Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Choroní and Chuao

We spent a long holiday weekend at Cacaoni Lodge in Choroní with a beach day and a day trip to nearby Chuao. What holiday? Oh, doesn't everyone celebrate the birthday of Simón José Antonio de la Santísima Trinidad Bolívar Palacios Ponte y Blanco? Simón Bolívar is da man! Well, as long as I get a day off for him.

Choroní is about 3 hours from Caracas with the last good bit of it over curvy mountain roads from Maracay through a beautiful National Park area. Playa Grande is near town but the lodge took us and half a dozen other guests to an exclusive beach by boat. We also toured the cacao/cocoa plantation in nearby Chuao which is a town accessible by boat. Choroní has a mountain road but Chuao is completely blocked off by the mountains.

here's the mountain overlook where we stopped along the way to Choroní

The Cacaoni Lodge is wonderful with a great pool, covered outdoor dining area, and gourmet food that was always good. Everyone eats the same 5 course dinner at the same time so be on time. It wasn't an issue for us but a few people threw their system out of whack since their preparation was geared towards everything being served at once. There was also a pre-breakfast of fruit provided on a tray to the room at 8:30 and breakfast at 9:30 but it's more of an everything at once deal so not as much of a problem being late for it.

The room was minimalistic but the secluded outdoor area for each room had a hammock, tub (or private pool as they called it), and shower. Yep, cleaning up was done outside. Thankfully the toilet was inside.

Down that hole in the fence were steps to the river. You could hear it softly babbling from the pool and dining. It added to the relaxation experience of the place. It's also where we got riverside massages on our arrival day. Chévere!

The next day we went to the beach. I was thinking we were taking the truck to Playa Grande but I was mistaken in a good way. The truck took us to a boat which headed west a bit to an exclusive beach for us few guests. They had umbrellas, chairs, and some guys to provide us drinks all day and some food for lunch. It was a great day for maximum chill.

today's goal... nada

Back in town you could get street vendor cachapas by the port but we had our little resort to get to for dinner so we passed on this:

The next day we did the cocoa plantation tour to Chuao which is a town only accessible by boat. Everything they have for building everything including all vehicles and a full sized bus was brought by boat. The guide claimed they strapped together 4 of the boats like we were in and put a platform on it to bring the bus. It sounds fishy but it could be true.

The plantation is all around the town and the different varieties of cocoa plants are everywhere for the town to harvest. We just kind of wandered along the road and were told about it. We just wandered around somewhat aimlessly it seemed. We kind of expected a big production facility but it was all small handmade artisanal craft from harvest to chocolate making which we didn't get to see. The cocoa pods are pretty big. We saw them all over the trees like below.

See that truck above? We rode that back to the port so we didn't have to walk back. This appeared to be the primary option other than a few motorcycles and walking.

cocoa beans (cacao) drying in the sun

the peeling machine

dancing devils 

just wandering through town 

a footbridge to the right (off camera) or walk through where the truck crosses

They gathered up the cocoa beans from earlier and put it in the room for something. It was a dark room with a big concrete area to store it. I don't remember why. My wife translated it for me but I can't be expected to remember everything. Come to Venezuela, take a car for 3 hours and suffer nearly half of that over curvy mountain roads, ride a boat for another long while on a bumpy sea, and then hike to the town square with a guide and maybe you'll know what it's all about. All I know is the end result is chocolate. Sweet delicious chocolate... mmmm....

Notice any issues with these police cars? I don't think they're used so much.

Lunch at the roadside restaurant. Apparently I didn't take a pic of the restaurant so I'll have to explain. It was literally hanging off the side of the road and our tables and chairs were sitting in the road. There was enough room behind my chair for the people moving truck to pass so it was all good. 

We sat at another little beach for a bit, which was fine, but I didn't take pictures of that one. You see a sliver of it in this parting shot as we left:

 That was the weekend in a nutshell or cocoa shell or cocoa pod or whatever. This might be our last big Venezuela unique experience as that clock keeps counting down. There will be a lot to miss about this assignment.

Additional Info from Wikipedia for cocoa beans where I see Venezuela isn't a top 10 producer:

The three main varieties of cocoa plant are Forastero, Criollo, and Trinitario. The first is the most widely used, comprising 80-90% of the world production of cocoa. Cocoa beans of the Criollo variety are rarer and considered a delicacy. Criollo plantations have lower yields than those of Forastero, and also tend to be less resistant to several diseases that attack the cocoa plant, hence very few countries still produce it. One of the largest producers of Criollo beans is Venezuela (Chuao and Porcelana). Trinitario (from Trinidad) is a hybrid between Criollo and Forastero varieties. It is considered to be of much higher quality than Forastero, has higher yields, and is more resistant to disease than Criollo.

We've really taken for granted all of this locally made delicacy chocolate we've been eating the past 2 years!

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