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Sharing the Experience – IXCACAO


This week, February 4, 2013, I had the pleasant responsibility to show my husband some of what I love about the Toledo District, here in Belize.  We visited Cyrila’s Chocolate, now known as IXCACAO, a business run by a delightful husband and wife team, Juan and Abelina Cho.

Arrangements were very easy to make.  I contacted Juan via Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/Ixcacao) and he replied within a short period of time to discuss the details with me.  After all the plans were arranged I was pretty excited to go with Bob and to see his reaction.  I remember mine from a year ago and even wrote about it in the local tourism paper called the Toledo Howler.  My closing comments when I left was “Wow” so of course I was eager to see my husband’s reaction too.    Our agenda was to meet with Abelina, who has now been dubbed the Chocolate Queen, a promotion from the Chocolate Princess, for lunch, an overview of the process, and then a tour of the farm where the products are grown.

Abelina prepared chicken mole (pronounced molay), curried rice, black beans, boiled plantain, mashed yam, fresh hot chocolate made from local grown beans and for dessert we tasted a sampling of the chocolates produced at IXCACAO.  Portion size for the meal was fine as it was a self-serve setting.  He loved the plantains, “very good” the chicken wasn’t overly spicy, and overall he quite enjoyed it.  The chocolate dessert was a big hit.  The hot chocolate was unsweetened and he tried it that way just for the experience.  Eating or drinking chocolate without sugar isn’t for everybody and it may be an acquired taste but it definitely is something to try.

Plate of Nibs

Plate of Nibs

Next on the agenda was the overview of the chocolate making process, both historically and now.  Abelina started out with roasting some beans that had already been fermented but there was a skin on the beans, similar to that of peanuts, which needed to be removed.  She brought a plate to us to remove this skin and to break up the beans.  The beans broke pretty easily into smaller pieces called nibs.

It was these nibs that we ground up into chocolate using a mano and metate, a tool used historically for the grinding of chocolate.  In older days chocolate was used by the Maya for ceremonial purposes and not as an everyday sweet and in this way the mano and metate process would be efficient.  It took a while for the little nibs to be crushed into a fine paste that could be processed further.  We each took turns crushing the nibs and then Abelina took over to make the paste even smoother.  When it was pretty smooth we opted to have unsweetened dark chocolate treats, but I would guess that it is at this stage the sugar would be added if sweetened chocolate was desired.  After about 10 minutes in the refrigerator the chocolate had set up and we were able to enjoy the fruits of our labour.  Because the chocolate wasn’t perfectly smooth our chocolate had texture from the tiny bits of nibs that remained in it.  My husband thoroughly enjoyed learning about the process and has a greater appreciation for the amount of work and processing that goes into making a good quality chocolate bar.

Young Cacao Pod

Young Cacao Pod

The next phase of our day was a tour of the farm where the cacao is grown.  Abelina and Juan also grow ginger and sugar cane, both of which are used to flavour the chocolate.  Trekking through the jungle, up into the hills that surround Punta Gorda, climbing and climbing, we got a bit of a workout.  When the trees opened up we could see for miles around us, over the top of the jungle, what a vista!  Bob was rendered speechless with the view.  On the way up Abelina chose a cacao pod for us to open to see the beans in their natural state.  It’s not what you would expect, I’m sure….  In the picture to the left are the beans from inside the cacao pod.  The white substance that surrounds the beans is edible and tastes like so many of the fruits that are grown in the area – pineapple, mango, citrusy, and this is quite a surprise because there is no hint of chocolate flavouring at all.  The chocolate flavour comes out after the fermentation/roasting process has been completed.

Cacao Beans

Cacao Beans

At the top of the hill was our destination – the sugar cane pressing machine.  Abelina took her machete and cut down several stalks of sugar cane, peeled it and gave us a small piece to taste in its natural state.  Sugar cane eaten this way is good but the best (in my mind) was to come.  Abelina took the rest of the stalks that she had chopped and put them through a press to squeeze to release the cane juice.  This was good, and yes it was as sweet as you might expect.  I had my water and lime with me and poured some of the sugar cane juice into my bottle.  This was a tasty, tasty treat.

Squeezing Cane

Squeezing Cane

And we were both surprised at how much cane juice came from a stalk of sugar cane.  The next step in the process is to carry the buckets of cane juice back down the hill to where Juan and Abelina refine the cane juice to remove much of the water in order to use it for sweetening the chocolate.

