Chocolate Fridays

Minca, Colombia

Location No.: 132

Time spent there: 09/05/17 – to present

“Viernes de Chocolate”, they didn’t happen every Friday but it was often enough to be a routine we knew and looked forward to. Every now and then my mom would show up with chocolate, usually on a Friday or at least that’s when I remember it to be.

She wasn’t very affectionate when we were growing up, she loved us in ways that I didn’t understand and at times I couldn’t feel her motherliness. Providing for us was proof enough for her and maternal duties were completed with many hours of hard work and earnest sacrifice.

However, we had chocolate. Sometimes it was chocolate-peanut bars, or chocolate ice-cream or ingredients for homemade chocolate cookies. Chocolate Fridays were always unannounced, always a surprise and a welcomed fleeting moment of peace and happiness in our often turbulent home.

Chocolate brought out a side of my mother that was rare. I can summon up the images of her tired smile as we relished her gifts. Chocolate as an offering of affection, a bridge between our hearts, a fix to our familial stress and a language of unspoken words. The exchange, our metaphoric embrace, the momentary light in her eyes. I remember all that better than the taste of the chocolate itself.

Earlier this week, I visited a small organic cacao farm in northern Colombia. Eighty-five years ago, Señor Cardenas, a man who could barely sign his name purchased a gorgeous tract in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta with breathtaking views of the mountains and the Caribbean Sea.  Along with his sons and grandsons he worked the land producing coffee, cacao and avocados. His grandson, Eugenio and his wife Ana run the small farm today.

Cacao trees grow a tiny fragile flower. Only 2% of them are pollinized resulting in pods, the home of the precious cacao beans. Each bean is covered with a fruity flesh that tastes like mangosteen or lychee and Eugenio instructed me to not bite the bean as I savoured its surrounding sweetness. Before the beans are processed they are high in theobromine making them poisonous; but after they are fermented, sundried and roasted they have one of the world’s favorite flavors.

Eugenio slow roasted a batch of cacao beans for us in a contraption he built from a YouTube video and then ground them into 100% cacao paste. The room filled up with a strong aroma of chocolate as he boiled the paste into hot water and milk. I held the cup of hot chocolate in my hands and brought it close to my face. Steamy chocolate full notes hit my senses, snapshots of my mother accompanied them, invading me with bittersweet nostalgia. My taste buds longed for the intoxicating food of the gods, my heart longed for time with my siblings and those Chocolate Fridays long gone.

Cacao in its purest form is dark, bitter, an acquired taste rich in vitamins and minerals that contributes to health and wellness. In order to make chocolate, one must add a sweetener like honey or sugar and for a more palatable chocolate milk is added. Flavorful chocolatiers mix in ingredients like coffee, ginger, dried fruits, sea salt, chili and even insects.

I don’t know all the intricacies of chocolate but over time, I’ve come to understand my mother’s love during my childhood as 100% cacao. It was pure yet it was so raw. It was hard to consume when it wasn’t processed into chocolate yet it sustained us. It was a survival love, like the flowers from the cacao tree. Perhaps, she only knew how to grow the cacao but didn’t know how to make the truffles so she just gave us our treasured Chocolate Fridays.

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The view from La Candelaria, coffee and cacao farm in Minca, Colombia.
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Cacao pod
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Eugenio, in his tour room showing us the chocolate process from pod to cup. He built the small roasting machine after watching YouTube videos.
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Inside the pod, the prized cacao beans.
My mom and I during my last visit earlier this year. We lived through a lot, we lost someone we both loved, we are learning how to make chocolate. 


Purmamarca, Jujuy, Argentina

Location No.: 64

Time spent there: 2013, 2015, 02-25-17

I remember being here as a kid, maybe 10 or 11 years old with Uncle Ruben and his girlfriend at the time, Mery. I always wanted to go back to that place framed by exotic memories of colorful soil and earthy homes.

Nestled against an mountainous rainbow of mineral infused colors and tones. Here is where this place is. They call it “cerro de siete colores” (hill of seven colors), but it feels like there are so many more than seven colors. The cerro spills into the few streets and its rich shades blend into the walls and roofs making an array of color. It’s all one big palette someone left lying in the desert.

I visited again in 2013, 2015 and 2017. Not a child anymore. But my town seems to have stopped growing, stopped in time, frozen in its own history. It seems to be the same size every time I come back. Don’t grow little town, I like you this way. I like you with your narrow dirt streets, with your small shops, with your craft market on the square. I like your adobe (mud) houses, your hidden white church and the lady selling roasted corn on the corner.

