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Published: September 2nd 2018
It was time to leave our spa hotel for Playa Hermosa but first: a must stop at the Rainforest Chocolate Tour in La Fortuna.
We packed the car after our last wonderful buffet breakfast with a plan to head to Playa Hermosa, a good day’s drive with stops along the way. Our first stop was just outside of La Fortuna at the Rainforest Chocolate Tour. I had no idea what to expect but when you say chocolate and tour, I'm in! This was a last minute decision before leaving La Fortuna and we were really glad we went. We found that they are usually booked in advance but since we were doing the tour early in the morning there were just enough spots for us to join the first tour.
We were a small group, there were three of us and about 5 other people, in our 8am morning tour. Our guide Gustavo began his discussion of the history, planting and manufacture of chocolate with the help of many displays. Gustavo reminded us about the wonderful brain enhancing (addicting?) substances that make us want to eat more of this wonderful stuff.
We began the tour on a
little walk passing lovely heliconias, cinnamon plants and vanilla plants before coming to the cocoa plants. Gustavo gave us lessons about the growing and harvesting of the cocoa beans. There is a little greenhouse drying shed to dry the cocoa convenient to the cocoa plants. The big reveal was in an open air "room" where there was a bin showing the various stages of chocolate, a long table with a chocolate nib grinder, a wood stove for heating the chocolate, and various additives for the chocolate tasting.
Gustavo had a great sense of humor as he explained the process to all of us who were drooling in anticipation of the taste. My daughters ground cocoa beans in a large mortar and pestle, then ground cocoa nibs in a grinder that resembled my mother's old meat grinder (I was told not to even try, it was so hard to turn the handle).
Gustavo's chocolate assistant (I am sorry I don't remember her name) rolled the mortared and ground nibs in another granite mortar and pestle (lots of work here!) then ground in some sugar and ground the cocoa again in a pot, and finally, cooked this mixture over the
stove. At last we were ready to taste!
This luscious chocolaty goodness was poured out into our spoons to sample. I swooned. We were invited to try all of their add-ons such as vanilla, cinnamon, hibiscus, lavender, paprika, chili powder, nuts, raisins and so much more, I wish I had written it all down. We went back for so many samples (we had to find the perfect blend!) that I think they lost money on our tour for the tour was reasonable but the tastes were free! They do have a store where they sell chocolate bars and yes, we bought quite a bit so, I think they got their money back 😉. This is a great tour in a rural but easy to get to hideaway away from town. Don't miss it, and ask for Gustavo!
By 1pm we were back in the car, leaving the imposing Arenal Volcano looming over La Fortuna as we headed west to Playa Hermosa over the crazy Nuevo Arenal road
(142 west) around Lake Arenal. Now that it was daylight we could see the twisting turns and blind spots along the peekaboo vistas of Lake Arenal. There were several billboards along
the road advertising “German Bakery”. It was well past our lunchtime so we pulled off the road intending to enjoy a good German lunch. We bought some German pastries for tomorrow’s breakfast (that we later found were chewy, tasteless and dry. How can a German restaurant ruin an apple Danish?) We looked over their lunch menu, found it quite overpriced and they only took cash. Since we did not carry enough money for lunch we left looking to stop in Tilaran, the next town. All in all it was a good thing not to waste money on a bad lunch.
There isn't much in Tilaran
apart from a large white church overlooking a nice park. There are many small vegetable markets and sodas along with a couple of cute old men selling fruit out of the back of their truck. We were hot so we looked for an inside air-conditioned restaurant. After poking in the little stores and sodas we found Mary’s Restaurante
located near the church and across from the park. It was cool inside and that was a bonus. Unfortunately there were TVs on giving a feeling of an American diner. We were tired and had driven
around Lake Arenal and after turning down other tiny places we decided to eat here.
