Monday, May 23, 2016

Costa Rica - Nano's Waterfall in Orosi


When we set out that morning, we were following instructions that said a visit to Nano's Waterfall would take about 30 minutes. Little did we know, we were headed towards a day of stories and jokes that would become one of our most cherished experiences of the trip.

Photo credit to Jessy!
Our guest house said that you could follow their directions up a hidden road until you hit Nano's property. From there, you were to call his name and he would find you and give you a tour for about $5. That was sort of how it went for us, but it was WAY better than that.

The walk up to his land took us straight up the mountain and required lots of oohing, aahing and stopping for photos along the way. We hit the 30 minute mark and were not even halfway to his place yet!



A bit steep, eh?




And then we found a sign that confirmed we had follow the right branches of the mountain path/road. We yelled hello, but no Nano appeared. We found his house and his inventive outdoor kitchen, but still no Nano.


We found his cute kitten, but no Nano.


Eventually, after backtracking towards some voices we heard, we found a French documentary film crew (totally normal, right!?) who were also searching for Nano.


Luckily one of the crew members had been to Nano's before and had an idea of where Nano might be. Yep! We found him weeding his banana plants with a machete. With his machete and his bandana, he looked a little like a Costa Rican pirate!


We figured out within about 5 seconds that we were in a for a treat. Nano doesn't speak a lot of English but he is able to speak plainly enough and with enough pantomiming that he can be understood even if you don't know exactly what he is saying. He quickly abandoned his farming work to assume the role of hilarious tour guide. Here he is playing the "she loves me, she loves me not" game with a banana flower. Apparently. the juice from the flower stains your clothes, which is why his shirt has dark marks all over it.


After a bit of touring of his farm land (coffee, bananas, plantains, kitchen garden), we made our way down to the waterfall area. Nano kindly held the rock wall up for us.


We spotted fossils in the stone near the waterfall.


We knew ahead of time that the waterfall wasn't one with a pool big enough to swim in so we didn't wear our swimming suits. At Nano's playful urging and with a promise of cool, clean, refreshing water on a hot, hot day, we took our shoes off and headed in. We got soaked from head to toes in our clothes and didn't regret it for a second.
 
Photo credit to Nano!
A few more pictures on my sister Jessy's instagram: here, here and here. You can read my sister's take on the experience in that last link.

After we finished playing in the waterfall, we made our way back up to Nano's house. I think we were fortunate to get a lot of information on the coffee industry as well as the challenges and economics of being a coffee farmer thanks to the presence of the film crew. If you can read French (or use google translate), you can read all about their plans for the finished film here.


Nano explained to us how the coffee varies quite a bit depending on what level of coffee you are buying. The low end coffee is packaged with sugar to make it palatable. The high end coffee is exported. The middle quality is what you drink if you have money.


While we learned about selling coffee beans, Jessy bonded with Nano's cat.



While hanging out at Nano's house, which is completely off the grid, we were treated to coffee and fried plantains that he made on his cast iron, wood heated stove. Rum was an optional addition to the coffee because it makes the cheap coffee taste good.



Photo credit goes to one of the French filmmakers
It was about this time that we realized we had been out for most of the day and were getting pretty hungry. Nano walked us out across his property to connect us with a different route down the mountain.


We were so glad to head out this way because we got to see a whole slew of new and interesting things, like this non-native Rainbow Eucalyptus tree that Nano planted.



Nano also plucked a coffee berry off of a plant and showed us that each berry has 2 seeds (beans) in it.



Nano's comedic flair held true from the moment we met him that day to the moment we said goodbye. After thanking him a million times for the amazing host he had been, we parted ways only for him to call back down to us a minute later. He yelled down to me that if I ever get divorced, he'll be up on his mountain waiting for me!


The way he sent us down the mountain provided us with a whole new set of panoramic views, overlooking the town of Orosi and the larger Orosi Valley. I never did figure out exactly which peaks were regular mountains and which ones were volcanoes, but they were all beautiful!


We had gorgeous rows of coffee plants accompanying us on either side of the road for a while and spotted some neat plants and bugs, like this bright one that was more than an inch long.


And, in case the magic feeling of the day had not yet fully made its presence known, our final bit of journey down the mountain included a pasture full of curious horses looking down on us. White ones. Like a freaking fairy tale.


