The Chocolate Life

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I know that things aren't looking their brightest at the moment, economically speaking and it's also the middle of winter, but one of the ways I get through rough times is to imagine trips to places I've always wanted to visit. Perhaps many of you enjoy doing, this, too.

On the off-chance you do, following are some of the places I been doing research on planning trips to in 2009 and 2010. Please let me know the top 1 or 2 if any of them you'd seriously consider traveling to in 2009 or 2010 (this is not a commitment to go on the trip, just a strong expression of interest - likely or very likely) and/or places you want to visit that are not mentioned.

1) The Dominican Republic (April-May 2009 and/or 2010)
Highlights: Hacienda Elvesia (the source of the beans for Felchlin Cru Hacienda), Los Haitises National Park, Cano Hondo eco-lodge, Hacienda Camino Ramonal, make chocolate from the bean using traditional and modern techniques, beaches

2) Bolivia (mid-February, 2010)
Highlights: Hacienda Tranquilidad (the source of the beans for Felchlin Cru Sauvage), the Beni region of Bolivia. Volker Lehmann is a ChocolateLife member.

3) Brazil
Highlights: Voluntour during peak harvest season on a 2500-acre cacao farm which includes 500 acres of virgin rainforest; nearly endless stretches of pristine beaches - See first comment from ChocolateLife member Jim Lucas for more details.

4) Hawaii
Highlights: Plantations and chocolate factory on the island of Hawaii; plantation visit on Kauai

5) Madagascar
Highlights: Sambirano Valley region

6) Sao Tome
Highlights: Claudio Corallo

7) London
Highlights: All the hot players in the local chocolate scene.

8) Turin/Pisa
Highlights: All the hot players in the local chocolate scene.

9) Mexico
Tabasco State, Oaxaca, Chiapas (Soconusco)

?) Your destinations of interest are ...

Depending on the size of the group (Bolivia and Brazil are 7 people max; the DR is 20) and prevailing exchange rates, the prices per person, not including R/T airfare will vary between $1500 and $2900 per person

:: Clay

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I read your travel notes today and need to amplify your description for location. We are located in the state of Bahia which is Northeastern Brazil. Sao Paulo is south central Brazil and 2-1/2 hour plane ride to the city of ilheus Bahia. From Ilheus to our farms are an hour and half drive. We are approximately 80km west of the ocean and Ilheus. You can find us on the Google map at S 14 °48’ 44” and W 39°39’ 16.7”.
Traveling to Bahia normally starts on a flight into Sao Paulo (American, Continental). You enjoy immigration and customs then continue for an additional 2hrs to Ilheus (Tam or Gol Airlines). In Ilheus we would need to arrange ground transportation to our farms which are situated near (5km) the city of Floresta Azul (Blue Forest).
An alternate route would involve a direct flight from Miami to the capital city of Salvador, Bahia. The last leg to Ilheus is via Tam airlines, 40 minutes south. Same details for ground transportation.
The cocoa region of Brazil radiates from Ilheus for 200km and represents a rich history of cocoa farming. My wife’s father emigrated from Lebanon in 1915 to establish a dynasty in cocoa. After his death in 1960, the estates were divided and parceled according to Arab custom. Oldest son first choice, followed by remaining sons. Daughters were last to be considered. My wife being the youngest was left with what we now call “Fazenda Venturosa”. We are the remaining vestige of his legacy. Following the death of her 95 year old Lebanese mother in 1994, my wife, Lola, and I moved to the region to become cocoa farmers. I an engineer and she an economist were ill prepared for the transition. Until our move, we had owned and operated a successful manufacturing business in Houston Texas. The rest is history to be discussed over cold beer.
I would suggest potential visitors take a look on Google “ Ilheus, Atacare, Tansamerica Hotel Bahia, Salvador Bahia”. I would not suggest the unseasoned traveler consider Rio as a rest stop. Although the city is gorgeous it is very violent and a place one should approach carefully.

Best regards
Jim Lucas
Jim has kindly posted some photos of his farm - the Fazenda Venturosa - in a photo album.

He also posted a forum thread detailing some of the recent history of his farm and some of the challenges and concerns he has with organic and Fair Trade certification.
The place on the top of Sam and my list of destinations is probably Bougainville Island (in the South Pacific, it is a territory of Papua New Guinea). It was a story that Sam heard on the radio about cocoa growers in Bouganville that got us interested in cocoa and then chocolate back in 2003.

Unfortunately Bouganville is still suffering the after effects from 20 years of civil war and a recent death of an important leader, so safety of visitors to the island isn't guaranteed. Add to that very expensive travel costs and it makes it a difficult destination to reach.

Traveling to places like Bouganville also raises another question that we have been discussing for some years now: what are the environmental costs of travel and are they justified? This is especially relevant for us in Australia as we are a long plane trip from any cocoa growing area other than the South Pacific.

Modern air travel is cheap and easy (compared to any other means of long distance travel), if we have the money then there is little stopping us from flying anywhere in the world. However the environmental impact (i.e. contribution to global warming) of high altitude flight, especially at night is a growing concern for scientists. If you are interested, have a look at this paper from the United States General Accounting Office:

Title: "Aviation and the environment"

I expect that plenty of people will call me a kill joy or worse for mentioning this, so to all of the global warming sceptics: just ignore me.

To anyone interested, my personal response to this issue is: look to technology. This website is a very good example. If I can't travel, or can't justify traveling to a place I want to go, then being able to talk on-line to people who can and have traveled is the next best thing. Digital cameras (still and video) and tools like Google Earth make it possible to get a taste of the destination and share other people's experiences very easily.

Clay's list of destinations sounds great. I would love to see them all, but I fully expect that each of those trip will result in a wealth of photos, videos and stories. So the best option for me is to stay at home, travel vicariously, and save my money and carbon emissions for the trip that means the most to me (hopefully Bolivia in 2010).
If I had the travel dollars (alas, I do not right now) I'd be into Bolivia, Sao Tome and Oaxaca. But Oaxaca I'd want to do around dia de los meurtos AND chocolate! But honestly, everything on your list is of interest to me. The most exciting ones are the places where chocolate grows, least interesting places where it is "hot", ie. London or Turin, though who is kidding who? I'd go to either of those places in a heartbeat...
Agreed, Langdon. Local/low impact travel is the best option now. Also, everything in moderation especially with the size of the world population (probably better to find ways to cut down on extensive business travel first). Hopefully we'll get teleporter technology soon :)

I was thinking if the euro hit parity, I would have hopped on a plane for France or Spain for whatever is the latest in gastronomy there.

I would still love to help with a cacao harvest in a cacao growing region. Any of the places on the list would be wonderful.
Although I'm a Spanish speaker, Madagascar interests me due to concerns about its ecology. But any Latin country is of interest to me. I've spent some time in Mexico in my pre-chocolate days, but never Oaxaca or Chiapas.
I'd be happy to contribute my Chocolate Tasting Meditations or CM (tm) on one of these trips or at any chocolate show or event. In the past, Scharffen Berger and others have sponsored my meditations. This would add a retreat & restorative dimension to the tour too, a chance to de-stress as well as develop tasting skills.
I'd be interested in talking to any chocolate producers, distributors or retailers who'd like to sponsor me.

Something else of possible interest: I create original ceremonies to bless the launching of new businesses...I'd be happy to create blessings for new crops too. ...
Gratitude & blessings to you all,
Rev. R. M. Peluso


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