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.

WIPWed #70: Schemes and Plans

I’m going to formally declare something that you may have already picked up on by my lack of speaking about it: I’m not knitting any Christmas gifts this year. *gasp!* *Shock and awe!* I know. I always knit gifts, many gifts, usually almost a dozen (or at least it feels like it) small knit gifts for everyone in my family. But I’ve decided to sit this year out because time has just gone too. dang. fast.

I finished last year’s final holiday gift in February. In March, I hurt my wrist and was unable to knit much until May. May – July, I was mostly consumed with wedding knitting and wedding-related tasks. I’ve only completed six non-wedding projects (SIX!) since finishing holiday knitting from last time… one cowl, one pair of socks, and four hats. Because of that dismal finishing rate, I just don’t have it in me to jump into a bunch more gift knitting right now. I’ve got about a zillion shawls and socks on the go that I’d like to actually wear sometime soon thankyouverymuch. And then there are the sweaters I’d like to knit myself, too. Thus, I’m declaring the holiday season of 2014 a bust, and making the knitting all about me me me.

I like a little structure to my knitting, though, so I’ll be coming up with a concrete plan of attack in the next few weeks. For now, I’m just grabbing the nearest UFO (unfinished object) and picking away at it until I can call it done. This week’s victim choice, was my Sweet Codex Shawl.

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SG Codex, colorway Lioness of Brittany

I’ve just finished the first skein and have moved on to the second, so I’m a bit more than halfway done with this shawl (which involves a significant fringe). While the yarn and pattern are lovely, it’s a little monotonous to work. This is definitely a ‘product knitting’ project for me, since I know I will wear the hell out of the finished piece but I am not particularly in love with the process right now.

It made good plane knitting, though, on my trip over the weekend. I flew out to California for a lovely wedding where I got to hang out with a bunch of my college friends in the woods for a few days. It was pretty great and I can officially say that I’ve seen and hugged a redwood. (Hover over the photos in the gallery below to see their caption and click to enbiggen.)

I hope you’ve had a lovely weekend/week as well! What have you decided to do about the holidays? Are you knitting lots of gifts, some gifts, or no gifts?

Pura Vida! Part 2

When I last spoke about my Costa Rican honeymoon, we were preparing to leave Alajuela (in the Central Valley) and travel 4-5 hours to Cahuita, a quiet little town on the Caribbean coast. Like last time, I’ve created photo galleries so that if you hover over a picture its caption should pop up, and if you click on a picture it will take you to a large-sized version of the photo. Onwards!

Our entire first day consisted of travel, more or less. It was fascinating to watch the landscape change from mountainous and crowded to more pastoral and full of pineapple, palm, and banana plantations. We stopped at the Del Monte processing facility on our way. The workday was over so there wasn’t too much to see, but it was interesting anyway. When we finally arrived at Coral Hill Bungalows, we were thrilled. The owners were incredibly friendly and helpful, the bungalow itself was gorgeous, and it had a lovely front porch. And the fresh fruit and pastry breakfasts were delightful, I had the best croissants of my life there. I highly recommend this location if you’re planning to travel to Cahuita! We were happy that the longest stretch of our trip (4 days) was spent there. Just be sure you go to the correct Playa Negra when you’re looking for it, our driver went to the one in Puerto Viejo accidentally at first! Our first full day in Cahuita happened to be the Fiasco’s birthday, so we headed to the bus station to visit a very special place.

You know this is the only part of this post that anyone will care about: SLOTHS! We visited the Sloth Sanctuary because the man wanted to see sloths on his birthday, and see sloths we did. Apparently Buttercup has her own TV show and is kind of a big deal. Part of the tour involved a canoe ride down the river (for which the torrential rain stopped and the sun came out just in time) where we saw an abundance of wildlife: bats, lizards, birds, and of course, some rehabilitated sloths. There are two species of sloths in Costa Rica: the two-fingered sloth and the three-fingered sloth. Surprisingly little is known about their reproductive habits, for one of them we have no idea how long gestation is and cannot tell when a sloth is pregnant until a wee little sloth pops out one day. As a biologist, I find it fascinating how little is still known about basic life history of some species. (Which makes me particularly worried about the rate of extinction, the idea of losing things we have yet to discover or understand is extra horrible.) And then there were baby sloths, which are just about the cutest things ever.