It has been about 2 months since I got back from this trip, which is long enough that the memory of the terrible illness that befell me on the way home and persisted for a week has faded away (nothing to do with the country, but likely related to repeated encounters with a group of sick German tourists). The photos and stories I have shared here are the memories I hold on to from this trip as well as the memories of time spent getting to know my sister better. I'm not sure where I might travel next, but I do know how lucky I am to have the option to dream up a trip and work to make it happen. Thanks for sharing in the reliving of this journey with me!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Costa Rica - Orosi Valley


After we bid farewell to the lovely coastal town of Puerto Viejo, we began the many-legged journey to the Orosi Valley. Our journey included a long van ride through many switchbacks, a stop for a meal at a roadside restaurant, a visit to San Jose and 2 public buses.


The Orosi Valley is an agricultural area nestled between 3 large volcanoes. The view below was from the window of our room at the MontaƱa Linda Guesthouse.


Our room also came with a very friendly feline visitor. I think Jessy and I were both starting to miss our pets so snuggles with this sweet kitty were a nice bonus.


And, beautiful sunrises!


The town was very small and off the beaten path. There weren't a lot of attractions but it was fun to wander around the town and create a few good memories during this part of the trip.

How beautiful is this collection of plants that was planted outside of someone's house! I recognize so many of these as common house plants in the US. We couldn't grow any of these outside!


This little pup was just daring someone to drive down his road.





Orosi Church is the oldest church in the country that is still in use today. It also provides a welcome respite from the intense midday sun.






At this point in the trip, Jessy and I were both feeling a bit under the weather, so the mellow pace of this town and the beautiful scenery in all directions suited us quite well. Although, we might have been a little homesick for the peaceful solitude of our rainforest abode from Puerto Viejo. This small town came with a whole different soundtrack, including some bumping music, produce vendors that function a little like ice cream trucks and barking dogs.



The best part of Orosi deserved a post of its own, so I have one more post to go before the trip is complete!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Costa Rica - Caribeans Chocolate Tour


On our last day in Puerto Viejo, I had to choose between spending more time at the ocean or experiencing a chocolate tour. It was a hard choice, but I am sure I made the right one. It was a pretty special experience to visit such a small scale operation, where I could see the process from the flower buds on the cacao trees to the chocolate bars just out of the mold and everything in between!


The tour started with a hike through a cacao forest that is being painstakingly restored after a fungus took its toll on the trees and their crop on this farm and many others across the country.


We learned that cacao tree leaves are "nature's plastic wrap". If you are caught in the rain near a cacao tree, you can grab a leaf and wrap up your valuables to keep them dry! You can scrunch it up and release it and it doesn't break.


This is what raw cacao looks like. I got to eat a bunch of them. The white jelly around the bean is really sweet and fruity.


After the cacao pods are split open, the beans are wrapped up in banana leaves and left in open air bins to ferment.




After the beans have fermented, they are spread out to dry in a greenhouse structure.


At this point in the tour, we took a break for a chocolate tasting at a magnificent overlook on the Caribeans property.


In addition to growing cacao on site and turning it into chocolate, Caribeans also buys beans from local farmers. The economic model they employ is one that values quality and pays a premium for it. Their mission statement involves paying living wages to local farmers who practice sustainable ecological farming practices and deliver high quality product. Amen to that!

One of the ways this company is creating a specialty product is by making single source chocolates. The recipes and process are all the same, yet the resulting chocolate varies greatly depending on whose beans they use. We tasted 4 chocolates that were linked to the farmer and the farm's location. Making chocolate from one farmer's crop allows the grower to taste what they grew. Creating this connection closes the circle (most farmers sell to co-ops and never taste the chocolate made with their beans) and increases pride in the quality of their crop.


After we tasted each chocolate as it was, we played around with flavors, mixing and matching herbs and spices with chocolate. It turns out that dark chocolate and raw garlic taste great together!


For the final leg of the tour, we saw the open-air factory where the beans are roasted, ground, sorted and then turned into chocolate bars. Since they are such a small scale operation, they've created some interesting, low cost ways of grinding and separating the cacao from the shells. It doesn't translate well to photo so you'll just have to trust me that these are some clever folks.


And, of course, we were encouraged to share the love by getting some bars and taking them home. I happily obliged!


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