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The Arrival of Friends and the Making of Chocolate

Sarah Faegre | Jul 22, 2008


Working with Blue-throated Macaws and learning to make chocolate from the abundant, ripe cacao fruits on the estancia--could a girl want anything more?

December 29th 2007

Last night at 7 pm (our daily radio contact hour) we finally were able to talk to Carmen...well, Marco talked to her because I couldn't understand a thing through all the static.  All I learned that Carmen is still in Trini.  Still, I have no news of Steve, a friend from home who I have been expecting to arrive for more than a week now.  Is he wandering, lost is Bolivia?  Is he in Trini with Carmen?  Is he still in the U.S.?  I was asked to attend the radio today at 8 a.m., 12 noon, and 1 pm, to be sure to talk to her and arrange a meeting time at the river. 

I anxiously awaited the specified 8 a.m. conference.  And then again at noon...and one.  As I should have expected there was no sign of Carmen or anyone at Veintiuno on the radio at any of the three times specified.  Luz and Pedro are infuriatingly optimistic, saying after each failed attempt, "Oh well, I'm sure she'll come through loud and clear at ___o'clock."  I am inclined to believe that I won't hear from anyone at all and that she (with or without Steve) will eventually just show up at Tres Palmeras with loaned horses from Veintiuno.  Marco said that he heard a plane arrive at Veintiuno around 7 a.m., but later admitted that he wasn't sure after all, and that "who knows-maybe plans will change and they will arrive at Chiméra instead of Veintiuno.

It is tiring sometimes, being the lone "Parabera" (literally, Macaw-er) at the estancia, living with Marco, Luz, and their 2 and 4 year-old children and menagerie of barking dogs and yodeling roosters.  Whoever thinks that roosters crow only in the morning has never lived on a farm! 

I am sitting in the blind, watching the nest box.  The BTM adults give their whiney, screeching call nearby and Nemo, the deformed chick, pokes his head out of the nest box, looking around contentedly from his penthouse suite (the nest box is huge for just one chick!).  A single dark cloud is passing overhead, dumping rain on the little blind, but soon it will pass.  There are lots of mosquitoes.  I feel like I am getting sick.

9:30 pm
I am feeling much happier now-my sudden improvement as mysterious as my apparent illness.  Or perhaps the mascora (cacao fruit) juice cured me.  Between my bouts of stress-induced mania, yelling at the static on the radio, I had a wonderful time learning how to make chocolate from the mascora fruit (per instruction from Luz).  I spent the morning opening 25 kilos of masorca (cacao fruit), removing the flesh-covered seeds, and wringing the flesh off the seeds after soaking them in water, to make a delicious juice and to prepare the seeds for the next step in the cacao-making process: baking in the sun for 2-4 days.  The masorca juice is one of the most delicious juices I have ever tasted and after an hour and a half of work a huge pitcher was ready for the whole family to enjoy.  So sweet and refreshing with an indescribably subtle, complex flavor that is unlike any other fruit.  I must have drank about 3 liters of the refreshing "refresco" before I had to restrain myself, lest there be none left to have with dinner. 

Tomorrow morning I will get up early and do the 6:30 to 8:30 nest watch and then come back to harvest the abundant, ripe masorca with Luz to make more refresco and prepare more seeds for cacao.  Since tomorrow is Sunday and there are no formal chores, Luz has proposed that we roast the cacao seeds that are currently sun baked and she will show me how to make the cacao paste, from which bars of pure chocolate can be formed. 

The chocolate tree is a wonderful thing.  I have my hammock strung up in an idyllic location, behind my tent, in the shade between two chocolate trees.  As I lie in my hammock and look up, I see the large, star fruit-shaped, yellow and orange masorca fruits, hanging from branches above.  And it is not uncommon to be able to get a close-up view of blue-fronted parrots that come to eat the fruits and fail to notice me, lying quietly in my green hammock below.

Not too surprisingly, I learned this evening (yes, the radio did function for once) that Carmen is still in Trini.  I didn't actually talk to Carmen, but the woman who attends the radio in Trini came on briefly to tell me that Carmen will be leaving Trini tomorrow at 9 a.m. and that I should attend the radio at 11 a.m. for the latest news.  So, at 11 a.m. will I hear from Carmen?  Probably not.  In the mean time, I have chocolate and macaws to look after.

