1 STEP: Playas del Coco

 

Sheila, owner of the farm, showed us the chocolate laboratory in Playas del Coco.
All the machines used in the lab, are powered by photo-voltaic panels, placed on theroof.
We spent a day in the lab to discover the secrets of artisan chocolate.
We are surrounded by chocolate perfume while the super maitre chocolatier Silvia explained us every steps.

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-HARVEST TO DRYING: Cacao seed has to be harvested, fermented and dried at the sun.

-TOASTED TO CRACKED: The seed is toasted to reveal its real strength, then cooled down and cracked in small pieces. Depending on where the sees was harvested and dried, the taste and quality change a lot!
-CLEANING: Those pieces still contains peels so they are put in a special wooden panel, with a blower, that separates the light peels (garbage) from the heavy seed.
-COCOA BUTTER: Now you can extract the cocoa butter. A part of the seeds goes in this process, but the main part is refined to produce the cocoa paste: the main ingredient.
-MIXING:In the next step, a millstone works for almost 2 days to mix all the ingredients. This delicious dark paste emanated an amazing perfume.
-RESTING. The chocolate need to rest for a few days in a baking tin (according to the type of recipes).
-MELTING: Next step is the most delicate: the maitre chocolatier cracks the big block of chocolate into pieces and put them in a special machine. It melts the chocolate at 50° and then it cool down at 32°.
-MOLDINGThe dark liquid is poured into the mold. The temperature is crucial, otherwise chocolate will not come out from the mold.
-COOLING DOWNThe mold is put into the refrigerator. After this last rest step, the block is ready to be removed from the mold, packed and sold in the boutique.


-TASTING: We tasted the bar and other products, like bon bons and truffles.
They are filled with coconut, cherries, balsamic vinegar, rum, and other specialties. The taste of the chocolate reveals the quality of the ingredient.

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We spent nice days with Sheila, her family, the maitre chocolatier and all the Cata Chocolate staff, who gave us the chance to learn about chocolate and the good way of living.
If you visit Costa Rica, go to Cata Chocolate Lab in Playas del Coco. You will discover the secrets of the artisan chocolate!

 

1 STEP: Bijagua

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FINCA EXPERIMENTAL CATA CHOCOLATE

We are hosted by Cata Chocolate for three days in Bijagua and two days in Playa de Coco where we will see all the process of making chocolate.
The farm in Bijagua produce platano and cacao. There is not the condition to dry the seeds of cocoa because the rainy weather, so this step takes place in Playa de Coco, as the transformation and the packaging of the final product.

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They have also some experimental fruit forest, with citrus and tropical fruit trees (like the typical mango and papaya).
During the good season it is easy to see the two volcanoes in the background.
In the rainy season there is water on the ground and water in the sky. It rains often, it’s always cloudy.
Despite our expectations, it’s not so hot: we stay with long trousers and long shirts, also to avoid insects’ bites. Even there are few mosquitoes.

 

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Sunrise at 5, sunset at 17. Wake up at 6, lunch at 13, dinner at 19, and sleep at 21.
This place is precious. You can see sloths, amazing colored birds, toucans and monkeys.
And a lot of strange insects.
There are some rivers inside the forest of the farm that end to a small lake. The sound of the water are hypnotic and relaxing. You might stay for hours listening to its rounded lovely sound.

in collaboration with felpagialla

1.STEP: From Rome to Bijagua

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Waking up at 2:15. A quick walk to Termini Station to take the bus.
Rome by night is really magical. Hard to imagine this quiet atmosphere after a chaotic working day.
The bus pass near Colosseum and Circo Massimo that seem like giants in the dark.
Elton John’s Your Song in the background.
Waking up so early is hard…but the trip to the airport was lovely.

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THE FLIGHT

  • 4 cities: Rome Paris Toronto San José
  • 4 airports. Start from Fiumicino. Nice atmosphere in Charles De Gaul. A flat but hi-tech Toronto. Forest and exotic animals printed on the walls of Juan Santamaria.
  • 3 connections worried about delays.
  • 7 hours of time zone difference. Chasing the Sun. The hours were passing, but outside was always morning.
  • 6 sleeps on the planes, hoping to defeat the jet lag before its victory.
  • 5 taxi assaults escaped at destination. We took a bus after torturing a girl for info with our spanish.
  • And finally, 7 hours of nice sleep. Tomorrow the bus for Bijagua.

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THE BUS TO BIJAGUA
Second day. A long bus trip to Bijagua, that’s what await us.  No car, no phone, no internet connection. Gotta be careful with long trip if you are moving by bus in Costa Rica, but the locals are very kind and they help you without waiting for your questions.
5 hours of bus with a 20′ break for lunch: rice, beans and hot vegetables.

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The streets are narrow and seems not so safe insite the bus that was bouncing side to side while the driver was running like a crazy. A bit scary at first, but then becomes quite funny. Two men spontaneously helped us to find the right bus stop.
When we got out a storm compared at the horizon and we had to walk for 2 kilometers to reach the farm.
We stopped to ask indication and immediately start to rain heavily.
There were 2 locals at a table. The woman let us call the farm with her phone. The man talked to the farmer and then decided to drive us to our destination with his car.
Everybody knows everybody.

