I almost didn’t go. Even though the thought of spending Chocolate Week at Cotton Tree Lodge sounded like a home run as a vacation adventure it was a lot of money and I was having trouble finding someone to go with me. When I called to find out how much room was still available I was told there was only one cabana left: the Jungle House.
All of the other cabanas are nestled around the Cotton Tree Lodge with views of the Moho River. The Jungle House was a quarter of a mile away by itself. Um. By myself and deep in the jungle? I wasn’t sure about this. But after some prompting from friends and family that it would “be good for me” I took a deep breath and sent in my deposit.
And then I thought of my friend Carol. Carol bakes and blogs at The Pastry Chef’s Baking. A business manager at a media mogul in Silicon Valley (that shall remain nameless) Carol had once taken time off from work to get a culinary arts degree before deciding she’d rather keep her love of baking as a hobby. Nonetheless, Carol is a true chocolate geek. So I sent her an e-mail seeing if she’d be interested.
“How much time do I have to decide?” she wrote back. I explained that I had already reserved the cabana, she just had to figure out her flights, and could really have up to the last minute to decide. Within a half hour I got a response.
“I’m in.” Phew.
Getting to Cotton Tree Lodge from the airport included a ride on Moho River. The put-put of the engine brought a calm to the last stretch of the long journey.
In the distance, we could see the giant cotton tree that gave the ecolodge its name.
The lodge with its village of cabanas was immediately welcoming. Trees heavy with limes, lemons, and mangoes, were within reaching distance. Flowers bloomed everywhere.
The wildlife strolling around was remarkable, too. You can’t tell from the photo but this grasshopper was the size of my hand.
And then he showed his wings! The sudden display sounded just like a flamenco dancer snapping open her fan.
Lizards of all sizes were everywhere. The locals called the big ones “Jesus lizards” because they run so fast they appear to run right over the surface of the river. Here is one doing a yoga pose just off the path.
And there was no exaggeration about the hike to the Jungle House. Carol and I followed a narrow plank path beyond the vegetable garden, the goat pasture, and into the jungle.
At dinner that night, Chris Crowell, the lodge owner told us the real “treat” about staying in the Jungle House was the howler monkeys. What? He tried to explain what they sounded like but he said we’d know it when we heard it. And we definitely would hear them since they liked to eat their breakfast directly over our cabana.
We were both nervous on the hike to the Jungle House that night. It was completely dark and the overgrowth which had been silent in the heat of the day was now teeming with sound. It was as if thousands of creatures were having a cocktail party.
Hi! Hi! Hi! Where are you? Where are you? Over here! Over here!
Something like that, anyway. My conversation with Carol as we groped our way in the dark along the path, too nervous to look beyond the small ring of light from our lamps, went something like this:
Me: “What was THAT??”
Carol: “I don’t know. Just keep moving.”
For the record, Carol is an extremely fast walker and I certainly wasn’t going to be left behind to meet whatever it was that was generating the sound of a high-pitched drill.
And then: Home Sweet Home. The Jungle House reaches two levels, sits on stilts, and sways like a tree.
All of the cabanas are made from beautiful hardwoods of mahogany and rosewood. Chris explained to us that he had used hardwood that had been felled by hurricane Iris in 2001. The carpentry is really stunning. The Jungle House has a large platform bed that we immediately dubbed the Princess Bed. A second bunk that had been moved in was tucked under the thatched eaves. (Carol let me sleep in the Princess Bed the entire week, go to her blog and tell her how awesome she is!) We had a family of bats and one night a visit from a giant wolf spider. But it was the howler monkeys we were waiting to hear.
But first we had to get through the most violent thunderstorm I have ever experienced. About midnight, lightening, thunder, and torrents of rain drummed on the thatched roof and soon I had a steady drip, drip, drip plunking through the netting over my bed onto the sheets. “And this is only the first night,” I thought, staring into a darkness so black I couldn’t even see my fingers in front of my face. The chaos lasted about an hour. After we had finally drifted off into a fitful sleep that’s when we heard them.
The howler monkeys had arrived for breakfast at 6 a.m. Even though they aren’t that big, howler monkeys are considered to be the loudest land animal. That’s right. Elephants and lions have nothing on these guys. Howlers sound like a cross between a dinosaur and a dog, with lots of heavy breathing, barking, and of course, the roar.
We were serenaded by the furry creatures of the treetops every morning, once beginning as early as 3 a.m. and this is in chorus with the rest of the singing jungle beings. One night I had to resort to ear plugs the concert was so loud. Every morning as soon as the dim light grew stronger through the canopy, the jungle fell silent. Eerie. The first night back home from the trip I was amazed at how quiet – and lifeless – my city neighborhood streets seemed.
So that is the Jungle House. I wanted to tell you about it before we shift our attention to the reason for the trip: chocolate. A good scene setter, don’t you think? This is the active environs of the world’s favorite bean.
When we got home, I made this goofy video just so we wouldn’t forget that week in the Jungle House. Two-thirds of the way through, you’ll hear the howler monkeys. Sleep tight!
Next: A tour of Eladio Pop’s jungle cacao farm.