Life Giving Water Int’l interns spent an overnight in Mindo, Ecuador, located in the cloud forest of northern Ecuador. The town is known for tourism, outdoor attractions, chocolate factories, and especially their wildlife. During our visit, we were so blessed to experience many of these things.
One highlight was our tour of a chocolate factory where we learned about the process of making chocolate - from tree to chocolate bar! Our guide, Carlos, informed us that the Fine Aroma cocoa tree is native to Ecuador. It produces high quality cocoa and can live to around 100 years; while engineered versions of this plant produce cheaper cocoa and live only 20-30 years. To produce cocoa pods, the Fine Aroma cocoa tree must mature for five years. On the fifth year, it will produce buds, some of which will grow into cocoa pods that take several months to mature. Once the pods are harvested, they are cut open, and a milky white pulp, with a sweet, citrusy flavor, and the seeds are harvested from inside. These are fermented in wooden crates for a total of four days. From there, the pulp is used for a syrup product, and the seeds are dried in open air for 20 days.
Once the cocoa seeds are dried and brown in color, they are roasted and de-shelled, producing cocoa nibs. The shells are used to make delicious cocoa tea. After this day of processing, the cocoa nibs are processed for three more days, as they are ground into a paste, and compressed to remove 95% of the fat, resulting in cocoa powder! Finally, to produce the final chocolate bars, sugar is added and the chocolate is tempered.
Overall, it takes about a month to produce chocolate from pod to chocolate bar! We sampled the tea, chocolate paste, and chocolate, and it was incredible! (If I suddenly had to move to Mindo, I would definitely work there.)
Besides the amazing chocolate in Mindo, we saw some truly breathtaking natural beauty. We visited a ¨mariposaria¨, or butterfly farm! There, thousands of butterflies, native to Ecuador, from giant, vibrant blue ones, to tiny red, yellow, and transparent-winged butterflies surrounded us. With a bit of their food on our hands, butterflies would land on us.
We also visited a hummingbird garden! The man who owned the property spent twenty years developing the garden with plants and feeders. One could see his joy of sharing the birds, with others. We saw possibly eight species - feisty orange and green birds, vibrant green ones, and breath-taking turquoise and white ones. In that region alone, there are about 30 species of hummingbirds, while in Ecuador overall, there are about 100! It was incredible observing their colors, their rapid movement, and watching them at rest.
To top off the trip, we had a zip line expedition! The course was set up on the mountainside crossing large valleys (up to 400m wide! )with beautiful views. We had fun facing our fears, talking with our guides, and riding upside down (ahhh!) or doing the ¨superman¨.
Overall, it was a beautiful trip , experiencing creation in another part of Ecuador. It was also wonderful connecting with people there - our very kind hotel host, whom we learned is a Christian; our tour guides, and a spunky restaurant owner who knows Cincinnati and Culver City! It was an amazing trip, and I am so grateful. And now, I will be enjoying some chocolate tea at home, too.