The Yoga of Cacao
In the summer of 2017 after completing our yoga teacher training were doing our best to decide how we could make the most of our own unique gifts and abilities. We debated many options and after a series of synchronistic events we were being guided to host retreats the following winter and it made perfect sense for us to host some of our retreats with the focus being cacao and cacao ceremony. Over the years we had received a lot of feedback from participants of our cacao ceremonies saying that they would be thrilled to be able to just roll out their sleeping bags and camp out with the group after we closed sacred space. This was the inspiration for our "Spirit of Cacao" retreats where participants were invited to attend 3 cacao ceremonies during the week-long retreat.
Kristin and I had never ventured to plan any events that were more than one day long so this felt like a huge leap of faith for us. We decided to say yes and see how we would be supported and guided through the emergence of this process. It felt daunting to try and fill 13 weeks of retreats ourselves and once we put the idea out to our community of friends and family we were pleasantly surprised how much support we had behind us.
We stayed put in Pennsylvania until late October of 2017 and after we celebrated Kristin's father's 70th birthday, we packed our car (to the roof!) and headed for Mexico. We made plans to stay in a few places along our journey so we could continue to spend time planning and organizing the retreats and coordinating our travel plans for the two months before we would arrive at the retreat center. We felt blessed to spend one week in the magical town of San Miguel de Allende, where we walked the cobblestone streets with our toques on in the chilly mornings and explored the many beautiful shops and markets. It felt pretty funny that many of our friends and family thought we were just on a big holiday, although that couldn't have been further from the truth. We spent 6-8 hours a day working on the retreat planning and pulling all the information together to make sure we would be organized enough once we arrived in Oaxaca.
After we left San Miguel we continued our drive down through the center of Mexico, stopping in Puebla and Oaxaca City on our way to Puerto Escondido on the coast of Oaxaca where we would host our retreats. It was on the windy mountainous drive between Oaxaca City to Puerto Escondido that we encountered these beautiful cacao trees growing on the side of the road. We pulled over to get a closer look, marveled at the uniqueness of the way the fruit grew right off the side of the tree trunk and nearly on the ground. We visited (in our very basic Spanish) with the family who were the stewards of these cacao trees and they happily showed us around the whole property. They were drying coffee on a basketball court as well as growing bananas and many other fruits in the beautiful jungle setting they called home.
We had not been able to obtain any of Keith's Cacao for the past year and since we had a plan to offer cacao ceremonies in our retreats we knew that we would have to find a way to either get to Guatemala or make arrangements to acquire cacao in another way. Luckily we had developed a nice relationship with Keith and Barbara while we were in Guatemala. We reached out to them to see if there was any way we could have cacao sent with someone who was heading to Mexico from Lake Atitlan. Luckily we were able to make arrangements with a mutual friend who was able to meet us in San Cristobal de Las Casas, a lovely city in the southern most state of Chiapas, Mexico. We were so grateful that we would be able to use Keith's Cacao for our cacao ceremonies at the retreats. We've sampled over a dozen types of "Ceremonial Grade Cacao" but none have felt as powerful (or palatable!) on all levels as Keith's.
Once again we were on "holidays" in San Cristobal, A.K.A. working our butts off making phone calls, video chats and making video content for our YouTube channel. Feel free to check out the content we created for the retreats on our YouTube channel as well as some interesting interviews that have been conducted by us of our friends and family. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCrFvbNBFLwE3K1tEtvhf6uQ/videos
We returned to the retreat center in Puerto Escondido in early December as we‘d agreed to do a work exchange on the property to help upgrade and beautify the existing space so it was highly functional for the retreats. This turned out to be one of the most physically demanding experiences either of us has ever had. Simply trying to get anything done in the heat and humidity of Puerto Escondido was almost impossible for 3-5 hours each day. We were grateful to be able to have that time prior to the retreats to get to know the community, help make the center more functional and also get acclimated to the heat in the six weeks we spent at Los Milagritos. Here are just a few of the photos we took of the many projects we took on during our time at the retreat center including, painting, building a rooftop bathroom in the palapa and building a table to expand the counter space for food prep and storage in the outdoor kitchen.