January 5th 2008

On the evening of the 30th I returned from my afternoon watch at the blind-Nemo still in the nest box.  Adults nearby.  Wondering more and more if Nemo will be able to fly when he does eventually try to leave the nest (note: he has a congenital spine deformation).  I was feeling grumpy and slightly ill, looking forward to another long afternoon of waiting.  And as I walked up to the house, my whole body feeling heavy, there was Steve.  I couldn't believe it-I was absolutely shocked.  Steve and Carmen had arrived by foot with all their bags after being helped to the river with horses from Veintiuno.  Steve had finally arrived.  Not just in Trini with Carmen, or at, at Tres Palmeras.  And so I was totally thrown for a loop and did not write a thing in my journal for 6 days. 

January 8th 2008

A hot, mosquito-filled night.  The great-horned owl fledglings are screeching breathily near by tent and two tropical screech owls are trilling from the forest.  I have the rain fly off my tent but I am dripping sweat anyways.  The stars are out.  It's a beautiful night, but hard to enjoy from anywhere except a well-ventilated tent.  A potoo just wailed, joining the chorus of night songs.  I just killed yet another "last mosquito" inside my tent. 

Steve is next to me, writing in his own journal and flipping through the bird book.  We walked to Isla Grande today to make use of our newly built blind.  The goal: get photos of the faces of the adults.  We constructed the new blind very close to the nest cavity with this goal in mind, and spend a lot of time camouflaging it so not to unduly alarm the parabas.  With a full day in the blind, I was sure we would succeed in our mission...but alas, the adults didn't ever enter the cavity.  They arrived very nearby twice, but seemed nervous and shortly began screaming and left the area.  Did they see us through our peep hole in the blind?  Or is something wrong in the nest?  We didn't hear a peep out of Blecs for the entire 6 hours (Note: Blecs is the single BTM chick of the Isla Grande nest, named after Brent, using the locals' pronunciation of his name).  Could it be normal for him to be so quiet?  We are all a little worried but only tomorrows nest check will tell.  I think (and hope!) that chubby little Blecs is fine.  He is so fat-maybe his parents decided to put him on a pre-fledging diet. 

Steve with Blecs

Steve’s photo of the Isla Grande male at the nest (taken from our blind)

In other news, we have mostly ruled out malaria as the cause of Carmen's strange illness and are now suspecting that it's just a little dengue fever.  All of her joints have been aching for 3 weeks and she is tired and has lots of headaches.  Poor Carmencita with her denguito.  I am exhausted from so much walking during the past 2 days: to the Crowned Eagle nest and back on the 7th, then to Isla Grande.  And with all the water flooding my Wellies and the sun beating down oppressively and the mud sucking and slurping at my 3-sizes too large boots...I am very, very tired.

January 9th 2008

It is a sunny, breezy afternoon and I am sitting comfortably in my hammock, rocking in the shade by the house.  The family from Buena Hora is visiting and Don Cuto is yelling into the radio, trying to communicate through the static.  Children are running around laughing and the guira cuckoo is moaning its melancholy lament from the top of the tamarind tree.  Señora Teresa (from Buena Hora) and Señora Luz are sitting on the bench outside the door, talking quietly and Teresa's two teenage girls alternately sit quietly with the women and play with their tiny, 5-year-old sister and Luz's two kids.  Cows are milling about on the other side of the fence and the herd of mares and yearlings have finally calmed down and are standing quietly in the shade, rather than charging around the yard like half-ton, headless chickens.  Steve and Carmen are at Isla Grande with two of the tamer mares, checking on Blecs.  They left around 10 a.m., planning just to climb and then come straight back, so they should be back any time now.  Actually I am a little worried about them...maybe I should have gone along to help out in case something went wrong with the horses.  The other day one of Marco's mares reared up and flipped over backwards the after stepping on an caiman (small alligator) that was resting, hidden in the flooded savannah.

Okay, now it's an hour later and Carmen and Steve are back.  Of course everything is fine-with the horses and with Blecs too-todo bien.  Carmen says Blecs is as fat as ever, so I guess he's just a quieter chick than the ones I'm used to. 

January 10th 2008

A dark, windy day.  The first drops of the rainstorm beginning to fall.  Me in my hammock, strung between two Cacao trees, feet dangling.  A lazy day and finally, for the moment a bit of peace and quiet-the children are not screaming and running in circles anymore, thank God.  My hammock has been hanging next to the house, under the overhang roof, but the screaming children drove me so insane as I was trying to read that I moved my hammock to the far corner of the yard to get a bit of peace.  Now it looks like the rain might run me right back to the house.  I love the sound of the wind in the trees, the parrots chirping and screeching, the monkeys snorting and roaring...but the children and the dogs make me insane sometimes.  Why is it the screeching parrots are music to my ears, but howling children not so much....?  The family here at Palmeras is wonderful, but sometimes I miss the peace of the campamento.

Bird notes: Isla Grande January 11th
Sunbittern: Soft, melodious trill, 1-2 seconds, all one note?