Guest Contributor and HollyTrail Photographer: Tomek Kleczek
The ultimate goal for Montoso Gardens is to offer a quiet mountain retreat for those who are tired of the beach or want to get close to nature.
There are many species of tropical birds and animals that live in the gardens, including hummingbirds and the Puerto Rican Tody (and of course Bryan’s dogs). Such wildlife makes the gardens perfect for birdwatchers and photographers. There are also many different flower varieties giving spectacular splashes of color to the gardens. Of course, Montoso Gardens is also a prime destination for people like me who have an enhanced interest (read: obsession) in tropical fruits.
As we entered the gates to Montoso Gardens, owner Bryan Brunner showed us a small guest bungalow that he is building. The bungalow has a stunning view of the mountains and is shaping up to be a wonderful place to stay when finished. We passed the main coffee hacienda (see photo), where Bryan is also working on housing for visitors. We then headed for the main path that leads to the river in the valley below. [Bryan’s dog decided to relax and hang out for a bit.]
As we headed down the path, we saw a wonderful cupuacu tree, which is a relative of the cacao tree. It was finally producing fruit after being almost destroyed by Hurricane Maria. We also saw a large jackfruit tree laden with gigantic fruits. It was prospering so well after suffering from the hurricane that one of the branches broke from having to support too many fruit!
A vast number of different varieties of heliconias were scattered everywhere, each one unique. We stopped at one point to taste a Spanish tamarind, a delicious fruit with a pasty pulp that you squeeze out of the fruit and that tastes like dried apples.
The path at this point was wide, grassy, and bordered by dense vegetation. It was an easy walk down to the river.
Close to the river, we came upon a replica Taíno village Bryan is working on. The Taíno are the native people of Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands.
We reached the river, with Bryan’s dogs following us all the way down. The river itself was crystal clear with drinkable water.
When we came to the river, a fruiting cacao tree greeted us!
Bryan gave me a taste of the pulp from a fresh cacao pod. The mildly sweet white pulp surrounding the cacao seeds was delicious, with a fruity and unique flavor.
After that, Bryan left us to let us explore on our own. We said our goodbyes and went back up the path to the start of a hiking trail that Bryan suggested we try out. As we were leaving the river, we came across some bamboo, but this was no ordinary bamboo. This bamboo was as thick as my neck, and extremely tall.
Walking up from the river, we saw numerous paths that split off from the main path and that lead to more tropical trees and plants (and fruit). As we were rushing to make it back in time for the Puerto Piano closing concert, we sadly did not have time to explore everywhere. We did, however, see some more heliconias. The heliconia in the photo below was probably my favorite one growing in the entire gardens.
Shortly before we got to the hiking trail, I realized that what I thought was an ordinary shrub was actually a Round Leaf Jaca cacao! The leaves were perfectly round and there were some beautiful, unripe cacaos growing on the tree. No photos can do justice to the incredibly vibrant colors of cacao pods, both unripe and ripe. Beautiful!
END OF PART 2
In Part 3, I will describe our hike and the wide variety of tropical plants we saw along the way.