You want to learn more about chocolate and be informed about just where your chocolate comes from. But you would like to have some fun too. We have a package for you.

Join us in early May 2013 for an exciting chocolate tour with some conventional sightseeing and activities as well. We will visit Ecuador’s famous Mitad Del Mundo Site on the equator and Quito’s colonial city, a UN World Heritage Site. We will also visit a cooperative of indigenous cacao growers and learn about making chocolate from farm to bar. See the collection center, fermentation process, and learn about how your chocolate gets all the way from some of the world’s most remote places to your store shelf. While in the Amazon, we´ll also spend a day river rafting, with plenty of time to also enjoy the jungle lodge.

Visit a chocolate factory where we will learn how beans are processed into some of the world’s best chocolate. Finally, enjoy a chocolate tasting at our workshop in Quito and discover the nuanced flavors resulting from fermentation, roasting, and conching of your chocolate.

Contact us at jeff at sternchocolates dot com or call us on 858 222 0332 for more info!

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We just returned earlier this week from Hakuna Matata-not the Disney movie nor the phrase meaning “No Problem,” but the name of the fabulous jungle lodge in the Amazon.

Just about 3 hours from Quito, the lodge is nicely removed from the main highway just after the town of Archidona, a few kilometers off the main road. You drive through some small native communities, cross a swinging bridge just wide enough for your vehicle over a big river,

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and end up at the lodge entrance. You hear nothing from the highway, so the only sounds to fill the nights are the bugs and the heavy rainfall if you’re lucky. We had both, and it was a great way to get a restful sleep.

Upon arriving that afternoon, we headed down to the “beach” on the shores of the Inchillaqui River that is on the extensive property.

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Rudy and Marcelina, the Belgian owners, are delightful people and have trained their local staff extremely well. The food is first class, mainly continental European style simple and classic dishes, executed well. We were served sliced pork loin in red wine marinade, scalloped potatoes, and a vegetable the first evening, simply prepared. They have smartly carved out small logs, placed gravel inside, added a wire grate on top, and use tealights inside to keep additional portions warm for you tableside. The portions are more than generous. Since it was our son Sebastian’s birthday and we had let them know ahead of time, they even baked a simple cake for him, and presented him with a t-shirt, wrapped in an orignal and elegant style inside a banana leaf, tied off and adorned with a  local flower. The staff is attentitve without being overbearing, and very polite.

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On the second day I unfortunately had an accident you can read about here, but the staff, my wife Maria, and my kids took good care of me. We were served first an appetizer of pork and chicken liver paté, with a cornichon, white onion, and orange marmelade, then for the main dish chicken in white wine sauce, pommes frites, and fresh carrots and peas on our second evening.

But before the fall, we visited the Ranarium, or frog area. It’s a small, screened in greenhouse with a variety of different types of poison frogs, which the guide will clearly tell you about and answer all your questions, including methods of use for the poison, mating habits, habitat, etc. The guides were very knowledgeable and friendly.

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Frogs in Hakuna Matata

While I recuperated from the fall, Maria and the kids took a one hour hike through the jungle with the guide. More on that adventure in the next post!

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Headed south from Quito today to visit the towns of SaquisilĂ­ and PujilĂ­. We were in search of handicrafts mainly, but since there´s literally almost zero info on the internet about market days, we arrived in SaquisilĂ­ to find the crafts market only takes place on Thursdays. As is the usual routine most everywhere when we headed out into Ecuador´s unknown, we arrive at whatever town we´ve chosen to go to, and just starting asking…”Where is the market?” or “Where can we find ____” fill in the blank-whatever it might be we’re looking for. Usually this leads to some interesting diversions….”go two blocks and turn left, it’s nearby.” Or “just keep going straight, you’ll be there soon,” which could mean anywhere from two minutes to 30 minutes or more. Does nearby and in 30 minutes mean near on a bicycle, a donkey, a horse, on foot, or by car? You can never tell, since country people’s definition of time and distance are often measured in units that we city people would rarely consider-or maybe even they are units we don’t know about!

