Author, Photo : Jowrney, Stacey
Period : 23 September 2015 - 06 October 2015
Product : Cacao
Location : El Carmen de Chucuri(Satander, Colombia)
When we stepped into Ecuadorian land approached from the southern boarder with Peru, large banana plantations extended endlessly as it was our first impression of Ecuador. Having watched the banana clusters riding bicycle, we were not sure if there is any small organic banana farm to have a WWOOFing experience or not. The same as our concern, no matter crop, the farmers or growers who is registered to WWOOF Ecuador was just around 50 farms which is very few. We sent emails to several farms selected among them but no response at all except only one but it even let us disappointed. Because the host asked for participation fee to support their environmental project. Stacey was resolute in her reply to that farm. Also, she ask WWOOF Ecuador to take a strong action to prevent such thing. At the same time, it awaken WWOOF philosophy in our minds thinking our own farm in the future.
WWOOFing is non-monetary exchange.
Volunteer helps farming work and farm host provides meal and lodge to worker.
In all cases, no one can claim any participation fee or wage between the both.
It seems to be no ties with farm experience in Ecuador. Let’s turn our eyes to a bigger stage, Colombia and welcome news came from 'cacao farm'. They informed “How to get there” in detail on the email the email and we could easily get to know that wild, remote area is their location.
Looking for Cacao Farm!
Headed for Colombia for the only purpose of 'wwoofing'. Transferred from bus to another bus and we moved 1,800 kilometers for 30 hours, 2 nights 3 days. We returned to adapt ourselves to the hot weather in Santander state in Colombia and arrived to semi final destination El Carmen de Chucuri. We got on the final bus leaving bicycles and heavy bags in the host’ parents house there. The old bus for the remote mountain village was crowded with many luggages more than passengers. Bundles tightly wrapped with plastic bag, big and small packages, and the big gunny sack might be heavy made bus driver run with sweat in his face loading up the bus.
Off-road. It’s hard to imagine there are bus lines between the town and the mountain via this tough trail. From time to time, bus stopped not for passengers but unloading some luggages and uploading another ones. Bus driver who is a great multiplayer is driving, calculating charges and delivering parcels by himself. It might be hard and tired but he is very warm and friendly to his customers. By the way, how much further we should go? We were going to have a nappy rash because of long journey sitting on the bus.
"Are you Korean? You go with me. We are almost there."
A bunch of students got on the bus and one of them told to us. Her name is Zayra who is the oldest daughter of cacao farm host. Then, we were able to watch the cacao trees through the bus window without any concerns as we had a guide. It’s so cute and ridiculous when we see the cacao fruit hanging on the central stem as if it was applying glue. The mountain bus passing by is a huge cacao field itself.
Finally we got to the destination, a small village named 'Honduras Bajo' which is the last stop. The bus was stopped in the yard of shabby house with low roof. Zayra changed her shoes into boots sitting on the old bench in the place might be a waiting room. We followed her leading the way on the wet tough trail. We wearing slippers not boots often lagged behind her on the walk. After about 20 minutes we arrived to the farm at last.
Welcome to "Bosques de Cacao Yariguies”
It was worthwhile that we came here after long journey. Almost isolated atmosphere remote from civilization, we celebrated the liberation from wireless internet and tele communication here. Pure air and clear water, whatever will grow very well here. Excited to have lots of fun here for the following days.
Working too hard, take it easy (1)
Wake up early as farm host advised last night. Host couples went out to work and children went to school early dawn and a lady who named Kelly served breakfast for us. We just relaxed and felt the fresh morning air watching the sun rise over the mountain.
“It might be very hot in the mid day. That is why we’d better start working very early. What is the first mission? We may need boots so I will check it out."
Clean the cow barn! As Jowrney predicted, boots are necessary for the first work. The space in where 6 cows family lives is not very bad situation. The smell is uncomfortable but bearable. It was Stacey’ thought but Jowrney protects his nose with cycling buff with troubled face. The dark green color of cow poop let Stacey recall her childhood memory of grandfather.
“When I was young, my grandfather used to kid me. One day, he told me to come to the back yard as there was a cookie. As you know, cookie or bread was not common at that time. I rushed right away exciting to eat it. But, I failed to find any cookie but almost slipped on the wet cow poop. Been angry and I complained to grandfather. He laughed at me and said it is a cookie, cow poop cookie!”
