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Updated: Feb 18, 2019

Kristin and I with San Pedro Volcano behind us on Lake Atitilan, Guatemala

Kristin and I met a wonderful young man, named Felix, while in Mexico, who became like a brother to us. When he asked if he could tag along on our adventure to Guatemala we were thrilled to have him join us for the trip. We drove together in our trusty 2003 Volkwagen Jetta, loaded to the roof with our belongings, things were pretty tight just with Kristin and I! With Felix riding along with us, boxes and all manner of things would go sliding across the car when I went around the countless hairpin corners too fast and he would laugh hysterically while he held everything together in the back seat. Having him with us really helped us keep the mood light (Kristin had a quick and vicious bout of food poisoning the night before our early morning departure) and to enjoy the experience of driving through some of the most beautiful and remote parts of Mexico.

Felix laughing hysterically after doing yoga with us on the balcony in Progresso, Yucatan, Mexico.

For two long days we drove together from Merida, Yucatan, Mexico, to Lago de Atitlan in Guatemala. To be honest, I drove the whole way as the roads were pretty sketchy, narrow and in a general state of disrepair. We also discovered on our travels that in many parts of Mexico people drive like a flock of birds which can be both beautiful and dangerous. The first night as we arrived in Ocosingo, Chiapas, we spent at least an hour creeping along a dirt road in very heavy fog with pedestrians, dogs and cattle walking along the side of the road. I distinctly remember Felix saying “I’m glad you’re driving!”

Steering with my knee while eating elote (fire roasted corn) in Chiapas, Mexico

Then on the second day we arrived at the Guatemalan border and it just so happened that they were having a huge fiesta in that village, which delayed our crossing, but allowed us to watch the local horsemen put on quite a show! Felix had assured us from his previous experience that the Guatemalan border could be pretty sketchy, so this was a welcome sight as everyone seemed happy and relaxed. Later that day when we drove past a city in south-western part of Guatemala called Quetzaltenango, there was a break in the clouds that we had to pull over to capture.

A couple of the beautiful steeds and their fearless riders from the fiesta!

Rays of sunshine bursting through the cloud cover as we headed toward the lake.

It was quite the climb to get into the mountainous region, called the Central Highlands, where Lake Atitlan rests nestled between the volcanoes. Then a wild and windy roller coaster ride back down to the Lake where we encountered a chicken bus that had taken one of the corners down to the lake a bit too sharp and was high-centered. We waited patiently in the dark and they finally retrieved a truck to pull the bus out of the way so that what little traffic had accumulated could continue descending the winding road down to the lake.

The morning misty vista in the mountains.

We finally arrived at the little casita that my mom was renting and parked our little car by the village square for the night. We got ourselves settled in for the next few days, getting to know the small lakeside community and its many walking paths, curiosity shops and cafes. My mom had begun to host some women's #cacao circles in the little house she had rented and I remember Kristin had attended the first one and had a lot of fun. Singing and sharing songs is a fun part of my mom’s #cacao ceremonies, as she knows a lot of medicine songs and has written quite a few of her own too. I remember quite a few new songs being born from those first few circles she hosted and those who attended were happy to share some of the songs they had learned at other conscious gatherings.

Kristin and I on one of the many narrow footpaths that run through San Marcos la Laguna.

After the first few days we were in San Marcos I can remember Kristin and I saying to each other, “We can’t leave here after only a week... that would be crazy!” We had made plans to take our 200-Hour yoga teacher training together in Mazunte the following week. We were both excited about the training, however we agreed that a yoga teacher training can be done anytime, however, driving to Guatemala was likely a once in a lifetime occurrence! Felix decided that he would love to attend the training in our place, and he quickly found another young lad who was also interested, so later that week they departed to take our spots for the training. Wow, what a world! The synchronicity is magic.

The view across Lake Atitlan from San Marcos with two of the three volcanoes in view.

During our first week in San Marcos I remember a few things very distinctly: going to our first #cacaoceremony on Keith’s porch, running out of water for several days and having to walk down to the lake with a 5 gallon bucket to flush the toilet and do dishes and realizing how incredible the whole vibe was in San Marcos. It reminded us both of being back on #VancouverIsland, where we had been living before we had decided to travel. Lots of conscious events to choose from, so many different yoga classes, healing modalities, drum circles, workshops, etc. It was really amazing to be so so far away from “home” and yet most of the people in the community there were travelers from all over the world and somehow it felt like a home away from home.

