Our Morpho Vans transfer from The Springs Resort & Spa to El Silencio Lodge was a charming mother and son team – she drove, he operated the GPS on his smart phone. They were sweet and friendly – she chatted as she drove, pointing out various things of interest (that our other tour guides had already spruiked about, but it was nice that she was doing the ‘guide thing’ as she drove). Her son was quiet, not confident with his English, but understanding more of us than we of him!
They delivered us safe and sound at El Silencio Lodge and Spa – a lovely, secluded place nestled in a valley with a river running right next to the main lodge and various streams running through other parts of the 200ha property. The outdoor Jacuzzi in our suite had been turned on before we arrived, as had the heater, so all was toasty (with an elevation of 1,400m in ‘winter’, it was good to have the warmth). The bed was comfortable and the room was private and spacious. The main lodge had a serene and beautiful aspect and the décor was very modern, exceeding the expectations of charming and rustic. The open fires were strategically placed in 3 areas of the V-shaped open room – one arm for the dining area, the other for the bar and lounge.
From our very first meal, we were impressed with the chef and his creations. As the kitchen is small and the numbers of guests modest, requests for vegetarian options needed to be made in advance, so a menu was provided early for orders throughout the day. For lunch on this first afternoon, we chose the chickpea salad and fresh green salad followed by a vegetable quesadilla and stuffed bell pepper. Margaritas made on premium tequila were a spot on choice for the quesadillas – which were the best we had ever tasted!
Between lunch and dinner, we weren’t too adventurous. Wandered around the immediate vicinity, over bridges spanning rushing water, on trails that were occasionally blocked with fallen branches or even trees (recent rain had caused a bit of a mess). We found the meditation and yoga centre on our stroll, and the spa was a decent size offering enough treatments on its menu to keep you occupied when not partaking in the onsite activities such as ziplining, rappelling and hiking.
A soak in the hotub after our wander certainly took the chill off and more than eased us into relaxation mode. But being who we are, we were still in need of a little internet time, and as wifi wasn’t available in the rooms (but apparently soon will be), we took ourselves back to the main lodge and sipped a nice glass of biodynamic Spanish Pinord +7 (a mix of Garnacha, Syrrah and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes). This wine was being offered as a special recommendation of the evening and it was delicious – truly special. We later found out that Wine & Spirits Magazine ranks Pinord as one of the top 100 wineries of the world, and this wine in particular was a gold medal winner in one of the most important organic wine competitions in the world.
For dinner we shared a bottle of A.Lisa Malbec from Argentina, Patagonia with our friends. This was a very nice choice (even if it wasn’t exceptional like the Pinord!). The wine list is not extensive, but each has been carefully and expertly selected, and we were happy with all that we sampled throughout our stay. We later discovered that the fantastic Chef Carlos also wears the hat of sommelier, so all of these selections were his. Impressive on a number of counts. We pared back our dinner choices, as the portions are ample, so it was only a starter of stuffed tomato for me, and vegetable casserole with cous cous for John. Plenty really.
The next morning we slept until nearly 7, which was a lovely change after having had a few early rises for tours and transfers. Our breakfast meeting time with our friends was not until 9:30am, so we went for a brief walk and planned our morning of exploration along the waterfall trails. Our traditional Tico breakfast of eggs, rice and beans, fried plantains and cheese, and salsa lizano was as tasty as our other dining experiences created by Chef Carlos.
Fuelled up by our morning meal, we began our exploration of the trails around the lodge. Before we had even left the immediate area, we paused to check out the onsite organic mini-farm. This enterprise is making the dining room of El Silencio quite a culinary destination in Costa Rica. There is a 465sqm greenhouse that supplies the kitchen with organic and colourful vegetables year-round. The large Rhode Island Red chickens are clearly healthy and contented birds in their free-range habitat, happily supplying fresh eggs daily. But the most fascinating aspect of this enterprise is the trout farm. They have quite a sophisticated system in place with smallish tanks for the hatchlings followed by a series of increasingly larger ponds connected by narrow man-made cascades that provided a downhill access to the next pond upon the fish’s “graduation”. There is even a large trout-filled pond near the main lodge with a jetty for those wishing to ‘catch their own’ and have the chef cook it for dinner. While we didn’t sample these shiny, colourful creatures at the table, our friends did, and they said they were superb.
Exploring the trails to the waterfalls took what was left of the morning (around 2 hours). We saw 6 cascades in total – the three main ones: Melody, El Silencio & Promise, as well as three smaller falls that were not named on the map. The largest of the three was very impressive, plummeting into a large natural pool that would be perfect for swimming in the warmer weather. We took a less popular path back to the lodge, dodging fallen trees and clambering through bamboo clumps. Walking and chatting with our friends we came to the crest of a small hill on the trail and there before us on the path was a small herd of white-collared peccaries. We had caught glimpses of some of these wild pigs for a second or two on this Costa Rica trip at other locations, but this was the first time we’d seen them so clearly and for so long. We froze, and when they didn’t dart off immediately, we carefully tried to get the camera out to snap some pics. But the movement alerted them to our presence and they took off into the cloud forest.
Back at the lodge, it was time for another meal (even though we felt like we had only just had breakfast!), and we chose a chickpea soup in a token effort at restraint. Delicious, but we wouldn’t have had it at all if we had know that our afternoon tour included snacks…substantial snacks! We were driven around the village of Bajos del Toro, which like every town in Costa Rica was complete with a church, a soccer field and a small school. The tradition on a Sunday is common across the country: the day begins with church, followed by a football match, after which it’s all about the food and partying with family and friends – the three most important things to all Ticos!
After our drive we stopped at Olga’s place. She runs the local shop from her home, and gave us a lesson in making tortillas. I got right into it. Olga didn’t speak a word of English, but she was appreciative of my pathetic efforts to have a crack at Spanish. So I was nominated to make the dough, and then we all had a go at making the balls and then flattening them in a circular motion, the traditional way of making tortillas. Then she showed us a 2-armed flat wooden hinged thing like a non-electrical sandwich press, which made the process much faster, and the tortillas more attractive. The centrepiece of the kitchen, and in fact the whole open living area, was a huge wood-fired stove that Olga’s husband made for her. Her expertise in wrangling the burning wood meant that the temperature was perfect for cooking the tortillas on the gigantic hotplate, and we watched them brown up nicely, admiring our handiwork. She then fried up some homemade beef and pork sausages (which our friends were happy to try), and these were paired with homemade cheese (very like haloumi, but not salty) and rolled in the tortillas – cheese wrapped in tortillas is delicious!
Saying farewell to Olga was a lengthy ritual, she was a consummate host and kept wanting to press more food on us! It was only when we accepted a parting gift of sweets from a large batch she had just made that we were allowed to squeeze back in the car and head back to the lodge.
The remainder of the afternoon was all about down time and relaxation, including ambling about the grounds and reading by the fire. We passed on the other activities on offer, such as ziplining, rappelling and night walks, as we had already experienced those at our previous accommodations in Costa Rica.
El Silencio is a wonderful retreat in one of the most beautiful parts of the world. Its existence is also greatly appreciated by the locals, most of who work at the lodge. Bajos del Toro is a small town, and the lodge gives priority to residents when employing staff, providing training and having a promote-from-within mandate. The general manager, Arnay, clearly loves his job and his crew are happy to have work so close to home.
All too soon it was time to move on to the next part of our Costa Rican adventure. We said goodbye to the helpful and friendly staff (we are REALLY going to miss Chef Carlos and his creations!), and piled into the car bound for San Jose.