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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Things are continuing to go well for us in Costa Rica. We are pretty much entrenched in the daily routine with exceptions here and there. On Tuesday, Ray took a trip to Puriscal, one of the biggest towns nearby. On Thursday I am helped with baking day. We made six loaves of sourdough and about 4 dozen bagels. Making the dough was pretty simple, but baking them in the earth oven was a lot more challenging. At first it was hot, we burned some things, but then the baking worked out okay. It took all day to do the baking. I still have a lot to learn about sourdough and baking in a wood fired oven!

Our work on the biodigestor has been successful so far. Ray and I finished framing the walls, we put in the wattle (bamboo framework, over which we will daub) and also attached two big mosaics to two of the walls. We've started daubing these walls and its cool to see the whole thing come together, although there is still a lot more to do. With any luck we might see/help with putting a sink in and finishing a couple of the walls. I want to put in the stairs, but I need help with that and I'm not sure if it will happen.

Most of the buildings here are quite amazing and they have been built using some of the techniques that we have learned in the process of building the biodigestor toilet. I don't really realize it until I think about it, but due to the open-ness of all buildings we spend most of our time here outside. Often that is under the roof that surrounds the main house. Under that huge span of roof is the porch (really more of a room with no windows or walls) where we cook in the kitchen, eat at the long table, bake in the earth oven, and hang out in hammocks and rocking chairs. Insects fly in and out around and toads hop over sometimes. We sleep in a regular building with screens on the windows, but some of the other dwellings are a series of open rooms with roofs and walls that keep out the rain but are free to let in all of the breezes. Its hard to really explain, but maybe you will get to see some pictures! Although we've only seen this one small project its impressive to see all of the careful craftsmanship that must be involved in building them from the floor to the walls to the roofs and stairs.

Also, pretty much all of the furniture is made here and it is really beautiful as well. Most everything is build using joinery which is really interesting and gorgeous. Its impressive to see what people have made and intriguing to learn more about.

The other morning we visited La Iguana Chocolate, a very small chocolate farm about a kilometer from here. We had a tour and learned about the process of making chocolate. First, it grows on a cacao tree which produces large pod-like fruits which are harvested. Inside the fruits are large beans covered in a fibrous, soft membrane which looks a bit like the white stuff around an orange but tastes incredibly sweet. The beans are violet colored and bitter tasting. After they have been harvested, the beans are fermented in some of the pulp (for lack of a better word) and then dried. Then they are roasted (at La Iguana they roast them over a fire), the outer skin on the bean is removed and they are ground. These nibs are pressed to remove a lot of the cocoa butter.

I suspect that this part of the process varies in other operations and I imagine that most chocolate makers process the beans or the nibs themselves once they come from the chocolate farm. But, at La Iguana, they remove most of the cocoa butter so they can make cocoa powder. The chocolates they make there are made from finely ground nibs with some sugar and other flavorings. The consistency is more like a soft truffle, not like tempered chocolate in a bar. We tasted chocolate and cocoa beans at various stages, it was interesting to see the process and learn more about where it comes from and how it is grown.

There are other interesting fruits here, too. Of course the lovely pineapple, but also the ice cream bean (I might have mentioned it before) which is another fruit with a sweet membrane surrounding the beans, custard apple which is also very sweet and gelatinous, and the twinkie fruit. This isn't the real name of it, but people at Rancho Mastatal have named this tiny berry (it looks like a small cherry, but doesn't have a pit) because it really does taste like burnt sugar or a slightly caramelized baked good. Its the strangest thing to eat a little red fruit that tastes like something sweet and bready. Its fun to encounter new and exotic tastes and plants. There are lots of trees that don't produce edible fruit but they make odd and interesting seed pods. One makes light spiky little balls, another makes fruit that looks like apples the size of bowling balls. They are actually more like gourds which can be carved into bowls and things. Yesterday I noticed a tree that has little pods that look like maple seeds, but with three wings – then I saw that they turn into another sort of round pod covered with little pointy triangles. They all kind of remind me off life on a strange planet or something from a Dr. Suess book.

Not too much else to report here, unfortunately I haven't been speaking Spanish very much. I practice on the kids at the elementary school when I am there to help teach them some English. I've learned a few new words, but I haven't been able to improve very much. In about a week we will set off to see some other parts of the country. Right now we are planning to go the Osa Peninsula, to Puerto Jiminez, Parque Nacional Corcovado, and Bahia Drake, and then a couple of days at the beach before we fly home. We'll see let you know how things go. Love,

Anna and Ray

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