Costa Rica. Chocolate. When you hear the first, do you connect it with the second? When I remember back to my adventures in Costa Rica, some of the best memories are chocolate related.
I saw my first cacao tree, and it’s weirdly attached fruit of yellow/green pods, while adventuring around Lake Arenal, an area in Costa Rica near the Arenal volcano. And then, a few days and a few hundred miles later, I saw an entire grove of cacao trees.
But first, some background
Let me backtrack a little. First is that years ago, during a session with an intuitive reader, I discovered my “spirit food” is the cocoa bean. I know, most people discover their “power animal” or “totem” or “spirit animal” while on journeys of self-discovery and messages from the divine. I don’t have an animal. I have a bean. But hey! It’s chocolate. And who wouldn’t love any excuse to delve into all things chocolate?
Secondly, my friend Kate owns a casita she rents out along the SE coast of Costa Rica (Kate's Casita Airbnb). My Adventure Partner wanted to check out the country, and during sailing excursions Kate often told Ken about her home there. We decided about a month ahead of our trip to go!
While researching things to do and see around Costa Rica as well as near Kate’s place, I came across this cute place called Caribeans Coffee & Chocolate which advertised a chocolate tour. This led me to google even more about one of Costa Rica’s crops. While discussing my trip with a coworker, she mentioned watching the chef who goes to Peru to see the source of the chocolate for his pricey candy. (Check it out for yourself here: Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown. Season 1, episode 7: Peru or Preview the episode here: CNN )
Up in Northern Costa Rica
We created an itinerary that left a lot open for options of whatever came up, but with Airbnb rooms reserved ahead of time. The first area we went to was the volcano, Arenal. It is about 3 hours north of the Capital (San Jose) and about 2 hours south of the Nicaragua border.
One night we decided to go exploring and find a restaurant around the Lake Arenal. After driving for a long time on the curvy roads, we pulled into a small town and found a cute little Italian restaurant (Los Platillos Voladores Nuevo). Although it smelled delicious, it offered nothing for my gluten restrictions. As we left, the owner came out after us, asking why we were leaving. When I admitted my diet limitations, she suggested another place we had passed up the road called The Gingerbread Restaurant (officially the Gingerbread Fine Restaurant & Boutique Hotel, and so named for the design of the buildings). The food was amazing, and the owner (Chef Eyal) came out to chat with us and serve the meal. Turns out he trained at some multi-starred places in NYC, but wasn’t happy there. In Costa Rica, he was happy.
After a bit, I had to use the bathroom. As I walked back, I noticed a little house with tiered gardens and a small tree with a little yellow globe-shaped fruit hanging from it. I asked the Chef about this. I learned all about his philosophy of using fresh, local ingredients (as local as that garden shed I saw!). The cacao tree is a “new” venture for him. He let me know it was young, and the fruit not quite ready to be harvested and used for his food creations. But he says it will be soon (another year or so).
As we sat there listening to him expound exuberantly upon his ideals, and the interest in growing ingredients to cook and share with his customers, I realized something. How many times have we heard the phrase “follow your dreams” yet, not really done anything about it? Yet, here was a grand example of someone who had followed his dream. Is living his dream. His passion made the meal an experience. His love for his work overflowed and all his customers felt special, connected.
I wonder if someday I will own a cacao tree, to grow my spirit food, to create chocolate beans. After this adventure, my spirit feels that it’s worth exploring this vision further. After all, it was thanks to my interest in chocolate that we made this wonderful connection with a chef who once worked in New York. Our adventure to find dinner not only led to a delicious meal, but to find inspiration to follow our dreams, to see someone who lives fully in that passion.
(SIDE NOTE ON RECOMMENDATIONS: Travel Guides are my favorite escape, and Lonely Planet my go-to. Here are a bunch of top guides to check out. Or here's a version of Lonely Planet Costa Rica we brought with us. Also, my LifeProof Case was well tested in the waterfalls, lava-heated streams, oceans and pools. If you want one, here's the one I have: Lifeproof iPhone 6/6s in Cowabunga/Wave )
More on chocolate to come...next up, the Caribean tour! In the comments below, let me know your thoughts on this blog - spirit foods or animals, chocolate, discovering someone living the dream, or how you are following your passions/going on adventures!