go-Round as finished cars move through the assembly facility.

 

Corvette factory Bowling Green, KY - applying corvette emblem

We wanted her job! This lady puts the Corvette insignia onto finished vehicles.

 

Corvette factory Bowling Green, KY - dynamo testing

A new Corvette being put through its paces during dynamo testing.

 

Corvette factory Bowling Green, KY - quality testing

Bright lights and plenty of mirrors aid in the final inspection of the paint and finish of a Corvette.

 

Corvette factory Bowling Green, KY - new corvettes off the assembly line

New Corvettes waiting for their new owners at the Corvette factory in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

 

Don’t touch the Corvettes

If you’re a true Corvette lover (or happen to be the daughter of one), your next stop needs to be the National Corvette Museum ($10 adults, $8 seniors, $5 under 16) just down the road from the factory. This is where you can see around 70 vintage Corvettes—most of them owned by General Motors. The rest are loaned from private owners or owned by the museum.

Corvettes lined up and showing off in front of the National Corvette Museum

Vintage ‘vettes lined up in front of the National Corvette Museum next to the assembly plant in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

 

Corvettes Only parking in front of the National Corvette Museum

Checkered flag paint marks the Corvettes-Only parking area at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

If you’re really, REALLY lucky you can even pick up your Corvette here as dozens of do each month We settled on a visit to the gift shop where you can pick up less pricey pieces of Corvette-ness like coffee mugs covered in Corvette logos, race car red nail polish, even cookies (and cookie cutters) in the shape of a Corvette.

1959 Corvette - National Corvette Museum, Bowling Green

A 1959 Corvette pulls up to a 1959 gas station in one of the displays inside the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

 

TIP

At the time of writing (January 2013) the Corvette Assembly Plant was temporarily closed as they began production of the 2014 model. Check the plant’s website to see when it will re-open to the public. 

Little Red Corvette in front of the National Corvette Museum

A little red Corvette in front of the National Corvette Museum.

 

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