Jowrney smiled at the story heard from her who had a happy memory with grandfather. It was hot and getting hotter. Cleaning job was over. It was time to break in the cool shade and to quench thirst. Stacey talks a lot at the first day.
“Jowrney, do you know that cows have 4 stomachs?"
“Really? Cows are amazing animal. How they grow up such big in spite of eating the grass only and even produce milk."
Finishing stage. Covered the bed of cement with wood shavings. Nothing hard job but Stacey asked to take frequent breaks. Normally she seldom to rest when she work so Jowrney thought she might be not feeling well at that day.
In fact, there is a story behind that. It was last year wwoofing in New Zealand. Always Stacey worked so hard by herself and Jowrney is too unhappy with her to say a word of advice.
“If I work such hard like you, I will get sick soon. You are too much rushed into work as if you don’t work another day! It’s no matter you work alone but you need to slow down considering your co-workers !"
His word was a shock to her and she did not forget it. Anyhow, that day was the best attitude of her since Jowrney have seen. Working in the morning, free time whole in the afternoon, that is what we prefer. We can divide the task within working hour and put off to another day if time is not enough. That is all.
Almost done. Jowrney filling the last cart with wood shavings asked Stacey about future farm life.
“Can you raise cows in the future? I repeated many times not to eat meat when we return to Korea but 'direct farm meat' is a different story. Maybe we should raise a couple of cow to have a calf and to be provided milk. First of all, we need a big grass pasture like this farm. How much do I make money? hahaha”
Stacey was more than happy to hear that because it sounded to her Jowrney will make enough money.
Feel so good watching the newly renovated cow barn. Wish that cows would like it.
Pracise playing violin, write travel journal and read a book, it was a peaceful weekend. Time to work again! We headed for the cacao field that expected much bringing a pruning scissor and net sack. Because of rain, the road near the filed was so muddy that our legs sunk deep into the mud. Carefully passing through the wire fence, we took our first steps into the cacao world. It was soft and comfortable to step on the natural floor mat, dozens of layers of fallen leaves and branches piled up for many years.
We learned how to work under a supervision of Don Fredy. Picking the matured cacao fruits and putting in the sack, cutting off the rotten or spoiled one. Small sized pods, yes it’s easy to drop to the ground as they will be naturally decompose. However, big ones, as we think, are needed to be collected in a waste basket for a separate disposal. Maestro Fredy told us we don’t have to worry at all because there are experts specialized in compost work and he added we shall understand it soon. And, we should not forget to prune the deformed branch or parasites from the tree. And throw them away on the ground, it makes us feel the easier. Colorful cacao pods in red and yellow. So happy to harvest such big sized fruit.The sack is full of just 6 or 7 pods which are big so we had to come to empty out them more often to collected place.
Ants are busy to move between the fallen leaf on tree branches. What is happening under the leaf? So many white eggs! Stacey used to remove the eggs and ants from the trees at the beginning for the purpose of protection cacao from them. But she had to give up just because of 'too many’. And she start to think and asked maestro having concerns about insect pests and diseases. His meaning, referred to Spanish dictionary and by letting him repeat and repeat again, can be same in the following sentence.
They are earnest workers here who play an important part in breaking down the plant resides. The truly staggering task of dealing with the tremendous amount of annual leaf and mixing the decomposed matter with the surface soil are done by those small insects and microscopic worms. - "Silent Spring, Rachel Carson in 1962"
Even though Stacey grown up in the rural area, she has never seen such natural ecologic environment. It is simple to bring to mind the earthworms and various insects working diligently in the floor that she are standing on. 'Not being seen’ is not equal to 'not being’. She knew her ignorance at that time and went back to work after then.
Once poured herself into the work, she nearly doesn’t look around. It would’ve been a trouble.
