Tesoro Escondio travel report: Cocoa in cocoa
Finn’s report from his last visit to Tesoro Escondido
After bumpy communication via satellite phone, the only possible connection, an even bumpier car journey and two car repairs, Emanuel, Antonio and I finally reach Tesoro Escondido (Spanish: „hidden treasure“, about 4 difficult hours by car from Las Golondrinas) late in the evening. Rosi, Romi and Ronaldo welcome us friendly and showed us the way through rain and mud to their house. Their mother Magali and their father Javier, cocoa farmer and president of the cooperative ASOPROTESCO/Tesoro Escondido, built it themselves, like all the farmers here, from wood. It stands on high poles and consists of four small sleeping chambers and a huge veranda. The veranda is the living and working area. It is used for cooking, eating, showering, washing and playing. Around the house there are the cocoa trees of Javier and Magali on almost five hectares. Next to them are many fruit trees, chickens, a pig, a pond with fish, all for self-sufficiency. The water is tapped from a spring. It can become scarce in the dry season after only one week without rain. I can hardly imagine this, with the masses of rain that are coming down these days. Even with rubber boots it takes a lot of skill to walk unharmed through the partly knee-deep mud.
Proudly Javier and Antonio show their plantations and best trees the next day. From the second day on it is serious, work calls. We harvest a plot of land from Antonio. The colour and cutting of the fruit peels give information about the ripeness. The steep and slippery terrain makes the work difficult, but after half a day we have a quintal (=50kg, a unit of weight in Latin America) together. Antonio has a horse to which he entrusts such loads. At his place the fresh cocoa beans are pre-dried and a well-deserved lunch is served. Homemade cheese, rice and beans. And for dessert, a pineapple you won’t forget so quickly. In the following days we often work on the Javier premises. The grass has to be cut so that the air under the trees can circulate better and the harvest is easier. In flat terrain with a thread mower and in steep terrain with a machete. We harvest a plot of land, build a new fermentation box, plant new seedlings, cut back trees and maintain the cuttings to prevent the intrusion of diseases. After 30 minutes the clothes are sweaty as if you had jumped into a pool, and they don’t dry until the next day. Otherwise the climate is actually quite pleasant.
In the evening, cocoa beans are cut open and we talk shop about the degree of fermentation and quality. After dinner there are sometimes card games or singing evenings. Highlights are the Sunday excursions in the surroundings. Be it by canoe past – or by way of trial – tree trunks and rapids, accompanied by thousands of frogs and fireflies, or on foot through the forest and streams in search of monkeys, which we unfortunately didn’t find, but we can laugh a lot and enjoy a fine picnic wrapped in banana leaves.
I am grateful for these two exciting and beautiful weeks and hope that I will soon be able to visit this great place and these wonderful people again. I can only recommend it to you. Javier and Magali would like to extend their house together with their children and soon offer sustainable tourism. Recently they also got internet connection, so the chances to reach their house are increasing 😉