We made friends with a neighborhood dog, whom we dubbed Sweetheart. He accompanied us on our walks every single time we left our bungalow, I don’t know how he found us! On our second day, we decided to make the most of the one truly sunny day of our trip and visit the Cahuita National Park for a short hike and a swim. This park is an absolute must-visit. The beginning of the trail is easy to hike, mostly a wide, flat sandy stretch. There is wildlife everywhere (more on that later) and easy access to long  stretches of unoccupied beaches. At a couple points along the trail you need to wade through a shallow river, and eventually we had to stop hiking because the trails were essentially 4″ deep in mud (yay, rainy season) and one of us had a little hissy fit about that (not naming names). But it all worked out for the best, since we spent an enjoyable afternoon rolling around in the bathwater-warm waves. As a native Long Islander, the concept of warm water at the beach is completely foreign to me! It was beautiful, though. Leafcutter ants, by the by, are some of the coolest insects ever. They actually practice agriculture! They cut leaves, carry them back to their nests, and use them as a culture to grow a very specific type of fungus that they eat for food. Seriously guys, biology is fascinating.

That’s all I have time for today, but I’ll finish summing up our time in Cahuita in the next post! What’s the coolest thing you’ve seen or learned about in nature? Has anything else been inspiring you lately? Share with us!

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Exactly Like That

You know when people say something “feels like being hit by a truck?” Well, that’s exactly how our post-honeymoon life has felt, especially since we were literally hit by a moving truck our first morning back in Rhode Island. Not fun, guys. Thankfully we were moving slowly and nobody was hurt but filing police reports and dealing with insurance claims is not a particularly pleasant way to transition back into ‘real life’.

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The Fiasco inspecting the (hopefully) minor damage.

Blargghhh. In other news, our Costa Rican honeymoon was fabulous. It was truly incredible. Neither of us had ever been on an international trip before so it was extra exciting, full of adventure, and a real learning experience. Maybe that’s not what most people want for their honeymoon (relaxing, sunny, and decadent comes more often to mind) but it was perfect for us.

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View of the Central Valley.

There were lovely mountain views.

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A gorgeous plant.

There was incredible plant life of all shapes, sizes, and forms.

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Typical Costa Rican casada.

There was lots of delicious food.

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Adorable snuggly sloth.

There was an abundance of amazing wildlife.

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A glimpse of the Caribbean Sea.

And there was just a bit of sunny splashing in the Caribbean Sea (it was the rainy season, so sunny days were unfortunately rare).

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Honeymoon selfie!

The morning we were leaving I cried, I just didn’t want to go. The country is beautiful, the people were so friendly, and each day brought something new and wonderful into our lives. Now that I’m home, I’m trying not to be overwhelmed by all the little stressors that seem to be piling up around us. I’m trying to get back into the groove of things, to appreciate how much our cats missed us (lots of kitty snuggles), to prepare for upcoming Sweet Sheep shows, to take stock and prioritize, and to figure out how to best relate our adventures. I think I’ll replace my typical Inspiration Saturday posts for the next few weeks with posts about each of the three parts of our trip, to spread things out a bit and more quickly resume normal knitting and spinning-related blogging in the meantime. How does that sound?

I hope you all have been well! I’ll be playing blog catch-up for a while, but I’m looking forward to getting back in touch with the creative world again. This summer has passed by like a speeding train which means that fall is just around the corner, which always brings with it lots of knitterly goodness, so who wouldn’t be excited about that? I’m doing my best to take things one thing at a time and remember what they say in Costa Rica: pura vida (pure life)!