Hello and good day!
“Out this way,” said Noe (pronounced no-eh) Vasquez to my dad and brother.
They’d just eaten a lunch prepared by Noe’s mother.
My father had to apologize for not eating the protein portion of the meal. It was cuy (pronounced coo-eee), Guinea pig.
My dad had stopped eating red meat 40 years prior, after a stint raising and selling cattle.
Brian had to explain the situation to their hosts as Dan didn’t speak Spanish, and still doesn’t.
The idea of not eating red meat was very foreign to the cacao farmers in attendance and initially it felt like my dad was turning his nose up at their food.
Thankfully, there were plenty of other offerings, large kernel white corn, avocado, tomato and onion salad soaked in fresh lime, and sweet potatoes.
My dad was able to put forth a good showing and make amends with the other food options, thereby proving that he wasn’t a gringo snob.
After lunch, the mid-afternoon jungle sun was grinding down on Noe’s farm.
“Are you ready?” asked Noe.
“Yes. Let’s do it,” said Brian.
This is what they had come for.
Brian and Dan had met Noe for the first time one week earlier, in the northern Peruvian city of Jaen. Through a long and fortuitous series of events, Dan and Brian came to Jaen to meet with a government official named Sarah Paredes.
There were two goals for the initial trip.The first was to learn about buying fruits and vegetables.
The world’s biggest gold mine, just outside the city of Cajamarca, was looking for a supplier of fresh produce for their cafeteria.
The second goal was to learn what they could about cacao.
Rather quickly, Dan and Brian figured out that buying fruits and vegetables would be a non-starter.
Tropical fruit grew in abundance all over the zone, but it wasn’t a cash crop, and the infrastructure for exporting it did not exist.
The cash crops in the zone were coffee, rice, and cacao.
Dan and Brian had done a fair amount of research on the cacao market and had determined that cacao might be a dark horse business opportunity.
Their third day in town on that first trip, they attended a summit of cacao growers association presidents.
Outside of Jaen there is a vast amount of productive agricultural land. Each district out in farmland has a growers’ association with the goal of collective lobbying.
The summit was for the presidents of each district to meet and align their lobbying efforts so that they would form an even more potent constituency.
Sarah was the government official in charge of managing government relations with farmers in the zone.
Since Dan and Brian wanted to know about cacao, Sarah figured there would be no better place to learn than a meeting of growers’ association presidents.
The meeting was held at the local university, in a stuffy room, filled with several dozen farming men. The heat outside was suffocating and when you added the breathing and body heat of the fellows in the meeting, the climate was excruciating.
One at a time, each president stood up to give a presentation about the needs and desires of their district. Better roads. Better flood drainage. More schools and more teachers.More clinics and more doctors.
More promoting the region so that they could receive higher prices for their crops. The desires were uniform across all districts.
When it was Sarah’s turn to talk, she acknowledged all that she had heard and pointed to Dan and Brian at the back of the room.
“I’ve brought these men to help promote the region. They are interested in cacao. Our administration is working hard for you and making progress all the time. Why don’t you line up to meet them,” said Sarah.
Dan and Brian hadn’t realized that Sarah planned to use them for political posturing, but they didn’t mind.
The association presidents formed a long line. Each invited Dan and Brian to come visit their district. Brian listened, translated for Dan, and spoke. They shook hands with each farmer and took down contact information.
At the end of the line, there was a stocky man with hanging jowls, bushy eyebrows, and an intense presence. He stepped up to Brian and looked him square in the eyes long enough for it to become awkward.
Brian didn’t know what to say and just when he was about to nod and walk away, the man flashed a charming smile, revealing a mouth filled with crooked and missing teeth.
It was Noe.
He leaned in to speak softly so that the other association presidents couldn’t hear him. He spoke almost in a whisper.
“If you are interested in cacao. You must come to my home in Huarango.”
Noe looked around to see if anybody was listening in on the conversation, but nobody was. The other attendees were mingling with each other.
“We have a special cacao in Huarango. Very special.” After he spoke, he let his words hang in the air. He smiled with his mouth closed now, bent up at the corners, and looked straight at Brian.
Brian had goosebumps on his skin and fell into a brief daze. The whispered words echoed in his ears, “special cacao”. When he came to, Brian took down Noe’s contact information and promised to be in touch soon.
After their trip to Jaen, Dan and Brian went back to Cajamarca to regroup and decide what to do next. Brian lived in Cajamarca with his wife and newborn daughter.
It only took a couple of days for them to decide that they wanted to go back to Jaen, and especially out to the district of Huarango, to see about Noe’s special cacao.
It was a long and strange ride out to the district of Huarango from Jaen. They had to drive along a beat-up road through a long stretch of jungle. They had to bribe a vigilante gang whose members were toting assault rifles.
They had to cross a fat, bridgeless river.
Once across the river, they rode in a caravan of taxis and motorcycles through a labyrinth of muddy backcountry roads to a tiny hamlet called Cigarro De Oro (the Golden Cigarette), where Noe’s family had their farm. They’d eaten fresh coconuts and mangos as appetizers.
They enjoyed a wonderful meal prepared by Noe’s mother.
And now the time had come.
They began their hike to a grove of the special cacao.
I’m running out of space for today!
More to come tomorrow.
Thank you so much for time today.
I hope that you have a truly blessed day!
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