Cane Syrup

Cane Syrup

The whole tour took approximately 4 hours beginning with lunch and finishing with the hike down the hill at the farm.  What an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon.  And I can tell you, my husband enjoyed the experience as much as I did.

This is just one of the activities that are available in the Toledo District that you can enjoy on a regular basis when you make Belize a permanent destination.  For more information contact me at wendy@belizepropertycenter.com.

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Posted by on February 7, 2013 in Flora and Fauna

 

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Green Drinks


This past Friday night I had the pleasure to attend a monthly event called Green Drinks.  I actually thought the drinks were going to be green, or that we were going to be presented with environmental postulations.  Neither was true, and I still don’t know why it was called Green Drinks.  I will have to find out, as that thought just hit me.

Anyway, the event was held at a place called Belcampo Lodge.  Have I told you before just how beautiful southern Belize is, especially in the Toledo District?  Well, if I haven’t, let me tell you now.  Belcampo Lodge is situated on top of one of the many hills that dot this district giving you the opportunity to look down onto the jungle.  The view is, I don’t know, I have used the word gorgeous so many times that I think I have worn it out.  But that is how I feel. The plush jungle surrounds the lodge as far as the eye can see.  Off in the distance the trees shake and quiver with the activity of howler monkeys as they scamper about through the branches.  The birds, of which there are dozens of varieties arrive from both the north and the south to the delight of avid and casual bird watchers.

Belcampo Backyard

So, this Green Drinks evening was set in this beautiful location, with 2 jaguar carvings standing guard as you enter up the stairs to the main bar area.  There is an outside seating area where guests can sit, enjoy a cocktail, mingle with other guests and just enjoy the view.  It is there that I spent a good part of my evening conversing with two young men who are here from the United States, Ohio, I believe.  The one young man has family here in the Toledo District and he brought a friend with him.  The friend is quite taken with the area and definitely expressed a desire to return at some time in his future when school is finished.

While we were talking one of the young men, Ronald, noticed some monkeys off in the distance in the trees.  I didn’t see them but both of them did.  The visiting friend was again blown away by the experience.     While talking I didn’t consume any green drinks but I did consume a salsa that was mixed with avocado, which turned the dish green.  My drink was a watermelon margarita.  I must say that watermelon has become, in my world, quite a versatile fruit.  Since this was my first time tasting a margarita I have no idea if it was a good one or not.  After talking for a while it was time to have dinner.

The menu consisted of a wide variety of dishes, all of which are grown or raised locally.

I didn’t have any of the coconut rice or any of the yellow split peas – I never liked split peas – but I did have some of everything else.  It was quite tasty.  This was the first time ever having cassava and I quite enjoyed it.  The texture was something quite different from what I have had before.  It was firm but I could bite through it without resistance and the flavour was good too.  Apparently, if prepared improperly, the cassava root and leaves can lead to the production of cyanide which leads to poisoning of the person who ingests it.  However, when prepared properly it is good, healthy and may even had cancer fighting properties associated with it.  Dessert was a choice of one of three items – Maya Chocolate Pudding, Pineapple Crumble Pie or Velvet Apple Pie.

I am a baker at heart and have several times made velvet chocolate cake so when I heard velvet apple pie I was thinking how did they do the “velvet” out of apples?  Well, it turns out that the fruit is actually called a velvet apple and it is the size of a crab apple but covered with fuzz like a peach.  The texture is neither hard like an apple, nor soft like a peach.   Since I couldn’t decide and neither could one of my dinner mates, we agreed to each get one and have half so we could experience both pies.  I had had the Maya Chocolate at the Cacao Fest so I wanted to try something new.  Let me tell you – I think I have found a new favourite pie – Pineapple Crumble.  That was such an unexpected taste – the sweet of the crumble and the tart (not too much) of the pineapple.  What a combination.  I am going to try this myself at home.

After a bit it was time to head out.  Dinner was delicious, the dessert was scrumptious, the wine was just right but it was time to go.  By this time it was 9:30 and we had been at Belcampo for 4 hours socializing the night away.

What was your last sumptuous dessert?  I hope it was as good as mine!

