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Archive for the ‘Taza Chocolate Tour’ Category

Matt Armendariz/McNab Publishing, Ltd

Matt Armendariz/McNab Publishing, Ltd

There is a lot of talk about the Mayan calendar rolling over to Dec. 21, 2012 and simply coming to end, which has been translated by some as, that’s it, folks. No more time, no more us. I can’t say that I agree, since I’ve already received my 2013 work calendar and everything there seems to be in order just fine. For a more reasoned, scientific explanation, you might want to check out NPR‘s report, “A Guarantee: The world will not end on Friday.”

My first brush with Mayan culture was when I hopped off a cruise ship in Cozumel in 2006 and explored the Chacchoben Mayan ruins. That’s where I found a rather modest exhibit sign next to one of the many-stepped pyramid temples indicating that the Mayan calendar would finish up in six years. It tried to be reassuring that while some people interpreted this to mean the end of time, it could also be seen as a restart. A clean slate for all of us.

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I’d like to suggest that you give both theories a rest and instead actually learn something about Mayan culture. A good place to start would be with Flavors of Belize: The cookbook created by Tanya McNab and Shelley Bowen Stonesifer. First of all, the Mayans haven’t vanished. There are by some estimates some 7 million Mayans alive and well living throughout Guatemala, southern Mexico and the Yucatán Peninsula, Belize, El Salvador, and western Honduras. (more…)

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Related post: A Mayan dinner party for 12.21.12

Toledo, Belize
May 2010

As we left Eladio Pop’s cacao farm deep in the Belize rain forest headed toward his family’s homestead, it began to drizzle. We were ready for lunch after spending the morning tromping about his 30-acre jungle farm and learning about the growing cycle of the cacao bean. The bus wheezed up a steep road past a cluster of thatched houses and parked next to a simple cinder block building. Inside Eladio’s wife and eldest daughter twirled between the stove, a long wooden table and back again delivering plates of food, a blur of turquoise in their matching dresses.

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Toledo, Belize

After surviving a violent thunderstorm and a chorus of howler monkeys the first night we stayed in the Jungle House at Cotton Tree Lodge, I was ready for something a little more structured.

On the schedule the next morning for Chocolate Week led by Taza Chocolate, was a trip to a local cacao farm. We would see how cacao pods are grown, meet the farmer, and have lunch with his family. I’m not exactly sure what I was expecting. I think I was imagining some kind of plantation where the trees grow in neat rows kind of like an apple orchard and that maybe afterward we’d sit around a big farm table in the kitchen and swap stories. Wrong, completely wrong.

Meet Eladio Pop, cacoa farmer.

Eladio and a cacao pod

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I almost didn’t go. Even though the thought of spending Chocolate Week at Cotton Tree Lodge sounded like a home run as a vacation adventure it was a lot of money and I was having trouble finding someone to go with me. When I called to find out how much room was still available I was told there was only one cabana left: the Jungle House.

All of the other cabanas are nestled around the Cotton Tree Lodge with views of the Moho River. The Jungle House was a quarter of a mile away by itself. Um. By myself and deep in the jungle? I wasn’t sure about this. But after some prompting from friends and family that it would “be good for me” I took a deep breath and sent in my deposit.

And then I thought of my friend Carol. Carol bakes and blogs at The Pastry Chef’s Baking. A business manager at a media mogul in Silicon Valley (that shall remain nameless) Carol had once taken time off from work to get a culinary arts degree before deciding she’d rather keep her love of baking as a hobby. Nonetheless, Carol is a true chocolate geek. So I sent her an e-mail seeing if she’d be interested.

“How much time do I have to decide?” she wrote back. I explained that I had already reserved the cabana, she just had to figure out her flights, and could really have up to the last minute to decide. Within a half hour I got a response.

“I’m in.” Phew.

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Seeing that is February, and that chocolate will soon rain from the sky on Feb. 14, I have a story I’ve been meaning to tell you. It involves a journey to Central America, a magnificent thunderstorm deep in the jungle, the prehistoric roar of howler monkeys, a tree house, a giant Wolf spider, cave diving, oppressive jungle heat, and chocolate – lots and lots of chocolate.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

The story actually begins in a snowy industrial section of Boston on a December day when my friend Jessica and I decided to take a tour of a chocolate factory.

Now, there are no golden tickets in this story but there was a brochure that gray and miserable afternoon that promised adventure, and warmth, and a week of chocolate in a place called the Cotton Tree Lodge near Punta Gorda, Belize.

Yes.

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