Culture

Here’s The History Of Why Costa Rican Cacao Is Spiritually And Culturally Significant

It’s truly impossible to imagine growing up in a world without chocolate, and I’m not talking about Hershey’s. Really rich, dark chocolate was used medicinally in my house. If I had any type of feeling or was crying, my mother wouldn’t say a word, walk away, and come back with chocolate.

Join me on my own adventure in learning the history of cacao with a Costa Rican indigenous tribe, los Bribri.

Any good Costa Rican chocolate is made by hand.

CREDIT: Untitled. Digital Image. CaribeansCR. 21 September 2018.

Only in the last 100 years or so have traditional cacao farmers started letting the cacao cool into molds, como Hershey. Super traditional farms will roll the freshly stone-ground cacao into little cigarillos and the texture is more crumbly and dynamic.

Cacao trees are native to tropical Latin America.

CREDIT: Crush Boone / The Tico Times

The cacao fruit pods themselves were used as currency in some Aztec and Mayan cultures. Mayans even had an annual festival in honor of Ek Chuah, the cacao god that brought them the sacred fruit used for medicinal and spiritual rituals.

Pero Puerto Viejo is one of the few places that creates single estate bean to bar chocolate.

CREDIT: Untitled. Digital Image. Cho.co. 21 September 2018.

Every farm and every tree will produce a different chocolate taste. The liquid sunshine and high elevation jungles that exist in Costa Rica allow for some of the best cacao beans in the world to flourish. My girlfriend and I traveled to Puerto Viejo, an Afro-Caribbean beach town, known for its intact indigenous culture, big waves and cacao.

First, we met with a shaman (“awa”) at the Bribri indigenous reserve.

CREDIT: Danielli Marzouca / mitú

He explained to us that this cone shaped structure represents the Bribri’s connection to the Universe and to God. They have always known that the world was round and the structure symbolizes the round earth we sit on that points directly to God and our higher spiritual selves.

The Bribri is a largely matriarchal society.

CREDIT: Danielli Marzouca / mitú

They are the only ones who can inherit land and prepare the sacred cacao drink that is essential for their rituals.

In just the last few years, the Bri Bri have started to write down their language and teach it at the schools to maintain their culture and continue to pass it down to more generations. They are the voting majority of the Talamanca province of Costa Rica and make a living selling cacao, bananas and plantains, while living off the land.

This is what the inside of a ripe cacao pod looks like.

CREDIT: Danielli Marzouca / mitú

I know, I wasn’t expecting that either. The white coating surrounding the beans themselves tastes like mango or yogurt, depending on who you ask. It’s very tart and very delicious, and the source of cocoa butter.

The first step is to ferment the beans over a fire for five days.

CREDIT: Danielli Marzouca / mitú

The first being tradition. The truth is that the Bribri do tend to suffer from lung issues because of all the smoke inhalation over the course of their lives. The other reason is that most roofs are made from a native plant called suita. The rising smoke deters bugs from making the roof their home.

Then, they leave them out in the sun to dry for 22 days.

CREDIT: Lindsay Fendt / The Tico Times

That’s how the cacao starts to brown and develop its rich flavor. That’s also how you develop la paciencia. ????

In Bribri mythology, the cacao tree is a woman and Sibu (Dios) made into a tree.

CREDIT: Danielli Marzouca / mitú

Cacao branches are forbidden to be used as firewood and only women are allowed to make the sacred cacao. It’s only used in ceremonial purposes, like when a girl gets her period for the first time. You can support Bribri women by buying their organic, hand made chocolate.

Then, the beans are roasted over a fire for about 8 minutes.

CREDIT: Danielli Marzouca / mitú

The beans have to be constantly stirred the whole time. As the stirrer, I can tell you that it is labor intensive to be in 90 degree heat, over a fire, with smoke blowing up in your face, while you quickly stir.

The traditional next step is to grind the cacao beans with a stone.

CREDIT: Danielli Marzouca / mitú
Many years before, they used the huge wooden pillón you see to the right. My first boricua thought was “Ummm, I could use that much mofongo.”

The beans are then tossed to separate the shell and prepare for further grounding.

CREDIT: Danielli Marzouca / mitú
Because the shells of the cacao are much lighter than the dense bean inside, they naturally just fall onto the earth and are used as fertilizer. What’s left is the pure cacao, ready to be ground even further.

Today, they use a metal grinder to create the paste.

CREDIT: Danielli Marzouca / mitú

This is 100 percent pure cacao you’re looking at. In this form, it is made into a ceremonial drink, but it too bitter to eat raw. We had it sandwiched between some sweet banana slices.