Stacey stepped back and ran away instinctively. Bees or flying ants that it was unsure, it bit and stung my arm and hurts like a big needle shot into the skin. What it was on earth? She carefully approached to that place and found a bee hive hanging on the tree. Wasp! They built a firm nest which is bigger than cacao pod. Stacey apologized to the wasps that there was no intention to attack…
Two days later, her arm was beginning to swell up where the wasp had stung her. Let’s keep working! Along with maestro, Don Fredy, we sit around the small stockpile of cocoa pods that we collected a few days ago. Maestro splits up the pod into two halves by using a tool named ‘macheta’ in Spanish. Machete, a kind of sickle, is a useful farming tool that it seems to be using widely in the South America as we saw it in Peru for the first time. The inside of pod is filled with cacao bean what we really want. The wet grains are coated with white pulp which is sweet. Stacey has tried to eat it thinking as a candy but spit out the purple bean because it is too bitter. O.K., this bean which is tasted bitter and astringent is a real ingredient of chocolate. Hard to understand it as nothing cacao smell or taste as itself.
Subsequently, those wet grains are transported to a wooden crate, which is next to the house. There it takes place a process of natural fermentation for about 4 or 7 days, during this process, the cocoa beans acquire many beneficial properties while the white pulp on the surface are reducing day by day and formed like almond. These days of constant rainfall had delayed the fermentation so we didn’t see the drying process. In the region of El Carmen de Chucuri has traditionally done in elbas(sunroof in houses), extending roof sliding a wide cocoa bean tray for drying in sunlight. We saw the pulley to slide the tray between the space of ceiling and roof. Elba closes at dusk or when it rains o protect the beans and the house. What a such wisdom!
The instructive lessons from the remote rural farm
Zayra asked Stacey to come with her to bus station to pick up a parcel. It is a mechanical part of cacao bean grinder that means it’s not far to make chocolate. On the way of back to home after receiving the parcel, looking down from the hill over the peaceful farm area, Stacey carefully gave a question to Zayra in poor Spanish.
“Zayra, your place is so beautiful. Will you move to city in the future?
“I’d like to live in city but I don’t know yet. By the way, shall we watch this music video here? The signal is disconnected just going down the hill.
She showed the movie screen of her mobile phone. One of typical girl who is curious about the world. No one knows whether she will leave this region or not. However, at least, she would have another reason not like us, who are followed the parents’ advice as everybody believed there is no more future in farming and the country. Here are very instructive lessons of our wwoofing here in the cacao farm. This cacao farm is a family business of 1 sister and 3 brothers and also a community association in this region El Carmen de Chucuri. In addition to a help of farm host, Clara and Pacion, Miguel(younger brother of Clara), who is now temporarily living in Houston of the USA and speaks English, told us their story about the farm business.
“We are afraid our help is not very practical in the farm. What is the reason to receive WWOOFers like us?
“Our interest is to help the rural people of the region to remain in the country. For that we want to develop alternative sources of income such as agriculture and tourism. We linked the farmers in our region with chocolatiers around the world, who can pay a fair price. Besides, we are proud of our region and Colombia as it’s biodiversity so we want to show it to the world. The WWOOFers support is very important for us, because helps to awareness our people to understand that the world is connected today and there are people determined to change things, like you and us. It’s important to show them they are important too!"
Indeed, it is a big punch to ourselves.
Dreaming world around trip with a purpose of making a better future of agriculture in Korea. We started the trip with exciting dream of developing agricultural development in Korea by devoting our future. But with what? As time went on, we had lost our focus and sticked to easy method to build in a defensive and practical way. Such superficial view of returning to farm with a negative approach. Such a superficial and negative approach… Stacey would be ashamed of seeing her parents when coming back to home.
In fact, two of us are one of them, who studied and found a job in the city moved from the country. O.K., it is no matter of us that we settle in small farm after this trip and dye in peace. However, what about our children to be born near future? We will repeat the same as our parents did(living an urban life)? Without fundamental and future oriented solution, needless to say, back to the farm is no meaning. Interaction between the people, culture, and country. We have never thought over to find a answer on why people leave the rural area. The farmers’ average age is 66 years old. this is the reality of Korea.
Learned a lot on the remote cacao farm in Colombia. There are amazing people to start to think long time ago about how to help people to remain in the region, maintain their precious life base and protecting the agricultural environment. We believe that Zayra and her young brother and sister will discover the true value of the cacao farm and their life in the region.
One-day teaching experience
Woke up at 4 a.m. and let our a yawn and said good-morning to the host. The day is planned to go one-day teaching to the small branch school to another village. We went to take a bus all together in the bean of flashlight. All of them are considered to be great to us as they goes this dark way every early morning.
