Our time in Costa Rica is coming to an end, but before we go there’s one last excursion I absolutely want to take.
Not far from Golfito, and accessible only by water, is another natural marvel: Casa Orquidea, fruit of the vision, efforts and dedication of Ron and Trudy MacAllister .
Their love affair with this piece of land started in the early 1970’s, when they bought a former cacao plantation and turned it into a botanical marvel where more than a hundred different orchids grow, along with ornamental palms, fruit trees, medicinal plants, spices, and a lot more colorful and exotic stuff that I don’t even know.
In a hurry I hop off the Panga that took us here, eager to go behind the wall of Coconut Palm Trees hiding Casa Orquidea.
Catching the first glimpse of a winding gravel path, I can’t help thinking that this is exactly how I imagine the Garden of Eden to be like.
There are 8 of us visitors here, all fellow cruisers: Cindi and Adam from Bravo, Marie and Steve from Saben, Sue and Gary from Shellback, plus Tom and I.
Trudy comes to meet and welcome us: she’s going to be heading the tour and illustrate as much as she can about everything that surround us.
As she talks, giving a brief history of how this place came to be, I can’t help noticing how the garden resounds with birdsong. The Scarlet Macaws flying overhead and screeching as they go are a big distraction, so I pretty much missed most of the story.
As usual, I’m enthralled by nature and am already itching to go explore. Soon enough the tour begins, and true to my habit I’m way behind everyone, wandering around noticing colors, snapping pictures, smelling sweet perfumes, lost in my own version of Paradise. More than once Tom has to forcibly drag me along… But he also understands my passion and has the patience of a saint, so I am occasionally left alone in my dream world.
I manage to recover a modicum of focus when we step into a Coconut Grove. I LOVE coconuts! There’s no better taste than coconut pulp, for me…
Trudy demonstrates her dexterity with a Machete and gracefully but effectively opens up a coconut, encouraging us to take a bite.
Tom, knowing my penchant for coconut, goes and forages for me! He cracks open two coconuts, passing them along to drink the refreshing water inside. I’ll be taking them home later on, oh joy!
Throughout the tour we all get to taste, touch, smell and rub on our skin a whole variety of leaves, fruits and flowers.
The most surprising is a bush whose leaves, when crushed, taste exactly the same as garlic! But then I’m introduced to this strange flower –we’ll call it the “Shampoo Plant”.
Squeezing gently, a thick, soapy fluid – a sort of aromatic gel oozes out in my hand. It smells really good, and it’s perfect for washing your hands! It can also be used as a 2 in 1 shampoo/conditioner.
All the ladies in our group are liberally applying this fragrant liquid to their hair (me included)… I wonder: could I bottle this? I certainly can’t be the only one who thought of that!
But then we get to taste a slice of the tangy Star Fruit, and I’m distracted again….
Oh, look at the Pine Cone Ginger, and the Scorpion Orchid, and the Heliconias, and Strelitzias…
On and on and on it goes, until I’m introduced to the Ylang Ylang flower!
Understated in its quiet beauty, it reminds me a bit of a Sea Star…
But oh, there’s nothing understated about its intense perfume!
The plant’s botanical name is Cananga Odorata, a fast-growing tree of the custard-apple family that reaches up to 40 feet and beyond. Its clusters of dark seeds are a favorite food item among birds.
The essential oil derived from the flowers is extensively used in aromatherapy.
Most notably, Ylang Ylang is the base of the world-famous Chanel # 5 perfume. I succumb to this flower’s spell, just like every other lady around me. We are all frantically rubbing the flowers on our wrists and behind our ears… Despite the heat and humidity and profuse sweating, we all smell heavenly for the rest of the day.
Between the fruits, the flowers, the birds, the butterflies, a very intriguing cat, the giant palms… I feel like I have the Attention Deficit Disorder!
Maybe a whole week would be needed to properly absorb it all… But we only have a little over two hours, so it’s a very intense experience: no time to dwell or day-dream! I can do that later…
I end up shooting exactly 543 pictures in this Paradise.
I am also actively stalking an elusive and fast-moving Toucan.
It is imperative that I get a picture of this fidgety bird, it’s on my Bucket List for Costa Rica and by Golly I’m going to get one…
The tour is over; we are left to our own devices by Trudy, who graciously encourages us to stay as long as we like. Tom is beside me, a satisfied grin on his face. He’s clearly enjoying himself, too… I’m still chasing the Toucan, but I think I lost him.
Then Tom quietly says “let me borrow your camera for a second, will you”. As I hand it over to him I see a blur out of the corner of my eye: it’s “my” Toucan flying away!
Before I can even say “there he is!” Tom hands me back the camera with a smug grin. “There” he says “Done. Here’s your Toucan picture. How about chasing some lunch now?”
I gape at him, unsure at what just happened. Feverishly, I browse the last few pictures on my digital camera screen. After all my shots, there’s only one: Tom’s shot.
A PERFECT picture of “my” Toucan leaving the tree and flying away in the blue sky. The image I have been chasing for most of the morning.
I’m speechless. Totally speechless, more than a little frustrated and mighty pissed… It’s amazing what envy can do to you.
Looking at him with narrow eyes, I manage to find enough voice to hiss a bitter “thank you” between my teeth.
He laughs his infectious laugh and says “Well, you wanted the bird’s picture and I gave you the bird’s picture. I’m hungry, let’s go!”
It takes me the whole 40 minutes ride back to Golfito to finally let go of the envy and appreciate that, hungry or not, my husband would give me the world if I asked for it.
I got my picture. I didn’t shoot it, but I got what I wanted and he gave it to me. Now that I’m thinking about it, it makes it all the more precious…
Regardless, tomorrow I’m going to burn all the books on photography I’ve been pointlessly reading.
So this is it, our last Hurrah.
We’re planning on leaving Costa Rica in about a week. The next few days will be spent gathering supplies, submitting paperwork and getting ready to resume life at sea after six blissful weeks of being happily moored in one of the most enticing spots on Earth.
We’ll be the last ones to leave: our friends are all leaving in the next couple of days, some going to Ecuador, some to the Galapagos, some –like us- headed to Panama.
If you’re still hungry for images of Casa Orquidea, follow this link : a much more talented guy gathered a whole lot of gorgeous pictures (with explanations and information!) on what can be found here.
Also, YouTube abounds with videos that will give you the whole tour of the garden. Just search for Casa Orquidea Costa Rica.
Trust me, it will feel just as if you were here, too…