 

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THE JOURNEY BEGINS

One day to our flight to Costa Rica!
This time I will travel with FelpaGialla , an Italian blogger who talks about Nature, Agriculture, Philosophy and the good way of living.
We chose together to visit Costa Rica, because what better place than Costa Rica to connect the lively art of RandomIllustrations and the thematic of FelpaGialla’s blog?

See this map to get an idea of the Three-Weeks Itinerary:

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THE THREE BIG STOPS:
FIRST STOP: we will take the bus from San Josè to Bijagua to visit Cata Chocolate, a chocolate farm located in the countryside. We will visit also their shop, in Playa del Coco beach.
SECOND STOP: we will move by bus to Monteverde, San’Elena, spending some days to Hotel Belmar in the middle of the Cloud Forest
THIRD STOP: the third and last stop will be Carate, hosted by Finca Exotica. This beautiful Eco-lodge is located in one of the best National Parks of Costa Rica: Corcovado National Park.

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THE DRAWING REPORTAGE
I will sketch the locations and FelpaGialla will write the articles about our experience.
If you want to follow the journey, check those links:
Website: 365onroad (in english) and FelpaGialla (in italian)
Facebook: Random Illustrations and Felpa Gialla
Instagram: ben365onroad and felpagialla

Thanks to LonelyPlanetItalia to provide us the digital guide of Costa Rica! It is very helpful, to discover places to see and to know how to move around Costa Rica by bus!

Ready to go with us?

One week at Azores Islands

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Azores is the synonymous of Amazing.
It is one of the best place I’ve ever visited. It is just a paradise. Nature all around, no fear about dangerous insects or wild animals, during summer climate is very good with a pleasant average temperature, for surfers and who love trekking, cyclists, motorcyclists,  is one for the bet spot in the world.

I suggest to visit Faja de Santo Cristo, a place that you can reach only by foot or by quad, with the view of the cliff and flourishing forests. No crowded or touristic at all.

I stay in Caldeira Surfcamp Guest House, and I recommend this place both for single, couple or families. There is not fast internet, but here you can truly experiment an amazing connection with yourself and the surrounding. The sound of the ocean and of the birds will accompany you during your visit!

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Murales I did for Caldeira Guest House who host me

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Came back to Rome

One week in Lisbon

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Lisbon. The romantic city. If you visit Lisbon just once, you will remember its light, the reflection of sun upon the ocean, the narrow streets, its up and down, the Pantheon where the VIP are buried (every tuc tuc guides hope that Cristiano Ronaldo will be buried there too), the Pastel de Belem, one of the best pastry to taste the famous sweet “Pasteis de Nata”, the melancholic notes of Fado, the bridge so similar to San Francisco bridge or the statue of Cristo, so similar to the Rio de Janeiro’s Cristo.

You have to walk, to take the tram, the elevator, the tuctuc, to walk again, to visit the museums, to taste the fish, and the soup and the fish again, to talk with locals about tourism, to visit its surrounding and it will be not enough.

Because Lisbon is not only for tourism, it is for living.

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One week in Porto and the north

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Portugal.
Porto is the main city of the North.
Porto is a small city with 200 thousand people, touristic and very typical. Everybody knows the view of Ribeira, with the coloured houses and the river Douro.
I really loved my experience there! Porto has everything you need: fantastic nature with the ocean and the main city park, nightlife, cultural places to visit.

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From Porto it is quite easy to reach Douro Valley, well know for the Porto wine or Foz Coa, archaeological site with amazing paleolithic graffiti.

 

Zurich in Spring

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Time to visit Zurich. Spring is the best time thanks to the good weather!
I spent three weeks drawing and trekking around Zurich.
It is a city where everything works.

In Rome, you must just wait to the bus stops, hoping not to wait too much. In Zurich buses always run on time.
In Rome there are a lot of pollution, it isn’t a bike friendly city, it is difficult to find some area to do sport (except some parks to do jogging or yoga). In the other side, there are a lot of museums and is one of the best historic city of the world.

 

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I really loved going around Zurich, take its perfect buses, played sport in its incredible open air structure, so clean that you can play sport barefoot.
And I really loved to breathe, deeply breathe finally!

Zurich is a small city, people are polite, not so outgoing, but depends on if you have the chance to create small group, playing sport or other hobbies.
In this matter, we spent a lot of time in Bugensport Zentrum, a fantastic shops and archery school with a lot of bizarre stuff inside (armours, cars, old vintage things like jukeboxe, wooden sculpture of Buddha, etc.).
The owner is very friendly and we easy talk in English with him, speaking about the story of that place and our story.

 

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We visited also some free museum like the botanic garden with amazing domes where you can find a lot of tropical plants, and the sukkulentum garden.
The Zoological museum also is big enough to spend half day inside, looking to the giant mammoth and other species, from insects to whale.

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Beautiful Zurich!
Hope to came back soon!