This morning we woke up refreshed and headed into the cloud forest for a hike. We entered into a nature reserve, Curi-Cancha, and took a trail leading to a clearing. We spent time watching a large mango tree for signs of the Resplendent Quetzal - the national bird of Guatemala. Apparently it's a big deal to see this green bird with the long tail feathers. We watch, and wait, and wait some more. Not having seen the bird, we follow the trail to another clearing with a gorgeous viewpoint called the humming bird gardens - where we witness many humming birds of different kinds zipping around. I curiously watch the humming birds zip around drinking nectar from both from feeding stations, and from various long necked flowers - I could have stayed to watch for hours. However, we carry along the trail viewing many trees with massive trunks only to end up back in the original clearing we had come to. This time we are very lucky indeed to view the Quetzal bird with its bright yellow, red, and green plumage, and green tail feathers stretching far down. Now I understand the big deal - it's a very beautiful and very unique bird. The shy but vibrant bird hides among the branches, playing hide and seek with us, and then flies away.
We head back into the town of Monte Verde, where my favorite Irish roommate and I head up to the Tree House Cafe, a great cafe built on and in a massive tree, and where we order the casado and a couple of drinks - namely - Sex on the Tree - a great cocktail filled with fresh tropical fruit juices and a spiced rum. The casado at this restaurant is good, but doesn't quite rival the one of The Rain Forest Cafe in Fortuna.
In the afternoon - I had booked a tour on a coffee and chocolate plantation, and so if the making of these exquisite substances is your cup of fancy - read on!!
Danillo, our tour guide tells us that the plantation is family run, and points out his cousins. He then points to some fairly short trees with what seem to be green and red berry clusters on them. Upon closer look, it is clear that those clusters are beans. Danillo tells us that coffee is originally from Ethiopia, and that it has come here to the west fairly recently in the past 200 years. Danillo returns his attention to the trees and explains that the coffee beans must be picked only when they are red. After baskets of the ripe red beans have been picked, their skins are peeled away to reveal 2-3 seeds inside. These seeds are coated in a thin wet film, and so the seeds must be set aside to fully dry in an airing house. After being aired, the dry seeds are taken to a roasting house where the beans are slow roasted in a big drum and go from a cream color to a deep brown. The roasted beans can now be further roasted and then ground to make coffee.
After being told that we will sample the coffee at the end of the tour, we are now headed along to see the cocoa trees, and to see how chocolate is made. Cocoa beans originate from Mexico. The plants were taken to Africa, about 200 years ago, where most cocoa trees are now grown. The cocoa tree looks a bit like a more luscious palm. The fruit that grow on this palm - it almost look like a smaller papaya of the Hawaiian variety, except that the fruit taper to points on the end, and is yellow with vertical lines of brown running up and down the fruit. Danillo takes a football sized fruit and chops it in half, revealing a series of fleshy white pods inside. They remind me of lychees, except that they are all packed together. He hands us each a small pod and tells us to try the fruit surrounding the seed. Apparently there is a big dark seed in the middle of the fruit; just like a lychee. Upon trying - it is delicious - like a mixture of papaya and lychee - wonders why the fruit is not sold - so tasty, so soft, so sweet, so tropical. Anyhow, we are told that the seeds are really bitter and not to bite them. Danillo then explains that usually after being cut open, the pods are lain on banana leaves and then covered with banana leaves, and left to ferment for a week, during which time the fleshy fruit of the pod dissolves into the bitter seed, making the seed sweeter and less bitter. We try some seeds that are at this stage and they do now taste a bit more like chocolate as we know it. The seeds are then roasted for 15 minutes. After roasting, the seeds are crushed with a mortar and pestal or machine and then fed through a creaming machine - in a major chocolate factory the paste would now be separated into cocoa powder and cocoa butter, which could then be remixed with sugars and creams in different consistencies to create different chocolate strengths. Here at this small plantation, they right away mix the paste with cream and sugar and voila!! Chocolate!! Yum yum yum!!!
| || |