Honeymoon: Biking Adventure/Chocolate Tour

I know I’ve mentioned how time is weird and you wake up far earlier in Costa Rica than you’d expect, but on this day, Sylvia and I were woken up by the most ridiculously awful sound ever. I thought the world was ending, but it was apparently a local family of howler monkeys reminding the universe at large that they are indeed ridiculously loud. Imagine this, but loud enough that you think it’s right next to you. I went through a range of emotions from confusion, to annoyance, to fear, to anger, to may as well get up all in about two minutes. I never did end up seeing them, but they were definitely nearby. I’m not quite sure how early it was at this point, but it couldn’t have been too much past 5 or 6. As I was now fully awake, I decided to get up and look over the bathroom counter to see exactly where my toothbrush travel case went so I could go around and get it. Strangely enough, when I leaned over to get an idea of where it was, it was definitely not where I saw it laying the night before. Confused, I decided to hop over our fence and go over and check it out anyway. I got relatively close before seeing the glinting lines from the night before and the web was definitely occupied.

Hello!

I’m not a fan of spiders at all and definitely not ones several inches long like this guy so I turned around and told Sylvia that half of my toothbrush case was just gone forever. She asked why and I showed her this photo. She definitely understood where I was coming from at that point. We relaxed a bit and had some breakfast before trying to figure out what we were going to do with our day. This was our last full day on the Caribbean side of the country and we’d intentionally left it light in case there was stuff that came up after we’d gotten into town. The one thing we knew we wanted to do was a chocolate tour that we’d found about. The only other thing was we wanted one last tour of town to pick up any food/souvenirs before we were to move on. The tour wasn’t till the afternoon so we got on our crappy bikes and headed toward town.

When I say that our bikes were crappy, I meant that they were single speed jalopies not really meant to go any faster than about 9-10 MPH. As we rode on though, it became apparent that our bikes were much crappier than that. I started to notice some resistance about a mile and a half in, but Sylvia definitely started having a much harder time with her bike. Turns out our tires were kind of crap and started to let air out pretty quickly. They never got all the way flat, but they barely held enough air that it was safe to ride. It was a good thing that I ride as much as I do because I could focus most of my attention on cheering Sylvia on so that we made it into town as opposed to turning back. We’d decided that we were going to make it to town to buy a few last things and we had to just get there because I knew that there would be some bike pumps to help us get home. Turning around before then would have made the journey so much more difficult and we would have had nothing to show for it.

It was quite difficult and there was quite a lot of swearing involved, but we did end up making it into town eventually. Once in town, the first thing we did was find an air pump and then got on with the last bit of shopping. After that, we ended up walking over to the tourist center and scheduled to chocolate tour for that afternoon. It was pretty easy to set up, but we learned later it would have been cheaper/easier to just call directly but I chalked it up as a general learning experience. We picked up a bit of food/snacks at the grocery store and then checked the air in our tires again before heading back.

The ride back wasn’t nearly as stressful as the ride there because the air in the tires held out longer, but it still wasn’t easy and the tired did definitely lose a lot of air along the way. Thankfully the air held out just long enough for us to get to walking distance of the tree house so we could at least take it easy and walk the last little bit of the way. After a bit of rest, we walked over and returned the bikes to the house we rented them from so we could just be done with them. I’m still not sure if they were worth it or not because the tires held air so poorly, but they were exceptionally cheap to rent so it’s hard to say. Once they’d been returned though, we headed back to the house to relax for a bit before our chocolate tour.

We knew that the chocolate tour was pretty close to the tree house, but it turned out that the driveway up to the start was basically across the street from the entrance to the tree house. We made our way up and hung out with a few other people that started to show up before our guide made his way to us. His name was Marcos and he was a fascinating guy. He moved from Switzerland 20 years ago and ended up with a cocoa plantation through a long series of events. He gave us a bit of history as we started on our walk on the history of cocoa and how/where it’s produced today.

