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Planting Cacao Seeds in Oaxaca

Updated: Feb 18, 2019

Kristin standing in mango heaven on the side of the road in Oaxaca.

We said adios to the magical mountain town of San Cristobal de las Casas and slowly drove down toward the coastal town of Mazunte, the town we were supposed to do our Yoga Teacher Training at two months prior. The instructor had agreed to refund us our money as we had sent our friend, Felix, and another young man from Australia to fill our spaces. We approached sea level and could see a HUGE orchard in the distant lowlands ahead and we wondered what was being grown in such vast areas. When we realized it was mangoes we thought we'd died and gone to heaven! Neither of us knew that mangoes grew in so many different sizes, shapes colors and varieties. What a treat in the intense tropical heat! The man with the booth insisted on giving us samples of nearly every type of mango until we had belly aches. We bought ourselves a crate of about 50 Atulfo mangoes (You know, the normally pricey and delicious little yellow ones) for 50 pesos, or about $4. Amazing.

A smorgasbord of mangoes with our trusty VW Jetta in the background!

We stayed for one night in the small beach side town called Mazunte, Oaxaca, which is a surfing town with lots of international travelers and yoga schools. Apparently there had been a really big storm not long before our arrival and there were massive 45-foot tidal waves that had hit the coast there. We had no idea at the time but we were wondering why it seemed like the people around there were pretty haphazard with their boat parking locations! We had breakfast the next morning at a small second floor cafe on the beach, and we were watching this man sweeping what looked to us like the beach. We later learned about the wave and realized that the beach had come ashore!

There was a whole parking lot under where this man was sweeping. The beach started on the other side of the thatched roof in front of him, at least most days it did...

Kristin and I had been contacted by a man whom my mom had met while she was volunteering at a healing retreat center in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, the previous winter. While we were all together in Guatemala, he had asked my mom if she would run his retreat center for six months and she said only if he would hire Kristin and I to be the Assistant Managers with her. He seemed to have no problem with that, however, after talking about it quite a bit we decided that being in Mexico for the summer months was not our preference. The man who owned the retreat center had then asked that Kristin and I stop in there on our drive north up the coast of Mexico and check in on the staff that he had left in charge of the place while he traveled home to Europe for a few months.

A beautiful beach in Mazunte, Oaxaca on our way driving back up the coast of Mexico.

We had agreed to stay at the retreat center in Puerto Escondido for a week and let him know how things were going, which seemed a bit odd, as we realized after we had arrived that he hadn’t even let the staff know that we were coming. It became very clear to us that this was not due to a lack of communication on his part, rather that it was intentional...we were retreat spies. There were three lovely young folks running the retreat center, two of which were very happy and cheerful and one that was not very happy or easy to work with. We will call her Sally. Sally was not very good at communicating, which made it incredibly challenging for the three of them to run the center smoothly.

There were several paying guests staying and they quickly began to share with us, without any inquiry, how different their experience had been in comparison to what the promotional material had said it would be. Needless to say, the staff clued in to the fact that we were kind of “spying” on them for the owner which was a bit uncomfortable for us as we had never even met the man who had previously managed the retreat. Mom and our good friend Joanna had told us of their experience with him which was a year prior and it had sounded quite good, for the most part.

Mom and Joanna had met at the retreat center in Puerto Escondido in the Winter of 2013/14

We facilitated daily morning group discussions where we used non-violent communication and a talking stick (where each person has a turn to speak their truth) to try and smooth out the situation with the core management team. It was a great exercise for us to facilitate and it did seem to help on some level to at least give everyone a chance to say how they were feeling, which was a lot more than was happening outside of those morning meetings. At times, we all need a chance to speak and be heard in order to get some clarity for ourselves in our life situations.

We decided that a group #cacaoceremony was the best option for us to try and help to support the group, particularly the management team, to open up and communicate clearly with each other. There were also a couple of guests staying who were not paying and there was some funny business happening between Sally and these guests that was strange for everyone. It was one of the most interesting #cacaoceremonies we had facilitated, as we had never had a particular focus for the group at any #ceremony up until that point, and it was fairly uncomfortable for some of the participants.

#CacaoCeremony coming right up!

All things considered, we thought the #cacaoceremony was a huge success. The guests and management got to open up to each other about what had happened and was currently happening and share some very honest conversations. Needless to say, Sally hated the whole thing, even refusing to have her picture taken with the group afterwords! Oh boy, what a range of experiences we have been able to witness for ourselves and others through doing this work, and to think that this was just the beginning!

