So today was our cultural day … a day to visit local families operating small businesses near Playa Blanca. I had opted to do the morning two hour hike from a small ecolodge and an afternoon coca farm tour. We left the boat around 8:00 a.m., did a wet landing off the zodiac (jump into the water up to our calves and walk ashore) and boarded a bus on the other side to take us to the Danta Corcovado Lodge.
The bus trip took us through the outskirts of Playa Blanca, past tin roof homes and several fields filled with funky looking cows (think Indian cows) reaching the lodge around 8:30. Once at the lodge, we split into two groups: the first group would be the “fast walkers” group (which I think was a polite word for those who were in pretty good shape) and the “slow walkers” group. Joshua was going to lead our “fast walkers” group.
We had had no sooner left the lodge and started on a path when an animal darted across the path and into the fain forest. Joshua said it was a coati mundi. Unfortunately, the animal was so quick none of us were able to take a picture.
As we continued to search for birds and forest animals, the sound of cicadas filled the air, and damn were they noisy. And of course we came across more leaf cutters ants crossing our path on their superhighway than we could count.
At one point, we heard the rustle of leaves and looked up in the distance just in time to catch a view of a capuchin monkey. The monkey lept from tree to tree, but sadly was going in the opposite direction from us. We stood for a bit and watched the monkey hoping that it would move closer or that there were more in the area. Eventually, we gave up and continued on through the rain forest hiking up several mud and wooden staircases to reach a platform that took us up above the rain forest canopy.
I hiked up the two story staircase and once at the top started looking for birds and sloths in the trees. Almost immediately, Joshua spotted a toucan in a nearby tree. We were able to get a really good look at the toucan before it decided to fly off to a tree out of our vision. Sadly the other group was just arriving at the platform and missed the toucan.
After several minutes at the top, we walked back down and began our hike back to the lodge, taking the path the second group took. This path was partially cemented allowing vehicles to drive deep into the rain forest. Unfortunately, we did not see much. The occasional butterfly zipped past us, but as far as anything else … nada.
Once back at the lodge we took a mid morning coffee break where Joshua told us he had a surprise for us. We finished our break and walked in the opposite direction from the first hike. Five minutes later. Joshua was pointing out a sloth high in the trees. Yay for seeing a sloth. Boo for the sloth being so high up in the trees (and with his back to us) that we could barely make him out through the thicket of leaves on the trees. I eventually zeroed in on the sloth with my camera, but man o man was it tough.
Anyway, after the sloth sighting, we went back to the trail we had taken earlier in the morning to go look for a poisonous dart frog that had been spotted as well as a large bird called a great curassow, which apparently looks like a pheasant. Unfortunately, we did not find either.
By now, we have been hiking around for close to two hours and the heat and humidity were starting to take their toll on us. As we made our way back to the lodge, a McCaw was spotted in the trees. YAY! And this bird put on quite the show. The McCaw would grab some berries from the tree, eat a few, drop a few, fly off and then return. This pattern continued for a least 10 minutes. None of us could stop watching the antics.
Eventually, Joshua told us it was time to head back to the beach where we were going to have lunch and watch a display of Costa Rican dancing. As we arrived, one of the guides told us that there were two sloths in trees nearby. As I got off the bus, three young boys were handing out coconuts that had been cracked open so we could sip on coconut water. Thanks guys.
After the quick coconut break, I walked back down the beach road to where one of the naturalists was set up with a camera pointed at the sloth. And, as luck would have it, this sloth was also waaaaay up in the trees with his back to us again. Damn sloths!
As I stood there trying to get a good read on the sloth, the naturalist told me that it was easier to see the other sloth so I walked a little further down the road to see if the view was any better. And indeed it was, despite the fact that the sloth was lying on its back with its face upside down. Good grief. These sloths are making it challenging. I nevertheless got a couple descent pictures and then headed back to the beach where lunch was being served.
I ended up having quinoa salad and a pulled pork sandwich after which, I wandered over to an area where locals had set up a craft market of sorts. I took a quick look for Christmas ornaments (there weren’t any and yes I did find one in Panama), but I ended up buying a really cut granite carved sloth hanging onto a tree.
As I wandered back, Margarit let us know that the young dance troupe that was gong to put on a little show for us was ready to begin. The show took place right above the beach and was really, really good. The young kids wore gloriously colourful costumes and danced their little hearts outs showing us some of Costa Rica’s historically significant dances. All in all, a wonderful show.
After lunch and the show, we all piled back into the buses for our afternoon adventures. I was off to the cocao tour at Finca Kona farm where we would learn about the process of making chocolate from the coca beans. Now I have been on chocolate tours a couple times (Belize and Ecuador), but I really wanted to buy some local chocolate so decided to sign up for this tour.
The tour turned out to be much, much different than what I had expected and what I had experienced in Belize and Ecuador. The tour started out by taking us on a tour of the farm with our guide explaining that the farm had been previously used as a rice paddie and it had taken 15 years to turn the farm into its present form: an organic farm filled with lemon trees, banana trees, pineapple trees, vanilla plants, a water lily pond and of course cacao plants.
Unfortunately, many of us in the group had been on the morning hike and were pretty much drained from the heat and humidity so the tour around the farm was taxing to say the least because the day had only grown hotter and more humid. And just as I was getting ready to sit down somewhere, we moved to a covered area where we were given a lesson in how the cacao bean is turned into chocolate, which included cutting open the pod, removing the cacao beans and fermenting the beans for 48 hours, drying them, then roasting them and finally shelling the beans and breaking them up to make cacao nibs, The cacao nibs are then used to make chocolate products.
We then began the walk back through the garden area of the farm towards the main building where we were going to sample some of the chocolate, but suddenly out of nowhere squirrel monkeys made an appearance. And this was a huge troop. The monkeys were leaping from one tree to the next and scurrying along branches before flying through the air to the next tree. To say it was entertaining would be an understatement. It was awesome! We were all mesmerized by these tiny monkeys.
We eventually left the monkeys behind and continued on to the main building where we were served bananas, pineapple and watermelon with a chocolate sauce as well as a very rich, decadent chocolate cake. Fantastic. Unfortunately, the farm did not sell chocolate bars so my planned purchase of spicy chocolate bars with 70% chocolate would have to wait until Montaverde (where there is another chocolate farm).
Anyway, after the lovely chocolate snack, it was time to head back to the beach where we were going to watch a presentation by the Latin American Sea Turtles Association and the release of a turtle into the waters before taking our zodiac trip back to the boat. Unfortunately, the turtle part was cancelled because the researchers did not have an available turtle. So … it was back to the boat for a well earned cold shower. Tomorrow will be our last full day on the ship before we disembark on Sunday morning and I continue my trip in Costa Rica.