Friday, September 22, 2017

Our last day in the Rain Forest of Costa Rica (Our visit to a chocolate plantation and the cutest baby monkey)

We were sad that it was our last full day in Costa Rica, but we were making the most of it. If you read the last blog post, you know that we had already seen a ton on this day, but we had one more stop. It was a visit to a chocolate plantation. And before I show you the photos of this, I want you to know that this is a real working plantation. Unlike the chocolate tours that you see in the US and Europe where you watch videos or see a simulation of chocolate being made, this is the real thing. The owner lives and works on the property with his wife, son and daughter, and they make the chocolate by hand.

We arrived at the plantation and before even starting our walking tour of the property, we saw a baby monkey in one of the nearby trees. The owner told us that a group of white-headed monkeys had challenged this monkey's troop, and that in the process, this little guy had fallen from a tree and been abandoned. He was taking care of the monkey until it was big and strong enough to join another troop.

This little guy was way too cute, and there was no way we could pass up this opportunity to photograph this little one.. I got my Canon 100-400mm lens and put in on my Canon 1D X Mark II camera to get some photos of this precious little guy.

You have to love this face!

The baby monkey climbed up a small tree and gave out a little cry. We all melted.

Then it was on to our walking tour of the property.

In all the years that I have eaten chocolate (and I have done my fair share of chocolate eating), I had no idea how chocolate was grown or made. So it was really interesting to see the cocoa pods for the first time. But I still did not understand how these became the chocolate that we eat.

The owner took out his machete and cut the pod open to show us the seeds inside. He even encouraged us to try eating the meat that was covering the seeds, and it was surprisingly good.

We then walked over to some drying huts where he showed us what the beans look like after being dried for a couple or days.

This started looking a little more like chocolate.

After walking around the entire property, we came to the family's outdoor cooking area, where they were roasting the cocoa beans. At this point, I removed my Canon 100-400mm lens and switched to the Canon 16-35mm III lens for wider photos.

We all watched as the son started grinding the cocoa beans to open them. This was a great time to change my camera settings to a slow shutter speed and explain how that slow shutter helps show the motion of the grinding. (This was taken at 1/8 second.)

I used that same concept when the daughter showed us how she separates the husks from the cocoa bean. Because she was moving faster in this process, I used a shutter speed of 1/50th sec to show the beans being tossed in the air. You will notice that the heavier beans stay in the wood bowl while the lighter husks fly out and land at her feet.

Once the beans has successfully been separated, it was time for them to grind the beans.

This process was repeated numerous times until the chocolate was less of a powder and more of a paste.

Once they had the chocolate finely ground into a paste, they separated out some and added sugar and powdered milk. They then mixed that all together and put it into the grinder one more time.

Ta da! We had chocolate.

They told us that the chocolate (without the sugar and milk) is good for our skin. I took their word for it, but Dennis had some fun with this and put it all over his face. Not only is he an excellent guide, but he is one funny guy! 

After our time at the chocolate plantation, we went back to the resort to have dinner and pack. After dinner, one of the other guides told us that he heard tree frogs nearby, so we went out in search for them. And sure enough, we spotted some. I ran back to our room to get my camera, and when I returned, they had found these two which were mating. It was a really fun last shot of the trip.

I want you to get great shots of your own in Costa Rica, and so I am excited to be leading numerous photo tours to this same location starting this November.

Here is why I think this will be an amazing trip for you all:

* It is an unspoiled area and it is truly Costa Rica without any large hotels or tourist traps. This is the real rain forest. No ABC stores around to sell you T-shirts.
* It is easy to get to Costa Rica from the US with many people having a flight of less than 6 hours.
* There is a large variety of photo opportunities for you, including, animals, insects, foliage, scenery, and so much more.
* We are based in one locations so there isn't constant packing and unpacking.
* The resort is very nice, with great food, great people and all that is included in the package price.
* The resort has a conference center with projector, screen and tables where we can all to work together. This is a perfect room for me to teach workflow, Photoshop, and more. There is also a pool and I plan on having at least one informal class there too!
* The cost of this trip is very reasonable and therefore more affordable for the average photo enthusiast.
* We are limiting the guests to 12 so that everyone can learn.
* I have selected great times to visit this location. It is not the height of the heat.
* As I mentioned earlier in the blog, Canon has offered to loan you equipment at no cost to you!

If you would like more information on the Costa Rica Photo Tours, click here.

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