|Eladio's Cacao Pods|
As I listened to the ever-smiling Eladio talk about his farm, I couldn’t help but think that he could be coining it in the US as a motivational speaker. He had plenty of enthusiasm and charisma, but also a strong personal philosophy that included beliefs about the detriments of education, the preservation of his cultural Mayan heritage, slash & burn farming, his ants, cacao, you name it. His wardrobe seems to consist of t-shirts from the US with messages on them. The first one he wore during our visit was a local, "Maya Mountain Cacao" shirt, followed by a “think outside the box” t-shirt and then a "TURN OFF the TV" shirt, which my husband, Mark, pointed out was a Seattle company. I noticed on various photos on the internet that his collection includes “The Rules Don’t Apply to Me”, an NYPD shirt, and more. These t-shirts left me with many questions, such as “Did he purchase these shirts himself?” “Did visitors leave them for him?”, “Does he choose the message to make a statement, or does he just like the shirts?” But I digress.
|Mayan Ruins on Eladio's Farm|
|Pete, the botanist, with Eladio|
|Mmmm! Fresh, juicy cacao beans covered in mucilage|
I’ve always told my customers that you suck on the pulp of cacao but that you don’t eat the beans because they’re too bitter. That’s been the experience I’ve had when hanging out with chocolate makers and cacao scientists - they usually spit out the beans after enjoying the pulp. It turns out I was wrong. The Maya we met suck on the pulp and eat the beans. In fairness, these are the best-tasting cacao beans I’ve ever tasted. While there’s certainly a bitter finish when chewing on the beans, they taste nothing like the ones I’ve been able to get my hands on in the US. I can understand why a farmer would eat the entire thing.
|Organic composting at its best|
As we continued our hike through Eladio’s farm he pointed to property lines on distant hills. It looked like one large jungle to me, seemingly impossible to distinguish one property from another through the dense forest and steep hills. His cacao trees are scattered about his farm among allspice trees, apple bananas, hot chili peppers, cedar, calabash, Theobroma Bicolor (a different species than cacao) and mahogany trees, to name just a few of the crops he grows. A strong memory for me was crumpling a leaf from an allspice tree and smelling its deep, spicy aroma. Allspice is a key ingredient in Mayan drinking chocolate, and we later had the opportunity to drink cacao and allspice in a traditional Mayan drink made by Eladio's daughter.
|View of neighboring farms in the distance|
We arrived at a clearing where Apple Bananas were laid out on a tarp for us to eat. There was a hot chili bush nearby with tiny, oblong green and red chilies ready to taste. Many of us tried the hot chilies, and very soon I heard someone say, “Wash it down with an Apple Banana”, which I did. My mouth and throat were on fire.
|Eladio & two of his sons|
|Eladio's youngest son|
We left Eladio’s farm and headed to his family home, where we ate lunch. Eladio is a virulent man with fifteen children. His family lives in a cement-block house with a thatched roof, pretty much the same as every Mayan village we saw. Their kitchen is in a separate area with a dirt floor, no walls and its own thatched roof. While his family may seem poor by US standards, they have a lot of food. As one of his colleagues said, “We’re poor in cash, but rich in food.”
|Ryan from Raaka Chocolate showing Eladio's kids a video of how he makes chocolate in a machine|
|Me and Eladio|
Next up on your armchair tour of Belize, a feature on Maya Mountain Cacao.
Happy chocolate tasting,