Cacao ceremony with Keith, the Chocolate Shaman, on "The Porch".

We had heard a lot about Keith from mom and our friend, Joanna, so we were pretty intrigued to sit on the porch and see what his ceremonies were like. I remember being amazed at how many people showed up for his #cacaoceremonies, people would be squished in like sardines, and amazingly enougn, I don’t remember anyone spilling their cup of cacao! Barbara, Keith's partner, brought out tray after tray with 10 cups or so on each, as well as spices and cane sugar so everyone had the chance to make it as spicy and sweet as needed. I distinctly remember counting one day when there was an exceptional amount of participants and there were 55 of us curious cacao lovers packed in there!

A particularly delicious cacao elixir created and captured by my sweetie, Kristin Allan.

Keith held regular #cacaoceremonies every week on Sunday and Wednesday from 12:30-5, sometimes even 6:00. On Mondays there were crystal ceremonies for people who were “experienced” #cacao drinkers, where Keith would spread out his incredible collection of crystals and gemstones for the group to enjoy. Keith was a geologist in one of his former lives so he has an incredible knowledge of the stones and also their subtler energetic qualities. It was so amazing to be able to hold some of the larger crystal balls, smoky quartz pieces and stones that I’d never even seen or heard of. These were usually more intimate ceremonies where we got to know some of the more “serious students” of Keith’s very non-traditional “school for light workers, healers etc” that were diving deep into their own emotional processing and healing work.

A picture of my drum on a bench at the "Porch", Keith and Barbara's house.

We rented a simple casa (house) right around the corner from Keith and Barbara’s place for 7 weeks of our stay in San Marcos, which was about as convenient as it got to attend their ceremonies. We also had the great pleasure of getting invited to package some cacao while we were there, as they would seek out volunteers to help package about 300 pounds of cacao in the evening after ceremonies. As a volunteer, at that point in time, you could have your choice of a free ceremony, free pound of cacao paste or pound of cacao beans. Since there were two of us, we exchanged a lot of our bagging for #cacao paste that allowed us to do our own inner journeying on the days between Keith’s ceremonies. We both had some deeply profound experiences of using Keith’s Cacao on our own and we did a lot of work to get more clarity about our direction in life.

A group picture from bagging cacao one evening. Do we look happy or what!

While in San Marcos we participated in a one week liiqud #fast where a local school organization raised enough funding in one week to feed close to 60 underprivileged kids, pregnant mothers and elders for a whole year! We had experimented a bit with #fasting before that, however it was quite profound to use #keithscacao every day while we were fasting and go on shamanic drumming journeys while our bodies were purified and nourished deeply from the inside out. We also read several amazing books in the time we spent in San Marcos including one about Plant Spirit Shamanism that helped guide us to deepen our connection with the #cacaospirit. We also entered into a dieta (longer intimate diet with the medicine plant of choice) with at least a ceremonial dose of cacao each day for weeks on end. Let's just say we got to know the Spirit of Cacao REALLY well. I also read books about cosmic consciousness as well as an online book about a Polish man’s experience of not eating any solid food for over two years! I did another fast of 11 days on just liquids and it was one of the times when I experienced the highest levels of clarity in my whole life to that point.

Kristin and our Canadian "sister" Michelle, bagging Cacao one evening.

One weekend we were lucky enough to experience the Festival of Consciousness which was a 3 day buffet of events, hosted by locals and different #yoga, #meditation, #dance, #counselling, #alternativemedicine and #soundhealers. I remember one of the events very distinctly, a #crystal #singingbowl #soundjourney where the man hosting was surrounded by at least a dozen crystal singing bowls. We got there early and I remember Kristin asking me, “Where are you going?”, “As close to those singing bowls as I can get!”, I replied, as we both laid down on yoga mats directly beside his blanket. There were dozens of people under a huge open-air palapa and for an hour he took everyone on quite a wild ride using the different vibrations to stimulate different feelings and sensations as well as memories and visions. We knew we wanted to find some of those magical crystal bowls back home in Canada!