It has been a week since disconnected to the civilization. When we got to the school, it was 7 o’clock which is still early morning. It was the first time to come to branch school in person. In the only classroom, there were a couple of table and chair that each one seems to be a class. Clara, the only teacher and also the principal in this school, was very busy to prepare breakfast and her class. She said that it is not really busy thanks to Yuli who is helping to take care her 2 years old daughter, Laura.
Stacey also finished to prepare her English class but didn’t feel confident enough to teach the young student. Sitting under the lemon tree, she worried a lot if she can do well.
‘The children understand my Spanish?'
‘Maybe some of them are very little kids, are they very shy of strangers?
‘By the way, how come to Jowrney? Computer class…..
With very poor Spanish teaching less poor English? Lemon tree didn’t give an answer to her.
Classroom has been filled with around 20 students and both of us said hello to them and Clara introduced us to them briefly. Stacey moved to extra classroom with 6 small kids. The first class has just begun with 7-8 years old students who are full of energy.
“Today you have a new name in English, your new name is One, next your one is Two, …. understand?
“My name is ‘Seven’ so you can call me as ‘Seven’ when you have a question. understand?
“(lauging out loud) You are One, I am Two? So funny”
It was successful as they understood what Stacey said and their eyes are twinkling when they see her.
The students who are so much love to write down wanted to make a note whenever that Stacey told them new word in English. But she wanted to let them feel English as an exciting play. So she removed all notes and pencils from the table and told them to forget the note. But the little kids might be thought it as a real play time as there are nothing on the table.
“Let’s go out for play in the playground, shall we, no?
Let’s, go, out, for, play, in, the, playground(Vamos a jugar en la cancha)"
Her ears perked up. The kids who speak perfect Spanish repeated the sentence so kindly and pronounced so exactly every time when she asked to repeat. Position changed, she were learning Spanish from the kids at the place where she went to teach English to them.
Kids were loosing focus on the class by time goes and they are not curious about the strangers but just wanted to go out for playing. It’s time for Jowrney to take a role as animals. Fortunately the computer class was cancelled because computer is broken.
“I am monkey! At this time, chicken! Guys, aren’t you afraid of me~?”
They didn’t care whatever it is but just played with lots of fun. In the hot weather, we were working in a sweat.
"We’d better to work in the farm. It’s so tired to play with children."
Next class is for 9 years-old.
Andres(brother of Zayra) and Lupe(sister of Kelly) are seen so Stacey felt easy about this class less than the previous one.
“Let’s begin by reviewing the last lesson. How do you say ‘lunes’ in English?"
All of them spoke clearly in Spanish way.
“No, mondai, sundai but ‘monday and sunday’, O.K.? "
English is a difficult language to Spanish speaker in the South America just like us who feel the same when learn Spanish.
All the classes was over and we were invited to play football. A proper shoes are needed on the cement ground. We both regret not to fully concentrate on the game because of the shoes which are not proper to play. The playing atmosphere here is totally far from the children nowadays, who never let go off the smartphone. A strange world that such natural view is considered as uncommon case. There are some parents who never provide an appropriate opportunity of going out to play to their child even though they grown up by playing in the field. We really do need to be alert when become parents someday. Play ball after a long time. It was lots of fun and excited. And much tired.
Milking the cows
While cacao beans are fermenting in the wood crate, we were adapting to the unique life style in the remote rural place in hot weather. In this region, it rains several times in a day. And it gets clear in the morning and some time in the afternoon with strong sunlight. To adapt the weather, Stacey had heat rashes around her torso. Itching was getting worse by continuous rain. There was no way but just endure sufferings and it has been soothing day by day.
Milking the cows that we were looking forward to! Let the cows to see their babys that they separated for the night, drove the cows, eating grass on the pasture to the barn. The mother cows went straight to see the calves that might be missed their baby much. The calves became exited to take the breast. ‘Moo~ moo~’ It was hard to take them away from the mother.
