Saturday, September 24, 2011

Costa Rica - Part 6, Chocolate and Iguanas

Sorry kids, but lately my blog has been so boring that I don't even want to read it.  So I'll stick to mostly pictures for the wrap up.

Iguanas are being hunted for food... but unfortunately take a good 10 years to make a good meal.  Soooo an indigenous couple are running this farm to raise iguanas to release back into the wild.

So, naturally there were turkeys there.

Baby iguanas.
After they've been released, many of the iguanas continue to hang out in the area, or at least return when it's time to lay their eggs. 

These are the iguanas kept for breeding.
The guide spoke Bri-Bri and Spanish, but no English.  So I'd listen to him and try to get as much from the Spanish as I could, and occasionailly asked a question in Spanish as well.  Intelligent questions like - "Como se dice 'iguana' en espanol?"

"Uh.... iguana."

 After looking at iguanas we ate lunch from a leaf shaped like Peter Pan's hat.  Lots of roasted root veggies (typical indigenous fare) and chicken... yummers!

Then we tromped off into the rain forest again.

Cacao tree!
Mmmmm..... chocolate.
Tasty tasty chocolate.

It was interesting - the white flesh is kinda sweet and fruity.  It's the purple seed that they roast and ferment to make chocolate.  It was a bit bitter, but it did have a faint chocolaty taste.

The guide told us that when the conquistadors showed up a lot of them started dying from mosquito bourne diseases. His people never had a problem, because they'd drink a tea brewed from these leaves. 

 Introducing - quinine!

The rain-forest was super dry, this was supposed to be the tail end of the rainy season, and yet everywhere there were dry crispy leaves and cracked earth.  Not good.  Climate change is happening people!  The chocolate is in danger!!! (actually, it really is - some mold started attacking cacao plants back in the 70s and it's still going strong - at least in Costa Rica)

Another magical rain-forest tree.  They boil down the bark and soak bandages in it - it has antiseptic and healing properties.  It's good for treating machete wounds apparently.

Thus ends the last official activity of the tour group.  Finally a couple days to relax on my own!

 For my first 'on my own' meal, I wandered a few blocks away from the main tourist street, found a place where some locals were eating and sat right down.

This 'casado' (married man's lunch) was the single most glorious meal I had in Costa Rica (and half the price of any of the places on the main street).  The chicken was roasted in some kind of jerk sauce.  The beans were amazing.  The salad had the perfect amount of crisp tanginess, the rice was cooked in chicken broth and was a mellow compliment to the spiciness of the chicken.  The cooked banana was such a perfectly sweet note to finish on.  AMAZING.  I couldn't stop dancing in my seat and attempting to compliment the chef in my ridiculously broken Spanish.  So when she asked "What part did you like so much?" I had no choice but to answer her in English "Everything!"
This is the cabina where I stayed.   A block off the main street, and about three blocks from the beach.  Sweet!
This is the hammock on the porch of my cabina a few blocks from the beach.
And these are my toes in the hammock, on the porch of my cabina, just blocks from the beach.  There was a rainstorm, and I just hung out with a rum & coke and watched the whole thing from my hammock.  Pura Vida!

All told, it was a good vacation.  I definitely would have enjoyed a bit more time on my own.  Next time I go abroad I might consider going with a group - because it is nice to have someone doing all the planning and looking out for everyone's safety - but only if I can have an equal amount of time to explore the country on my own.  Traveling independently is where all the adventure lies. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

50 Point Bonus!

This summer I've been working on a Scrabble quilt for a friend.  It's a really easy game to translate into quilt form, since it's just a lot of different colored boxes. Just sketch it out and count up the different squares.

One useful tip I got from someone who'd already done a Scrabble quilt was to break the pattern up into 9 blocks, and sew them up that way.  I'd never really analyzed a Scrabble board before - it's really just 2 different block configurations oriented in different directions, then one center block.  Easy-peasy!  I embroidered a little star to mark the center square.

I had a little assistance while assembling the quilt - from the cat I was watching for a friend. =)

It's always good to have your quilts pre-approved by a qualified kitty quilt assessor to certify it's cuddliness.

I really had to use some creativity to put together the backing.  I love buying fabrics for quilt tops, but  I keep neglecting to purchase enough yardage for the quilt back.

I wanted this quilt to be functional as a Scrabble game as well, so I used iron-on letters on 2" squares of felt for the 'tiles'.

Two things to note here:
1.  Iron on letters don't come in quantities that match Scrabble letter distribution.  I just bought an extra pack and made sure to get two full alphabets, multiples of the vowels, and several blank squares to make up for the difference.
2.  Synthetic felt is not meant to be ironed!  My first pass ended up with a half melted square and bit of a sticky mess on my iron.  I resolved this issue by turning the iron to a lower temp and laying a sheet of paper over the letters before ironing them.  It took a bit of finesse to get the letters to stick without melting the felt.

But once they were ironed on, they looked pretty good.

Then I made a little bag to house the letters.  I think it turned out cute.


I got it finished up in August in time for my friend's birthday, so I sent it off before my vacation.  I think it turned out well!

