Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

Punta Uva Beach

Our time in Puerto Viejo can be summed up like this: beach, rescue animals, and chocolate. In addition to beach time and snorkeling, we visited the Jaguar Rescue Center and spent most of another day exploring how chocolate is made Caribbean style. Puerto Viejo is in southern Costa Rica on the Caribbean just north of the Panama border. The Caribbean side of Costa Rica is somewhat different culturally than the rest of the country. It is definitely more colorful! It has a pretty big Rastafarian and hippie influence. It is a great place to spend a week. The beaches are clean and the water is clear. The food is good and there is a lot to do.

We had the pleasure of visiting the Jaguar Rescue Center. The center is a rescue and rehabilitation place for local animals. It is owned and operated by an Italian couple who have a passion for helping animals and educating people about them. The center started with mostly reptiles. Now it is full of monkeys, sloths, frogs and birds. We learned that it takes two years to rehabilitate a monkey and return it to the wild because the orphaned monkeys need to be accepted into a troop in order to survive and thrive. The sloths, on the other hand, fly solo so they are released as soon as they are physically able to go. The animals are brought here by local residents when they are injured. Many monkey and sloth injuries are from dogs, cars, and power lines. While we had already seen plenty of monkeys and sloths in the wild in Costa Rica on our previous trip, this visit was really special because we learned so much about how proximity to people can hurt these animals and the dedicated efforts by compassionate people to help them.

Our volunteer guide with one of the residents

Monkey parts...many monkeys taking a late morning nap together

A two toed sloth

Some of the many orphaned baby sloths

A few days after our visit to the wildlife center, we decided to explore the world of cacao. Our chocolate tour was the result of a collaborative effort between two NGOs (called Global Creek at Mango Walk) and Caribeans a local small batch coffee roaster and chocolateer. The two NGOs are non-profit operations that study the local jungle with a particular focus on issues related to the cacao trees. They are very interested in sustainability, ecological issues, and social responsibility. Volunteers pick the cocao pods and dry the beans. Caribeans, run by husband and wife Minnesota transplants, makes chocolate from only pure cacao and organic sugar...no other ingredients! I am not sure I have ever eaten chocolate with only two ingredients.

Cacao pods on a tree

Cacao beans drying out after fermentation

The original "chocolate" drink...a drink with subtle chocolate flavor and cayenne

My father-in-law Bob and Steve trying out our spicy drinks

My mother-in-law Bev enjoying the tasting part of the tour with the kids

The inside of a cacao bean. The beans are slimy and sweet before they are fermented and dried. The gooey stuff around the bean tastes like sweet tarts.

The humble kitchen area of Caribeans chocolate making operation

Overall, we walked away a great deal more informed about cocoa and the complexity of making chocolate. The tour was a fantastic, educational, and tasty experience. We heartily recommend this to anyone visiting the area!

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