Monteverde and the Quakers

The first 11 Quaker families first came to Costa Rica in 1951 from Alabama because four Friends had been jailed for refusing to serve in the Korean War and the families were seeking somewhere they could live in peace.

Costa Rica had abolished its army and the government was encouraging foreigners to come and develop the land. The Monteverde area was only accessible by oxcart when they first came.

The families purchased over 3700 acres of land to be divided between the families. The Friends helped each family build a house.

They set up Monteverde Friends School, completing the main school building in 1957.  Today it is a bilingual school serving the local community – both Quakers and local Costa Ricans – from pre-school through to high school. There is also at least one foreign exchange student who also lives with our HomeStay family.

The Quakers set up a dairy farm and the Monteverde Cheese Factory, which today produces over a ton of cheese a day. They were also farsighted enough to set aside an area on the mountain slopes as virgin cloud forest – high altitude forest cooled by moist air from the Pacific.  The preserved area was the beginning of conservation in the area which now has a number of reserves including the Children’s Eternal Rain Forest (Bosque Eterno de los Niños) which was started by a Swedish child who had visited the area and went back home to raise money to purchase land for a reserve. That has grown to 54,000 acres of land.

Area reserves are

  • Monteverde Cloud Forest (original Quaker land)

    Hummingbird in a nest
  • Curi-Cancha Reserve
    Male Quetzal with long tail

    Male Quetzal Showing Long Tail Feathers
  • Bosque Eterno de los Niños  Fascinating story about how this reserve was started by some children from Sweden in 1987 and has grown to the largest reserve in Central America!
    Orange kneed Tarantula Looks Scary But It Is Harmless
    Motmot Are A Common Sight-Really Blends Into the Trees

    In addition to these large reserves, there are other commercial businesses that are preserving the area with tours and ziplines, etc.

Chocolate…Yum!

We have been on two chocolate tours since we arrived in Monteverde. The first at Don Juan’s was interesting and interactive however the second at Cabure Chocolates was fascinating!

The difference is Bob the owner of Cabure (his wife runs a very good Argentinian restaurant at the same location). Bob has a passion for doing things right, a real artesan chocolatier.

First a bit of history and trivia:

  • Cacao was used in beverages as far back as 1900 b.c.
  • Cacao beans have been used as currency
  • Cacao generally grows from sea level to about 600 meters (just under 2000’)
  • The average worker in Ghana earns less than $1000 per year growing, harvesting, and doing the initial processing of the cacao
  • Cacao trees are fast growing and begin to bear fruit in less than 2 years
  • When the flowers are pollinated, the large hard pod that is formed contains 30-40 cacao beans
  • When the seed pods form they are so big and heavy (up to 20” long) that they grow on the trunk of the tree, not branches

OK, now a bit about the process:

When pods are picked, they are cracked open and the seeds removed from the pulp. It is important to do this quickly so that the beans don’t ferment in the pod. The seeds are placed in a box with no oxygen for 2 days, then dumped into a different box with some air holes for 2 days and finally dumped into another box for an additional 2 days. During the time in the boxes, they are not agitated so some seeds are subjected to more oxygen or alkalization than others. After the 6 days, the tannins are reduced and the beans are dried, usually in the sun.

Suffice it to say that it is not an exact science however if you want really good chocolate, you have to be picky about which beans you buy. Bob is very select about his beans.

Once he receives his beans, usually from Africa, he must roast them. Roasting doesn’t take a long time, definitely under an hour. Then the beans are cracked and winnowed so that only the actual beans are used, not the shells.

The beans are then ground. You may have tried some chocolate nubs at a specialty store. Believe me, the ones I tried in Durango were nothing like Bob’s! I hated the ones I had tried previously but his weren’t bad at this stage.

Next the ground beans are centrifuged which causes the oils to be released. At this point, it looks and tastes like chocolate. There are several more steps to get to the final step which is yummy, yummy stuff whether it is a dark chocolate, a milk chocolate, or even “white chocolate” which is actually just cocoa butter, no non-fat cocoa solids in it.

