Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Chocolate Vacation Planning: Touring Mesoamerica

The conflict of course is not whether or not Hamlet’s uncle killed his father, but whether the conflicted young heir identifies with his wronged father or his usurping uncle.  And here in China, though this vastly incomprehensible place (more irksomely incomprehensible than any country else I have visited in Asia or the world) frustrates me to the point of palpable brattiness, I am enormously more happy than I would ever be in any midsized American city.  The irony is all.  And the enduring irony of the story of chocolate—which has sustained my interest and my commitment to writing this blog even when I’m geographically separated from or otherwise abstaining from eating fine chocolate—is that the region responsible from bringing chocolate production and its accompanying mythology into the world is today one of the least significant regions in the global chocolate industry and often the least associated with chocolate.

A couple of weeks ago, I received, in the span of a couple of days, two enticing offers to tangle myself in chocolate's roots in Mexico.

The first message read "EMILY GYAL!!! I been trying to find you! You still interested in Mexico???? We are planning to leave on Saturday, the 30th--- going til Nov 5th! Up to Merida for Day of the Dead stuff!"  Really, I can think of nowhere I would rather be this early November than mingled among Mayan ruins, but Hipmunk, my favorite little aggregater of airfares, indicates that a one way trip leaving Guangzhou for Merida, Mexico, tomorrow, would cost me fourteen-hundred bucks and involve about 24 hours of travel on two different airlines and three separate flights.  Anyway, I suspect that message, sent by someone whose email signature identifies her as a Peace Corps volunteer in Belize, was intended not for me but for yet another Emily Stone in the chocolate world.  This Emily Stone sources and buys cacao from the Toledo region of Belize for the new (to me, at least) New York City-based Moho bean-to-bar chocolate producer.  Her Chocolate Life profile invites readers to "Come check us out if you're in the neighborhood!"  And I hope that her Peace Corps friends and many of you find her and her chocolate soon.

The second message came from the international man of chocolate mystery Steve DeVries, who was at work planning a week-long chocolate origins tour in Mexico, built around the Tabasco Chocolate Festival, over Thanksgiving.  The tour is open to anyone who's interested--I wish I had the $1750 on top of that $1400 for the last minute flight to sign up!  He sent me the itinerary along with some photos which I'm reproducing here.  Alas, the trip may already be sold out, but do get in touch with Steve right away if you're interested--more interest, I imagine, could lead to more tours.

Schedule for Chocolate Tour of Tabasco and Chiapas in Mexico. Led by Steve DeVries.

This tour is to an area with centuries if not millenia of experience with cacao and chocolate.  This is the area that Hernando Cortez traveled and fought through on his way to meet Montezuma in the early 1500's. I have led a similar but larger tour to Costa Rica the last four springs.  Mexico produces about 100 times more cacao than Costa Rica meaning a lot more available learning opportunities.
Fee for the trip, excluding airfare and alcoholic beverages is $1750 single occupancy.   The tour will run with five participants, but can have up to eight. A deposit of $900 is due with sign-up.  Once 5 have signed up, I will confirm the tour and the balance of $850 will be due. 

The van and the driver are being provided by the Secretait of Tourism of the State of Tabasco. If you have any additional question or want to sign-up, you may call me (Steve DeVries) at 970.215.4848 or e-mail me at steve@devrieschocolate.

11/20 Arrive in Villahermosa (VSA) by international flight. Take taxi to the Best Western Madan and check-in for the night

11/21 Monday; Tour of Cacep Chocolate factory, from Roasting to Conching. Also tour of "greenhouse" and  surrounding cacao plantation'
         Tour of large cooperative Fermentation and Drying Facilities
         Travel to Comalcalco and check into the Hotel Copacabana.

11/22 Tuesday; Tour of  factory for Chocolate Brondo in Paraiso. Watch process from Roasting to Conching,  Tour their cacao plantation and others on the area. 
         Return to Comalcalco and Hotel Copacabana

11/23 Wednesday; Tour of Finca Cholula, including their artesanal chocolate production, their small chocolate factory machinery production and surrounding cacao        plantation
         Tour the Zona Arqueologica nearby. The only Maya site with the pyramids built of fired brick, not quarried stone. 
         Return to Comalcalco and tour Hacienda La Luz and Museo Wolter.  Continue stay at  Hotel Copacabana

11/24  Thursday; Tour other cacao plantations and the fermenting and drying cooperative
         Travel to Villahermosa and check in to Best Western Madan. Attend  the Tabasco Chocolate Festival at 1:30 for round table discussion and later talks. They run to 8:00, but anyone can      
         return to the hotel earlier.

 The 2nd Tabasco Chocolate Festival is an international event with professional translators. The site for the event is http://festivaldelchocolate.mx/portal/  but it is only in Spanish.  Here is a machine translation to English by Alta Vista's Babelfish  http://tinyurl.com/Festival-in-English .   Being a machine translation it's a little rough but intelligible

11/25  Friday; Morning tours of the Mercado Central and Maya museum/park La Venta. Attend Festival starting at 12:00 to 6:00 
          Stay at Best Western Madan

11/26  Saturday; Travel to Pichucalco and tour the haciendas and fermentary of the Jimenez family. Also visit the Pichucalco Cacao Cooperative
          Stay the the Hotel La Selva

11/27  Sunday; Early start to Palenque, a huge and amazing Maya site.  Google "Palenque, Chiapas, Maya" for more info and photos
. Five or six hours at Palenque and its museum. Return to Villahermosa and Best Western Madan. 

11/28  Monday; Flights home.

Happy Halloween, Happy Day of the Dead, Happy All Souls Day and All Saints Day.  Eat chocolate responsibly.


Anonymous Emily Stone said...

Emily -- it's the other Emily Stone! I was just reading your blog and stumbled upon myself, that was a surprise! How funny that my friend sent you that message by accident. Thanks for sharing some information about what we're up to down here in Belize. When you return from Asia, please feel free to come visit anytime! Much cheaper to get down here from the U.S. than China. :)

6:38 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous Nova Chocolate said...

Really Enjoy your blog. We love to learn about the cultures behind chocolate - often as rich as the chocolate itself!

1:40 PM GMT-5  

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