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We left Santo Domingo this morning around 10:30 and arrived in Quevedo around noon. After a quick meeting with Samuel, we headed for lunch first. Maria and the kids then departed with Anita, Samuel’s employee, to Hacienda Limon, while Samuel and I headed off to Hacienda Guantupi.
Just outside of a small town called Buena Fe, we drove maybe 5km down a dirt road that got narrower and narrower along the edge of the Rio Gallina, one of the tributaries that later forms the Rio Quevedo. The road finally ended because the river had risen the last two weeks and the erosion had wiped out the possibility of going any further, since banana trees blocked the rest of the way.
We walked maybe 500m from where we parked to a place where the river bank was just a flat beach, no longer an eroded bank, and met a long river canoe with an outboard motor that took us across the river. Just two weeks ago, the river had been maybe 2 meters higher than it was today.
After crossing, we got in another pickup which we used to cruise around the farm and check out the cocoa plants. Samuel and Hugo, the farm manager, showed me Witch’s Broom and Monilla, two different diseases that affect the cocoa plants. We drove up into the hills where a couple of local workers were cutting down the weeds with weed wackers.
We then proceeded to the main farmhouse, a building of bamboo and cement constructed on stilts one story above ground, from which we could see most of the farm. The area has rice paddies, banana fields and cocoa, along with corn as well, but only cacao is grown on Samuel’s land.
Since it’s the end of the harvest season right now, there was no cocoa to be seen drying. We picked up about a dozen 180 pound sacks of recently fermented cocoa, that Samuel was taking to be dried at his other farm, which were loaded into the pickup.
Hacienda Guantupí is 180 hectares, all cacao nacional here. We all stopped at the edge of the farm where Samuel showed me some old growth cacao, trees at least 30 to 40 years old that had not been pruned, at least 50 feet high. Some of these trees were Venezuelan trinitario cacao, brought here back in the 30s, with red pods, whereas the nacional has a much yellower fruit.
We headed back to the canoe, and I watched as one man proceeded to load at least 10 180 pound sacks by himself into the canoe. The others helped schlep a sack onto his back, he’d walk the 100 meters or so over some wooden planks laid on top of the mud that had formed at the river’s edge from the previous week’s flooding, and carry them to the canoe one by one.
Boarding the canoe to go back across, I noticed one of the guys wearing an AIG shirt. So fitting for these times.
They dropped Samuel, Hugo, and me at the same point they had picked us up at, then headed downriver another 500 meters or so to where the pickup was parked and the road ended…or started, depending on how you look at it. From there, between 3 or 4 men, they hoisted the sacks of cacao the 6 feet or so up the eroded river bank’s edge, and then loaded it into the pickup.
I kept wondering what that wet, fruity smell was while I was standing around watching all this, then finally realized it was the fermented but not yet dried caco in the jute sacks.
We left Buena Fe and headed back to Quevedo. Traffic was slow for a few minutes…a beer truck had lost several cases of beer on the road and they were cleaning up the broken glass as we passed.
After stopping briefly at Orecao’s offices, we headed to Hacienda Limon. Taking a dirt road off the main highway, we drove, and drove, and drove some more. It was at least an hour in. We passed through mature palm oil groves-the pinging of the rocks on the bottom of the car echoed as if we were in a cave. It was all shade in the mature groves. Other sections had recently planted African Palms, only 1 or two meters high. In other sections we passed bananas, rice fields, more bananas, then cacao.
It was nearly sunset when we finally arrived here. It’s a long way from anywhere.