Not much to look at but amazing delicious on the inside

Once we’d heard more about the plant and history from him, Marcos cut off a pod from one of the trees and opened it up to show us just what they looked like on the inside. It was kind of gross to look at, but once he told us to try the fresh beans themselves, we were all hooked. I’m not quite sure how to describe the taste, but it was definitely sweet and the fruit around the bean was really chewy.

Marcos with a cocoa pod. Note the Crocs.

Now that we’d seen how cocoa grows and it tasted, it was time to learn more about how they made their chocolate. All of the chocolate produced on the site is processed pretty much entirely by hand with the exception of some assistance from an electric fan. They start the process by letting the beans ferment for a few days before letting them dry out in the sun for another few days. At that point, they’re ready for roasting and then it’s time to break the shells to get to the nibs inside. It was amazing to watch because the two step process for Marcos is to take a round rock and roll it over he beans to break them all and then take the pieces and pour them into a bowl while filtering out the shell pieces with the fan.

Step 1

Step 2

Turns out the fan tends to blow the shell pieces more than the nibs and it was fascinating to watch. After a couple of passes through the fan filter, all that was left were the nibs. Interestingly enough, Marcos said that when chocolate was first introduced to Europe, it wasn’t in a solid form, but in a drink. According to him, after some research and experimentation, he’d been able to reasonably reproduce the drink and had actually whipped up a batch for everyone to try. It was easily one of the most amazing things I’d ever tasted or possibly will ever taste.

Imagine heaven in a cup. This was better than that.

Now that we’d tasted one amazing form of chocolate, it was time for Marcos to show us how to further process the nibs he’d produced earlier. Once you’ve got the nibs, you essentially put them through a hand cranked grinder and that is where the cocoa butter comes from. He let all of us interested take turns at the crank although I apparently was pretty good at it.

I really just wanted more chocolate

Once we’d cranked out all the cocoa butter, that and the remaining nibs were cooked up a bit to basically give us a pretty pure chocolate. Once that was filtered a little bit to get out the bigger chunks, we were left with a pretty smooth chocolate that went amazingly with the bananas they had.

So warm and velvety

After we’d carefully gorged ourselves on fresh chocolate and bananas, the only thing left to the tour was to sell us what they’d produced in rolls. Marcos had everything from mint, to peanut, to pepper and a bunch of other varieties of things that he and his people had combined with the chocolate to give it different tastes and all of them looked pretty amazing. The one thing he did say is that since the chocolate was completely fresh and without any preservatives, they wouldn’t be too good after about 4-6 weeks so Sylvia and I filed that in the back of our heads as we bought a bunch for friends/family back home.

Having had our fill of knowledge/chocolate, Sylvia and I wandered back to the house to clean up a bit before going out for our last night in the region. The area around the tree house had a number of particularly varied restaurants, a lot of which had been started by ex-pats who had nearly all left their respective counties looking for something quieter and slower-paced. Our choice for the night was an Israeli place that looked pretty good. Just before we stepped out, I decided to check over the outside of the bathroom counter in case my toothbrush case had mysteriously shown up. Turns out, I ended up finding the culprit instead.

Thanks for the toothbrush case!

I hadn’t noticed before, but there were a couple of holes in the root of the tree next to the bathroom exterior and I’m assuming this guy made off with the case. I thought it was pretty cool, but it turns out that Sylvia is terrified of crabs because when I showed her, she totally freaked out worse than I do over spiders. Having solved the mystery, I bid a good night to the crab and we went out for our Israeli dinner.

The food was really good as were the drinks and it was fun talking to one of the owners. She was a relatively new mom and was supervising the installation of the Christmas decorations. Apparently most of Costa Rica doesn’t bother with Christmas decorations till December starts. I can’t describe how refreshing of an idea that was to hear. In any case, once, we’d had our fill of delicious food and drink and had said good night to everyone at the restaurant, Sylvia and I headed back to the tree house to unwind and relax for our final night. She settled in with a book and I pulled out my camera to try and get some decent long exposures to capture the last night. I think I finally succeeded although my battery died on me with the last one. Even so, I think it was exactly what I wanted it to be.

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