Hello and good day!
Please take a look at the first photo above.
This is one of the roughly 80 cacao farming villages where we buy cacao.
The photographer is standing up on a hill behind the town.
If you were to keep walking up the hill where the photographer was perched, it would take you up to some of the highest altitude cacao farms in the world.
See the second photo with a digital altitude reading. It is very uncommon for cacao to be growing at 1,200 meters above sea level.
This reading was astonishing to many of the cacao experts with whom we shared this photo.
The canyon where we buy cacao is filled with all kinds of unique oddities like this.
If you travel downhill from this village, working your way through the valleys that snake in between jutting ridges, you will eventually get down to the Chinchipe River.
It takes about two hours, using a motor vehicle, to get from this village down to the Chinchipe.
The road system is an informal labyrinth of dirt roads and jerry-rigged bridges that are maintained by folks living in the canyon, with very little outside funding or assistance from the local government.
After you cross the Chinchipe River, it is another hour and a half to the closest big city, Jaen.That is the voyage that people in this village have to make to visit a hospital.
You can see the single electricity pole that brings in power.
It is very hot out there for most of the year and it rains torrentially for half the year.
The town itself is comprised of two general stores carrying a limited selection of staples, an auto mechanic who fixes motorcycles, a school for local children, a town hall, and a dilapidated old Catholic church with no priest.
School teachers come and go every couple of years on contracts with the national government. They stay in one of the few houses in town during their tenure.
The field in the middle of town is for playing soccer or volleyball, and for throwing dance parties.
When the general stores need to load up on inventory, the owners ride a motorcycle two hours to Puerto Ciruelo, the port town on the bank of the Chinchipe River. In Puerto Ciruelo, they make their purchases from a distributor and rent a truck with a driver to transport the goods back through the countryside.
Residents make a living farming coffee, rice, and cacao.
We buy the cacao.
Other companies buy the rice and coffee.
With this income, residents can shop in the general stores or go to Puerto Ciruelo on Sundays to shop at the big Sunday market.
Early on Sunday, there is an exodus throughout the canyon as farmers descend from their villages onto Puerto Ciruelo to attend the market.
Late Sunday, farmers find their way back home, some stumbling down country roads, drunk from consuming too much agua ardiente (fire water, a strong alcohol made from sugar cane).
It is true small-town country living out there, of a variety that not many people can comprehend. Life is stripped down and quiet.
There isn't much to do other than work on your farm or spend time with family and neighbors.
American style materialism cannot exist.
It doesn't make any sense, for example, to get on Amazon and think about what you might like to buy. Girls can't shop for makeup at Sephora.
There aren't bookstores for bookish folks like me.
No grocery stores.
People pine and save for tools and materials to make their daily living more comfortable, efficient, and productive.
Concrete to pave the floors of their homes.
A roof that doesn't buckle and spring leaks under the heavy rains.
Tubing to connect bathrooms to public sewage.
A motorcycle for traveling to Puerto Ciruelo.
This tends to be the extent of their materialism because that is all the materialism that their circumstances permit.
After exhausting their opportunities for making purchases, extra money earned from selling cacao to our company is usually saved for future medical treatment or to send their kids to college in a city.
One of the common techniques in scientific experimentation is to isolate variables.
You eliminate all potential causes of an outcome except for one, and then you see if you can use that single cause to produce your desired result.
If you can do that, and if none of the other inputs produce the same output, you can confidently point to a cause-and-effect relationship.
You understand what is essential and what is window dressing.
A nice-looking car is a wonderful thing, but it doesn't mean much if the motor is busted, and you can't drive anywhere.
Most of the frills that people living in cities, or in more developed countries, take for granted are stripped away in a remote village like this.
And this gives you a good opportunity for a test case.
Are people more or less happy in this environment?
From our experience the answer is that it is a wash.
Life is certainly more challenging and people out in campo would prefer comfort to discomfort, as would any rational being.
But the comfort of one's life does not appear to be the deciding factor as to whether or not somebody feels satisfied with their lot.
Access to stuff doesn't appear to be the key.
If a cacao farmer living in one of these little towns is healthy, has a man or woman in their life whom they truly love, has friends, finds satisfaction in their work, and has a good family, they will tend to be happier than somebody in the United States who has a lot of material wealth but is all alone in the world.
On the other hand, we know many cacao farmers who really hate farming and wish they could move to a city and work in an office.
Feeling stuck in your job sucks no matter where you live.
If they have a loved one who is sick and they struggle to get them out of campo to a hospital, it is torture.
The longest running and most comprehensive study ever done on human happiness and longevity has produced clear and undeniable results.
Relationships are the smoking gun.
People with strong and loving relationships, romantic or platonic, live the longest and are the happiest.
Our experience working in campo bears this out.
Thank you so much for your time today.
I hope that you have a truly blessed day!
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