Here’s my part 2 of the Costa Rica trip report, you can find part 1 here. A soup recipe follows on the bottom, and I talk about food shopping in Costa Rica, so it’s not entirely an excuse to nerd out with tropical bird pictures 🙂 Anyway, I used my camera a lot in the past 3 weeks. A lot. I sometimes wished that it was just attached to me as an extra limb to free up my arms, but lugging my 3 pound zoom lens everywhere was a great workout!
Collared Aracaris, checking me out before ripping into a plantain.
I told you before that we started our journey at the University of Georgia research station in Monteverde. For the second part of the trip, we headed out to the other side of the same forest reserve, near the Arenal volcano. It’s about 20 kms as the bird flies, but the drive took five hours of 4×4-ing on potholed roads around Arenal lake. We were starting to get an idea how distances work in Costa Rica…
We stayed at Finca Luna Nueva, an organic tropical farm/eco lodge near the town of San Isidro. The property has a big private forest reserve and hiking trails, so were able to explore every day, in fact, it took me 3 days to spare time to use the pool – why waste time on water if there are toucans to see? We were very happy with our accommodations, it was very quiet (homo sapiens-wise), peaceful and far away from crowds. We had two resident sloths on the property, so it was possible to eat lunch and see one hanging on the left, and the other on the right…
Three toed sloth, one of the resident sloths at Finca Luna Nueva Lodge
I focused so much on wildlife, but food was on the agenda, too. My favorite part of going on trips is visiting foreign food stores – I really looked forward to this. Typical food markets had very basic provisions – rice, beans, surprising quantities of processed sweets, and the larger stores were the same, except with even more horrible processed food. The pop bottles came in 3 liter 2 packs (so 6L, 1.5 gallons – that’s huge bottles even by North American standards, so much sugar!) I don’t know what I was expecting… I’ll tell you: cocoa, vanilla beans, organic chocolate, fresh strings of pepper, turmeric and new things I could only dream of. So go the thoughts of a Westerner used to shopping in Canadian, and European supermarkets… Right. There were no vanilla beans anywhere, or anything of the sort I mentioned. In fact, there wasn’t even pure vanilla extract to be had. Forget organic chocolate. Instead, do you know what it’s like to walk through the dog food aisle in +40 Celsius, no A/C? Expectations adjusted… But if I ever need a lifetime supply of diapers and canned tuna, I know where to go…
I’m sad that this was the case, but I suspect it’s easier to buy pure Costa Rican vanilla at my local Winners – all of these goods are destined straight for export. One thing that I can’t be sad about – the coffee. So cheap, so good, and so much variety to choose from – I regret not bringing in more bags. We drove by coffee plantations and I saw the bags of freshly picked beans stacked by the road, ready for pickup. I wish I took pictures of them.
Here’s a typical store shelf –
Back to the jungle. Howler monkeys, cicadas, birds, crickets, everything, and it all told you about its presence – it was so *loud*. Not like the temperate rainforest we have over here, with wind in the trees and occasional bird or eagle overhead – this was in your face and in your ears. Our little bungalow backed onto the trees, so we heard the chorus all night – I miss that, there’s something very primal about it. There were torrential rains at night, and I seriously wondered about the integrity of the corrugated tin roof, but even that onslaught was strangely soothing.
No shortage of bugs again. This Hooded Mantis was sunning itself on a banana leaf in front of the yoga platform. Just sitting right there…. And there was another ant incident… A number of them decided it’s a great idea to spend the night inside my hairdryer. I turned it on in the morning, only to immediately shower myself with a bunch of ants, and barbecue the rest. Ever smelled barbecued ants? It didn’t help that I didn’t turn on the light, so I kept going until I felt them crawling all over me and smelling them roasting at the same time. That was awesome.
Having a big tropical farm in our backyard was a nice bonus, and made up for lack of items at the food markets. The property grew cacao, ginger, turmeric, pepper, coffee, bananas, plantains, and a million other fruits/vegetables that I didn’t even recognize. Here’s the covered area – not for the lack of heat, but to protect young plants from torrential rains:
Ever wonder how a pineapple grows? There you go. My first thought was “look, someone dropped their pineapple…”
Once I knew that this was a papaya, I was recognizing these small trees all over the place… Costa Rica ruined papayas for me… I realized that the underripe fruits we get shipped over here are but a pale shadow of what “real” papayas should taste like… These ones cut like butter, with creeeamy flavor, and rich orange color. I loaded up on them every day with a bit of queso on the side. Ohhhhhh…
Here’s a gratuitous shot of a bird. This Red Legged Honeycreeper was a part of a larger flock feasting on plantains. I think this bird is gorgeous – look at the shimmery blue feathers on his head. These birds are in the Tanager family, which are some of the most colorful birds in Costa Rica. Again, I could photograph them forever…
Red Legged Honeycreeper, male
Edit: I expanded the post a little bit to talk about night hiking. We spent almost every night in the rainforest looking at stuff – Imagine going into that most humid zoo conservatory, except it’s 200 acres big, pitch dark, and there’s bugs… actually, there’s everything…
Brilliant Forest Frog, or also called Warszewitsch’s Frog – one of many we saw. It’s an incredible animal – very inconspicuous at first look, but with fluorescent yellow thighs with black dots that could only be seen when it hopped away. I read that it’s an adaptation that can distract predators, buying it extra time it needs to make a getaway. The property also had the red eye leaf frogs, but another guest told us they hang out in an area crawling with pit vipers. Hmm… maybe next time.
Anyway, if you visit Costa Rica, one thing is for sure – you’ll eat lots of beans, specifically black beans, every.day. I can’t say enough how good this is for you – the fiber, protein, the blood sugar regulation, the cancer fighting power – it’s worth investing a few days to build up your digestive enzymes to process beans without issues. Believe me, any issues do go away, and thankfully we had all these open spaces… 🙂
If you’re running short on time, you can use canned beans in your recipes. If the black beans have been packaged with salt, simply rinse them after opening the can, but there is also concern of BPA residue from the can lining, which is why I cook my beans in a large batch and freeze portions for future use. Remember that canned beans need to only be heated briefly for hot recipes, otherwise they will start to get mushy. Home cooked beans keep their shape much better when reheated.
To cook beans, add three cups of fresh water for each cup of dried beans. The liquid should be about one to two inches above the top of the beans. Bring the beans to a boil and then reduce to a simmer, covering the pot. If any foam develops, you can skim it off during the simmering process. Black beans generally take about an hour and a half to become tender using this method.
Do not add any seasonings that are salty or acidic until after the beans have been cooked since adding them earlier will make the beans tough and increase the cooking time.
This Costa Rican Black Bean Soup, the Sopa Negra, is traditionally served with sliced hardboiled egg. It’s very hearty and very filling, and should be made thick rather than watery. Roasting the pepper before adding will enrich the flavor, but this is entirely optional.
- 1 tbs butter
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped (optional: use a roasted pepper)
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2 cups black beans, cooked and drained
- 1 small handful cilantro, leaves and stems, roughly chopped
- 8 cups chicken stock
- salt and pepper to taste
- Hardboiled eggs
- Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, bell pepper and garlic and saute until translucent and softened. Add the black beans, the cilantro and chicken stock and stir to combine. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for 15 mins.
- Remove from heat and puree with an immersion blender until smooth. Serve garnished with hardboiled eggs and cilantro.