Ecuador Group Checks In from Bua

Eloise ’17, Ecuador, 4/19/2015
The constant sound of exotic birds chirping. The steady hum of thousands of insects. A heavy, wet heat that threatens to choke all it touches. These things that at one point seemed so foreign are now becoming normalities for our small group thanks to our stay with the Tsachila tribe, where the small community of Bua has welcomed us wholeheartedly into their cultural center where we will stay eight nights. So far we have lounged around in some of their hammocks, hiked to a nearby waterfall to swim, toured some of the surrounding forest, learned a few simple phrases in their native language of Tsa’Fiki (pronounced sah-feekee), and, my personal favorite, harvested some cocoa beans to eventually make our own chocolate.

Picking the pods was nothing like I had done before. Having been as lucky as I am, I hadn’t ever really farmed or harvested any crops before, so I was same parts excited and nervous upon hearing we were going to make one of my favorite foods. Our group walked a little ways to the small field where Wukela (pronounced woo-keh-lah, meaning “Tiger of the Wind” in Tsa’Fiki), our residential guide, pointed out the trees that held our precious loot. Though the walk wasn’t long, the heat meant most of us were already winded and sweating. Wukela told us to walk the perimeters of the trees looking for the cocoa pods that were ripe. He described that a ripe one should be large, fat, and yellowish-orange, not too stained and not too green. Then, Wukela in the lead cutting a trail through the tall, spiky grasses, we set off in search of these unseen pods. The first one I saw was not at all what I had expected. It was large, about as wide as my hand and one and a half times taller. It was the perfect color (a light sort of a sunset orange), so Wukela quickly grabbed it, cut it loose, and then held it high for the group to examine. Hot, sticky, and hopeful, the group set off into the grasses in search of more. Soon we had collected the twenty we needed and, with a number of more bug-bites and scratches, we set off back to the community Bua.

After arriving back to the common area the group gathered around our bounty. We had about twenty different pods of various sizes and shades of orange that Wukela skillfully split down the middle. He cracked them each open to reveal a spiral of seeds covered in a fleshy white fruit. I grabbed one and smelled it, expecting it to be like chocolate. Instead it was fresh and very sweet smelling, almost like mango. Wukela then told us we could eat some of the fruit as well. To eat it, you must put a small lump of fruit covered seed into your mouth and suck it clean. The fruit had a strange consistency, almost like wet cotton, and tasted fresh and sweet. Then we started to harvest the actual chocolate part. We completely gutted the inside of the shells and dumped the fruit and seed mixture onto a large leaf that Wukela had picked. Once all of the cocoa pods were emptied, Wukela and a younger girl that was helping us, Maria, pulled the leaf into the sun to dry out the seeds. To this minute we anticipate the next step of preparing the chocolate because, to our mixture of relief and annoyance, it hasn’t been quite hot enough to dry the seeds completely yet.

It was such an interesting experience to see how our favorite foods are made. I realized that, before this experience, I hadn’t really thought about how chocolate was made. It is such an intricate process that really forced me to think about where all the food I eat comes from. In America we don’t really think twice about the food we get to have. Wukela told us that the kind of plant we were harvesting is one of the primary crops that huge companies like Nestle use to make their chocolate. That means that in the last couple of months every time I ate a piece of chocolate from that company people in Ecuador would have had to go through the very same process I went through, just on an incredibly larger scale. This GIS program is forcing me to think more and more about how privileged I am in my life and how much I actually dependent on people I wasn’t even aware of. I am excited to continue on this journey and keep learning more and more about how connected our world is in ways I didn’t even realize!