Kristin and I were inspired to buy our own crystal singing bowls by the experience had at the Festival of Consciousness.

Through the experiences that we had using #keithscacao as well as those we witnessed while sitting in Keith’s ceremonies, we recognized that this subtle yet powerful medicine was too good not to share with the world. We considered what this would look like for the two of us as we had just started our new business, One World Wellness (www.oneworldwellness.info) mere months before we left on our adventure. We had also coined a name for our #cacaoceremony “business” as Cacao Connection (www.cacaoconnection.info). So as our visit to Guatemala came to a close, we considered how much of #keithscacao we would take with us back to Canada. In the end we decided on 150 pounds- I know, it sounds a bit crazy, but after all the experiences we had while at the lake, this seemed like a logical decision to help spread this amazing medicine as much as possible along our travels, as well as when we arrived back home on Vancouver Island.

It was pretty special to be able to package some of the cacao that we took with us back to Canada.

Little did we know that we would only be back in #Canada for six weeks and then we headed back out on the road to help one of Kristin’s oldest friends who was preparing to birth her first child in Houston, Texas that August. I remember loading up the car on May 1, 2015, pulling down to Keith’s “warehouse” where his happy-go-lucky Mayan friend and business partner, Izaias, helped me load the three boxes full of cacao into our car. We said goodbye to my Mom as she was heading across the lake to an event focused on cacao ceremony, sound healing and kirtan. It was hard for us to drive away from Lago de Atitlan that day...it is such a magical place. Keith used to say in his ceremonies that that part of the planet was 1-2 years ahead of the rest of the world as far as the level of consciousness and we could certainly attest to that. We had both undergone a major shift in consciousness by using cacao, fasting, and sticking with our daily yoga practice. Little did we know that our journey with #cacao had only just begun!

We grabbed some fruit on our way out of town and headed back to the border of Mexico.

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Updated: Feb 18, 2019

The Journey Begins:

In the summer of 2014 my mom, Cori Ellingson, returned from spending the winter in Mexico volunteering at a retreat center in the state of Oaxaca. It was there that she discovered strange looking little beans in a cupboard, which upon further examination turned out to be Cacao Beans. She told us how she toasted some and the staff began to eat the beans each dayy and that they noticed how much more loving they were towards each other.

A bean a day keeps the heart open!

While volunteering there she heard stories of a man named Keith, whom many people referred to as the “Chocolate Shaman”, who was living at a beautiful lake in Guatemala. Mom and a new friend named Joanna that she had been volunteering with at the retreat center decided to make the two day bus trip from where they were in Oaxaca to Lake Atitlan. They were determined to meet this man and experience the Cacao Ceremonies that he was hosting at his home in San Marcos.

Intrepid Explorers: Mom and Joanna at Lake Atitlan.

They were both blown away by their experience there at the ceremonies that Keith and his partner Barbara host twice a week on the "Porch" for up to 50 people at a time. My mom returned to Canada with 25 pounds of Keith's 100% pure ceremonial grade cacao paste, which she had purchased from him before leaving Lake Atitlan. Along with the blocks of Cacao paste she had also brought back several pounds of the toasted and peeled beans which she was happy to share with us.

Cacao Ceremony on Keith's Porch 2015

When my mom shared with us about the amazing shift that was possible by eating just a few of these beans each day, we were both a bit skeptical. She warned us that they were a “truth serum” and that eating them would allow you to become more truthful with yourself and in turn others, which at the time we both took with a grain of salt. She also suggested to take a few before exercising as I was quite an avid runner at the time so I would eat 10 or so before my runs and I noticed quite a bit more energy and less fatigue. I distinctly remember eating the beans before I ran a fairly difficult trail race later that summer that was double the distance I’d previously been running in training and I placed 3rd place for my age bracket which far exceeded my expectations.

Mom began to host Cacao Ceremonies that summer and both Kristin and I were curious and also interested to help, so I would smudge each participant at the door before they entered the space where we gathered. Mom would smudge the whole space before we started and sometimes I would do that too while she and Kristin were setting up the altar. I noticed a shift in myself, the opening of my heart and my ability to communicate in a much more open and honest way. The ceremonies that we attended helped us to see what was possible when people gathered together with the intention of drinking cacao to work on heart opening.