We got to dip marshmallows into the chocolate and let it harden and of course eat them. They were good but my favorite is always dark chocolate with sea salt.

Wrapped Cacao pod, about 8-10″ long
On right, Small Toaster Oven to Roast Seeds, On left, front, Device to Crack Chocolate Seeds
Air Pressure Separates Outer Shell From Chocolate
Centrifuge to Change Chocolate Pieces to a Smooth Texture
Chocolate Covered Marshmallows
Chocolate is grown in areas that are tan.

Living with the Ticos

We are on our second experience of living with a local person/family. (They call themselves “Ticos”.) The first was 3 days with Rosa who speaks NO English and doesn’t read. That didn’t stop this older lady who has mastered Google translate on her iPhone. She talks into it and has you listen to the translation. What a wonderful world we live in when someone with limited resources doesn’t have to be limited by language.

We have lived with Rigo and Esmeralda and various family members for several weeks now. They really are the epitome of contentment. They both work hard, Rigo outside the home, Esmeralda in the home. Their home is basic with the only luxuries being a stove/refrigerator they bought not long ago and internet which was added about 2 weeks ago.

Really everything you need is available in this house, just not in the way we might think about in the USA. There is no heating/cooling although the temperatures are not bad here. There are a few hours each afternoon now that it is very hot in the living room which doesn’t have good ventilation. Dan might be able to help that by adding a window. It was chilly some days when we first arrived and a small space heater in each room would have been nice but everyone got by fine.

There is one bathroom in a house that since we have lived here has had as many as 9 people sleeping here. The sink is outside the small room with the shower/commode. There haven’t been many times that someone has been in line to go into the actual bathroom, even with so many people here. Having the sink outside the room itself allows someone to wash their hands or brush their teeth without restricting access to the commode/shower.

Faucets are what we would consider outdoor spigots with the handle on top. Not elegant but they get the job done.

Hot water? Yes and no. The showers here use some type of on demand heating system that works best when you have a lower flow. I’ve had a bit of a challenge adjusting the flow some mornings and had a few invigorating showers as a result but not horrible. This is the only hot water in the house (or in Rosa’s as well) so that means you wash dishes and our hands in cold water. Not ideal from the culture we come from but we have stayed healthy so maybe it isn’t that necessary if you do a good job of washing.

Golla washingmachine
Washing Machine, image compliments of Gollo.

Both houses had washing machines with two sections: one for washing the clothes and a second section to take the water out by a centrifuge. I was surprised to see that these machines were about $300-400 USD new in the store. Both houses hang their clothes to dry. Even in the humidity here in the “dry season” they dry quickly because of the centrifuge. (Now that we are starting the rainy season (late April) it is taking 1-3 days for clothes to dry.)

There are no screens on any windows and in an area with so many insects one would think this would be a bigger problem than it has been. I have been getting bites by unknown insects on my arms and once on my knee. Not sure what is causing the bites and they itch for a couple of weeks but I have felt fine and zika isn’t an issue around here since we are so high up. No one else is getting bit…lucky me I always attract the biters!

Esmeralda loves the new stove and refrigerator she got not long ago. She has 6 burners on the stove plus the oven and she frequently has most of the burners going. The refrigerator/freezer replaced a much smaller unit she had previously. It has a cold water option on the door, thanks to a reservoir that she can fill on the inside of the door. I don’t actually see them using it much but it certainly is functional if they want cold water.

What strikes me most is how content and gracious everyone is. Rigo is always saying “Pura Vida”, a very Costa Rican saying meaning basically that life is good. He does seem happy. He works hard when he must and takes it easy the rest of the time. The house could use some “upgrades” (walls not finished out, wires insulated but not hidden in the walls, no matching door handles, etc.) but he has lived here 22 years and said he will get around to them in a few years. It has made me reflect on what is “important” in the US. Not saying I don’t want a nice, finished house when we finish traveling but I can see things a bit differently now.