Monday, August 4, 2008

louco por cocoa

I've made it back to Bahia, the northeastern state where I fell in love with Brazil six years ago.

This is a place where African, South American and European culture mix against stunning natural backdrops. The result is nothing short of magic.

Over the last week I've caught waves in a little surf town called Itacaré and Bridget and I luxuriated in our own flashy beach bungalow miles from anywhere. But nothing came close to my journey to Diego Badaró's Fazenda Monte Alegre, a cocoa farm in the middle of the Atlantic Rainforest.

Due to some less than magical technical issues, I've only been able to upload a random few of the photos from the Fazenda for the time being. There will be more to come, I promise. But for now I just have one night to write and get organized for my journey to the Amazon tomorrow, so they'll have to do for the interim.

I knew when I read about Diego Badaró last year in Bill Buford's New Yorker story about cacau (the fruit that we get chocolate from), that he was someone I had to meet. If anyone wants to read that article, it is riveting, hilarious and informative and I'll be happy to email it to you.

My grande amigo, Jeremy Black, who you may remember from the New Zealand chronicles, connected us one drizzly April night at the bar at the Gramercy Park Hotel. Jeremy and Diego's respective crops (açai and cacao) are awesome in that they are cultivated in ways that preserve their natural settings, in both cases, rainforests of Brazil.

I have always known I loved chocolate, but had no idea about the Mata Atlantica, Atlantic Rainforest, until Diego picked me up at my pousada in Itacaré and took me there earlier this week.It is magic.

This is what the view along the road to the farm looked like, after many hours of bumping along with Diego and his dogs in his Land Rover. It was pretty dark by the time we arrived, and the next day I awoke to an unbelievable journey through the forest, which is also the farm.

Here is a cacao fruit on the tree.

This is a young tree from a Mexican seed of Aztec origins that I got to plant with my own two hands. Already I cannot wait to go back to check on its progress.

This is what seeds look like after they have been fermented and left to dry under retractable roofs of the barns on the farm. That orange mark on my hand is not the result of self-tanner gone bad, but rather the pigment from a forest flower.

This is the view from the roof where the beans were drying. After a day of exploring the forest, we ended up here while the shadows got long.

Here I am, yet again, at the end of one of the best days of all time, lying on a bed of warm cacao beans.

If you read that Bill Buford article, or Jorge Amado's The Violent Land you'll know that the Badaró family is a huge part of the history of cacau in Brazil--a totally fascinating tale of bloodshed, romance and chocolate along the Rio de Contas. Diego's passion for the Atlantic Rainforest is contagious and the potential for cacao to regenerate both the nature and the economy of this part of Bahia is compelling.

This is only the very beginning of this story.

As soon as I am able I'll post more photos and tales of Bahia. But tomorrow, it's off the the Amazon: the Rio Arapiuns, and then the Sambazon plant in Macapá.

Goodnight from under the Baiano crescent moon.

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