Thursday, 14 December 2017

From aboard National Geographic Quest in Costa Rica: Osa Peninsula

#expeditioncruising #LindbladExpeditions .

Lindblad Expeditions organic safari on the Osa Peninsula 


Landing at Playa Blanca (RE)

If ever I needed a refresher in just what expedition cruising was all about, my first day with Lindblad in Costa Rica was all it took.

A glorious tropical morning among 'pinch me' scenery was just the start as we landed on a picnic-ready beach at Playa Blanca on Costa Rica's remote Osa Peninsula. Guests split into groups, each heading to their chosen excursion where we would visit families who owned and operated subsistence-level farms, each with their own specialities.

The trio of mocking macaws (RE)

There would be time for two excursions either side of a BBQ lunch under a huge tree that played host to a trio of Scarlett Macaws. The three brilliant parrots sat high and aloof cavorting and preening among the branches, looking down on the curious, clumsy mammals with an air of comic disdain.

My first exploration was to the sugar cane farm of Johnny Rodriguez, whose family had been cultivating and harvesting the sweet, bamboo-like product for some 50 years. His 95-year-old father-in-law, Carmine, still sprightly, was busy helpingout too. Johnny was proud as punch with his 100yo 'trapiche', set up to crush the long juicy stems while his horse hauled the heavy beam attached to the old grinder.

Johnny squeezes the sugar cane in the ancient method (RE)

While the family farms several root and fruit crops, the sugar cane is the long-standing tradition. Here the 100 per cent organic product is processed into molasses plugs called 'tapa de dulce' through a boiling and purification process with their own wood-fired stove and hand-made mahogany moulds. We see the whole process from whoa-to-go, each stage eliciting a satisfying smile from Johnny. His wife Naomi meanwhile is busy mixing up a sweet concoction of molasses, nuts, coconut and milk powder while the children look on in delight.

After lunch and a mocking from the three macaws, we are treated to a short cultural display from young schoolchildren in traditional costume before setting off for our second installment.

A twirl after lunch from local schoolkids (RE)

Here I chose the Finca Kobo cocoa farm for reasons that don't need explaining, but was delighted to discover far more than the humble chocolate beans on offer. Our guide, Juan-Luis, delighted in walking us through a tiny section of his 50ha farm that grows some 85 different varieties of fruits, spices, herbs and vegetables. And not your average greengrocer selection either. We ogled such exotic crops as custard apple, noni, cinnamon, turmeric, jackfruit, star apple and several varieties of citrus and guava.

“The noni is full of anti-oxidants and vitamin C,” says Juan-Luis as he slices the pungent fruit with his Vitorinox, “the taste is not nearly as bad as the smell.”

And he's not kidding. The innocent looking fruit has an aroma something like a mix of ripe blue cheese and eau de laundry basket. We think of the many health benefits that outweigh the unfortunate perfume as we consume the slices through clenched lips.

Conquering the alien jackfruit (Calin Laine)

Next, a ripe jackfruit the size of a rugby ball is plucked from a relieved branch. With the outer texture of a sun-ripened iguana, the husk is spilt open to reveal innards that could have come from a Ridley Scott movie. Slimy, glutinous tentacles conceal marble-sized seeds and despite its alien, anemone-like appearance, is so delicious, our greedy hands clutch at the flesh like delinquent vultures.

We did eventually get to the cocoa process and learned the dirty secrets of the big confectionery companies who strip out the best stuff (like the pure cocoa butter) and leave us with a mere hint of sugar-inundated chocolate wrapped in shiny paper and marketing hype. Suck on that for a moment.

All jokes aside, the family-owned, community attractions here on the Osa Peninsula are an enlightening example of how tourism can resist the temptation to become a mass-market commodity and maintain sustainable, eco-friendly operations that are a joy to experience. For more information about the local tourism initiative, see www.caminosdeosa.com

For more information about travel on any of Lindblad Expeditions – National Geographic vessels, see www.expeditions.com