Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Cosos Island: The Merits of Coffee and Pinto - William Henriques

I wake up every morning at 6 am to the beep of my watch alarm. Looking out my northeast-facing window up at the sky, I’m usually tempted to fall back to sleep, because nothing says more sleep like a rainy day. Which is the norm here. There are rare mornings (like this one) when I can see sunlight illuminating a partly cloudy sky, and on these days, I’m only slightly more motivated to peel myself off of my mattress. Slightly.

But then I remember that I simply have to get out of bed and take a hundred yard stroll up to the kitchen, and there will be hot coffee and a heaping plate of pinto, rice and beans cooked together, usually with a sprinkling of onion and pepper. And suddenly that previously insurmountable obstacle - actually getting out of bed - becomes a manageable first task for the day.

Breakfast is early, just after sunrise at 6:30 am, and yet everyone is lively and cheerful. “Buenos Dias” and “Todo bien?” are exchanged all around, and the atmosphere feels relaxed and happy. This morning there was a spirited debate about whether a vertical ray that appeared in a photo taken by Guillermo Hernandez yesterday was simply an effect from the camera, from a UFO, or some holy sign. It remained the primary discussion topic through the end of morning meeting.

I don’t mean to project, but I can’t help but think that everyone is in such a good mood each morning for the same reason I am: coffee and pinto. The coffee is excellent - piping hot, full-bodied, and slightly fruity - and fresh; it grows in the mountains of central Costa Rica. Being a New England boy, fresh coffee is a new concept to me, but I’m all for it.

And the pinto! Until now, my concept of breakfast was confined to the conventional American/ English breakfasts: Cereal, eggs, bagels, pancakes, fruit. How limited! Had someone asked me two months ago whether I would enjoy rice and beans for breakfast on a daily basis, I would have answered no, those are strictly dinner foods. Tasty, yes, but not for breakfast. I was so wrong to think that way; There is nothing better than hot pinto in the morning.

I asked Filan, the new cook, how to make pinto. Very straightforward and simple, like all the good things in life, and I’d like to take this opportunity to share his recipe:
Start with the beans. Cook them until they are soft and hot. Then add cold rice, leftover from last night, and mix. Once the mixing is complete, continue heating. At this point, feel free to add any kind of spices; Filan usually does peppers and onions, finely diced. Be careful not to cook the rice to much, otherwise it will become crunchy. And that’s it.

Vilma has been our cook for the past three weeks (her pinto is excellent), and when four new funcionarios (Including Filan, the new cook) appeared on Monday morning, they commented on how good everyone’s spirits were, attributing it to the work of Vilma. If people are eating well, they are feeling well. Here on Cocos Island, where the space is relatively confined, and people must live in close quarters for up to 30 days at a time, good spirits are vital. And the atmosphere of the island is phenomenal. Even with the weekly flow of people coming and going, the rangers and volunteers feel and function like family.

I’d agree with the funcionarios. It’s the quality cooking, yes, but mostly the hot coffee and pinto ready for us at 6:30 every morning.

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