Costa RicaCosta Rica

Chocolate Decadence & the Punta Uva Gardens

Destination: Puerto Viejo

Today's dive to Punta Mona, reputedly one of the most beautiful and isolated dive sites in the Southern Caribbean, had been canceled due to another bout of unseasonal rains.

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I called PURE Jungle Spa to see if I could reschedule my afternoon Chocolate Decadence Treatment for that morning -- and the plan was a success.

The spa was spacious with natural accents and wood decor. Off of the reception area were two treatment rooms and a stone-tiled bathroom with an outdoor shower. One side of the waiting room was decorated with bottles of massage oils, lotions and other products. The other end had chocolate bars, candies and cacao soap made by an indigenous community in the nearby town of Bri Bri.

As instructed, I had arrived 15 minutes early. The receptionist greeted me with a glass of chilled white wine and prepared an aromatic foot soak. A bucket of hot water mixed with scented flower oils was placed upon a curved stone on the floor. I soaked my tired feet and began to unwind.

The masseuse arrived a few minutes later. Sondra Cantu, an American who has been living in Costa Rica for the past five years, is one of those types of people that you immediately feel at ease around. She began to heat up the chocolate paste -- made from roasted and ground cacao beans -- while I got comfortable on the massage table.

As the chocolate melted, the incredible smell of cacao exploded in the room. The treatment began with an exfoliation, followed by 20 minutes of deep tissue massage. Sondra really cared about relieving the tension in my muscles; she took her time and applied an amazing amount of pressure. I had nearly fallen asleep when she began applying the scrub.

Thankfully, the overwhelming smell of cacao did not provoke my stomach into chocolate cravings. After wiping my skin, she dripped warm oil over my body and rubbed it in. I dreaded the end to this truly decadent treatment which left my skin glowing. After a short scalp massage, it was over. I remained in the room for a few minutes to rest, then showered off next door. Waiting for me on the sink was a beautiful arrangement of fresh flowers, a cold glass of water, and a small piece of homemade Talamanca chocolate. This was the ideal end to the perfect treatment. My skin was smoother than silk, and emanated chocolate for the rest of the day.

By now, the sun was shining and I still had the rest of the afternoon to myself. After regrouping at Hotel Kasha, I decided to explore Punta Uva, a 20-minute walk away.

The uncrowded beach lies next to a small estuary where kayaks can be rented. As I walked by a dive center, I noticed people wiggling into wetsuits. The group invited me to join in, and I had just enough time to suit up for the 2:00 p.m. dive.

The Punta Uva gardens are less than five minutes from the shore via speedboat. Even though we were diving over 100 feet into the deep, the water was so warm that wet suits were completely unnecessary. As we descended, the first thing I saw was a large grouper swimming with a pair of yellow fish. Various species of purple and green sponges and corals dominated the underwater landscape.

Throughout the dive, we spotted a number of enormous lobsters, and even a pair dwelling side-by-side in two separate holes. This reminded me of the myth that lobsters mate for life. The false notion began on the popular 90's television show, Friends, when Phoebe insists that Rachel and Ross are each others' lobster. This statement is quickly debunked with a simple Google search (sorry, Friends fans).

Another unique aspect of diving in Puerto Viejo is the existence of black coral. Black coral, which is actually white or vibrant in color, is a precious substance that normally begins to grow at depths of 250 feet or greater. Here in Costa Rica, you can find it at much shallower depths. Purportedly rarer and more valuable than gold, black coral is critically endangered. It only grows about 1/4 - 1/2 of an inch in diameter every century, so its destruction is devastatingly dangerous to the survival of the species.

After two 40-minute excursions under the sea, it was time to call it a day. Tomorrow I would finish up my Rescue Diver course, and prepare for the long journey back to Liberia.

Chocolate Decadence & the Punta Uva Gardens in Pictures

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