Sunday, April 11, 2010
(Note: click on photos to enlarge)
What a week! Our friends Penny and Joel returned from Guanacaste on Monday night and the next morning we left for our trip to Finca Luna Nueva Lodge (FLN), a sustainable rainforest estate and eco-lodge up the road near Arenal Volcano and Lake Arenal. I’d been told that the Arenal area was quite beautiful but I was unprepared for the magnificent landscapes and jungle-scapes that we encountered along the way. Talk about the tropics! This had it all: dense, lush, verdant woodlands covering sheer mountainsides in every color of green imaginable; coconut palms, banana trees, orchids and bromeliads of every size and description; huge ferns, impenetrable bamboo groves, hanging vines and ivy, one-lane bridges that traversed rivers flowing over tumbled rocks and boulders; rolling emerald pastures high in the cloud forest, dotted with white humped-back cattle with enormous drooping ears and gentle eyes. We passed through occasional towns with colorful Tico houses and small schoolyards full of kids in their navy and white uniforms playing soccer or having sack races. We also drove past areas of agriculture with fields of yucca plants, coffee plantations or rows of pineapple with their jade and yellow spiked leaves.
The last 2.5 kilometers of our journey to FLN was over an extremely rugged rock-filled road but our 4-wheel drive Mitsubishi was up to the task, bouncing us along in relative comfort. We arrived before check-in time but fortunately the friendly staff had our 2-bedroom family bungalow ready for us. The large comfortable cottage overlooked a broad gulch filled with banana plants and ferns interspersed among tall vine-covered trees. Soon after our arrival, Penny commented that she didn’t want to leave until she had seen a Toucan, the large and colorful birds for which Costa Rica is known. Although Layne and I have enjoyed a few visits from the big-beaked flyers at our house, none had come around while Penny and Joel were there. But within minutes of her comment, we looked up to see not one, but two of the gorgeous creatures landing in the branches above our patio, then dropping down into the banana foliage. And indeed, for the rest of our visit, we had front-row seats at Toucan Theater, as the beautiful birds flew from branch to branch and glided across the open space in front of our terrace.
FLN Lodge is situated on a 200-acre certified organic, biodynamic farm producing ginger and turmeric along with hundreds of tropical fruits, herbs and vegetables. Some 90% of the food they offer guests comes directly from what they grow, so we had high expectations for some delicious meals during our stay and we were not disappointed. The salads were amazing with leafy greens of all descriptions, ripe red tomatoes, cucumbers, beets and other goodies. Plus, the fresh salad dressings were superb, one using their organic turmeric and another based on balsamic vinegar and herbs. Our lunch that first day was a baked yucca pie with black beans and cheese topping along with sautéed veggies. Delicious! The yucca was so smooth and creamy it reminded me of perfect mashed potatoes. Our other meals were equally tasty and healthy, other than one night when the sushi was poorly done and the miso soup had no taste. We later decided the primary chef was off that night because the next day when he was in charge, our lunch of smothered pork chops, rice, mustard greens and guacamole was outstanding and the Corvina (fish) that evening for dinner was also excellent. Breakfast was consistently first-rate, with homemade bread, gallo pinto, scrambled eggs and plates of tropical fruits from the farm.
The FLN website describes a number of tours, most of them arranged through outside tour companies, but the “farm tour” is free to guests and it is truly an extraordinary experience. We had expressed particular interest in their organic farming systems so we were fortunate to have the Farm Manager Harold join our small group to give us a detailed account of the complex soil preparations and meticulous timing involved in their organic processes, which they even gear to certain mystical elements such as the position of the moon or stars. Harold assured us that such considerations actually play a big part in a successful crop.
As we walked through the vast estate following our guide Roy, we found ourselves in a tropical paradise filled with exotic plants and animals. At one point, Roy stopped us and pointed way up a tall tree to a dark blob on a branch. “There’s a three-toed sloth!” he exclaimed. “It’s the laziest animal in the jungle!” Using his binoculars against our cameras, Roy managed to get a few shots of the creature, which watched us with scant interest from his perch. At another point, some workers called to Roy that there was a “chicken of the tree” resting nearby. We all walked over quickly to see what this was but there was no bird around. Then Roy pointed to an Iguana sunning itself on a log and laughingly told us it’s called a “chicken” partly for the taste of the meat. That’s one dish I think I’ll pass on!
Further along, we observed aspects of their crop rotation system in practice. First, they let the land revive itself naturally with free-growing native plants, then they introduce goats to eat down that foliage; chickens are then put in to fertilize and stir up the soil and finally, they allow hogs to root and loosen the earth in preparation for the next planting. Those were some happy hogs, a wonderful contrast to the evils of factory farms where the pigs are caged and mistreated.
In my next post, I’ll tell you about the Hanging Bridges Tour, the wonderful FLN swimming pool and what ever happened to those two little puppies we rescued. For now, contemplate the enormous benefits of organic farming and sustainable agriculture, both to your health and to the health of our planet. And when you have some time, I encourage you to plan a trip to Finca Luna Nueva Lodge where you can learn first-hand why organic really does matter.