MAKING CHOCOLATE WITH THE MAYA | BELIZE OFF THE BEATEN PATH

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The Toledo district was the area I was the most excited to explore in Belize. It has the highest concentration of Maya villages, stunning archeological sites and an incredible lush environment with pristine rainforest and jungle all around but is surprisingly the less visited part of Belize. This region has been continuously inhabited by the Maya since at least 10,000 BC and well over half of Toledo’s population is made up of the Mopan and Kekchi Mayas living in over 30 different villages.

We decided to stay at Cotton Tree Lodge, an eco lodge located in the heart of the rainforest on the Moho River (an hour away from the city of Punta Gorda). This is where the friendly staff helped us organize a tour of a 30-acre Cacao Farm in the tiny Mayan village of San Pedro.

In the Mayan culture, cacao was so highly regarded that it was an integral part of the fabric of their lives. They cultivated it, they used cacao beans as currency and developed numerous preparations for rituals and medicinal use. Consumed primarily in the form of a frothed drink, it was a prized possession and available only to the elite, a godly potion that would grant energy and power.

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I was so happy to finally discover chocolate in its real form and learn more about it. "Welcome to my paradise," said Eladio Pop, owner of a magical farm full of cacao trees, medicinal plants, coconuts and banana trees. We followed him around his forest tasting different fruits and then back to his home where his daughter demonstrated traditional chocolate making. We roasted the raw beans, cracked them gently on a wood table, grinded the nibs with a Mayan stone and made a smooth paste from the natural cacao fat. We drank the chocolate with a splash of water, honey and voilà, pure magic in our veins…

What a beautiful and grounding experience. The warm welcome of Eladio’s family + the magic elixir filled our heart with love and deep gratitude.

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Chocolate has been a shady industry often leading to illegal deforestations, child labor and leaving farmers with no profits. If you can’t get your chocolate directly from a farm, make sure to know what to look for before buying it:

  • Does the company have direct connection with farmers? This means that they are likely to get a fairer share of the profit. Cocoa farmers generally get a very raw deal.

  • Is it certified by a third-party scheme like “Rainforest Alliance” or “UTZ”? This means that there will be some external auditing taking place that makes it more likely that the worst practices like child labour or illegal deforestation will be picked up on.

  • Does it contain palm oil? At its most unsustainable, palm oil is linked to massive deforestation and serious violations of human rights. Chocolate bars often contains palm oil, so look for brands that commit to sourcing palm oil sustainably or state that they're palm oil free.