We had five nights on the Peninsula de Osa, which is at the South end of Costa Rica’s Pacific coast (i.e. “bottom left” on the map). This was our first view of the Golfo Dulce between the peninsula and the mainland:
We spent three nights at Puerto Jímenez on the Eastern side of the peninsula, on the Golfo Dulce. We went out on a dolphin-spotting trip on the first day. Pootling round the Golfo in the sunshine was really nice, and we saw both spotted and bottlenose dolphins:
Mark also had his first ever go at snorkelling. To be fair, there wasn’t a huge amount to see (just a few small fish), but he enjoyed it anyway. This made the (lengthy) pandemonium of messing about with contact lenses worthwhile…. We’re planning to invest in a prescription mask for foureyes before our next trip to a country with snorkelling opportunities…..
The next day we drove South round the bottom of the peninsula and up the Western side to the end of the road. North of that is Corcovado National Park. You can get to the National Park from that side but it’s a 2 hour drive along a bumpy track to the end of the road at Carate then apparently a 40 minute walk up the beach to the park entrance (which people online had suggested could be unpleasantly hot). And then you get to start looking for the wildlife…. We’d looked for places to stay on that part of the coast (thinking we could move round from Puerto Jímenez to Carate to make the National Park a sensible day trip) but the only one that wasn’t squillions of pounds was a place called Luna Lodge which, a review helpfully told us, was 40 minutes from the end of the road by donkey, so that wouldn’t necessarily have made walking to the National Park for the day any easier. We’d since moved to plan c, a cunning plan to get to the National Park by boat from Drake Bay on the Northern coast of the peninsula, so were envisioning a leisurely day’s drive round to Carate then back to Puerto Jímenez, stopping to look at things on the way.
There was a twist in the tale…. Said bumpy track round to Carate did involve crossing 4 or 5 rivers. We arrived at the second or third crossing to see a car being pushed with its bonnet open and another car parked on the far bank. We crossed then stopped; it turned out that a group of Danes had picked the wrong point to cross, their car had conked out and now wouldn’t start again, and it’d had to be pushed out of harm’s way. The other car had also stopped and was going to give them a lift, but could we take the two Danish ladies in our car? We agreed, figuring there was only one road and we were headed to the end of it, so we’d just be dropping them off on the way. Wrong. It turned out that they were going to the aforementioned Luna Lodge. This being the dry season, the track up to the lodge was deemed passable, so off we went up past the end of the road onto an even bumpier track, round precipitous hairpins and through more rivers (which, judging from the relatively small amount of water relative to the width of the dry part of the riverbed, must make the journey impossible by car at certain times of the year). We dropped them off, to profuse thanks, politely declined their offer of a drink or lunch, and departed back whence we had come…. All in all an eventful day! We have no idea what happened to the car; for all we know it may still be there…..
The following day we drove North then West to Drake Bay on the Northern coast of the peninsula. Puerto Jímenez was a very small place but the only town as such on the peninsula, with a supermarket, bank, and petrol station. Drake Bay had no such luxuries, just a collection of small hotels, a small shop, and a few restaurants. Oh, and a lot of dust, thrown up from the gravel road whenever a vehicle passed…. Puerto Jímenez had the same problem. In both places, we saw locals watering the road outside their properties in the late afternoon….
On the way from Puerto Jímenez to Drake Bay we stopped off for a chocolate tour…. here we saw a traditional Costa Rican farm in which all the plants are grown in a big muddle (for want of a better term) and other plants / trees left in place rather than an area being cleared for crop A, another area for crop B etc. The benefit of this is that the different plants work together to deal with pests etc. The owner of the farm had obtained the land about 45 years ago as a result of a deal with the government when Corcovado National Park was created in the 1970s: locals were moved out of the park but given other land they could settle instead.
We also saw the chocolate process from start to finish, from the fruit on the tree through the various stages to get chocolate liquor (which is the whole bean including the cocoa butter).
Tasting the bean at each stage was interesting: initially is tastes nothing at all like chocolate (and the texture is reminiscent of lychee). After fermenting (5-6 days) and drying (5-6 weeks in one box then an indeterminate amount of time until required in the second box) it had acquired a taste somewhere between coffee and chocolate.
Next, the beans were roasted, crushed, then repeatedly thrown in the air to get rid of the chaff. Mark had a go at the crushing; the young laddie who was roped in to do all the manual labour didn’t look too impressed….. Maybe Mark just needs more practice?
Then there came the grinding, three times through the machine, with the pressure plate tightened a bit each time. Whereas we all thought we’d end up with powder, we didn’t. After one go it looked like instant coffee granules, after two gos I can best describe it as wet Welsh garden soil, and after three gos through the machine it was sticky enough to make “snowballs” from.
From there it was just a case of adding sugar and putting it into moulds; there’s no fancy tempering of chocolate here! It was good to get an understanding of the raw ingredient; some serious experimentation will be done when we get home…. yum yum…. 🙂
I should mention that there was one slight downside, well, from Mark’s perspective at least. That evening, he helpfully started looking at grinders on ebay, suggesting that old-fashioned metal grinders might be quite cheap but that it’d need to be one with a pressure plate…… It’s a pity there wasn’t a camera handy to capture the expression on his face later in the evening when he started getting automatic suggestions on his Kindle that he might like to download the Grindr app, which would apparently offer him all kinds of… erm… male experiences…. tee hee… (having to be careful with my words now that we’re on a public blog page!). Those who know him well will be able to imagine his reaction!
Anyway, our main reason for going to Drake Bay was to get a day trip from there round to Corcovado National Park. This involved an hour on a boat, rather than 2 hours by car then a hot sticky walk…. luxury…
We did see plenty of wildlife whilst we were there, including our first Tapir (though apparently it’s pretty tame, so much so that there was a well trodden path down to its favourite shady spot). Not tame enough to turn round for the photo though:
Also more coatis and agoutis, and some baby caimans sat on a log by a stream. We saw three of the four species of monkeys on Costa Rica (spider, squirrel and howler monkeys; the one we didn’t see here was the white-faced capuchin we saw so many of at Manuel Antonio National Park). Also lots of birds. Here’s a colourful trogon:
From the Peninsula de Osa in the extreme South West of Costa Rica, our next destination is the extreme North East….. This may seem illogical, but the road layout means that getting between the Eastern and Western sides of the country involves heading back to San José in the centre first – so it really doesn’t make any difference whether we do the North-East or the South-East first. The North-East is a more organisationally challenging (involving parking Reggie up in a secure compound then getting a boat out to Tortuguero; there are no roads) so we’ll do that first….. rather than driving back up the Pacific Coast then turning inland, we’re going to head up through the central highlands instead; yet another change of Costa Rican Scenery……