Part way through our time at Los Milagritos we were joined by my mom, Cori, and a friend of ours who had initially ventured to Guatemala with my mom in 2014 to visit Keith and learn about ceremonial grade cacao and cacao ceremony. We made plans to celebrate the New Year with a cacao ceremony around the fire pit on the property and started talking about visiting a cacao farm while we were all there together prior to the retreats. Kristin and I discovered an amazing waterfall that was near Puerto Escondido and we wound up taking mom there to “celebrate” Christmas Day in our own unique way. Kristin and I also hosted several cacao ceremonies in the palapa at the retreat center that were open to the community, all of which were incredibly unique in their own ways.
The first ceremony we hosted was attended by several of the local women who only spoke Spanish, and luckily our host at the retreat center also joined us and graciously translated for us. It felt like a pretty momentous occasion to be returning to these ladies the traditional sacred use of cacao in ritual as it is something of a lost art in many parts of Mexico and Central America. With the rise of companies like Hershey’s and Nestle our understanding of chocolate has been watered down to the point of barely resembling the original cacao paste that is the starting ingredient in all chocolate.
Our second ceremony involved a family of four guests, two of whom were husband and wife, just married the week before and the groom’s younger brother and mother. The wife was multilingual so once again we were grateful that she was able to translate for her new family as they were from Colombia. Kristin and I did our best to express ourselves simply in Spanish, at one point explaining that ceremonial grade cacao can be lethal to gatos (cats), perros (dogs), caballos (horses) and pajaros (birds). The funniest thing was that we mispronounced pajaro as "parejas" (meaning couples) and the husband and wife looked wide eyed at us, asking “this cacao shouldn’t be used by couples!?” It was a profound experience for them and a nice way of deepening their relationship by sharing this heart centered and loving cacao ceremony together.
As the time for our New Year’s Cacao and Fire Ceremony approached we realized that we would have six cacao ceremony facilitators from 4 countries present at the gathering including Kristin and I, mom, our friend Joanna, a friend of Joanna’s daughter named Diya from Ecuador and a woman who had just arrived in Puerto Escondido the night before who hosted cacao ceremony in Los Angeles. It was a powerful full moon gathering and we had some very deep conversations about many things including the ritual of making New Year’s resolutions. In a unifying gesture we all offered tobacco and cacao beans to the fire that night, stating the things we were feeling a need to let go of and calling in the aspects of ourselves that we were intending to be expanded upon.
In January we made arrangements to visit a cacao farm owned by a lovely couple who Joanna had met at a plant medicine course she had taken the month prior in Oaxaca. Kristin, Mom, Joanna and I all piled into our trusty Ford Escape, affectionately named the “Green Goddess” and headed for the mountains. It was about a 3 hour drive and around 1 hour of it was on very rough dirt roads and hilly mountain trails. Kristin and I were considering if there was a way we could take people who attended our Spirit of Cacao Retreats to a cacao farm so that they could actually see cacao growing. The main issue with this idea was that cacao likes to grow at an altitude of about 500-1500 feet which means it can take quite a while to drive to that elevation when you are at a location that is coastal.
We had an awesome adventure together that day, we are all huge cacao lovers and so were the couple we met that day. They had a relatively mature grove of cacao trees and many more new trees planted nearby. They had a beautiful permaculture farm on which they were growing pretty much every type of plant and fruit that could be cultivated in that region. We had a lovely tour of their property, which was bordered by beautiful river and small waterfall that we had a refreshing swim in. After our dip in the river our host prepared for us a traditional cacao drink made from beans that she had harvested, fermented and dried from the trees on their property. It was a beautiful offering and I remember the drink was very tasty. She also made us a traditional meal of that region for lunch which consisted of rice, beans, fried onions, peppers and nopales (cactus paddles) as well as some very interesting mushrooms, called huitlacoche that are a unique delicacy in Mexico as they fruit from corn kernels, creating an alien-like but delicious fungus.
After our trip to the cacao mountains we hunkered down to make sure we were totally ready for the retreats once they began on January 14th, 2018. My mom, Cori Ellingson, was offering the first week long retreat on the topic of Gene Keys which is a book and system created by author Richard Rudd that has been an excellent resource for personal growth and self-examination in our family and group of friends. Kristin, Joanna, Mom and I spend the two weeks prior to the retreat delving into one of the aspects of study called the Venus Sequence which helps us understand our path to personal growth through opening your heart in relationships of all kinds.
I will save a whole blog post to share our experiences of hosting cacao ceremony with the groups we hosted in Oaxaca at Los Milagritos so please feel free to subscribe to our mailing list to get a notification when that is uploaded to the website for your cacao infused enjoyment!