26 March 2013

Where to Eat Vegan: Maravilla in Las Marias, Puerto Rico

Outside the mountain town of Las Marias, Puerto Rico, is Maravilla's other property which Margo refers to as "the farm." Part organic farm, part horse farm, part vegan and vegetarian kitchen, this was a tropical mountain oasis.

We stayed in the "cabin" for two nights. Staying in the cabin is basically cushy camping in a rain forest. You are absolutely surrounded by lush green leaves, neon colored flowers, drooping fruit trees and the ubiquitous sound of the Coqui - Puerto Rico's tiny singing frog.

The cabin is the less luxurious of the two accommodation options at the farm, but for us frugal gals it fit just perfectly into our budget. And, to be fair, it was gorgeous. Open air kitchen, fold out wood walls and screened doors made sleeping here feel like you were perched in a treehouse. What makes it a little less luxurious than the bedrooms up in the main house? The cabin is "unplugged" as Margo put it. In other words - no electricity. You won't be slumming it though. There's a gas stove, a fire pit, hot running water and a flushing toilet and even a huge tub out under the canopy that can be filled with hot water if you request it.

Mom took the larger bedroom with the floor to ceiling screened windows while Sydney and I nestled into the room next door. During our stay we got the unexpected surprise of sleeping through (or rather trying to sleep though) the passing of Hurricane Sandy. While the hurricane was gaining strength down in the islands we got dumped on with one of its bands in what was one of the scariest storms I've tried to sleep through. We slept with the windows and doors open every night to catch some of the breeze and alleviate the humidity but on this particular night even I had to push the door closed because the thunder was so loud and the rain, wind and lighting was so intense I was afraid that even the concrete structured cabin would be blown away.

While lack of electricity made it tricky for keeping cell phones charged and reading at night, we kinda had fun with our flashlights and gas lamps. The first night after we fell asleep I woke in the middle of the night to a strange glow. Outside our screen door hundreds of glowing bugs had gathered on the ceiling of the open kitchen putting on a dancing, flashing show for the few minutes I was able to stay awake to watch it.

One of the more interesting aspects of the cabin was the "sun-room" which Sydney took the most advantage of. No more than what appeared to be the burned out remains of the concrete upper floor of the building - we assumed that this sun-room was still a work in progress.

As at the beach house, all of our meals were provided for us as part of the fee. Up the steep driveway, a short 5 minute climb (during which we practiced the mantra "better fitting jeans, better fitting jeans") was the Galley Kitchen where we often found Pony, the sleepy aging dog, sunning himself. All of our food was packaged and labeled and we could microwave our food or take it back to our gas stove for meals.

During our stay we feasted on:

Herb Bread
Scrambled Tofu
Banana Bread
Fruit Salad
Hummus and Veggies
Herb Potato Empanadas
Tofu Stirfry
Coconut Papaya Cake
Sweet Curry Cookies

Our last night staying at Maravilla we had a special 4 course meal. We were invited to come up to the main house to be served a traditional Puerto Rican meal in the dining room by Margo. Our first course was Guineo Tostones: flattened and lightly breaded slices of plantains dipped in a creamy sauce. Then came the Sancocho. Sancocho is traditionally made with an animal broth and may have fish in it but for our veggie fare it was loaded with plantains, taro root, cassava and potatoes. Sancocho is what you would want to eat when you're sick, warming and filling and starchy.
Needless to say, we were already filling up by the time the main event came out. Our entree was Pastelon, an amazingly flavorful plantain lasagna. Slices of sweet plantain were layered with savory faux meat crumbles and melted soy cheese. Served with this was a generous helping of Gandules (pigeon peas)and Rice as well as a raw cabbage salad.
At this point we were ready to throw in the towel and roll back down the hill to our cabin but there was simply no way we could pass up the Tembleque Coconut Pudding that Margo prepared as our dessert.

All the meals we had at Maravilla were expertly prepared. When I asked if Margo would share some of her recipes she claimed the right of all great chefs by holding her secrets but offering more food.

In addition to all the food we had to eat there was food all around us at the cabin on the farm. Margo grows an impressive variety of food and has even had some success with crops that would not traditionally grow well in tropical regions - like broccoli. This kale really surprised me - I have never seen kale grow such a substantial stalk! She said she just never pulled it out, she let it continue to grow.

While we were there we peaked in on the other accommodations. This is what the luxury sweet looks like.

On our last night as we painfully walked back to our beds after our giant feast, we passed a low leafed plant and heard the tiny "meep meep" of the Coqui right next to us. Now the whole time we had stayed there we were constantly being serenaded by the little frogs but this frog sounded like it could have been singing on our shoulder. We grabbed our lamps and started gently moving the leaves and shining our light and after a few minutes of searching we were rewarded with this tiny frog.

At the end of our two days Mom and Sydney were ready to get back to civilization and we left Maravilla with promises to return. For those of you adventurous type I would highly recommend staying with Margo and in addition she also does a work trade. If you stay for 6 weeks or more and work for the farm and the bed and breakfast you'll receive room and board - something I plan to take advantage of in the future!

Lacey Walker | @quinoaween | Blog | Flickr
Maryland Lacey is a food photographing, French speaking, English teaching, travel enthusiast. She's been known to cut a rug. She's also been known to spend all day in bed eating vegan waffles and talking to her cat Hibou.

Photo credit: Lacey