Drumming and Chanting with Cody Bear at one of Mom's Ceremonies

That fall Mom went away to Mexico again, this time extending an invitation to us to meet her in Merida where she had a friend who had approached her about writing her life story. We considered our options and decided that getting invited to visit Mexico with an open invitation of a place to stay sounded like too good of an opportunity to turn down. We hit the road driving south from Vancouver Island in mid-December and met mom in Merida just before New Year’s Eve 2014. We enjoyed spending several weeks with mom’s new friend, Melvy, who was very welcoming and hilarious to be around.

Kristin and I in Merida with Melvy and Mom

After spending some time with Melvy, Mom, Kristin and I all wound up staying at a hostel on the beach north of Merida in a small town called Progresso. Mom offered to host a Cacao Ceremony on the Saturday night of our stay, before she had planned to head back down to “the lake” (Atitlan) in Guatemala for a couple of months. About 15 people from the community and the hostel came to the Cacao Ceremony and everyone loved it so much that the Chilean couple who was managing the hostel asked Kristin and I if we would host another ceremony the following Saturday?

The place where our Cacao Ceremony journey began!

Us? Well we didn’t know how to do that, we had no “training”, no “certification”, no “credentials” and felt we weren’t the right ones to be sharing that type of gathering. "Hahaha!" I still remember Bernardo and Natalia laughing and saying how “That doesn’t matter, you’re in Mexico, there’s no one analyzing your credentials here! If you want to offer something then just DO IT!” Oh boy, we weren’t even sure where to start, but Mom had "mysteriously" left us 5 pounds of Keith's Cacao and that was no accident.

We are still so grateful to Bernardo and Natalia for encouraging us to host our first ceremony!

So regardless of what we were thinking, we decided to say yes. I still remember now how nervous I felt, trying to learn how to open sacred space the way I had observed my mom doing so since I was a young man receiving Reiki sessions from her at her home in Calgary. I did research on the factual information about Cacao, which was important for us to share as correctly as possible as well as considering and detailing the list of topics we would cover during the ceremony. I still have it all in a journal and I joke about forgetting to bring it with me at our ceremonies now. ”Darn I guess we will just have to wing it”, which is the new normal for us now that we have hosted almost 70 Cacao Ceremonies in the past three and a half years.

We dove right in and haven't looked back since February 2015!

I understood from my experience helping mom how important it was to clear the space with sage, smudging the whole area we would use for the ceremony and then smudging each guest as they entered. This helps to clear the space of any negativity or stale energy as well as to “brush off” any negative energy that a person is carrying with them before they enter the space. Smudging also sets the tone for each person to acknowledge the fact that they are entering into a sacred space and doing so in a very particular way.

Wow, did we learn a LOT during those first 5 ceremonies we hosted, from learning how to plan together what activities or conversations we would open up to the group as well as leading guided meditations. It was all a huge leap for us as we’d never even considered doing anything like this before. Learning to keep the conversation flowing in a harmonious manner and keeping the tone of conversion positive and loving were just a couple of the many lessons we learned those first few times hosting ceremonies.

Practicing yoga on the rooftop balcony at the hostel in Progresso.

Kristin and I had registered for a 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training program that was being offered in a small beach town called Mazunte on the Pacific coast of Oaxaca, Mexico. We decided to leave Progresso early so that we would have time to go down to Lake Atitlan to see mom and visit Keith on our way to Mazunte, as it was only a few hours out of the way. How many times are you going to be driving right past Guatemala in your own car? We had planned to spend a week in the tiny lakeside community of San Marcos la Laguna where Keith, the “Chocolate Shaman” hosted ceremony each Sunday and Wednesday.

These were some of the small potholes we encountered!!

The roads through rural Guatemala left much to be desired and our trusty little VW Jetta made the trek down the mountainous road to the lake, which is the crater of a volcanic eruption that happened some 84,000 years ago. The lake is surrounded by 3 awesome volcanoes, one of which I got the opportunity to hike to the peak of with a friend who we had met in Mexico at the hostel. Little did we know that the lake and her vortex of energy had other plans for us than going to learn about Yoga in Oaxaca the following week. To be continued...

Cacao Connection 2020