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Part 2 - Don Lucho & Catahuas Trees

Part 2 - Don Lucho & Catahuas Trees

Hello and good day!

This is the continuation of a story about frontier movements that occurred in Peru during the 1960's.

Up until 1968, most of Peru's land was owned by a few dozen families, descendants of Spanish conquistadores and descendants of those who had curried favor with Spanish royalty hundreds of years earlier.

The Peruvian government carried out land reform in 1968, under which the government granted new ownership to massive amounts of previously unfarmed land.

This is how a prized variety of cacao that was thought to have been wiped out by disease in Ecuador at the beginning of the 1900's continued to grow and flourish, undiscovered.

When families from all over northern Peru made their way out to the northern jungle to claim their free farmland, the cacao was already there, growing wild in a small canyon not far from the border with Ecuador.

The roaming native tribes who migrated sporadically through the canyon never brought the cacao under organized cultivation.

If you've ever read a book about frontier life in the United States, you know that moving out into nature and settling on virgin land is a dangerous and often deadly enterprise.

This was also the case for families who originally settled in what is now called the district of Huarango, the region where we buy and process all of the cacao that is used to make our chocolate.

Many of the original settlers are still alive in the district of Huarango and most of the farmers who sell us their cacao are just one or two generations removed from the frontier movement.

These folks have built a community from the ground up.

They've endured the hardship of life in the jungle and have been able to survive and thrive through extreme grit and resourcefulness.

Because members of the settling generation are still alive, they can tell stories of what it was like in the beginning.

I've always been fascinated by the story of a little village called Catahuas.

There are roughly eighty villages in the district of Huarango.

Many are named after trees or plant life that proliferate uniquely in their neck of the woods.

This is the case with Catahuas. The Catahuas tree is a tall brown tree with green spines growing up and down the trunk.

At first glance, it appears to be the perfect tree for building a house.

On the outside, it is tall, hovering, and majestic. It shoots up far above the fruit tree canopy that shades the jungle floor.

For those who originally homesteaded what is now the village of Catahuas, the Catahuas tree was for many years considered to be a bane and a curse. That is, before the beleaguered and insulted tree became a savior and a blessing in the end.

Catahuas is the home of Don Regulo Vargas, one of the very first cacao farmers who sold us cacao. He sold cacao to us at a time when most people in the region would not.

Folks out in Huarango aren't quick to trust outsiders.

Given the rough and tumble history of the zone, it is easy to understand why they wouldn't.

The residents fought and struggled to stay alive and build something. They put their blood and sweat into it.

Many people lost their lives.

Folks who have been through what they have been through don't take kindly to interlopers.

They prefer to do business with somebody who has paid their dues.

But Don Regulo saw something in my brother Brian and decided to throw his lot in with our company.

Don Regulo has one of the most beautiful and pristine pure Nacional cacao farms you will ever see. He is a meticulous farmer who was strictly farming the native variety of cacao many years before we showed up on the scene.

When some of the rest of the district of Huarango was switching to industrial hybrid trees that promised higher yields, Don Regulo continued on with the heirloom cacao of the zone.

It hurt him financially in the short run, but in the long run, he came off looking like a clairvoyant. An added benefit was that his pride for the land remained intact.

Don Regulo is one of the farmers who has been around since the founding of the district.

When others saw that Don Regulo was doing business with us gringos, they decided to take the leap of faith as well.

If it weren't for the leading example of Don Regulo, and several other elders from his generation, we wouldn't be in business today.

Don Regulo is also the one who told us the story of the founding of Catahuas, which I began writing up a few days ago.

When I left off, a man named Don Lucho, his wife Maria, and their two children were standing on the bank of the Chinchipe River.

They had made the journey, as had many thousands of others, from the dry and mostly lifeless northern Peruvian coast, east through and over the Andes, out to the jungle to claim the land that would be their new home.

They had spent the night sleeping on a blanket outdoors, side by side with hundreds of other pioneers who were also waiting to cross the Chinchipe.

In the morning, a heavy rain awakened them.

They arose and packed their belongings. The gushing downpour immediately soaked their clothing and all of their possessions.

In the middle of the Chinchipe, they saw two rudimentary wooden rafts, bouncing wildly in the spitting current of the river.

The rafts were held in place by thick rope that was tied to strong wooden posts dug in on either side of the river.

Don Lucho and Maria would later learn that nobody in the zone had been able to find a native wood light enough to make proper canoes.

As such, residents had been forced to gather driftwood from the river when the current was low, in order to fashion the rafts that were currently in use.

These dangerous rafts were the only transportation across the river for many years.

Ten strong men came walking down the trail that led from the main road above down to the river. On the other side of the river, the canyon side, ten more strong men appeared.

These were government employees hired to help shepherd pioneers across.

They untied the ropes from the posts and held on tight so that the rafts wouldn't be carried off by the strong pull of the river.

In groups of five, slowly and with much effort, they pulled the two rafts ashore. One of the men, a spokesman, called the group over to give instructions about riding on the rafts.

I'm out of space for today.

I promise to continue on with this story tomorrow!

Thank you so much for time today.

I hope that you have a truly blessed day!


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