A Travellerspoint blog

August 2015

Eating Chocolate the Original Way

Our time on the Oreba Chocolate Tour


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So we bit the bullet and decided to go on the Oreba Chocolate Tour while in Bocas Del Toro. It was the one food tours I had been hanging out for. The tour was $30USD and then there was the $12 USD return boat ride…a total of $42 per person! Yep definitely out of our budget. I have to say after doing the tour I thought it was completely worth it.
We took the boat and had one of our guides, Jack meet us at the dock. He was from the tribe and had learnt English via an American teacher that had been there.

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After waiting 30minutes for people that missed the boat we were off to have lunch..the tour includes traditional food for lunch. It was basic but sensational! It reminded me a lot of island food. The chicken was coated with a spice mix, the rice was cooked perfectly, the rhubarb leaf reminded Lewis of Puha. It was cooked with garlic and was flavoured really well. The root of the rhubarb plant reminded both of us of taro. It was a great flavour combination. We discovered that you could only eat the purple leaved plants, the plain green ones are toxic.

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After lunch we grabbed our walking sticks and started walking the muddy trails. Children came out to look at the tourists. The village is made up of 700 people. It was cool to talk to them and see how happy they were to have new people in the village. We spotted numerous fruit plants along the way and learnt that citron was great as an insect repellent. We coated ourselves before we headed up to the cocoa fincas.
The tribe's cacao farms are all organic farms. Most farms are are 1-2ha. If they are more than that we discovered they can’t maintain them by themselves. The farms are owned by women and men. The women tend to grind in the beans and pay the men to work if they own the land. The problem with cacao is that the plant is attacked by fungi..The fungi is believed to have come into Panama when the locals got greedy and wanted to have more than one species so they could pick and harvest the cacao more than twice a year. The fungi came in the late 1970’s and has been a problem for around 40 years. The fungi claims a lot of the cacao as it stops it ripening. It can claim over 90% of the crop if the plants aren't maintained well. The locals used to be able to get over 1000 pods off one tree but sadly this is no longer the case.

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The different varieties mean that the farmers can harvest pods every month. The guides were explaining that the more love you give the plants the more rewards (cacao pods) you get. They need to tend to them to help stop the fungus. The pods ripen to numerous colours…red, orange, green, yellow and purple. We mainly saw red, orange and yellow. As we continued along we learnt that now the farmers plant a lot (25%) of fruit trees (mainly bananas) so animals like the cat, woodpecker and monkeys will eat the fruit instead of the cacao. The cacao is sold at a cheap rate of $1.30 to Switzerland and mainly to Lindt. It is sold to Europe for $1.80 but the sellers make a 0.50c cut so the farmers get $1.30 per pound. 1 pound makes about 10 bars…you do the math so in the scheme of things it is not a lot. If you ask the locals why they do it. They explain that cacao is a part of there culture and although it is hard work it is important to them. The tourism of people walking through makes them more money than the plants themselves.

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The cool thing about the tour I discovered is that all profits go to the Village. They divide the profits between 12 different areas including hospital, school, funerals, etc. And all proceeds go to the village. On our way we saw a mother sloth with her baby in a banana tree which is awesome. The baby was moving around and eating.

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As we continued through the trees up the muddy trail we reached a small casa (house) where three ladies and a girl (Emilie) were waiting for us. They were going to show us the traditional process of making chocolate.
First we cut open the cacao pod. The pod smelt a little like melon and the seeds were coated in a juicy skin. Each cacao type (there are over 600) has a slightly different flavour of flesh. Ours was sweet and tangy, kind of like a lychee. At this point the cacao flavour we know doesn’t really exist. Next the beans need to ferment. This is done in a box for around five days between banana leaves. The beans must reach 50 degrees to kill the embryo in the seed, apparently this is easily done with the insulation of the leaves, nothing is put in the leaves but the white flesh with the cacao inside. The flesh browns inside.

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Next the seeds are dried, this process takes 8 days or more and the cacao needs to be rotated frequently (some farmers do this every 30mins) to ensure even drying. The drying process is usually done in a greenhouse.
The dry beans are then roasted. This is the point just before chocolate and the smell of them roasting was magnificent! The shells need to be removed and then the last step is completed which is grinding of the beans to make a paste. The paste is mixed with a little sugar (in our case 5%) and you have chocolate! It tasted intense and delicious! I had great fun talking to Emilie and teaching her how to take photos. ☺

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We continued our walk after chocolate eating and this time saw a poisonous green frog on our travels. It was larger than the red one we had seen in Costa Rica but was just as cute. You can see how easily they could be missed as you walk along.

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We arrived back to the village to meet more of the children and villagers who came out to see us. Luckily for us we got a few cacao products to take home (they last a year and I can’t wait)..lets hope New Zealand Customs doesn’t take them off me.
It was then time to head back to Bocas Town and leave this stunning village behind. We had had a great four hours here and learnt so much. It was a great way to learn about the traditions behind the chocolate in the area and the blocks they sold were delicious. So strong in taste and not too sweet. No milk was needed to make this delicious treat. ☺ It was also great to talk to the kids and play with them. They all had a huge smile when I let them take pictures with the camera and they loved seeing themselves in it. They were full of hugs and it was a great place.

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If you come to Bocas del Toro I have to say that going on the tour is worthwhile. It is interesting but more importantly you are helping a community to keep going and support itself. It was a great day and I loved it.

Posted by chellebelle 15:56 Archived in Panama Tagged chocolate traditional village tour lunch indigenous understanding yum! oreba cocao Comments (0)

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