Tuesday, February 17, 2015

"Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get"

Visiting a Cacao Farm in Talamanca was a sweet surprise. I’ve been travelling with a group of 13 girls in Costa Rica through a program called Organization of Tropical Studies: Tropical Medicine and Global Health. Our first stop was in La Selva, a biological station in Sarapiqui. While we were there, we visited an indigenous community close to the Caribbean Ocean near the city Puerto Viejo. We stayed in the Bribri clan’s territory, and it took about two hours on foot, up a mountain to get there. The Bribri community is a matrilineal society that involves women in many important rituals, like working with the deceased, and of course, in cacao plantations. Upon visiting a cacao farm, I learned about the poly-culture system that they use in their agricultural system. A local plantation that does not use pesticides, and only sells for profit after all familial needs are met, plants not only cacao, but also pineapple and banana plants. The Bribri women focus on supporting the biodiversity of the environment, and the soil in Talamanca, a highly tropical wet forest. Similarly, beautiful poró trees are used as living fences in the plantation. What is interesting about the poró tree is that it is very often used as shade for plants in the hot sun, and is also commonly found in coffee farms.

Acomuita, the cacao plantation, was liberating to visit while traveling with a group of just women. It was a widely different sight from any kind of farm work that is done in the United States. As women, we were able to see the elevated role that women were given to handle this sacred plant. Cacao is a central crop that is used in the Bribri community. The women dried the cacao seeds in the sun, grinded it multiple times, shifted out the shells, and rested the pieces over hot water to make a paste. The paste is used for absolutely everything that has to do with chocolate. When we were promoted to try the paste, I took a big scoop with my finger…unaware of the unpleasant forthcoming taste in my mouth. The paste is actually very bitter, and lots of sugar must be added in order for it to taste like what we all know as chocolate. I was so surprised that I knew so little of a delicious treat that rules the sweet world. Later we entered their storefront area where I was confident to buy many of the homemade chocolates that I knew would be authentic in every way. I loved visiting the Bribri cacao plantation, and living in the reservation. Listening to the beautiful sounds of at least 20 species of birds, following a very slow sloth climb a tree, and watching a raincloud pass over us were the best things to contemplate when sleeping under a mosquito net. I can’t wait to see what other beautiful people and sites we get to see next. Pura Vida!

Meghna Purkayastha

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