Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Erin and Joe's Jungle-Fusion Culinary Experience

Winning the Jungle Fusion airfare prize and stay at Pura Suerte complimented our travel plans for Joe's 30th birthday last January. We decided to fly into San Joe but then drive to the central Pacific Coast of Costa Rica and explore a few spots on the way to the farm.
We arrived in San Jose late and upon recommendation, stayed in a colorful (but barricaded) hotel near the airport. We rented a car and started early on our first day to drive down the coast. It was a long and windy trek on both highways and through tiny towns but we finally saw the piercing blue ocean near Jaco.

Our first stop was at a rooftop restaurant called The Marlin in Manuel Antonio. Joe was in heaven to watch the NFL while drinking Imperials and looking at the incredible view the small oceanside town offers. This most relaxing hour prepared us for the next sixty minutes of bumpy terrain between Manuel Antonio and Dominical. Driving on this dirt road into the remote countryside was a trip... purchasing cold baggies of coconut water from little girls while waiting for our turn on one-way bridges.... wondering how our rental was holding up against the gravel and bumps... passing men with machetes riding bicycles... passing fields of cows and acres of trees and mountains... it was a plethera of eye candy. Arriving in Dominical near sunset was like approaching the merchant alley at a Widespread show. Vendors hawking sarongs, jewelry and towels, dogs running underfoot and surfboards propped every which direction. We first rented a couple of giant foam boards to give surfing a try and were pummeled. Imperials at Jazzy's softened the blows and we decided to check out a thai restaurant for dinner. We ended up being the only patrons in the restaurant which suffered from frequent power outages and resident cats. We instructed our enthusiastic server on how to make a martini and ended up with a rum/tonic/and O.J. concoction. The server had also not ever heard of an olive but served us amazing fare that was a combination of thai and indian flavors.

The next morning began our trip to the farm... we were refreshed and prepared with driving instructions... "once you see the white church, turn right, then turning left after the fourth bridge". All was well until we lost bridge count and ended up on a steep and rocky road heading into a river. This spurred argument between driver and navigator which was interrupted by four men with machetes coming out of the woods looking at us inquisitively. One farmer with a wandering eye approached the car and kept asking "Jimmy? Jimmy?" while trying to unlock the back door. With a mild panic we hit lock and reversed our direction, thinking we were going to sleep in the Hyundai in the jungle for the night. And still worried about the machetes! Luckily, a few blocks up we run into a silver jeep with a couple who know Drennan and assure us "just keep driving.. you'll hit the farm". We do arrive after a long stretch on a narrow and steep dirt road and are instantly at east with the beautiful surroundings.

We pull into one driveway and explore what will be our cabin made of large pieces of bamboo and surrounded by lush trees and flowers. A tour of the grounds shows us several more of these individual houses, the greenhouses, the main house and the restaurant. We find ourselves wandering down paths through the jungle to the various partitions of the farm, meeting dogs and other visitors along the way. We ended our journey under the mango tree which offered a most excellent view of sunset. We were looking at the same bay as in Manuel Antonio, but miles further and higher, with and incredible view of the jungle's roof in between.
The only three-week-old restaurant welcomed us that night with candlelight, music, tablecloths and good company. Red wine in hand, we enjoyed an amazing cauliflower and mushroom soup with fried onions and fried bread. Next came organic greens with goat cheese, walnuts and raisings followed by baked Ziti and marinated beef. Pudding with homeade marshmallow completed the amazing meal made with local ingredients purchased in trade by Drennan's crew. We met a really nice couple traveling from Manhattan and enjoyed talking to Merrick the chef, a transplant from Denver, who knows restaurant staff from one of our neighborhood favorites, Lola. We headed back to our hut comfortably full and curious about life (from what seemed like worlds away from everything) on the farm. The bottle of wine could not prepare us city dwellers for the noises of the night, how ever. Could have been the lizzard chilling on our pillows when we returned to our room but we lied awake wide-eyed for a few hours before sleep came on. So many noises came out of the trees (croaks.. squeeks... footsteps), but finally we crashed and the next day decided to explore the waterfalls. After small doses of amazingly strong coffee we head down the path in the direction we were instructed the evening before. We arrive at the chilly stream and climb down a few levels into the base of one waterfall. Here we hang out on the flat rocks for hours reading, taking pictures, swimming and relaxing. Surrounded by huge trees that drop fluttering leaves, it was an ideal spot to relax for an afternoon with no agenda and appreciate the surroundings. We do so for hours and finally head back to our hut only to nap, listen to music and read for a few more hours, enjoying the light, the fresh air and the comfortable deck of our bamboo hut. Gathering back at the restaurant that evening we enjoy cocktails and await another tasty meal. This time it's mahi mahi with a coconut coating and a hearts of palm and rice dish. Desert was a chocolate sponge cake soaked in rum and caramel with mangoes. It was amazing! Another fabulous meal and cocktails leaving us fat and happy and ready to stare at the ceiling in bed listening to monkeys chatter in the trees around us. Very wierd sound, by the way... sounds like angry croaking.

The next morning the ocean becons us to return so we decide to start the trek back to Manuel Antonio where we will spend Joe's 30th on the water. We enjoy coffee back in the restaurant and appreciate the sunlight on the beautiful restaurant structure, surrounding plants and the view for the last few moments. We run into Drennan and compliment his creation profusely, thanking him for his hospitality. We talk about how it must be for him to have so many people come and go. We're headed back and he's starting yet another day of projects on the land... this time filling in the dirt roads to the restaurant with enormous trucks of soil. We so admire his corner of the world and what he is preserving and promoting. We laugh at ourselves for feeling "threatened" by any local farmer as the individuals we met were friendly and gentle. Drennan seems to have an awesome repor with his community.

Anyone with the opportunity to travel to the farm and enjoy a day or a week of serene quiet, lush vegitation and fabulous hospitality should make the effort to see Pura Suerte.