Time to try! Stacey got to know how strong the calves suck the breast. Her efforts were sincere with great energy on her finger and arm but milk was not smoothly going out. It is hard for her to catch the point. Kelly demonstrated the proper way as it was a piece of cake for her. Just in a minute to begin with double shooting, 2 liter pitcher was full of milk. More or less 10 liters obtained from 3 young cows. As we heard, the cows of industrial ranch give milk more than 30 liters everyday with 2 or 3 times of pumping, then how much the cows have to eat? What a such compulsive overeating! Besides, it is not fresh and delicious grass what the cows love but corn feed and this is the reality of livestock industry in this world. Indeed, this place is almost a paradise for the cows and other animals.
When released the calves finished milking, they begun vigorously to suckle the breast. The quantity has been much reduced, it was not easier than before so pushing up the breast by his head. Guided the cows family to the middle of pasture, there are lots of fresh grass.
“By the way, Kelly! Do we have to take the milk away from the cows such many everyday? We can let the calves eat up as they so much love the milk as we see just before”
“No, Stacey. We can’t because calves will get sick if they eat too much. That is why we let them separate during the night between the mother and baby. And we have to suck the breast properly and completely empty, otherwise it causes a breast disease for the mother.”
Stacey couldn’t understand at that time what she said and later asked to write down on a note. Then, it makes sense. We misunderstood that human take away the milk which is just for the calves. Of course, this is totally different story from the industrial ranch, as if a high efficiency of machinery system, putting raw materials(feed) into the chemical machinery(cows) to produce a products(milk), which is very common throughout the world today. People want to disregard an inconvenient truth ; animals suffering a huge pain from overeating and an excessive milking for the only purpose of human consumption, while the sales of dairy products which look good by well packaged with marketing strategy is increasing year by year.
A healthy soil, fresh grass, happy cows of mother and baby, it’s natural that cows provide a good quality of milk to humans.
A year has gone with FlyBasket project
It has rained throughout the day and finally came out the electricity in the evening. It happens often here and the host told they will have a generator soon as they had to live for 5 days in the darkness a week ago. Listening a candle on the table, we ate the dinner in the romantic mood. It seemed to back to the day long time ago when there is no electricity.
At the night goes on, the rain and wind sounded louder. It was something of vitality which is very strong. We just let our mind and ears open to the nature sound and fell into deep sleep.
Morning has broken and the mountain over the cacao filed faded with thickening clouds. We enjoyed coffee time in front yard watching the view of fresh morning. Coffee was sweet by adding panela(unrefined whole cane sugar which is known as a pure brown sugar which is before refining and concentrating the raw sugar), grown and produced in this region. It was hard to believe that we are living in highly developed modern times. We are just standing on Earth. It has been a year since we left Korea for traveling around the world. We got to this beautiful place, where beautiful minded people are living, by crossing the Pacific Ocean and around the half circle of Earth. We hope to find or re-build such place when we settle in after completing the project. Dreaming to live on pleasure and pride on agricultural life doing the things what we want to, but now let’s go to work today!
Working too hard, take it easy (2)
Similar to "Ondol(Korean traditional architecutre of underfloor heating)" system in Korea, there is wood burning stove named “Fogón” here in the cacao farm house. But fogon is using only for cooking not heating which is not required as it’s ver hot all the year around. In the kitchen, there is a gas stove as well but normally Kelly prepares foods by using fogon despite of hot weather. She is a great and amazing woman.
One quiet Saturday.
Jowrney took the ax for woodchopping in order to be a help of Kelly. Actually she is a master of woodchopping as well as milking cows. Under the strong sunshine in the mid day, the bad workman blames his tools. He changed the tool into saw but the wood won’t be cut easily as it might contain humid from the continuous rain in the past days. He was sweaty in whole of his body not so long since he started.
While, Stacey followed Kelly to collect yuca over the valley. Yuca tastes mix of potato and sweet potato is our favorite source of carbohydrates since we have eaten many times in Peru. Fried or steamed yuca is always welcome. Digging the soil with macheta(a kind of sickle) and pulled off yuca root bundle enough to eat at least 1 week with almost 10 people of the host family and workers including us. Kelly smiled like mother who is very happy to feed the family. As soon as came back to home, Kelly picked off lemons from the tree. She is very professional at this work also. Stacey didn’t try because it may be able to waste the time for Kelly so just collected the fallen fruit on the ground. Matured lemon is just like the orange. The reason why lemonade is sweet is made by well-cooked fruit not adding sugar. It is 100% natural lemonade.
