The Marmalade Lady of Cabuya

Monday morning we set out over a rocky road for the Cabo Blanco nature preserve, seven kilometers away. The first such preserve in Costa Rica, it was established in 1963 through the initiative of Nils Olof Vestberg, a Swede, and Karen Mogensen, a Dane, who had a farm near Montezuma but were appalled to see the climax forest disappear as the government promoted agriculture. Having been here in 2005, Susan and I could hardly wait to show Marianne and Leif. Dozens of trees are named and described along the “Danish trail,” and there’s a great hike over the “Swedish trail” to a secluded beach. What we hadn’t anticipated is that the preserve is closed Monday and Tuesday. A Swedish girl who’s volunteering at the office for a few weeks was the only person around. She said we could stay for a while and look at the white-faced monkeys that were right there in the trees. As we returned to the car, howler monkeys were fed on leaves of trees at the parking lot’s perimeter, and Leif got pictures of them, too.

Marianne, me, Nena, and Susan. Photo by Leif.
Marianne, me, Nena, and Susan. Photo by Leif.

On the way back to Montezuma we stopped where a placard advertised Nena Marmalade, the very same stuff we were consuming with the homemade bread at Amor de Mar (the four of us shared Casa Luna there). The Swedish woman who supervised breakfast at the inn mentioned Nena sold her marmalade directly to tourists, and Marianne spotted the sign and we shared a sense of accomplishment in having tracked down the jam. We turned into the dirt yard and parked. Nena greeted us without indicating she spoke any English, so I said in Spanish that we were interested in her jams, and she beckoned us inside. We crossed a beautifully tiled porch and a small living room adorned with the poster of a singer. The couple of rooms off the short hallway were closed off by curtains. The kitchen was rather large with tiled counters, above which Susan noticed coffee mugs hanging from hooks on a sort of mesh screen. Nena opened the refrigerator door, revealing jars of different sizes, and then started to set them out one by one on the table. Coconut-mango was succeeded by pineapple and papaya in brilliant hues of yellow. What she called limón looked more like lime. One dark jar contained mora, a blackberry. Another flavor was unrecognizable by name, and after I repeated it, she picked up a paper bag filled with plumlike fruits. Marianne selected a couple of flavors and Susan said she wanted limón, but I protested and we ended up with coconut-pineapple. Nena reminded us, as the sign at the road indicated, that she also sells coconut oil. Slender bottles were kept in a cupboard. She said the oil was for cooking but also for application to the hair and skin. We paid her 2500 colones per jar, equaling about $4.33. Despite our lack of interest in coconut oil, she threw in a smaller jar of mango jam with each purchase. Nena told us she’s 52 years old and had lived down the road for 35 years and right in this house the last 17 years. During tourist season she spends her days in the kitchen. She asked what countries we came from and we were just telling her when her cell phone rang, so we shook hands and went outside, noticing her setup under a metal roof supported by sturdy poles.

Marianne checks out Nena's bubbling pot.
Marianne checks out Nena's bubbling pot.

A blackened pot was brimful of syrupy yellow-orange mash that bubbled languidly atop a burner fired by a couple of pieces of wood. A dozen or so pineapples clustered in a rack just beyond this cooking station. Throughout the rest of the shed, I noticed lots of toys, like a green plastic pedal tractor. Nena finished her call and came out to stir the pot. We got into our BeGo and as crossed a bridge immediately after turning out of her yard. The white ducks in the water of the shallow creek were undoubtedly hers. We went away thinking about the marmalade pot bubbling near Cabuya, on the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula. While space satellites collide in orbit and drug cartels spread chaos across Mexico and economic collapse makes a zillion dollars of personal wealth disappear with a giant slurping sound, jam is eternal verity.


Link for the Cabo Blanco natural preserve: 

Link to Montezuma hotels, with a page for Amor de Mar:

4 thoughts on “The Marmalade Lady of Cabuya

  1. I don’t think I could go to Costa Rica. Too afraid of monkeys. I’d love to say it’s an unfounded phobia…but I still can see the spider monkey jumping toward me and grabbing my camera. It was almost 30 years ago but it’s stuck with me. Maybe there’s a MFZ (monkey free zone) I could visit.

  2. I would love to taste that jam!! And probably her coffee is fabulous also. Mango jam…now I’m obsessed with finding some.
    What a wonderful escape through fruit and sugar. As you say, universal and healing.
    I sense I may be related to Afraid ‘o Monkeys, and yes, he has reason to be very afraid. The monkey was no match for this mother lioness, though!

  3. Lucky! We are neiborghs of the great Nena! She could be a monument of Costa Rica with her super marmelades and easy life! Pura Vida!

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