“In the South of Bahia, cocoa is the only name that sounds right. The farms are beautiful when loaded with the yellow fruits. The feudal barons look at the horizons at the start of every year and forecast the weather and the harvest”.
Jorge Amado (1912-2001)
The Brazilian acclaimed Modernist novel ‘Cacao’ was Jorge Amado’s second narrative and, even though it was written in 1933, the descriptions made in the book are still absolutely up to date: the farms are really charming with cocoa fruits aplenty. Three-quarters of a century after its publication we went to the South of Bahia (this time with neither feudal barons nor enforced labor) determined to experience the ancient process of harvesting and preparing cocoa during our stay at Abracadabra, an organic cocoa farm.
Arriving was certainly the most challenging part of the whole process. In order to find Abracadabra, we crossed a river by ferry at six in the morning, drove over a dirt road by bus for hours overtaking horses every now and then, to finally disembark in the small town Agua Fria with its banks on the river Rio de Contas. We borrowed a wheelbarrow from a local, packed it up to the top with our gear and started to walk up and down the hills. But that was not all. On the way the wheel of the barrow came completely off, and the walk that normally takes an hour took us over three, leapfrogging our rucksacks the rest of the way.
After what seemed like an age in the midday sun, finally a good sign was ahead of us: trees loaded with the yellow fruits.
Upon arrival, in spite of our exhaustion, we were willing to lend a hand to whatever was needed. However, to our pleasure, we were invited to leave our luggage in the house and wash our sweaty bodies and chill our minds by their tranquil waterfall. On our return we were shown our accommodation, where another surprise was waiting for us: the enchanting action of a mother humming-bird feeding her two babies on the nest hanging from the ceiling of our bedroom!
The magical word…
Abracadabra was named after a group of friends, each from countries other than Brazil, who had bought the farm in late 2006. Our French host, Haroldo, joined the group subsequent to hitchhiking by boat across the Atlantic Ocean to arrive in Brazil. The goal of this international group was to found a residential community where aspects of sustainability and natural living would be applied.
At the time of our visit, Haroldo was the only member present, as the others divide their time between their home countries and Brazil. However, we were pleased to find the use of cocoa for handmade chocolate and several sustainable aspects. There was an organic vegetable garden big enough to be self-sufficient, fire wood for cooking, water reticulated from the spring for drinking, and a dry composting toilet – to name but a few.
“We left in the morning with our long sticks pointing up, upon which a small sickle shined with rays from the sun and we interned ourselves through cocoa trees to harvest”. J.A.
We were lucky to be in the southern hemisphere during the spring season. Although the cocoa trees produce fruits all year round, it is in this rainy time that the trees are heavily loaded.
Following our breakfast, while still digesting the delicious porridge topped with homemade raw chocolate sauce, Haroldo introduced us to Domingos, a local who works in partnership with our host. It was with Domingos that we would spend the next few days learning the magical process of making chocolate – from harvesting cocoa to eating it.
Off we went to the fields zigzagging between hundreds of cocoa trees. Accompanied by Domingos, who was constantly either singing or whistling, we pruned branches, picked fruits and separated them into piles to be opened up later.
“When midday hour struck, marked by the sun, we stopped the work and reunited with the people of the junta for our meal”. J.A.
The sun was right over our heads announcing that the afternoon was coming. It was time to go back to the farm and help with the preparation of lunch. While Haroldo was mixing the ingredients of the main dish in the pot, we collected fresh herbs and vegetables from the veggie patch to go along with the meal.
Later on that same day, we worked in the garden harvesting mandioca (a traditional Brazilian white root with a thick brown skin) to be cooked for dinner, and replanting its shoots back into the ground.
All meals were cooked on a wood stove and eaten by candlelight, as there was no electricity on site. In addition, our showers were taken by the house with fresh water from the spring, and our baths by night in the river, where the water was a little warmer, and grasshoppers and toads sang in chorus for us.