La Iguana Chocolate
The luck of the Irish must have been with me on St. Patrick’s Day, because I certainly did not arrive safely and without any major mishaps at La Iguana Chocolate through my own communication skills. Rather, I asked one person on the bus when I should expect the Mastatal stop. In typical tico fashion, by the end of the two hour ride the entire bus knew where I was headed, the bus driver had promised to deposit me in the proper town, and a kindly couple escorted me via an informal shuttle system right to the edge of the farm’s driveway. In retrospect, the journey from San Jose to La Iguana Chocolate, my home for the next two months, was rather straightforward, but in the moment(s) of the 7 hour trek I could only marvel that my sister Clare did this type of thing constantly when she traveled around Australia for 9 months. I can’t even imagine how she felt as a single woman making her way through India via bus and rickshaw. Clare, if you are reading – I apologize for scoffing at your struggles. If you didn’t know I scoffed at you…I’m also sorry that you’re finding out about it now.
La Iguana Chocolate is a small finca (farm) in the remote village of Mastatal, where about 100 people have carved out a parcel of paradise for themselves. The town contains a school, a library, a public building, and the requisite pulperia (bar), all of which line the single gravelly-dirt road that winds through this mountain range. La Iguana Chocolate itself is nestled into a tract of land that undulates every few meters, so that each of the series of hardwood/scrapmetal/bamboo buildings stands on stilts on one side and is dug into the ground on the other, with the effect that you sometimes feel suspended over the rainforest. As I type, I’m sitting on the Yoga Deck, observing the sea of sugar cane plants that grow below the deck as they bow to the afternoon showers. After six months of living in a desert, whose admittedly-impressive array of greens all contained varying degrees of brown, the lushness of this area seems almost neon.
The cast of characters here is as follows: Eva, a French patissiere from whom we reap all the benefits of such a skill set; Benoit, a red-headed Swiss giant with whom I built a chicken coop; Elise, a young Fraulein taking a gap year before university; and Vicki, the volunteer coordinator who visited La Iguana Chocolate on a lark 4 years ago, fell in love with Jorge Salazar, and now works here. Our hosts include the aforementioned Jorge, who when he is not busy learning and implementing perma-culture techniques on his family’s farm or taking courses and giving tours in the neighboring farms and national parks , serves as a translator for his father, Juan Luis, and his mother, Lidia. Renal, Jorge’s uncle, is in charge of the family’s cows (and, as of this morning, calves!), and a variety of other family members filter in and out on a daily basis.
I fully expected to work hard on my Spanish for the two months I will live at La Iguana, but I think some part of me also expected a soft landing when I arrived. The reality felt more like a cold shower – Jorge is the only member of the Salazar family who speaks English. This is a rude awakening because I did not previously consider myself among those Americans who travel and still depend on the rest of the world to accommodate their limitations. It’s rather unsettling to come to terms with a part of yourself that you disdain in other people, and yet still I find myself just wishing out of exasperation that someone will translate for me when my brain starts to hurt. Also, somehow in the middle of the Costa Rican jungle I stumbled upon a farm that attracts a concentration of French-speaking volunteers, so English has really been the third language of choice.
Final note: I fully expect to have more frequent posts because the schedule here runs on tico time, meaning there is plenty of time for la pura vida. And since we have a plethora of foodstuffs growing here besides cacao, you can expect a varied array of topics. Things we grow on the farm:
Cacao; red beans; cucumber; cashews; papaya; pineapple; oranges; lemons; mangoes; spinach; lemongrass; cintronella; turmeric; bananas; plantains; yucca; tomatoes; peppers; chiles; vanilla; onions; sweet potatoes; ginger; basil; mustard; and more!