From Puerto Viejo we took the same bus back to San Jose (this time only 5 hours, though!) and stopped to pick up our rental car. Wanting to see as much of the country as possible over the next two months, we figured having a car would provide greater flexibility, and also less long, hot, mask-wearing bus rides. And so we hopped in our little Chica Blanca, a white Toyota Yaris, and headed towards the mountainous region in the north central part of the country. Driving was a bit stressful at first, but once we got out of San Jose and the number of motorcycles and dirt bikes swerving through traffic died down, it wasn’t too bad.
We booked an Airbnb for a few nights in San Ramon, a couple hours outside of downtown San Jose. This stop was mostly to break up the long drive to Monteverde, but also to explore a small town called Sarchi. In hindsight, this was a fantastic decision. Sarchi is known as the artisan epicenter of Costa Rica where you can find a wide variety of hand made art and functional woodworking crafts ranging from kitchen tools to ox carts.
The gem of our trip here, however, was visiting Fabrics De Carreras Eloy Alfaro, an old woodworking factory know for producing all sorts of wooden items ranging from souvenirs to ox carts. As we entered the property the old workshop is the first area to explore, housing dozens of early 20th century woodworking machines.
Both Emily and I immediately began to nerd out, looking at all of the equipment and imagining how this used to all run on the water wheel located just at the back of the factory. Water was running near the wheel, but a bypass was in use and the wheel sat dormant. As we walked the aisles of the equipment, we were greeted by one of the artisans who asked if we wanted to see the water wheel in action. We of course accepted.
The shop is actually still in use it turns out, as we discovered some artisans on the second level of the shop taking their break. They were in the process of finishing some ornamental cart wheels which are made up of numerous triangular shaped pieces of woods of varying species. It must have been obvious just how amazed both Emily and I were at their skill and craftsmanship, as the eldest of the three approached us and handed us a smaller version of a decorative wheel, adding “to remember Costa Rica, to remember Sarchi”. He pointed to the numerous different colors and named each species of wood (Purple Heart and Cedar among them). It’s fantastic.
Leaving with this fantastic gift from the woodworking portion of the shop, we went back downstairs and over to the other side of the courtyard where we met another artisan, this time painting various larger items. We spent some time discussing our trip with him and also learning about his history. He told us he’d been painting here for 15 years. The passion with which these people operate really is inspiring, and their work is incredible.
After a quick run through the souvenir shop (which was nice but doesn’t hold a candle to the real thing just outside in the courtyard) we headed home for our last night before leaving the next day to continue to Monteverde. Our last stop in the Central Valley included the first real test for our little sedan en route to a secluded waterfall and swimming hole.
A short drive later brought us to our destination which happened to be on someone’s private property. We paid the entry fee to the family’s young son (quite the early age entrepreneur there) who provided us with directions on how to get to the waterfall and proceeded to start down a sketchy gravel path (do 2-3” rocks qualify as “gravel”?). A km or so later of very slow downhill travel and we were there. As we got to the bottom of the dozen or so flights of stairs we saw a few other groups of people lounging and enjoying the sun at the mouth of the waterfall.
Our only mistake here was not bringing snacks and beer. We spent a few hours relaxing in the shallow pool and got just a little sunburned before making our way back up the steps to the car. From here, we hopped in Chica Blanca, made it successfully back up the gravel road, and continued our drive up into the mountains to Monteverde for our next stop.