Pura Vida! Part 3

Some of you might remember that a while back I was using my usual Inspiration Saturday post time to recap my honeymoon in Costa Rica. Since I  just read an article about how elderly people’s biggest regret is not traveling more, especially when young, I’m feeling nostalgic. Plus, the trip was over 6 months ago, so I should finish re-capping it before I forget! (To refresh, you can view Part 1 and Part 2 of our trip by following the links. Hover over the photos below to read captions and you can click on them to enlarge, if you’d like.)

So we’ll begin again during our time in Cahuita, a small town on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. We spent a sunny day hiking through Cahuita National Park and enjoying the beach, which I spoke about last time. We saw so much wildlife, it was incredible. You didn’t even need to go with a guide to see a decent variety of animals. I’m sure we would’ve noticed more if we had hired a guide, but my main objective was to see some monkeys, and oh boy, did we.

I’m pretty sure I could watch capuchin monkeys cavorting through branches all the live-long day. They are pretty incredible, so nimble and quick-fingered, and seeing them out and about is so different than seeing them behind a fence or glass at the zoo. For reals. Howler monkeys, on the other hand, are quite intimidating. We came across a few that were having some sort of turf war and the sounds they made were just… impossible to describe. They made my reptile brain go “Quick! Run! They don’t want us here! Retreat! Retreat!”, I kid you not. I am not generally afraid of animals, and I knew they were howling at each other and probably hadn’t even noticed us, but every nerve in my body wanted to run. Let’s just say, those suckers are aptly named. This video gives you a little taste, but it really doesn’t compare to standing underneath a troop of these guys.

Our last structured outing of our time in Cahuita was to a cacao plantation, Cacao Trails (I think… the web description is a bit different than what we experienced). At first, it was kind of miserable: just the guide and the Fiasco and me, sludging through mud (so much mud) surrounded by mosquitos. However, our guide was fascinating, and taught us a ton about cacao farming and its history. He was of Afro-Caribbean descent, mixed with a few of the native tribes of the area, spoke several ancient languages and had a wealth of knowledge to share about the region’s tribal history, in addition to chocolate-making. Costa Rican plantations use a higher quality variety (vs. quantity) of Theobroma cacao, which flowers continuously throughout the year so each tree will have fruits in different stages of ripeness. Fruits are large and football-shaped, and seem like something out of an alien movie when cracked open. The seeds (or nuts) are covered with a white, sweet, mucus-like coating, that people (and animals) like to suck on, then spit out, spreading cacao. Growing and harvesting cacao is remarkably similar to coffee: the fruits are hand-picked, the seeds/nuts are fermented for several days (which removes the sticky coating) and then dried in the sun for a few weeks, which involves constant stirring. To make chocolate, the nuts are roasted, then ground. We made chocolate using a semi-traditional method in which the ground nuts were mixed with cane sugar, evaporated milk, powdered milk, and water and kneaded by hand until it formed a kind of dough that was sliced into pieces and then wrapped in banana leaves. Kneading it was crazy, so much oil came out as the nuts themselves are comprised of 50% cocoa butter. Apparently, in commercial chocolate all the cocoa butter is actually removed for use in cosmetics, and then palm oil is added back in to provide the fat for chocolate bars (which is worse for both our health and the environment, as palm farming is quite damaging and the fat is less healthy than cocoa butter). And, in case you were wondering, white chocolate does not contain any cacao at all, but is made of cocoa butter mixed with sugar and milk. Our guide rubbed the liquified cocoa butter all over his skin, as he said it was a natural mosquito repellent. Being in no position to argue, we did the same since at the very least we’d have ridiculously soft skin (cocoa butter is a key ingredient in my Sweet Sheep lotion bars) and we’d smell delicious to boot. As you can see, I could go on and on about what I learned on this 2 hour tour, it was really fascinating.

The rest of our time in Cahuita was spent riding the most rickety bicycles I’d ever seen (no photographic evidence, thankfully), eating delicious food (the Fiasco had some jerk chicken that made him sweat bullets), drinking yummy drinks, and walking the beach with the friendly neighborhood stray whom we dubbed Sweatheart. The final leg of our trip was the complete opposite of our laid-back, small-town experience in Cahuita: we stayed at a super-touristy but super-luxurious resort back in the mountainous region in the middle of the country. I’m really glad we had this more ‘authentic’ experience on the Caribbean coast, since even the tourist attractions were low-key and run by local people and in truth, I think we shared some of our favorite moments during this portion of the trip. But we wanted to end our honeymoon with a once-in-a-lifetime extravagant experience… and we certainly did, but that’s for next time.