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Crossing the river before summiting 17,500 Pico Austria. Photo by Ella Williams (2016 Fall Semester Photo Contest, 2nd Place), South America Semester.

Cacao and Perseverance in the Amazon

During orientation at the beginning of our course, our group talked about how each interaction we have should be transformational rather than transactional.  As a part of a transformational interaction, we stressed the imprtance of an exchange of culture, knowledge, or perspective between ourselves and the people we encounter throughout the course.  Aside from being an incredible experience, I felt like one specific encounter we had during our expedition phase in the Amazon stood out as a true transformational interaction.

As our time along the Las Piedras River with ArcAmazon was drawing to a close, we traveled a few kilometers down river to visit a family run Cacao farm.  We had received some background information on the family, but frankly I didn’t think much about it and was more focused on the chocolate-making process.  Upon arrival, we were greeted by Julio and brought up to the chacra with hundreds of cacao trees.  Over the next hour, Juilo eagerly showed us around his family’s farm and taught us about each step involved in the harvesting of cacao.  From the different varieties of cacao that they produced to how to graft branches from  different trees, Julio covered everything and answered any questions we had for him.  After going through the process of harvesting the beans, we worked with Julio’s sister on going from the beans themselves to making Cacao paste that could be sold in bars.

While learning about the process itself was phenomenal, it was our conversation with Julio and his family after we had finished that really resonated.  Julio and his family had fled from drug related violence and problems in the Andes and moved to the Amazon to be free from these issues and make an “honest living” farming cacao and growing mahogany trees to reforest the Amazon that has been stripped from nearly all its mahogany trees due to illegal deforestation.  After just 3 years farming cacao, Julio and his siblings started a company called Sumaqcao this past August that sells cacao paste, chocolate bio-degradable soap, and cacao beans to avoid selling just the beans to a large company.

Obviously we learned so much about perseverance and earnestness from Julio and his family, but they were also curious about why we were in the Amazon and why we had chosen to travel.  For the next half hour or so we had an amazing conversation about our different motives for being with them as the sun set over the jungle, and to close, Julio’s sister gave us some amazing advice on the value of perseverance.

Rather than just being a transactional interaction, I truly felt like both our group and Julio’s family were transformed by the experience.