My recent trip to the Caribbean Islands of Trinidad and Tobago left an imprint on my mind and especially on my body where the resident and resilient mosquitos feasted every evening making my legs resemble an impressionist tableau in hues of magenta.
Leaving the atelier for 5 days in November felt as comfortable as trusting your children in the care of a teenager with ASBO. I worked through the night and boarded a day flight to Port of Spain looking forward to 10 hours of sleep, unheard of for me. My first impressions of Trinidad included the wall of humid heat hitting you as soon as you leave the tiny air conditioned airport, the lush mountains framing the island and the colourful friendliness of its inhabitants.
Trinidad and Tobago produced 30 000 tons of fine flavour Trinitario cocoa beans in the 1920s. These days the production has dwindled to about 500 tons. Cocoa plantations demand constant maintenance, pruning, regeneration and disease control. Unless farmers make a decent living from cacao, they abandon farming cacao and generations of invaluable knowledge and precious genetic materials are forgotten. Many plantations lay disused and are quickly reclaimed by nature for everything grows hastily on this green island. My trip to paradise aimed to find a way to revive cacao growing on the island.
Myself, Ashley - my cocoa Trinidadian cocoa partner - and Andy (a handsome broody photographer who got kidnapped by us as soon as he landed) started our road trip around the island on a goverment owned research plantation with fermentation, drying and dancing facilities. The cocoa beans dance is unique to this region where farmers walk or dance on the dried cocoa beans to make them shinier although the dance here was performed mechanically.
We headed next to the centre of the island to visit a disused plantation.The narrow road twisted its path across the lush bushes of greenery interspersed by a few houses. I spotted some cocoa beans drying on the side of the road. We stopped to talk to the farmer who proudly showed us his trees, pods and beans. I kindly asked him if my travel partners could try the flesh of a fresh cocoa pod (secretly hoping I could practise my machete skills) and we all chewed some mucilage and raw unfermented beans, the healthiest form of chocolate.
I hoped that his hospitality would extend to a display of his cocoa dance moves but he smiled and offered us some fresh oranges instead. I am always humbled by the dedication and respect that farmers pay to the land in the cocoa belt. There is a simple beauty to this life which I sometimes envy,caught in the hustle and bustle of my life as an entrepreneur.
A few hours later we entered a huge estate where abandoned cocoa trees neighbour acres of swamps dedicated to the protection of the buffalypso, a water buffalo brought more than 50 years ago from India to the land of the calypso. We stopped to observe these beautiful creatures roaming free in acres of green humid hands, keeping at a safe distance from the small crocodiles also calling it their home.
Sadly nature had reclaimed the cocoa plantation and the green overgrown canopy covered the precious Imperial College Selection trees that once were the pride of this island. As much as I strained my eyes to identify the familiar trunks or pods, all I could pick was green leaves from floor to the blue sky patrolled by vultures. I suggested to stop and walk but the recent sight of crocodiles made my crew less than enthusiastic about an improvised foray into the jungle.
We retuned to Port of Spain via the Atlantic coast scenic route admiring its miles of wild beaches and giant palm trees, deep blue dangerous currents and dirt roads dotted with make-shift huts selling the sweetest water melons.
Next time you pick up a bar of chocolate, perhaps take a minute to ponder on the journey of the cacao beans from these exotic lands to our confectionery shelves. All pictures credited with thanks to Andy Barnham, to whom I am eternally gratefully for clocking in even more mosquito bites than me.
Have a colouful week, Miss Anne x