There are several non-profit organizations you can support to aid the Bribri.

CREDIT: Danielli Marzouca / mitú

They use every shred of the land to build their homes, necklaces, dye their artisan crafts and more. El Punte, however, offers educational assistance and micro-loans to families to help them become even more self-sufficient.

This is my face after one cup of drinking chocolate.

CREDIT: Danielli Marzouca / mitú

After boiling a pot of water seasoned with fresh canela from the ground and some organic sugar, you add the creamy paste and stir. Cacao is said by the Bribri to have six medicinal properties, one of them being a mood-lifter.

In this part of Costa Rica, you can find a few shops that offer beer, wine and coffee + chocolate pairings.

CREDIT: Untitled. Digital Image. Cho.co. 21 September 2018.

This is the traditionally rolled chocolate I mentioned earlier. We came to Cho.co in Puerto Viejo after a surfing lesson and this pairing was everything we needed.

However, cacao has only recently started to make a comeback after a devastating fungal epidemic.

CREDIT: Crush Boone / The Tico Times

Fifty years ago, there were at least 20 cacao plantations that supported Costa Rica’s economy. Today, most of that land is clear-cut cattle pasture. The Caribbean replanted the loss of cacao trees with banana plantations. Many of the locals told me they boycott Dole and La Chiquita bananas because of their pesticide use that is harming locals.

Eighty percent of cacao crop was lost in the 1970s.

CREDIT: Crush Boone / The Tico Times

The center is a healthy cacao bean, while the others are infected with the monilia fungus. European colonizers responded by planting cacao in Africa, which now produces more than 70 percent of the world’s cacao’s lesser variety, half of which come from conflict zones.

Costa Rica is leading the genetic research to find a fungus-protected strain of cacao.

CREDIT: PatMc7 / TripAdvisor

They are testing Costa Rica’s known strains of cacao against the murilio fungus and offering the strongest strains to local farmers.

My parting advice to you: go to Puerto Viejo and buy seven times as much chocolate as you think you need.

CREDIT: Whitney M. / TripAdvisor

These small plantations have their own varieties of cacao that produce distinctly different flavors. Go to Caribbeans and taste test chocolate from the 15 plantations that have cropped up in the last decade or so. You’ll find a favorite.


READ: You’ll Never Look At Chocolate The Same Once You Find Out Its Brutal History

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Imagine Having Machu Picchu All To Yourself – That’s What One Man Got After Being Stuck In Peru For Seven Months

Things That Matter

Imagine Having Machu Picchu All To Yourself – That’s What One Man Got After Being Stuck In Peru For Seven Months

Gustavo Basso / Getty Images

One of the most dreaded side effects of the global Coronavirus pandemic, is that it took with it our travel plans. Whether we were simply set to have weekends at the beach, visit our abuelos in Mexico, or go on a once-in-a-lifetime trip across the world, so many of us have seen our travel plans taken away.

Well, one traveler made it across the world to fulfill his lifelong dream of seeing Machu Picchu but as soon as he arrived, so too did the pandemic. He became stuck in foreign country and couldn’t travel or see the sights he had hoped to visit.

As Peru has slowly reopened, this now world-famous traveler is being known as the first person to see Machu Picchu post-lockdown and he got to do so all by himself.

One lucky traveler got to experience the city of Machu Picchu all by himself.

Peru’s famous Machu Picchu ruins, closed for months due to the coronavirus pandemic, reopened on Monday for one lucky Japanese tourist after he spent months stranded in the country due to global travel restrictions.

In a video first reported by The Guardian, Jesse Takayama shared his immense gratitude for being allowed to visit the ancient Incan city – which had long been one of his dreams. Months ago he had arrived in a small town near the Incan city, where he has remained ever since because of Covid-19 restrictions.

Peru’s Minister of Culture, Alejandro Neyra, said at a press conference that “He [Takayama] had come to Peru with the dream of being able to enter. The Japanese citizen has entered together with our head of the park so that he can do this before returning to his country.” Talk about a once in a lifetime experience.

Neyra went on to add that this really was a rare moment and that Takayama only received access after submitting a special request to the local tourism authority.

In an Instagram post about his special access, Takayama said that “Machu Picchu is so incredible! I thought I couldn’t go but many people asked the government. I’m the first one to visit Machu Picchu after lockdown!”

Takayama had been stuck in Peru since March when the country shut down its borders because of the pandemic.

Takayama arrived to Peru in March and promptly bought his pass to the ancient city but little did he know the world (and his plans) would come to a screeching halt. Peru was hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic (and continues to struggle) and was forced to close its borders and institute a strict lockdown.