Whenever Jowrney took a break sitting on the pavilion, Kelly served a cup of cool lemonade to him. But Jowrney looked too tired to say thank you as drenched in sweat after one hour of woodchopping.
‘As far as I saw, Jowrney has never sweated like that with any physical labor. I worry a little bit if he will be all right …'
After long fighting with tree stumps, finally he gave up as prepared the firewood to be used enough just for 2 days and then came into the room for taking rest. But he didn’t came out from the hot room all afternoon.
Leaving Jowrney to take a full rest, Stacey joined to go swimming to the valley with children and Des. He is also a wwoofer came from England, who has a dream to run a well-being restaurant coming back to his homeland Sierra Leone in Africa someday. He is almost 50 years old but with full of energy of youth.
The water running in the valley is in muddy due to rain last days. The only thing to take off is boots. When Stacey entered the water in the working clothes, it seems to meet a shower cycling uphills. So fresh and heat is soothing down. Andres took a picture as he was caught a cold. The same aged two girls, Zayra and Yuli, are busy to take a model pose in front of camera taken by Andres.
On the way back to home. So much refreshed in body and also in mind. Watching the children going home in the back, Stacey missed her childhood - enjoying bathing in waterway near the rice paddy with her sister and playing and talk a lot under the grand chestnut tree with friends.
‘Under the spreading chestnut tree~♫
There we sit both you and me, oh how happy we would be~♫
Under the spreading chestnut tree~’
Jowrney was laid up with fatigue and fever wouldn’t be came down. He was complaining of pain in her feet like sticking the needle so Stacey didn’t sleep a wink last night taking massage her feet and legs and cooling his body. At that time, there was no use in regretting but he had to give up the hard work much earlier stage. He had to accept his limitation, but the reason for that is addicted to woodchopping.
A few day later, Stacey experienced the terrible addiction by herself. After failing a few times, she tried harder out of spite. She couldn’t give up with a ghost expectation of ‘almost, just a few times more!’. To avoid such thing, we need a rule when we work. We have to figure it out in a few times of trial, whether the wood is enough dried or need to let it dry more. Sometimes give-up is a wise choice not to stick to the work which is stupid. But it’s too late as Jowrney was not realized it.
He is getting better. It was thanks to Andres who is serving pill and vitamin on time. After one night later, he almost fully recovered as it was very unusual as normally he takes 3 or 4 days. Jowrney himself didn’t know that his body could recover such in short time. It maybe there are several reasons, good care of Andres, natural vitamin of mandarine juice and the self-healing in this pure nature. Jowrney himself didn’t know that his body could recover such in short time.
In order to taste the real chocolate
The final stage in the cacao farm is to make chocolate eliminating our curiosity. It would be more meaningful if we could use the cacao bean that we harvested but fermentation is delaying in rainy weather. Let’s begin to make a real chocolate! Roast the cacao beans in fogon, there is no aroma not like coffee. After cooling down the roasted ones, remove the skin by hand with careful of residue heat. Stacey who is easy concentrated on the work got blisters on her fingers. Des didn’t come close as he might know this is difficult job. She kept working with lots of care on her thumb. The shinny cacao beans has a chocolate aroma and taste which is familiar to us.
And then, grind the peeled beans roughly by using a machine. Add spice of cinnamon or clove as per desired taste and then ground the mixture to be ground fine. Then, mix the cocoa paste throughly and finish to make a mold. It’s over and just wait until the paste set hard in freezer. Something strange! However, the people here do not make the commercial chocolate which is high content of refined sugar. They enjoy the chocolate melting in panela water or with milk according to their traditional way. The mass of modern people may call it as ‘cocoa’ but the name itself is a name of brand not product actually but hot chocolate sounds better.
Next day, we were sitting on the bench in front yard with a cup of hot chocolate. In order to taste this real chocolate, it requires so many efforts - suffering from heat rash, getting stung by wasp and blisters on fingers… It sounds like our hard works are finally paying off. This is all of our story in the cacao farm. We completed the whole process - from the cacao to the chocolate.
What is WWOOF?
WWOOF(World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) is a world-wide movement linking volunteers with organic farmers and growers to promote cultural and educational experiences based on trust and non-monetary exchanges helping to build a sustainable global community.
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