We attempted to have a Skype call with the owner later that week and let him know that things were not going very well with the staff, however the internet wasn’t working that day in rural Mexico, so I wound up writing him an epic email explaining our interpretation of the whole thing. It was not a sugar-coated email, it was straight-up, blunt and the honest truth about what was happening. He was more than partly responsible for the situation that had unfolded, which if he didn’t know beforehand, he surely did after reading my email. Over three years has passed since I wrote that email and I’ve never heard a single word from the owner, in fact I’m not sure that he ever even returned to the place once he left.

Talking with the group was after the ceremony was much easier!

When we left the retreat center and headed northward we had made ourselves at least a few new friends, one of which we have seen several times in Mexico and is like a brother to us. What a world, full of #connections that are ready to be made if you just get yourself out there into it.

Alejandro sharing some of this thoughts and wisdom with the group in Oaxaca.

Kristin and I sharing a memorable meal on an pier in Acapulco after our week at the retreat center.

We headed north along the coast, stopping for a night in Acapulco, which was a little bit too much like Las Vegas for the two of us. We then found ourselves in Zihuatanejo, looking for somewhere decent for two overheated vegans to eat and eventually stumbled into a place we found online via the website www.happycow.net called Pura Vida. The place had no sign outside, and when we got out of the car to look through the gate to see if anyone was around, a Mexican man outside who spoke perfect English invited us to come on in. The owner, Patti, a wonderful American woman from Chicago, welcomed us and prepared us an absolutely amazing raw vegan lunch while I took our car down the street to get an oil change.

Kristin and I enjoying a quiet beach near Zihuatanejo.

After lunch we expressed our need to find a hostel for the night and that’s when Patti offered us to stay with her for the night, as she had an extra bedroom and was happy to have us. Patti shared with us that she had a vision of operating a retreat center out of her home some day and we wondered if this was the foundation for a future collaboration being created. Then we started talking about cacao and it just so happened that she had cacao pods and beans, however they were dried out and had started to sprout which we had never seen. She was very intrigued about #ceremonialgradecacao as she had eaten cacao before, even mentioning that we could go see a cacao tree that someone had planted right down the street from her. We had never seen one at this point, so we were so excited.

Patti gave us two dried out #cacao pods that had germinated seeds inside.

These #cacaobeans were ready to plug into the ground and plant immediately!

These #cacaobeans had started to sprout and would have been good to plant in the right situation.

We explained our #cacaoceremony to her and she invited us to host one the next night at her place. We were a bit hesitant as it’s always best if you have some lead time to promote and let people know what is happening. We wound up hosting a #ceremony for her and one other local man who helped her around her property. This will go down as one of the times when we just needed to “show up” for who is right in front of us to do the work regardless of anything else. It was a lovely experience and I think we all got something pretty profound out of it.

Kristin and I (what a hairy beast!) with Patti's neighborhood #cacao tree.

A beautiful #cacao pod growing on the #cacao tree in Patti's neighborhood. Notice the two small white flowers behind which will become pods too!

The next day we packed up our car and said goodbye, promising to come and visit again if ever we were passing through on our travels. We got close this past year but decided to venture inland to drive through the much cooler mountains of central Mexico. Over the next few days we made our way up to the coast, staying in Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Hermosillo before we crossed the border back into the USA. We had a distinct feeling that the US border was not going to be nearly as laid back as coming into Mexico from Guatemala had been, so I found the smallest border crossing available and we headed there.

A picture of me peeling a mango at one of the state borders where they wouldn't let us past with the fruit we had just bought, so I ate several of every fruit before surrendering the rest :P

What ensued was pretty hilarious although reasonably stressful for us. For whatever reason we realized as we approached the US border crossing that we had a couple of mangoes that we hadn’t eaten so the first border official directed us to pull into an inspection stall. We used our “Go to Glow” visualization technique as we drove past a large and intimidating group of heavily-armed border guards with dogs on the way to the stall they directed us to. Two friendly and totally normal looking border guards approached our car and began to ask us questions.

K and I always see funny license plates, this was one of those on our way to the border crossing! "AHO!"

They asked us, "what’s inside the boxes?" and we told them chocolate. “Sure smells like chocolate, that’s for sure!” they agreed. We also had a couple of cacao pods, one of which was empty, dried and hidden, and the other that was still fresh, which they took. They took one of the bars of #keithscacao that we had and did some quick testing on it. When they came back they had a whole stack of paperwork and they informed us that normally we would need to have a customs agent and pay duties and taxes but they were going to let us off with a "warning" this time. We wondered why the female border guard kept asking us from different angles if we were giving the chocolate away as gifts to our friends and family! She was trying to help us out, but we were a bit slow to pick up on it.

The last thing we remembered saying to them when we told them the chocolate we had was actually #cacao, which seemed like a term they had never heard before. They made fake guns with their fingers and thumbs, pointing them at each other while laughing and saying “CACAO!, CACAO!”. What a world this is.

Desert sunset magic after crossing the border into the USofA

Cacao Connection 2020