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Published: November 4th 2017
Majesty with a crown
(3:15 p.m.) In front of me is a perfect view of the Arenal Volcano. I keep taking pictures as the sun and cloud formations change. Ollie told us that there are two volcanic chimneys, and one vents steam, creating the fascinating changing views of the mountain top. My room is about the size of a standard room, but it is a free-standing cabin, as are all the rooms. The balcony facing the Volcano is enticing me to enjoy tea there.
This morning needed a quick start - and I woke late! I heard the alarm from the room next door, and wondered why Judy was getting up so early. Nodding off, some part of my brain wondered why my alarm hadn’t gone off? Not on! Thanks to “Costa Rican time”, there was still the opportunity to eat a full breakfast of scrambled eggs, toast, orange juice, fried plantain and my usual “agua caliente con limon”.
Our morning tour was at Tirimbina Biological Reserve where we learned all about chocolate. Carolina guided us with clear explanations and charming stories. Passing by a cacao tree, she pointed out both a nearly ripe cacao pod, about eight inches long, and the tiny
The frail stem grows strong with the pod.
flowers that bear the pods. Each tree grows only enough pods to make about fifteen chocolate bars annually. Teeny flies pollinate the flowers, which grow on the branches near the trunk or on the trunk itself; the pods hang from tough stems and never drop from the tree. Moss also grows on the tree and must be picked off by hand to let the flowers bloom. This was the first indication of how labour intensive is the production of chocolate.
In an outdoor theatre, Carolina explained the traditional method of using cacao, with Teresa carrying out the preparation. Originally, the indigenous people broke open the pods and sucked the pulp from the seeds. Gradually they developed a way of drying the seeds in a sliding tray that enabled them to take advantage of the sun and yet to move the tray under a cover when it rained. In the rainforest, we were told, the weather is the rainy season or the rainier season. The somewhat dried seeds were pan roasted until they popped (as we saw at the other chocolate shop in Tortuguero). Then they were peeled to get at the roasted meat inside, called chocolate nibs. At each
Traditional cocoa drier
Pull out during sun, push in during rain.
stage we were offered tastes of the product, and at this stage it did taste recognizably as chocolate. Crushed nibs were mixed with sugar and cinnamon (optional spice), and ground into a paste. Teresa melted the resultant “chocolate nuts” in a double-boiler to temper it. To the cooked paste milk was added, yielding an aromatic, deeply flavoured, 70%!c(MISSING)hocolate. This soft mixture was served to us on spoons – heavenly delicious! I savoured several! It could be put into moulds and cooled to make chocolates. We were given samples of previously finished chocolates. Of course, I bought some bars in the store! Watch the video.
Fully caffeinated and happy, we drove a couple of hours through the countryside, noticing plantations, smaller and larger houses in yards or on village streets, a couple of baby-food processing plants (using less perfect bananas and pineapples), schools, local shops, and lots of transport trucks. The radio news announced that a through-road was being studied over the next year to allow more efficient trucking. Ollie favoured an oldies-rock station, which suited us all because we could sort-of sing along in between bouts of vigorous and often hilarious conversation. Rain fell in frequent showers, some heavy but
not long lasting.
As we came closer to La Fortuna, the Arenal volcano became more obvious behind the clouds. Our lunch place was the Lava Lounge Bar and Grill, Ollie’s favourite nachos restaurant. Everything we ate, for example my fish wrap, was fresh, flavourful and plentiful. After lunch, some free time to wander around let me take more photos of the volcano, looking particularly majestic over the lush civic park and the modest Roman Catholic church.
After a bit more driving, we entered the extensive grounds of the Areno Paraiso Hotel, a large development of cabins, all facing the volcano. My room was splendid with dark red polished wood; the veranda invited peaceful thoughts surrounded by natural views.
I had time for a nap before preparing for our visit to local thermal pools warmed by the volcano. Eco-Termales Hot Water Springs was built around a natural stream that runs through the family’s property, where they have created a series of pools in a cascade of reducing heat. We began soaking in the hottest pool (39.5C) and worked our way down to the coolest, perhaps as cool as the Sarapiqui River. Mellowness sank into our muscles and bones.
St John Bosco
By the charming public square and park
The gurgling water flowed over and around our bodies, stilling our minds. On the surrounding patio, it was marvellous to stretch out on a lounge chair in a wet bathing suit after dark and feel no chill.
Energy sapped, we rejoiced to learn that dinner was the buffet at the Spa. A tomato soup was made only with tomatoes and herbs. When I asked if the chicken had a cream sauce, the waiter ordered a delicious chicken breast pan-fried just for me. Vegetables and tamales completed my choices, plus a Bavarian Dark beer.
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