Peru was forced to implement drastic COVID-19 restrictions on travel including an end to all incoming international flights earlier this year, which only relaxed this month after the nation’s rate of new COVID-19 cases began declining in August.

The last statement posted on the Machu Picchu website, dated from July, says that “the Ministries of Culture and Foreign Trade and Tourism are coordinating the prompt reopening of Machu Picchu”.

Peru’s Machu Picchu is one of the world’s most visited tourist attractions.

The country’s Minister of Culture, Neyra, stressed that “the reopening of Machu Picchu is important for Peruvians, as a symbol of national pride and also as a budget issue, because it is one of the places that generates the most income for the culture sector.”

The BBC reports that the Inca stronghold, a Unesco world heritage site since 1983, is expected to reopen at reduced capacity next month. 

More than 1.5 million people make the pilgrimage to the Inca city annually. In 2017, Unesco threatened to place the famous ruins on its list of endangered heritage sites because of fears about overcrowding; Peruvian authorities subsequently brought in measures to control the flow of tourists and visitor numbers were capped at around 2,240 per day.

Peru is still experiencing one of the region’s worst outbreaks of Coronavirus.

After beginning a phased reopening, Peru has started to see its contagion rate increase in recent days. The country still faces one of the worst outbreaks in South America, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

“We are still in the middle of a pandemic,” Neyra added. “It will be done with all the necessary care.”

Peru has recorded just over 849,000 total cases of COVID-19, and 33,305 deaths since the pandemic began.

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Mexico Wants American Tourists Despite Ongoing Covid Pandemic

Culture

Mexico Wants American Tourists Despite Ongoing Covid Pandemic

VV Nincic / Flickr

Covid-19 has ended a lot of stuff for a lot of people. The most obvious change has been to international travel, especially for Americans. As the virus has spread widely across the U.S. countries have put a halt to allowing American tourist within their border, but not Mexico.

Covid-19 has severly depreciated the American passport.

Once capable of unlocking so many countries, the U.S. passport is no longer helping Americans travel abroad. Instead, the American passport has now become a hindrance for global travelers. Most countries have placed restrictions on American tourists making the U.S. passport one of the weakest.

The countries banning the U.S. are doing so because of the state of the virus in the country.

There have been more than 7 million cases of Covid-19 and more than 200,000 deaths from the virus. The U.S. remains the worst hit country and the global epicenter of the deadly virus. Many blame the lack of a national strategy to properly close down, test citizens, and contact trace those who have been exposed as the reason the virus has been so devastating in the U.S.

The various travel bans have kept families apart.

Other nations went into mush stricter lockdowns that the U.S. and got a handle of the virus. European countries have gotten the virus under control after months and the U.S. continues to see a large number of new cases daily.

One of the countries allowing Americans to visit is Mexico.

Mexico is heavily reliant on the money made from the tourism industry. According to official statistics, the tourism industry is the third-largest contributor to the country’s GDP. Major tourist destinations like Cabo and Cancún saw dramatic dips in tourism leading to national and local figures to sound the alarm. According to The Washington Post, the questions was posed about when to allow the tourists from the U.S. back, not should they.

Los Cabos is one of the hardest-hit tourist destinations.

The tourist destination saw a severe decline in tourists during one of the busiest times of the year. According to The Washington Post, the resort city has lost 80 percent of its revenue because of Covid-19. The virus has brought financial devastation to people across the world and the cities they live in aren’t immune to failing themselves.

“It’s life or death for us,” Rodrigo Esponda, the head of the Los Cabos tourism board, told The Washington Post. “There’s nothing else here. No industrial production. No farming or commercial fishing. It’s tourism or nothing.”

Yet, Los Cabos should be a warning sign to the rest of Mexico.

Cases in Baja California, the state where Los Cabos is located, saw new Covid case numbers triple from 50 a day to 150. The increase in infections is to be expected as the state rolled out the welcome mat for Americans coming to visit the resort town.

“There are some residents who say, ‘Why put my family’s life in danger by inviting more visitors, restarting more flights?’” Luis Humberto Araiza López, tourism minister of Baja California Sur, told The Washington Post. “It’s a delicate line between trying to support public health and economic growth.”

Despite this, there are some countries that Americans can travel to.

The countries Americans can travel to without Covid restrictions are Albania, Belarus, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Mexico, North Macedonia, Serbia, Turkey, and Zambia. As the world continues to open up, Americans who travel abroad are waiting for the U.S. government to get the virus under control. Until then, the U.S. passport is not the same it used to be.

READ: The U.S. Passport Was Once The World’s Strongest, It’s Fallen To 25th Place Thanks To Failed Leadership Amid Coronavirus

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