• Tanner

Walking The Chocolate Trail

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