Since there was nothing going in SaquisilĂ­, we headed on to PujilĂ­. Both towns, by the way, are just a few miles north of the city of Latacunga, the first major city on the Panamerican highway you reach when heading south from Quito. In PujilĂ­, the open air market was on, one of the largest markets I´ve seen in South America and a spectacle in its own right. Measuring probably two football fields and of course spilling out into the adjacent streets, the market offers up Ecuador’s bounty from all over the country…tangerines, lemons, limes, grapefruits, bell peppers, swiss chard, various types of potatoes and bananas. As well, there were all sorts of cooking going on…llapingachos (a potato cake colored with annatto or achiote) and cooked in lard and served with fried pork aka fritada, stews with crab and other seafood, cebiches, tripe, and other local dishes. Not just foods but pirated CDs of any kind, cheap trinkets, hair pins, nail clippers, and ever other type of junk from China are available. On one street a man with the voice and earnestness of street-corner preacher offered up a cure for every type of ailment, for the prostate, stomach, liver, arthritis, indigestion, while a crowd of people gathered around.

Market in PujilĂ­

PujilĂ­ Market I really enjoyed seeing these obviously hand-crafted lollipops for sale, being carried around in a hand-made basket!

Candies in PujilĂ­

Already the obvious tourist no matter how much I might have tried to blend in (I didn’t try and even if I had it wouldn’t have worked), I carried my camera at torso height and shot pictures surreptitiously as best as I could, and managed to get a few good ones shown below. At one point we stopped to see two parakeets sitting atop a  wooden box with small drawers filled with different colored papers.

I had never seen this before-you pay the woman fifty cents, she asks you “Married? Single? Divorced?” and then picks up one of the birds and commands it to peck your hand, then speaks to it in all earnestness and utter seriousness telling the bird your condition and then ordering it back to the box. The bird then goes to one of the small drawers open in the box, and through its divine power picks up your “horoscope” or fortune, she plucks it from the bird’s beak and passes it on to you. When we first stopped, and I raised my camera, she covered the birds and said no pictures. On our return pass, we stopped and paid her and I took a few good shots while she wasn’t paying much attention.

Fortune Telling BIrd

On the return we stopped at Hosteria La Cienega for lunch, a 300 year old Hacienda with decent food and gardens.You can feel the oldness in the place, and there´s often a cool breeze and a spooky, haunted sort of empty feeling about the place. My Mother-in-law won´t stay there…says it´s too creepy! Maybe it´s the “Burundanga” trees all over, from which scopolamine can be removed, that makes you feel weird!

Burundanga-Scopolamine Tree

Hosteria Pinsaqui

There are also a lot of nice antiques on display inside, with great lighting.

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Just over two weeks ago we had a visit with the members of the Go Now Be Free Tour. Jody Treter, the guide, wrote about it here. Jody and I met up through a visit over a year ago to our shop by Mimi Wheeler, of Grocer’s Daughter Chocolate in Michigan. Mimi had come down to visit Ecuador and meet with Miriam, the recipient of GoBe’s first microloan. I also helped Mimi arrange a visit to the plantations belonging to my friend, and connoisseur/grower of some of Ecuador’s finest Nacional cocoa beans.

The group came over to the workshop in the morning, and I gave them a brief but thorough introduction to cacao in Ecuador, discussing most of what you’ve read here on this blog. We got into CCN-51, Nacional, and other arcane topics surrounding Ecuadorian chocolate.

In the afternoon, I took them over to Fundacion y Desarrollo, a major NGO here in Ecuador involved in Fair Trade Certification as well as promoting “Super” cacao. I hadn’t really known they were so involved in this project, but learned a great deal about it.

Two North American acquaintances of mine have been the pioneers in the “super cacao” project. They began by selecting the very best cacao trees they could-by best I mean those that are most disease resistant and with the highest yields. The project started through the observation that in any area where cacao is grown widely, there always seem to be a few trees, out of many, that produce more cacao than usual and also are more disease resistant. These two men began by propagating these high yield trees and planing them. It turns out that they are getting absolutely incredible yields in the very first years.

Conservacion y Desarrollo has been working with farmers throughout the country to not only gather and propagate seedlings from “super cacao” trees, but to then take the trees and study their genotypes closely. Instead of a costly, multi-year project whereby scientists could be sent into the field to search out and study the trees, C&D has recruited thousands of farmers to select their best trees, and then turn them over to be studied and analyzed. The ultimate aim of the project, through identifying and propagating high-yielding cacao trees, is to combat poverty by helping farmers increase their income and produce better cacao, and ultimately, better chocolate.

Welcome to Destination Ecuador!

Welcome to Destination Ecuador! My family and I have been living in Ecuador for the last four and a half years. We’ve dealt with the worst kinds of red-tape, searched out or ended up making hard-to-find ingredients ourselves, imported equipment for making chocolate confections, learned the import-export business...Continue >>


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