Waking up to the sounds of howler monkeys quickly reminds me that I am, in fact, in the middle of the Belizean jungle. I’m at Cotton Tree Lodge, an eco-lodge in the southernmost region of Belize in the Toledo District. Why am I here? For the chocolate.
Cacao is the source of chocolate and Belize is one of the sources of cacao. Today, I’ll visit a jungle farm which supplies cacao along with a fascinating variety of plants used for food and medicine by the Mayan people living in the district.
After a breakfast of freshly made tortillas, eggs from the chickens at the lodge and tropical fruits from the trees that grow around it, I’m off with my fellow chocolate lovers to visit a jungle farm owned by a man called Eladio Pop.
Eladio is Mayan and has lived in this jungle his entire life. He never wears a shirt. He always carries a machete. He has one wife, 15 children, boundless energy and is truly the happiest person I have ever encountered.
As we hike through his jungle farm, Eladio cuts down plants, whacks various items with his machete and opens up fruits for us to sample. If he tells us to taste it, we pop it right into our mouths—after all, he is the one with the machete!
Eladio explains to us how he plants a cacao tree and his “co-farmer”—a rodent known as the agouti—plants the seeds of another shrub or tree nearby to provide the shade necessary for the cacao tree to thrive. Eladio believes nature works in harmony with us when we pay attention to the natural order of things.
With our tour complete, Eladio invites us to his home. His wife, Virginia, serves a traditional Mayan meal of chicken, tortillas, pepper slaw, plantains and rice with vegetables. After lunch, Eladio’s daughter demonstrates traditional Mayan chocolate-making techniques. She prepares spicy hot chocolate for us to sample—a drink that has been consumed by the Mayan people for centuries. The drink is thought to provide energy and vitality. The ever-energetic Eladio, father of 15, drinks this every day, so there might be some truth in it.
You’re probably wondering why would I travel to such a remote area of Belize to hike through jungles and learn about cacao? Well, because it’s my job. I’m not a chocolatier…and I’m definitely not a farmer. I’m a travel writer.
Seeking adventures, experiencing other cultures and, in this case, making chocolate is just another day at the office for me. I never mind going to “work” because travel is my passion. Being a travel writer means I get to indulge that passion—and get paid for it, too.
My travels are often free, or at least substantially discounted, and I have access to events and destinations not available to the average tourist. When an adventure concludes, I write about my experiences and collect my paychecks. For me, there really is no better job.
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