I may be meeting with Belize’s Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries tomorrow.
No, really. (I never kid about the truly bizarre.) Chet, the guy I was talking with about his planned ecotourism project, is meeting with the guy tomorrow or Friday, and has asked me to come along if I can, presumably to lend him some kind of credibility. Needless to say, I’m not going to say no: at the very least, it’ll be an interesting way to spend an afternoon. I’ve been warned that Chet is full of plans that never quite happen, so I’m not investing a whole lot of time in it, but how often does a tourist get to meet with a country’s minister of agriculture and fisheries? So I must poke my long feline nose (well, okay, short and stubby feline nose) into this and see what happens. Traveling tigers are ever-curious.
But that’s the secondary news. The best news is: I’m going to a cacao farm tomorrow! The folks at the Toledo Cacao Grower’s Association set me up–I’ll be going out at 8am for a half-day tour. They’re currently harvesting and fermenting the cacao, so I’ll get to see all the parts of the process.
I’m also leaving in about an hour to spend the night in one of the Mayan villages–San Antonio, where they do a lot of handicrafts and someone can presumably teach me. I’m hoping to luck into a weaver. I’ll be coming back tomorrow morning and heading straight out to the cacao growers, so you may not hear from me for a day and a half or so, but trust me: it’ll be worth it.
I went down to the market this morning (which, honestly, is pretty tiny) and picked up some fruit, and also some kind of jungle fruit that looks like a very odd longan. I was intrigued by it, and asked the vendor what it was. ” “, she said.
Okay, ask a silly question. (I mean, someone walks up to you and asks what an apple is, what are you going to say? “An apple.” If they haven’t got any idea what an apple is, they’ll go away none the wiser, much as I did.)
So, of course, I had to buy some and try them. So I shelled it out of its papery shell–it looked like a palm fruit (not a date) and gingerly tried it. It was fibrous, a tiny thin layer over a very large nut, with the taste and texture of glue. I spat it out, but it took a long time to get the pasty mess out of my mouth afterwards. I asked Chet what it was, later, and he said it was some kind of jungle fruit–one sucks the thin layer of fruit off the very big nut. I sincerely hope I got an unripe one, because I can’t imagine anyone paying money to eat glue.
(Well, at least I tried it.)
Speaking of food, it turns out that they do eat the paca here, which they call “gibnut” and which has been described to me as an R.O.U.S.–a rat-like critter that weighs about sixty pounds. Must see if I can get my hands on some. Must try new and bizarre foods (preferably not tasting like glue).
Today I also bought a rosewood bowl from a guy for $37–it’s burlwood, very pretty, and finished to a fine polish. Heavy, too. Rosewood is a very dense, fine-grained wood, so it’s beautiful.
On impulse, I asked the guy if he could make something custom for me. He said yes, and what did I want? So I asked him to make me two rosewood drop spindles, each about 1-2″ in diameter, with carvings in the center of the whorl. He wouldn’t set a price on it immediately–he said it depended on how long it took to make it–but said it would be reasonable. I doubt it’s going to be super-expensive, and it would be lovely to have a rosewood drop spindle as a souvenir of my Central American travels. It can go with my Akha drop spindle and the silver spindles from Thailand.
What can I say? Other people collect souvenirs, I collect travel spindles.
Anyway, the bus is about to leave for San Antonio, so I’d best go wait for it. I’ll post back in a day or two, after the Mayan village and the cacao farm.
P.S. Vanilla DOES grow here! I spotted what looked like a vanilla orchid growing up the side of the house, and dangitall, I was RIGHT! I’m very pleased with myself, especially since I’d never seen a real live vanilla plant before–only drawings.
There’s also a cacao tree back behind the house, with a fruit growing off it–I was going to take a photo of it, then realized that I’d probably get to see plenty of cacao fruit at the plantation.
I forgot to mention that the cacao produced here is purchased by Green & Black as part of their eco-friendly organic chocolate production system…they produce an organic chocolate bar that is sold in quite a few gourmet shops (including Trader Joe’s, I think) and is quite edible. This is really cool–I had never thought much about organic eco-chocolates (I mean, it seems like everything’s organic eco-xxxx these days), but it makes a real difference actually coming out here and seeing it. One never really thinks of one’s food choices as genuinely affecting others’ lives, but here it makes a big difference to the villagers. Before Green & Black appeared, they never harvested cacao because the low prices made it not worth the effort–but now, they’re planting as much as they can get, because they’re guaranteed a fair price for all they can produce. Which, in turn, helps the local culture by giving them economic alternatives. So that’s a great thing.
It’s great getting to see the benefits, tangibly, of a “green” food product. It’s very different from reading about it in companies’ “see how PC we are” brochures.