 
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Posted by on July 8, 2012 in Miscellaneous

 

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Hanging Out My Shingle


It’s Saturday, the end of a warm, breezy day.  After the frustration of working to get my work permit, I haven’t even begun the process of getting my social security card.  That will come in the next week.  No, this past week, after Monday’s high of finally achieving official employment status here in Belize, I just stopped thinking about the governmental requirements and started thinking about getting going with the actual work. 

Time to get business cards, signage, advertising – ready to open the new RE/MAX Belize Property Center South franchise here in Punta Gorda.  I have been waiting for this and now the time is upon me.  I am anxious to get moving.

Various people here have already heard that there was a new agent in town – believe it or not they have been stopping me in the street asking if I was the new RE/MAX agent.  I walk down the street and people stop me to tell me they have properties they want to list.  I have been into the banks to obtain mortgage information and while there I have been asked what the process is for listing.  It has been quite an interesting time, and on some days it is quite hard to believe this is happening, especially after working real estate back in Canada and how tough it can be to get going.  Listings are coming to me, almost out of the woodwork.

And this actually added to the frustration while waiting for my work permit – because as long as I didn’t have the official stamp in my passport I didn’t want to pass myself off as a working agent. I am now a working realtor instead of a holidaying one.

This area of Belize is about to undergo a transformation from being the last undeveloped area of the country to being the belle of the ball, so to speak.  Belize as a whole is becoming much more well-known to the world and the Toledo District is at the tail end of this recognition.  A few more years and this area will catch up.  Right now, it is still largely undeveloped, people are wanting the tourist traffic, they want people to come in and share this beautiful, wild area.

Over the coming weeks and months I am going to try to introduce you to the Belize that is Punta Gorda and the Toledo District.  It is not a tourist trap, we don’t have a lot of sandy beaches and it is still somewhat third worldish in appearance and maintenance.  But what it lacks in good roads, it more than makes up for in character of the people, heart of the people and love for their home area.   Life isn’t easy for a lot of the people but you can hear the pride in their words and voice when they talk about their home.  The introduction of tourism and the selling of property is one way that the local people can have easier lives.  The introduction of new businesses to the area through eco-development, eco-tourism, sustainable industry – these are all ways to make life easier for the local people of Toledo District, Belize.

In the meantime, I am going to do what I can to promote the area, the tell you about this area.  Yes, I am trying to entice you here.  I would love to be surrounded by other people who feel the same way I do about this area.

 
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Posted by on March 3, 2012 in Starting to Work

 

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It’s T.E.A. Time


T.E.A. – Toledo Ecotourism Association – http://www.teabelize.org/

I have recently become involved with an organization called the Toledo Ecotourism Association. The purpose of this organization is to bring empowerment to the Mayan communities surrounding the town of Punta Gorda in the Toledo District. This organization has been working for several years to try and bring a special kind of tourism opportunity to the local villages. The method of empowerment that T.E.A. is trying to incorporate will encourage the Mayan people to run their own tourist services while retaining most of the proceeds resulting from tourist visitors.

My involvement to date has been as an assistant to the group, reviewing email content and presentation material, providing input on timelines and anything else that may be required as a support individual. The chairman of the T.E.A. organization is an individual named Reyes Chun, a Mayan from a village called San Pedro Columbia and this community is already running an ecotourism community. Reyes is passionate about this project and he is working tirelessly to see the project come to light. In addition to his participation in T.E.A., Reyes is running a cacao farm along with other crops to support his family.

The concept is simple. Tourists are introduced to a village for a true Mayan experience. Each village offers something a little different from the others; dancing, crafts, music. And each village offers a natural experience slightly different – caves, kayaking, tubing, waterfalls. The visitors to the Mayan village stay overnight in a guesthouse and experience Mayan village life for a day. The interesting part of this program is that it is self-directed by the villagers. The money received for the experience stays mostly with the village itself, with a small stipend being given to T.E.A. for administrative fees. The money brought to the vilage is used to enhance health and education, promote conservation awareness and supplement the T.E.A. families’ abilities to provide the daily necessities to keep their children healthy and to further their levels of education. The money truly does stay with the village and is not sent off to a distant corporation.

Visit the T.E.A. website, learn more about this truly different project. You can also visit the facebook page and watch for updates.

http://www.facebook.com/TEABelize

 
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Posted by on February 4, 2012 in Toledo District at Work

 

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