Hiking from Casas Viejas to La Candelaria is no easy task. After an hour jog down the mountain, we arrived in Minca. Minca is the pit-stop tourist destination between the depths of the mountains and Santa Marta. It’s a quaint town with a hippy, mountain vibe and a heavy emphasis on tourism. The locals are friendly and welcoming, and the kids play in the street, stopping to stare at us gringos as we walk by yelling “hola” and “buenas”.
After strolling through one of the two main roads in Minca dripping with sweat, we stopped at a small cafe to grab something cool to refresh ourselves. A pineapple and banana smoothie with milk did the trick. Refreshed and as cooled down as we were going to get, we took a side street towards La Candelaria following erroneously placed signs. After the previous jog, we weren’t prepared for the steepest hill we’d encountered yet.
Straight up hill for forty five minutes meant a calf burning workout. Three signs read “15 min -> La Candelaria” as we hiked up, giving us the impression we were closer every time we saw one. Alaina was not the least bit amused by this bit of trickery. After arriving to the entrance and hiking through the farm and more coffee plants, We arrived at a large yellow house where a tour was currently in lieu. We were greeted by the owners wife with coffee, three different kinds of bananas, and a view words cant describe. While waiting for the next tour, a woman painted our faces with a paste made of coffee, honey, and cacao. As the paste dried, we munched bananas, drank coffee, and felt the sweat dry.
The tour was simple and informative. The owner’s grandfather started the farm with nothing and it has been passed down through the generations ever since. The current owner went to school in Santa Marta during the week, spending his weekends and vacations at the farm. The finca (farm) is 40 hectares of coffee, cocoa, avocado, and fruit trees. They sell the coffee, cacao, and avocados to tourists and local shops in the area. There are few farms large enough to distribute their own goods, but locally owned ones such as La Candelaria must go through a distributor in Santa Marta.
The cacao plant is fascinating. It’s many useful properties and functions make it a valuable crop. The tree produces thousands of flowers. These flowers have a 48hr window to pollinate before they fall from the tree and die. The flowers are not pollinated by bees but naturally by the wind. The farm is on its way to being organically certified and the owner treats his property with respect. This makes the Sierra Nevadas unique because many farmers take pride in respecting the environment in which they live. Large corporations run massive cocoa farms on the Ivory Coast (the Ivory Coast produces 18% of the world’s cocoa) and surrounding countries in Africa, forcing children to pollinate each flower of each plant individually. Small farms such as this one in the Sierra Nevada are doing their part to combat these monstrous practices we see in cocoa producing countries.
Harvesting the plant requires picking the fruit, slicing it open picking out the seeds and putting them through the fermentation process. Once fermented, they are roasted, and peeled.
From there you can make them into nibs, powder, or blocks of pure cacao.
We made a pure cacao “hot chocolate” with hot water and milk, while munching on nibs, and chatting with the owner. Although it may be a touristy activity, taking tours such as these offers insight into how many locals make a living cultivating the land while respecting the mountains they inhabit. Encountering ordinary people who care about the land that supports them is refreshing and encouraging. It’s a reminder that people are moving in the right direction and becoming aware of the impacts they have on the environment through either consumption or production.
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