I ordered a burger with bacon, that came with fries. Big mistake. I didn't finish the burger. The choice was my mistake but one daughter did not complain as she finished my uneaten half. There was an order of nachos which I should have gotten because they were good. A large meat taco, also got good reviews. It’s all part of the adventure of traveling.
The girls were anxious to get to the beach so we left Tilaran as soon as we could to get to Playa Hermosa, still a good hour and a half away. The sun came out in full force as we approached the south end of Lake Arenal lighting up the brilliant blue waters and bright green foliage. It was a very pretty sight.
As we got closer to Liberia the landscape opened up into open, spacious farmland punctuated by an occasional home or two. The Rincon Volcano
was viewable in the distance for much of the way.
By the time we reached the outskirts of Liberia our navigator had her hands full. This is not a
rural sleepy town and directions were not as good as when you have fewer choices in the country but she did well until we got into Playa Hermosa. The directions to our resort were not as helpful as we’d hoped so we drove up and down the beach road looking for the right resort.
We stopped for directions at the Hotel El Velero beach resort where I originally had made reservations. While staying at Manoa Hot Springs I made the error of cancelling them by mistake. We all had wanted to stay at the Bosque Del Mar but after my cancelled reservation (and resultant panicking) we quickly checked back with Bosque Del Mar
and by a wonderful miracle they had a room for us! We were thrilled. It was only a short distance from the El Velero. We pulled into the meticulously manicured circular drive, grabbed our bags and walked the stone path to the open air lobby where we were greeted with welcoming smiles and delicious tropical fruit drinks
to toast our arrival. Heaven! We knew at once this was a great choice.
In addition to finding a last minute room, we were upgraded to room 702,
a spacious garden view mini suite with two queen beds, a nice bathroom with a huge stone walk-in shower, nice toiletries, a sitting room with a couch and tables, and a nice little porch that overlooked the pool. There are beach views but since we were in the room so little, we were very satisfied with our upgrade and our quiet little pool view.
It was all very peaceful and serene until the Howler Monkeys began their call right outside our room. I was so excited! One of the reasons we chose this beach place was because we had heard there were Howler Monkeys here. It was right after we checked in, around 5pm, that we found the monkeys in the trees outside our room and in the trees on the beach. We waited a few minutes and were rewarded with our much anticipated HOWL! (The howls are short-lived so you needn't worry about being incessantly bothered by them). I dashed out with my camera and followed their roars (louder than a lion) to see them high up in the trees along the beach. I just soaked in the wildness of it all.
There were lounge chairs around
the pool, a small hot tub, and an inviting deck at the end of which was a white curtained cabana where you could get a massage poolside or, if you chose, a massage on the beach under the trees. After the monkey excitement we decided to stretch our legs and then relax by the beach enjoying the views and the fact that we made it to this prize location of choice in Playa Hermosa.
The next choice was not so difficult: stay on the beach and watch the sun set or enjoy dinner on the beach at La Casita Del Marisco. We changed for dinner and took a short walk from our beach front hotel to La Casita Del Marisco
(House of Fish). What an enjoyable way to get to a restaurant! It was past dusk when we arrived and when we were seated we enjoyed their twinkling lights in the trees above the outdoor tables and listened to the to the surf and the sounds of soft conversations of the other diners on the beach.
Fresh fish was in abundance and two of us ordered the whole red snapper with potatoes and vegetables, my other daughter ordered
a seafood pasta. We were all very pleased with our meals and ate as much as we could but the portions were so big we couldn’t finish. In fact when the server came to take our plates away he thought we didn't like our red snapper. We held the plate up to show him that we had eaten it all since all that was left was bones, then he said, but look, turn it over, you didn't touch the other side!!! The fish, and vegetables were so fresh it was hard to believe our luck.
When the moon came up to shine our way home we took off our shoes to begin a slow beach walk past other restaurants with their twinkling lights, pleasant music and contented diners, while we enjoyed watching the moon dance on the ocean with a whole galaxy of stars above our heads on our way back to hotel. Lucky us.
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