Hello and good day!
When our team goes out to buy cacao on cacao farms, they travel in a fleet of pick-up trucks and motorcycles. And they mostly drive along thin dirt roads just wide enough for two cars to drive past each other.
To give you a lay of the land, we buy cacao in what amounts to a triangular shaped canyon. The front side of the triangle is a thick river.The back two sides of the triangle are tall, green, jungle mountains.
Where we operate is jungle that is in the eastern foothills of the Andes mountains. It is very hilly out there. bAlong the river is a little port town called Puerto Ciruelo.
"Ciruelo" means "plum" in English and the town got its name because one of the original founders grew plum trees that could be seen from the other side of the river. You knew you were in the right place when you saw the bright, red, plums. Downtown Puerto Ciruelo is about six blocks long.
One side of downtown is the landing, where people cross the river and come into town. On the other side of town there is a street that goes up hill and takes you back into the canyon. This hill eventually runs into a thin dirt road that cuts in front of it, perpendicular.
At that point, you have to turn one way or the other. Either way will take you on a winding, snaking ride along paths that make up an intricate labyrinth. There are roughly 80 little villages back in the canyon and a few thousand small hold, family farms.
Most of the team rides motorcycles, and a couple of people drive pickup trucks. On either side of the road, you see farm after farm. You can see into shady cacao orchards.
These always have shade trees up above the orchard itself, usually banana trees, with their wide, droopy, light green leaves that are excellent for providing shade. On the cacao trees themselves, you see brightly colored, oblong shaped fruit, hanging down on thick stems from long, light brown branches.
Out on those farms you'll also see families with wicker baskets hanging from their necks, walking barefoot, scraping bright red coffee cherries off of short coffee bushes. You see barbed wire fences with cows corralled on the inside grazing.
Every once in a while, you come across a big, clearcut section of a farm and you see short bunches of dark green plant blades sticking up out of the ground. In those sections, you see farmers bent over pulling up the bunches, their feet submerged in water up to their lower shins.This is rice farming. It is back breaking work. Being hunched over like that all day, out in the unrelenting jungle sun, is a very challenging job.
Remember that the next time you eat rice.
Other than the sounds of the motorcycle engines, the pickup trucks, wheels struggling to grip a damp dirt road and sliding out once in a while, bird calls, wind gusting through and rustling the leaves of farm trees, and the sounds of farm animals squawking, it is mostly quiet and peaceful out in the canyon.
It isn't like a Peruvian city with cars honking and music blasting non stop. It is tranquil and beautiful and slow. The air is fresh.
One thing the cacao buying team has to be very careful about is animals running across the road. In campo, animals have the right of way. It is a breach of etiquette to kill somebody's animal out on the road. And they'll have to be compensated for their loss. The price charged to us for a dead animal is almost always 2-3 times the going market rate.
When it is raining hard, the roads become treacherous. Team members slide out and fall almost every day.A first aid kit is among the mandatory supplies that each team member carries strapped to the back of their bike.
Although, after you've fallen so many times, you learn how to fall such that you minimize injury. And you get a sixth sense for when a fall might be in the works, so you gain a couple of extra moments to prepare yourself for a hard landing.
Many little cacao farming villages are situated next to or behind small rivers or irrigation creeks. The rivers and creeks have bridges over them that need to be crossed.
Most of the bridges are makeshift bridges built by the farmers in the community. The government doesn't get out into the canyon too much to do infrastructure projects. However, there are a few government built bridges, built over the larger rivers.
But they are almost all in disrepair, rickety, and frightening to cross. When the creeks and rivers are low, the fleet can drive across most of the bridges. When the rivers are high and the water is sloshing up onto the bridge, the team has to walk their motor bikes across.
The pickup trucks usually have to wait next to the bridge and the farmers, with the help of our team, have to bring the cacao out on animals.
Even though it is hard, and at times dangerous work, riding a motorcycle out in the jungle canyon where we buy cacao is one of the most fun, adventurous, and enjoyable experiences a person can have.
I hope that you have a truly blessed day!