We left Guayaquil at 715 am and started toward the Andes. Our first stop was a cocoa plantation.
We learned that from this modest plantation that would never be noticed from the road;
Cocoa has been exported since 1860.
Cocoa beans originated in Amazon region between Ecuador and Peru. They were known as the “Golden beans”.
This particular plantation is the hub for a 57 families cooperative each with 2-10 hectares per plantation where they farm organic cocoa.
Each tree produces 350-400 pods per year. This Plantation produces 1.5 tons on 4 acres. Cooperative totals 50 tons.
We learned that the growth time from flower to ripe pod is 4.5 months.
The plantation uses a canopy system with tall trees to protect from chemicals sprayed on other non-organic plantations. Second level of trees are varieties of fruit and they enrich the flavor of the cocoa beans which absorb aromas from other plants.
Post harvest chests from 57 cooperative plantations. Beans are fermented for 4 days – 45-50c for good fermentation. Three levels of boxes – beans go in top box after two days door of chest is opened and bottom level of beans pour into next chest thereby turning the beans! Repeated in 2 days to third level when they are removed to be dried. Beans dry for 6 days.
This cooperative sends 95% of dried beans to Switzerland and retain remainder to produce chocolate themselves.
From there we climbed through clouds into the Andes and stopped at a pass 13,000 feet above sea level.
Descending a little, we stopped at a fabulous highlands restaurant for grooved trout and their special drink of amaranth and cinnamon with local liquor.
Our hotel, Oro Verde in Cuenca is perfect. Dennis and I walked for 45 minutes along the river into the historic downtown of Cuenca.