Ok... I've got one more post about Costa Rica... then classes start again on Monday. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Costa Rica - Part 5, The Rainforest

Soooooo the Rainforest.  I've been hearing about this magical and important place my whole life and here was my first opportunity to see it live in person.  I'm not really a plant person, but still it was kind of exciting.

For reference, we were on the south end of the Caribbean side of the country - near the border with Panama - The National Refuge - Gandoca Manzinillo.  But we actually started off at the forest guide's home - just meters from the beach.  It was lovely.

The general procedure for this initial part of the tour was him walking around to various plants, pulling off a leaf for us and telling us to 'smash & smell' it then guess what it was.  In this manner we were introduced to a variety of citrus fruits - relatives of limes and oranges and grapefruit that we just don't have in the US.  He also showed us lemon-grass and citronella, tumeric, all spice, the root from which we get tumeric, and the bark of the cinnamon tree.  We saw a bright red flower that was a variety of the ginger family.  Who knew the humble root had such pretty flower attached to it?  This man had an entire spice cabinet outside his front door!  He showed us a fruit that was inedible but contained a dye that could be used as 'rainforest make up' and the ylang-ylang flower used to make Chanel #5 perfume.  Oh, and nuts!  We saw almonds and cashews.  I had no idea those were from the tropics.

The most fun was when he showed 'miracle berries' - first he handed us a few star-fruits and had us take a bite and laughed as we puckered up our faces - Oooooh!  Sour!  Then he handed us each a tiny berry and told us to suck on it for a few minutes.  As we did the berry which had a taste and texture not entirely unlike a grape, became sweeter and sweeter.  We spit out the seeds, then he had us bite into the star-fruit again, and this time it was sweet!  Rainforest magic tricks - not too shabby!

Because it was such an interactive tour I didn't have time to get many pictures... and of those I did... I wasn't able to remember which plant was which.  An unknowing person wandering through the garden would see nothing more than a bunch of plants and completely miss all the amazing properties they had.  It was a real treat to have someone explaining it all to us.

These plants smell AMAZING, and look really funky, but I can't for the life of me remember the name.

One guide spoke several languages, Spanish, English, a bit of the Indigenous Bri-Bri language, and the local dialect (creole? pidgen?) which was a Caribbean mix of the three.  His English was awesome, his Caribbean accent and the rhythm to his sentences was just really fun to listen to.

After the initial tour of his garden he took us on a walk along the beach to the forest.  

We saw this little orange crab... very cute.  He also took out his machete and made short work of a coconut he found on the ground.  It was amazing - first he took off the husk in about four moves - hack, wiggle the machete through the fibers, hack, wiggle, hack - and it was off.  Then, holding the coconut in one hand he proceeded to crack through the shell and flick off chunks of it while leaving the inner flesh completely intact.  It was a seriously impressive way to provide a hiking snack - screw trail mix!   

As we were munching on our fresh coconut, he pulled up a coconut tree sprout and asked if any of us had seen a coconut seed growing?  Being from Portland, no, no we had not.  He sliced through the coconut and showed us how the roots went out one end - the tree goes out the other end, and in the middle, it turns into a sponge.  It was weird and hard to describe, so I will steal from the interwebs:

Thank you W.P. Armstrong 2003

Our guide broke off pieces of the sponge and told us to eat them - it was weird, sweet with a mild coconut flavor but a weird weird texture, maybe like dried watermelon, airy and a bit fibrous.

Eventually we did make it into the actual rainforest, although it was just a half day tour, so we didn't exactly go deep into the heart of the jungle.  Just skimmed the edge.  I'll confess right now - we didn't see any monkeys or brightly colored parrots or anything super impressive like that.  Mostly we just looked at and learned about the different plants and trees.

One funky plant we saw was the tattoo fern.  Basically, you place it on your skin, give it a good smack then turn your arm so the fern falls off without smearing. 

No idea what the white powder is.  But it's the rainforest... half the stuff in here will either kill you or cure cancer ... I'm not dead yet, so here's hoping!

Speaking of things that can kill you - we did actually see two Eyelash Pit Vipers, one white and one yellow.  Sorry kids, but this is as close as I was willing to get to a poisonous snake.  (it's in the hollow of the tree - about even with the guide's waist.)

Believe it or not, the coolest animal we saw in the jungle was this Golden Orb Spider.  It's web is super strong and glints gold in the sunlight. 

Plus it has really cool iridescent markings on it's back.  Very very cool.

At the halfway point we went out to a little look out called Miss May Point.  It was so incredibly beautiful.  Exactly the kind of spot you'd expect to find while exploring the a tropical coastline. 

Absolutely beautiful!

Except for the fact that I look like my grandma here.  Ugh!  When will I learn???  When will I ever learn!!!  If I'm going to go to a beautiful place I gotta at least *try* to look beautiful. Never mind the 2 hour hike in... next time I gotta at least bring a comb with me. =P

Ahhhhh... much better!

One of the last things we did was go into a coastal cave - a bunch of bats flew out when we went in there.

I swear, the whole trip was very Harry Potter-esque.  From the bio-lumenescent sparks in the ocean to the miracle berries that make sour things taste sweet, scary sea-side caves full of batts.... everything.  It really was magical.

Next up will be the trip to the Indigenous Iguana Farm.  =)