An exquisite shop in an enchanting town

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We were hot, sweaty, and a bit jagged, after having just arrived on the “jeep-boat-jeep”  from Monte Verde, Costa Rica. One of the first things we were told when we got to Essence Arenal Organic Farm and Hotel, was to go around the corner to La Gavilana art gallery and shop. Hotel concierge Vanessa, (the once ice skating girl from Chicago, now expat) said, “it’s owned by an American girl and it’s very nice.”

The shop was closed, but I saw a woman and a man speaking to some local kids through the window. She said told they were closed until Monday, but after telling her I am an artist, she came around to the shop door and let me in.

I immediately fell in love with La Gavilana, “an art gallery, bakery, cafe, herb garden, fermentarium & music room.”  I get that excited feeling when I find a gem on my travels – and this was that that kind of place. The gallery/shop is named after “(The Hawk) the plant that is one of Costa Rica’s most revered medicinal herbs and aptly symbolizes the spirit behind La Gavilana Herbs and Art.  La Gavilana is about being one with nature, of human creative expression and of the power of the mind to soar to new heights.”

The expat couple, Hannah Maxwell and Tomas Ninger met in Castillo, this small mountain town near Arenal Volcano and La Fortuna, Costa Rica. They are both very passionate and welcoming people; sharing their enthusiam, creativity, food, and healing ways.

As they say in on their website, “La Gavilana is dedicated to the production, cultivation and sale of live and holistic foods (and homemade pies) as well as various forms of artistic creations. Our products include dried medicinal herbs, live medicinal plants, home made ferments such as hot sauces, vinegars, pickled veggies etc., artisan herb breads, fresh tea and coffee, and unique paintings.”

Hannah showed me around the gallery and explained that she was featuring not only her own work, but also other local artists. Some of them used found objects and local organic materials. Her own paintings are bold and bright, some landscape, and others were animals and still life pieces. She has to travel about 30 minutes on a bumpy road to get to La Fortuna to get art supplies. She makes her own canvases and has her frames made by a local carpenter.

Tomas is a fermentation wizard. He demonstrated his process of making hot sauce and also explained the best way to do composting. I got to taste his gavilana bitters which are supposed to be very good for digestion.

I enjoyed hearing about both their journeys that brought them to Castillo. Hannah is from a small town near Portland, but had most recently been in St Louis, and had also lived in Thailand and I believe in South America too. Tomas had grown up in the Czech Republic and had lived in New York and in Argentina. They had independently fallen under the spell of Castillo and then met each other. Their excitement and love for their community was infectious and next thing we knew we started dreaming of living there too!

I bought a unique crocheted bracelet and Tomas’ spicy and tasty fermented hot sauce. I also ordered some bread and the next day picked it up. I was pleasantly surprised to find a hardy, healthy, whole grain bread that we ate over the next three days of our trip.

The icing on the cake was an impromptu jam with Tomas on accordion, Ander on guitar, and Hannah on spoons, before we left.

I thank them for adding that something special to our Costa Rica trip. Their reaching out and sharing created fond memories that will last a lifetime.


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