I keep coming back to this little town. I take the same photos of the big window with the white and brown spools of alpaca wool, of the bright aguayos on the tables, of the arches over the doors, of the children playing. I crawl all over your hills and the view is spectacular every time. My favorite part is to walk on that street in the northern end of the town, the one with the red clay. My shoes, dusty, speckled red.

Purmamarca, thats the name of my little town. In the local aymara language purma means desert and marca means city. City in the desert. It has been an oasis of color at times when life felt like a desert. On every occasion I’ve been here, life was taking some big turn.  In the aymara language desert also means untouched land, more specifically a place untouched by human hand. Secretly, I keep coming back here because it represents a place where my life is untouched by my own human hand. It’s not a painted canvas, its just a palette. I can come here for refreshment, for inspiration, its a shade of home. It’s an opportunity to take a step back and look at the colors of my past and to take new tones into my present.

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Purmamarca and “The Hill of Seven Colors”
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Marina, my long time friend at the square during a visit together in 2015
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View from the top of one the hills behind the town
The owner of this shop hand spins her own wool. Stickers present, she does not accept MasterCard or Visa.
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“Aguayo”, a carrying cloth used by people from the Andes. I was once told by a little girl that these are more comfortable than backpacks.



Tilly the turtle and 20 minutes of writing

Puerto Cayo, Ecuador

Location No.: 115

Time spent here: 07/15/17 to present

5:20 to 5:40 pm, I’m supposed to write about anything for 20 minutes. Very much like physical exercise I can’t see the immediate results of this drill. I know it’s good for me, I feel some of the effects but I can’t see the final result. It takes some foresight which often seems to be accompanied by patience. In both I am sorely lacking.

So last Friday evening, Anne Marie found a green sea turtle washed up on the beach. The turtle’s injured fin prevented it from swimming properly and it seemed to have difficulty breathing. Turtle rescuing seemed to require more than just guiding the turtle back to the water. After unsuccessful attempts to return it to the ocean it’s decided that the turtle future is unknown, it may not make it.

So, should we attempt to find a rescue center or a vet, or someone who knows anything about turtles? Or should we just wait, hope for the best and see if the turtle is still there tomorrow? Should we try to provide the surroundings for a peaceful death? Do we let nature take its course?

It made me wonder. Do we let life flow, twist and turn and produce what it may or do we constantly interject, plan, prepare, build and expect to see a result of our liking? Applied to this blog experiment, do I just flow with this very slow process of communication and let it come forth whenever it’s ready? (it’s been over a year and a half since I started traveling) Or do I take a conscious look at this and question why I’m having so much internal trouble with it? Do I just fight my discomfort and post something?

Should I wait until I feel like writing something or do I sit down and complete a daily writing exercise like this one today? My 20 minutes are almost up.

Back to the turtle, after a combined effort we located the only turtle rescue center in Ecuador. We are lucky and it’s 30 minutes away from us. She is currently undergoing treatment with antibiotics and IV fluids but she is expected to make a good recovery. Her fin is not fractured and only seems to be bruised and swollen. She was baptized Tilly and will spend the next 6 months at the rescue center or until she is fully ready to go home.

The assigned writing exercise also requires me to post whatever I wrote. So, thank you for reading this ramble.


Interesting tidbits on sea turtles:

  • If you find an injured or sick sea turtle on the beach, don’t try to put it back into the water. Their injuries often prevent them from swimming properly and they can drown easily. It is best to try to find a rescue center or at least a vet.
  • Gender in green sea turtles is determined by the shape of their tails. But it takes 25-30+ years for the tails to develop fully.
  • Trash in the ocean is one of the main causes of injury and sickness for turtles. Please pick up after yourself and pick up some trash left by the other idiots out there.
  • Ecuador’s only tortoise rescue center is called Centro de Rehabilitacion de Fauna Marina del Parque Nacional Machalilla. Although it’s a government initiative, it is run by a young veterinarian who not only single handedly takes care of the turtles but also is responsible for securing monetary donations to keep the center running. If you were looking for a place to make an animal rescue related donation you might want to consider these folks.
(L-R) Monique, Thomas, Anne Marie and Antoine, the impromptu turtle rescue team
Tilly, 20 year old green sea turtle resting in “turtle ICU”