After Providencia, we flew back to Cartagena where we boarded an eastbound bus along the coast, then headed a bit inland to a hostel in the countryside outside of Minca for a few days of hiking to waterfalls with swimming holes.

Our hostel in Minca

It was fun to hike by various farms growing all kinds of tropical deliciousness including bananas, papayas, and avocados. And oh, the mango trees! They were huge, everywhere, and each was laden with hundreds of unripe mangos, my favorite fruit. We even got to roast and grind our own coffee beans. But the highlight for us was visiting a small, family-owned cacao farm.

Cacao orchard

Cacao is native to Latin America. The use of cacao goes back to the Olmecs of Mexico, who lived a few thousand years ago and preceded the Mayans. But it was the Mayans who were the first to turn cacao into chocolate, albeit without sugar and they only drank it as a beverage. They also used cacao beans as currency — apparently ten beans could buy a rabbit and a hundred could buy a slave. It was fun to compare coffee with cacao, and on our tour we learned that cacao is grown at a lower elevation than coffee and also needs a drier climate than coffee. One other difference is that while 95% of coffee flowers turn into beans, only 5% of cacao flowers turn into pods. The pods are large, and when opened, the beans inside are surrounded by a white substance that I really liked; it tastes like a sweet fruit, nothing like cacao.

A cacao pod cracked open

Fresh beans are purple on the outside and white in the very center

In order to process of the beans, they are fermented, dried, roasted and finally ground to produce an oily paste of pure cacao.

Pure groudn cacao, and finally...

...the delicious end product

Apparently cacao is also good for your skin, and our tour included a chocolate facial. We had the option of having a full body massage with or without chocolate, but since I’m not a massage fan Peter went it alone, albeit without chocolate. And of course, we got to eat some chocolate made from only sugar, a little cinnamon, and the cacao that we shelled, roasted and ground. It was very rustic as it was somewhat grainy and had no milk added to it. Delicious, and better than any chocolate bar I’ve tried!

Having a chocolate facial while drinking hot chocolate, what could be better?

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