Thanks to Evelien and Tine, the authors of this post, who are travelling in Central America at the moment, mostly using Workaway to find ecological projects. They have been volunteering in the Costa Rican jungle at a chocolate farm and have written about their experiences there.
Chocolate in one form or another has been around since about 1100BC, but was in the form of a drink in its earliest incarnation. The Spanish conquistadors brought it back after their conquest of the Aztecs in the 16th Century and within a 100 years chocolate was popular throughout Europe.
So it seems apt that they were learning about cacao cultivation in the lands where it was first discovered. For chocolate lovers, this sounds like an ideal place to go and find out all about how the sweet stuff is made in the traditional way.
Pure Chocolate Farm in the Jungle
This Workaway host is an authentic Costa Rican chocolate farm where we dirtied our hands during the last week, quite literally. On Monday they were rather black from the cacao beans, yesterday the turmeric left an unerasable orange glow.
Pureness seems to be the word for what is going on here. From pure chocolate – more than 85 percent organic cacao is used for the pralines – to pure sugar, ginger and chilli… and then there is also the pure way of working. Cacao beans are peeled by hand, a group of us sit together with Juan Luis – el padre de la familia – as our teacher and guide. Difficult to say how it feels, but above all, it’s real.
The fact that we ourselves as real chocolate addicts have sunk our teeth into the discovery of every step in the chocolate process, is obvious. From the grinding of the beans to selflessly offering our tastebuds to test different flavours, nothing could make us happier.
Yesterday we did get some light panic attacks when we had to prune the cacao trees and eliminate the fungus-attacked cacao fruits. With our machetes in hand we crossed the field as two clumsy girl scouts, each working on their own row – although some people had difficulties keeping to their own straight line. We had to be careful not to walk face first into giant golden spider webs.
Snakes and Family
We also kept a nervous watch on the thick layer of leaves covering ground, to make sure no slippery reptiles were crossing our path (the most deadly bites in Costa Rica happen to farmers because of a gigantic brownish snake that lives in the grasslands). And no, it’s not a myth, snakes are real here. Yesterday evening we saw one on the road while we were on our way to the local bar – only 10cm long but good enough to keep us alert. The giant but harmless cicadas that attacked us as we passed by them with our flashlights were much scarier – they literally flew into our hair.
Of course you rarely see a serpent and they are more afraid of you than the other way around – still one night one of these slithery creatures blocked the toilet door when Tine needed to empty her over full bladder… Tico seems to not worry about the animals. Still our morning trip was again an experience of a lifetime. Above all the views at the swimming hole near the waterfalls on our way back we will remember forever – that is something you can’t experience as a tourist.
Yesterday afternoon, together with some other volunteers, we baked a cake for Juan Luis who celebrated his 54th birthday. It’s amazing to live together with a real Costa Rican family. Warm people with huge hearts, a sunny mood and a big family feeling – again a little bit back to how it was in our culture many years ago. They all work together on the land. Everybody has his own job and his own responsibility, there’s no stress and we feel a lot of love and respect for each other as we share in the daily farm tasks. Again it´s difficult to explain but it’s something that makes us think.
Not everything here is fully ecological – the sons seem to be crazy about motor bikes and the carbon gases seem to be all around here, still we’re learning. Tine has baked bread in the solar oven, together with madre Lydia – without electricity. The solar oven is also a handy way to dry out the already dehydrated pieces of chili, ginger, turmeric before they’ve been ground to a fine powder. A few hours in the oven and they are super dry dry dry. Details about these two objects will follow.
Only two days to go here, after that we continue our journey to finally – keep your fingers crossed – help build an earthship and a self-sustainable house made of recycled materials and earth. We’ll see what time will bring, but we keep you informed – that is to say, if the internet wants to co-operate with us and if not, well patience is always a good skill to have.
This time it feels real to say: