MAN OVERBOARD!

As the Adonia sailed south towards Cuba, Bruce and I enjoyed a typical sea day for us: a workout in the gym, dining al fresco on the aft deck, attending lectures and workshops, and walking up on deck.  It was a beautiful day, and the sea was like glass.  It was so calm that I was able to do difficult yoga balance poses in the gym without so much as a wobble.

After attending an afternoon lecture about the history of Cuba, Bruce and I were ready for a walk in the fresh air; so, we made our way upstairs.  As we walked past the card room and spa, we heard loud yelling in the hallway.  A crowd gathered around a young, college-aged man who was yelling obscenities and sounding very incoherent.  Just as I said to Bruce we needed to get security, a woman in the crowd said security had already been called.  Just as two crew members from the pool area came in and also stated security was on the way, the extremely agitated passenger bolted, stumbling as he ran to the starboard side of the ship.

It was only moments after we continued out to the pool deck that the ship’s horn blasted, and the officer of the watch announced, “Man overboard!  Man overboard!!”  Crew members darted around us, grabbed life rings hanging from the railings, and tossed them overboard.  We saw several flying into the sea.

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I turned to Bruce and said, it’s HIM!  That guy jumped!!

A flare was shot out in the direction of where the young man had jumped overboard from the spa area of the 9th deck into the sea below.  The ship abruptly changed course to circle back; a rescue operation was underway.

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As we watched from the walking track of the 10th deck, we could see life rings float away, orange smoke pouring out of the flare, and a head bobbing in the sea.  Meanwhile, the crew lowered one of Adonia’s rescue boats and sped off with a pilot and two crew.

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When their boat approached the bobbing head, the jumper started to swim away in the opposite direction!  He was alive, and he survived the jump!  From the 9th deck, the only way anybody could survive that far of a water landing would be to enter vertically.  A flat landing would result in death, we speculated.

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What amazed us is that the jumper didn’t want to be rescued.  It took several attempts of circling back until the crew was finally able to get ahold of his shoulders and drag him into the boat.  Then, one of the crew had to hold the agitated man down.

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As the rescue boat returned to the ship, we were watching the scene unfold right under us.  The rescued man was rambling incoherently and making it very difficult for the crew to transfer him to the ship.

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When he was finally safe onboard, the passengers erupted in a loud applause.  The rescue operation was a success!

Although a couple of the passengers who witnessed the entire event unfold from the very beginning told us the content of the young man’s rants, and other passengers provided details of his identity and behavior previously that day, I have omitted this information as a matter of privacy.  In addition, I have whited out the man’s face in the photos.

I am proud to reveal, however, that our ship’s captain was a British woman, and the pilot of the rescue boat was also a woman.  Congratulations to both of them and the entire crew of the Adonia for a job well done!  If there was one consistent opinion we heard expressed from other passengers about the shocking event that unfolded during our (previously) peaceful day at sea was that the crew could not have done a more excellent job!

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Later, we were informed by the captain that the jumper was being held in the medical center for observation, and he was sent to a hospital in Cuba the following day when the ship arrived in Santiago de Cuba.  He and his parents did not return…

Next up:  Santiago de Cuba:  Cuba’s Second Largest City

 

FATHOM ADONIA: CRUISE #2

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As we sailed away from the Dominican Republic last January, my heart ached to return to Chocal.  The friendly women at the co-op, Gumarcindo at the cacao nursery, and the IDDI facilitators had grown on Bruce as well.  We both wanted to return, and it seemed to be the only thing we wanted to talk about during our drive home from Miami.

By the time we returned home, we had made the firm decision to book another Fathom cruise to the D.R. and Chocal before the ship leaves for Europe in June.  Immediately after we arrived home, I headed into our house and picked up the phone to call Fathom’s office.  Since we only wanted to book a cruise if we could return to Chocal, our cruise date would be dependent on that availability.  Our first choice was sold out, and our only other availability was for a cruise that included a stop in Cuba as well.  One day in Cuba isn’t enough, and only two visits to Chocal in the D.R.  wasn’t enough either, but something was better than nothing.   With suitcases still packed in the back of our car, we were already booked for our next cruise!

It would be two-and-a-half months before our departure, but we were filled with excitement for what was to come.  During our free time, I researched Cuba and the port we would be visiting:  Santiago de Cuba, the second largest city of our mysterious neighbor, just 90 miles south of Key West, Florida.

Although Fathom has a strict policy about not bringing items for donation, there were two ideas I had for gifts I wanted to bring to Chocal:  photo notecards of each of the people I had photographed back in January, and ear plugs.

Why ear plugs?  When Bruce and I toured the factory, the noise level from the machinery was horrendous, and we noticed none of the workers used ear plugs.  By the time they reach my age, they will be deaf!  I couldn’t stop thinking about it, so I went on Amazon and purchased a box of 3M industrial-grade foam ear plugs in cardboard pouches—the same type I was given at the hospital when I had an MRI.  After a day’s work in the factory, I thought the workers could place the ear plugs back in their pouches, and put them in their pockets.  The ear plugs could be used again for several days before they would need to be replaced.  I figured I could then obtain an address where I would send more to them in the future.

On March 12, with photo notecards in hand and ear plugs in our suitcase, we boarded Fathom’s ship, Adonia, and set sail from Miami.

We knew our cohort leader, Collin, and his wife, Katie, would still be on leave, but we were happy to see many of the friendly staff we had met on our first cruise.  It felt like “home” to be back aboard this beautiful ship!

As an extra bonus, we were surprised with a free upgrade to a beautiful balcony cabin!  It was a first for us, so we couldn’t have been more thrilled.

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We looked forward to enjoying a full day at sea before our arrival to Cuba, a “bucket list” destination we had spoken many times of visiting after President Obama had loosened up travel restrictions in an agreement with Raul Castro.

What we didn’t yet know was what unbelievable event would unfold during our sea day—something most crew have never experienced during their years at sea.

Coming up next:  MAN OVERBOARD!

WELCOME TO MY WORLD! FOUR WAYS TO INVOLVE YOUR NON-SWIMMING SPOUSE OR PARTNER

This is dedicated to Bruce, my soulmate for over thirty years and husband for nearly 25 of them.  You have always been there for me, even when you thought I was nuts!  (Only you would have the patience to video my painstakingly slow 2000 yard butterfly for Butternuts.  Yes, I am a nutty Butternut!)  I love you more than ever, I’m your #1 fan, and will always remain your Aqua Dog.  Happy Valentine’s Day!

WELCOME TO MY WORLD! FOUR WAYS TO INVOLVE YOUR NON-SWIMMING SPOUSE OR PARTNER

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IT’S A WRAP: FATHOM’S IMPACT ON THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC

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Fathom Impact Travel’s mission is: “Unleash ‘Eudaemonia’ (Greek for ‘human flourishing’) through empathy-driven social impact and ‘alongsideness’.”  In addition, their mission is to “transform the lives of travelers, families, and communities for generations to come in meaningful and sustainable ways.”

Some of my research on Fathom Impact Travel activities in the Dominican Republic prior to our cruise uncovered speculation and doubt as to whether the impact was significant.  Was Fathom accomplishing its mission?

Check out the numbers our cohort leader, Colin, shared with our group during the wrap-up session aboard Adonia:

At Chocal, the goal was to contribute toward greater productivity by sorting beans and nibs, enabling the women to focus their time and resources on the more intricate chocolate-making process.  Bruce and I feel the three groups we worked with put a significant dent in the bags of dried cacao beans we sorted!  During our week at Chocal, 265 travelers cleaned 179 pounds of nibs, which equates to 5,295 finished chocolate bars!  We also packaged 5,128 chocolate products and prepared them for sale.

This was accomplished during the 18th voyage of Adonia.  The total impact of all eighteen voyages to date amounted to 4,518 lbs. of nibs cleaned, which produced 133,288 finished chocolate bars.  In all, 81,042 products were packaged and prepared for sale.  That’s a lot of chocolate!

Over at the nursery, Fathom didn’t start sending volunteers until the 7th voyage.  Since then, 19,202 cacao seeds were planted by Fathom volunteers.

Meanwhile, while we were productive at Chocal, other volunteers were participating in other projects.  Here are those numbers:

RePapel (where we volunteered on our last day in the DR)- 221 people produced 1, 185 sheets of paper during our cruise.  To date, 14,719 sheets of paper have been produced for stationary and notecards.

Reforestation- 170 people planted 1,978 seedlings in the nurseries, and 1,150 seedlings were planted from the nurseries into Dominican soil.

Concrete Floors- 140 people made concrete floors for seven homes where 23 people live.  To date, the total is 60 homes (for 246 people).  In addition, a concrete multi-use outside court was made at a school of 168 students.

Water filters- 53 people made 67 clay filters for 335 people.  To date, 1,041 filters were made benefitting 5,205 people.

These numbers don’t include the amount of hours volunteers spent teaching English to Dominican adults and children.

Do these numbers seem insignificant to you?  They sure don’t to us, nor did they to the others in our cohort group.

During our wrap-up session, we were encouraged to take this experience home with us to our own communities, and continue the mission of making the world a better place for all of us.

Personally, Bruce and I aren’t sure whether we made a greater impact on the women of Chocal and RePapel or whether we were more impacted by the experience.  What we do know is that we want to go back!  As soon as we returned home and walked in the door, we made some phone calls and got booked on another Fathom Impact Travel Cruise.  Although it didn’t work out to return for a full week in the DR, we did get booked on a voyage that will include both the DR and Cuba.  We will volunteer at Chocal twice and teach community English once while in the DR; and, the ship will call on Santiago de Cuba for a people-to-people experience.

I’m sure I will have plenty to write about after our next adventure, so stay tuned!

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Colin, our cohort leader after our wrap-up session.

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Bruce and I brought back Colin’s favorite Chocal chocolate bar to give him as our parting gift.  Unfortunately, he’ll be on leave when we return for our next cruise.

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Our new friends, Jessica, and her dad Len.  Jessica is sporting a temporary tattoo of Fathom’s logo.  This was the “prize” I won during a shipboard activity during the sailaway.

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Rayna, and her dad, Carl, came aboard with Mom and Sis.  Like Jessica and Len, they were table mates during the cruise.

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Our last sunset in the DR

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Arriving in Miami

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Quite another perspective from our cabin window!

 

 

 

 

 

 

PUERTO PLATA AND AMBER COVE

The last time I was in the Dominican Republic was the summer of 1977 when I was fifteen years old and getting ready to enter the 11th grade of high school.  It still boggles my mind to think that was forty(!) years ago.  How can that be?  I don’t even feel forty years old!

That summer of 1977, my parents took us four kids on a cruise aboard NCL’s MS Skyward.  It was our first (and only) cruise as a family, and it was my first time out of the country.

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That’s me with our tour guide in Puerto Plata, 40 years ago at the age of 15 (with a little more hair, and a few more pounds on my frame).

I was curious to see if I would remember any of Puerto Plata, and Bruce had never been there before.  Not knowing what to spend our Vacations to Go shipboard credit on, we decided to take a Fathom excursion, “Best of Puerto Plata,” on our free afternoon in the DR.

The great thing about historical sites is they don’t change.  I was sure to recognize Fort San Felipe since it was built 1564-1577!  I did (sort of) remember it.  Here is what it looked like from the eyes of a fifty-five-year-old:

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We also visited the Brugal Rum Factory.  Unfortunately, the factory was closed for the day, so we didn’t get to see it in action.

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Here are more scenes from Puerto Plata:

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Plaza Independencia

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Back at the port, Amber Cove was bustling when Carnival or Holland America shared the pier with Fathom’s Adonia and increased the tourist population by thousands.  A well-designed port with a variety of recreational activities covering 25 acres, Carnival Cruises sunk $90 million dollars into the facility and opened it for their ten cruises lines’ ships in 2015.

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Amber Cove features a gorgeous meandering pool that is free to use, and other activities for a charge, including:  zipline, kayak and other watersport rentals, and cabana rentals.  There is also a restaurant, bars, and a shopping village.

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I had my eye on the pool, so I spent one late afternoon swimming while Bruce kicked back on a lounger.

Shopping options included a mercado with local handicrafts, so I picked up this purse made from coconut palms for Melody back in Vero Beach.  For me, I added to my chocolate label collection by picking up a couple of chocolate bars produced by one of Chocal’s competitors.  Shhh!

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We were impressed with Amber Cove.  It was a beautiful place to relax and enjoy during our free time in Puerto Plata!

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Next up:  It’s a Wrap:  Fathom’s Impact on the Dominican Republic

 

 

 

 

 

RECYCLING PAPER WITH REPAPEL

When Bruce and I first committed to traveling to the Dominican Republic (the DR) aboard the Adonia and participating in Fathom’s Impact Travel program, our vision was locked on Chocal.  Volunteering at the cacao plantation and chocolate factory was what I had my heart set on, and Bruce was pleased with the plan.

Once aboard ship, though, our cohort leader, Colin, persuasively talked us into signing up to volunteer at the paper recycling co-op.  RePapel is a women’s entrepreneurship initiative which turns wasted paper from the local community into recycled paper products that are sold to consumers.

We told Colin there was no way we would give up one of our Chocal activities, though, and RePapel was booked solid for our only available time—the Friday morning before the Adonia would set sail for her return to Miami.  Sitting at 7th and 8th on the waitlist didn’t look promising; so, we opted on Friday to see if there were some no shows out at the RePapel bus.

As it turned out, we were in luck!  A lady on our Chocal bus the previous day overheard us talking about our plan.  At breakfast on Friday morning, she came over to our table to say her husband didn’t want to go; so, she wouldn’t go either.  Would we like her tickets?  Heck yeah!

Off we went to RePapel where we would help produce paper beads for jewelry and recycled paper for handicrafts to be sold by the women.

By working with the women of RePapel, we would help the ladies generate more income for their families.  The co-op allows for flexible work schedules, so the women can spend more time at home caring for their children.  Fathom’s website states, “Unemployed or underemployed local residents are able to transition to self-supporting entrepreneurs, proving that community-driven economic initiatives empower and sustain communities.”

Upon arrival at RePapel, we could hear the ladies singing.  Our group of volunteers broke out in big smiles, looked at each other, and laughed.  These ladies were having FUN!  They were very happy to see us and gave us a warm welcome, as we made our way to the courtyard where we were split up into small groups.

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Bruce and I were first sent to the jewelry workshop where we used strips of colorful paper that had been torn out from discarded magazines.  We were shown how to make paper beads; however, Bruce and I were old pros at this task, since we had taught the handicraft in arts and crafts classes aboard Royal Caribbean Cruise Line cruises.

Next, we were given a piece of cord to string a necklace from the paper beads and a variety of other beads made from dried tree seeds.  These necklaces would be sold in their gift shop.  Time was quite limited at this station, so I quickly assembled this necklace before our group was transferred to the paper recycling station:

The first step in this process is separating the clean portions of used paper from the portions with ink.  We sat on the patio in a circle with one of the ladies while we tore sheets of the paper apart to separate these portions into different bins.  While we worked, our guide answered questions about life in the DR.

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The next step in their paper recycling process was to mix the small bits of torn paper with water in a washing machine to begin breaking down the fibers in the paper.

The wet, pulpy mixture is then scooped out of the machine and dumped in a blender (yes, the same kind you have at home to make your smoothies) to further break apart the fibers.

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The fun part in the process came next.  We were given a wooden-framed screen to use as a sifter to extract the cleaned recycled paper pulp from a huge sink where it was dumped from the blender. We then took it over to a table where we turned the screen over onto a piece of cardboard, pressed the screen, and then carefully lifted the screen off the wet paper.  The newly-created paper was transferred to the cardboard to dry on racks out in the sun.

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Once the paper is dried, it is removed from the cardboard and stacked onto another table.  Here, used roll-on deodorant bottles get a second life as a manual “iron” to smooth out the screen pattern marks and wrinkles in the paper.  This required some muscle—a great dryland workout to keep my swimmers’ shoulders and arms in shape!

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These sheets of paper were ready for the women to make stationary, greeting cards, and other handicrafts for sale.  I bought a five-pack of some cute little greeting cards with matching envelopes.

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The entire time we worked side-by-side with the ladies, they sang and danced.  From what I read from another blog, this isn’t their usual workday routine.  When the Fathom volunteers come to help (for a couple of days every other week), though, they are just so happy to have us there!

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Bruce and I were happy to be there to help these entrepreneurial women, and we were thankful we had the opportunity to do one last Impact Travel activity before the ship set sail for home.

The following are scenes from the neighborhood around RePapel:

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Just outside of the co-op where they were drying work gloves and clothes out in the sun.

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I photographed this cute little barbershop from the bus window.

 

CHOCAL: FROM BEAN TO BAR

In my previous post, I described the first steps in making chocolate, and mentioned how I talked my way into a factory tour for the following day.

Orlando made good on his promise to arrange a factory tour during our second day at Chocal.  After Bruce and I worked for awhile at separating cocoa beans, Orlando escorted us to the machines off the back patio where we met up with one of the ladies.  As she explained (in Spanish) the chocolate-making process and showed us the machines, Orlando translated as I attempted to record the information on my digital recorder.  As I sit here trying to listen to Orlando’s translation, the background noise of the loud machinery is making it very difficult to hear him!  Note to self:  Purchase ear plugs for the workers, because they aren’t using any, and they are going to lose their hearing!

Picking up where we left off previously, the next step in the chocolate-making process is for those cocoa nibs to be ground up in a grinding machine to liquefy the cocoa butter and produce what is now called chocolate liquor or chocolate liquid.

Next, the chocolate liquor goes through a second refining process to further reduce the particle size of the cocoa mass.  Cocoa nibs contain approximately 53 percent cocoa butter (depending on the cacao species); so, it is during this second refining process that the percentage is either increased or decreased, depending on the desired finished product.  For chocolate bars, cocoa butter needs to be added, so the chocolate liquor is transferred to another machine where it will be combined with additional cocoa butter and other ingredients.  This process is described below.  For cocoa powder, the cocoa butter content must be reduced.  At Chocal, they use a syringe to remove as much as possible.  Next, the chocolate liquor is pressed to remove more of the cocoa butter.  Baking soda is added to the remaining cocoa and the “press cake” is cooled, pulverized, and sifted to form cocoa powder.

“Press cake” is also used to form cocoa balls for hot cocoa drinks.  This is what the ladies are making in the photo later in this post (and in the photos in my last post).

To produce eating chocolate,  extra cocoa butter is added to the chocolate liquor in a mixing machine, along with sugar and other ingredients, depending on the type of chocolate being made at the time.  In all, cocoa butter accounts for about 25 percent of the weight of most chocolate bars.

For milk chocolate, milk powder is used at Chocal, whereas fresh milk is used at Cadbury.  (If you have seen a Cadbury Milk Chocolate label, you will notice the logo showing that a “glass-and-a-half” of milk goes into each block.

After the chocolate is mixed, it is transferred to another machine to refine it.  Next the chocolate goes into a conching machine.  Conching is a kneading process that develops the flavor of the chocolate, releases some of the bitterness, and gives the resulting chocolate a smooth texture.  In general, the longer chocolate is conched, the smoother the texture will be.  It can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days.  Chocal conches their chocolate for just a few hours; however, the entire mixing process takes a full day between the three machines.

After the chocolate is conched, it must be tempered before it gets poured into chocolate bar molds.  Friction during the conching process naturally heats up the chocolate.  That liquid is then brought down to temperature using a marble table that remains cold due to the air conditioning in the room.  The women spread the chocolate on the table using metal spatulas, mix the chocolate around, and fold it inwards to cool the chocolate quickly.

Tempering is a stabilizing process that helps keep the chocolate crystals from clumping together, which would give the chocolate a grainy texture.  It also gives the chocolate a smooth, glossy appearance and prevents the cocoa butter from separating out.  If done correctly, the chocolate bar will shine on the outside and make a snapping sound when broken in half.

Once the chocolate is tempered, it is poured into molds.  The women at Chocal do this by hand and tap the molds to remove any remaining air bubbles.

Finally, the chocolate is cooled and then removed from the molds for packing.

It was fantastic getting to see how the entire chocolate-making process is done, from bean to bar.  The machines were so much smaller and different than the ones I had seen in the large, modern factories; so, at times, it was a bit confusing trying to figure out which machine was doing what.  Some of it got lost in translation, and much of it just got lost due to not being able to hear!  I’m still not exactly clear on which of these machines do which job, but I figured it out for the most part:

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I believe this is where the cacao beans are roasted.

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After the beans are roasted, they go through a winnower to separate the cocoa nibs from the shells.  I think that is the job of these machines.

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Once all shells are removed from the cocoa nibs, the nibs are gound in this machine.

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This is the pressing machine where the nibs are pressed to make chocolate liquor for chocolate bars.  The remaining “press cake” that is separated from the liquor is used to make cocoa balls for hot chocolate and cocoa powder for baking.  Here, a syringe is used to remove the cocoa butter from the press cake, so the remaining cocoa can be used for cocoa balls and cocoa powder.

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I’m not sure about the purpose of this machine, but it may have been to further process the “press cake” for powder.

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This worker was using the smaller machine to produce fine cocoa powder.

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In this machine, sugar, milk powder, and additional cocoa butter is added to the cocoa liquor and mixed.

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Here, the mixture from the first machine is further mixed and refined.

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This where the magic happens!  The refined mixture is placed in this conching machine to grind it to a homogeneous consistency.  The full mixing and conching process takes one day.

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This is the marble table where the chocolate is tempered.

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Finally, the chocolate is poured into molds for chocolate bars and cooled.

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Nidia, our tour guide

At the conclusion of the tour, we returned to our group to assist with packaging the chocolate.  After we finished, the others made their chocolate purchases while Bruce and I went to see what the ladies were up to on the patio.  This time, when we said, “Hasta manana!” they believed us and flashed us big smiles.  We would be returning the next day for one last time.

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When we arrived for our final day at Chocal, the woman in the photo above (with the green blouse) ran up to me and gave me a big hug!  Our tour guide, Nidia, did as well.  We were pleased they were happy to see us once again.

After we completed our work inside, Bruce and I joined the ladies while our group hit the gift shop.  Instead of making cocoa balls, the ladies were sorting beans, so I joined in.  My new friend opened up a fresh cacao pod and shared the beans with me.  Although the beans are very bitter, the pulp is sweet and delicious!  The idea is to suck on the beans, and then spit it out without biting into the bean itself.  Yum!

 

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While we were working, some local farmers stopped by to sell their beautiful vegetables.  Nidia ran back to call out to the others, and some of the ladies ran up to make a purchase.

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The time came to say “Adios!” and “No, no manana” to the women, give them hugs, and make our way to the bus for our final ride back down the mountain from Altamira.  As I gazed out the bus window during the bus ride, I knew I wanted to return.  Bruce did, too, and the wheels in our minds started turning…  (More details will follow in a future post.)

In my next post, I’ll show you around RePapel, a women’s co-op that recycles paper and makes beautiful stationary and jewelry for sale.

Meanwhile, here are additional photos shot at and around Chocal:

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A local farmer spread his cacao beans out in the sun to dry.

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CHOCAL: MANY HANDS MAKE LIGHT WORK

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My last post about Chocal focused on the cacao plantation before the beans get transferred to the factory.  Those little seedlings we planted will take approximately 3-1/2 years to grow before the cacao pods are ready to be harvested for production.  May to July is the biggest harvest period each year, and a smaller harvest is done each November.

Each cacao pod yields 50-80 beans.  Four pods will yield 1-2 pounds of beans, which in turn yields one pound of chocolate.

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Marcia translates for the president of Chocal Women’s Co-op, while she explains the chocolate-making process.

Once the beans are dried over at the nursery, they are ready to be sorted at the factory.  That was a job I nailed!  We were shown what “bad” beans look like, and which ones should be tossed aside onto a plate.  The good ones were to be thrown into the bucket.  While others got caught up contemplating whether each bean they had picked up was “good” or “bad,” I decided to look for the best beans and pick them up simultaneously with both hands.  Once I got two handfuls of beans, I tossed them into the bucket.  For me, this was so much easier and quicker, because a majority of the beans were “good.”

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On Day 2, Bruce worked on filling a new bucket, sorting good beans from bad.

The buckets of good beans went on to the next step in the chocolate-making process:  roasting.  This is done for 20 minutes, and during this process, the shell of the cocoa bean separates from the bean kernel, and is removed.  The cracked beans—now called cocoa nibs– are then transferred to the winnower where 85% of the shells get separated from the cocoa nibs.  Next, the nibs are spread out on pans to be manually examined for any remaining shell fragments.

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Steven explains how to remove the shell fragments from the cocoa nibs.

While some of our group worked on sorting the beans, others picked out shell fragments from the cocoa nibs.  After a while, the groups switched stations.

As good as I was at sorting beans, I was awful at picking out the shell fragments from the nibs.  My below-average dexterity, and my even worse patience with this task left me frustrated and hopping back over to “crash” the group at the sorting table.  I was there to work, not waste time getting frustrated over shell fragments!

While the co-op workers (including the sons of a few of the women) took our sorted beans and nibs to be processed (more on that in my next post), we were ushered into a room to learn how to mold chocolate.  Molding chocolate effectively requires expertise, so we didn’t actually mold the chocolate to be sold.  Instead, the process was demonstrated by one of the co-op women, and we were given an opportunity to make chocolates for our own consumption during the bus ride back to the ship.  The best part, though, was getting to sample the warm chocolate after we were finished.  Chocolate was spooned into our gloved hands for some good ol’ finger-lickin’ fun!

Finally, we finished our work in the packaging room.  During our three days, Bruce and I attached bar code stickers to the cocoa ball packages and stamped expiration dates on the chocolate bar labels, while others in our group packaged the bars for sale.

While we were in the packaging room, we could see the various chocolate processing machines and tables of molded chocolate bars through the glass windows.  I also had poked my head into the room off the back patio to see what the workers were doing with the machines there.  I was this close to the inner workings of a third-world chocolate factory—nothing like the modern Cadbury factories I had toured in Tasmania, Australia or Dunedin, New Zealand!

It was at that moment the idea was hatched to request a tour and explanation of the factory processes.

I explained to Orlando, one of the IDDI facilitators, that I am so passionate about chocolate and Chocal, that I would be returning with Bruce two more days to volunteer.  Could he possibly arrange for a tour of the factory for the following day during our visit?  We would be willing to skip out on the molding demonstration if we could just have a quick tour and interview with one of the women.  Oh, and could he translate, too?

Orlando promised he would arrange it for us, and he made good on that promise when we returned the following day.

Meanwhile, after we were dismissed from the packaging room, I made a beeline for the gift shop to make a quick purchase before the remainder of the group followed.  I was anxious to get back out on the patio and spend some time watching the women make cocoa balls, before it was time to return to the ship.

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Preparing the pressed cocoa, so it can be shaped into balls to be used for hot cocoa

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It was at this point I felt most frustrated at not having learned Spanish beyond a few basics.  I had so many questions I wanted to ask the women about their life in the DR, their families, and work at Chocal.  Instead, I made do with plenty of smiles and my extremely limited Spanish vocabulary.

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When it was time to leave, Bruce and I said, “Hasta manana!” and smiled at the women.  They responded with a confused look on their face, and “Adios!”  “See you tomorrow?  Really?  I don’t think so!” was what I’m sure they were all thinking—and saying to each other after we left.

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As Bruce and I happily savored our chocolates during the bus ride back, we expressed to each other how we were already looking forward to our return.

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~ MANY HANDS MAKE LIGHT WORK ~

CHOCAL: MAKING A DIFFERENCE AT THE CACAO NURSERY

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61As Adonia cruised into Amber Cove, Bruce and I admired the gorgeous tropical scenery of Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic (aka “the DR”).  We were eager to start the day, so we were among the first to disembark after our arrival.  It was too early to board the bus for Chocal; so, we explored Amber Cove, the $90 million-dollar port completed a year ago by Carnival Cruise Lines.  I took several photos of the attractive complex; however, I am eager to write about Chocal.  Amber Cove will have to wait…

In my first post about Fathom Impact Travel, I mentioned we would be helping Chocal with their cacao and chocolate production.  It is a women’s cooperative currently employing thirty women (as well as some of their adult children); however, their goal is to grow the cooperative and thrive.  Helping them to succeed will enable Chocal to hire more local women, and bring more income into their community.

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During the bus ride to Chocal, Leurys, a representative of IDDI (Dominican Institute for Integral Development), prepared us for our upcoming morning at the cacao plantation and chocolate factory.  In addition to learning about Chocal’s creation in 2008 (detailed in the photo above), the entire chocolate-making process was explained, from cacao seedling to chocolate bar.  We would be contributing to many of those processes to help increase production.

I was curious how these women learned the business of producing chocolate.  We were told a consultant from Switzerland was hired to teach them the entire process, and educate them on the special equipment needed to process the cacao.  After the co-op obtained a loan from the U.S.A., the machines were built to specification and delivered to the factory.

Chocal is located high up in the mountains in the town of Altamira (Spanish for “high view”) where cacao grows naturally and abundantly, along with mango and other tropical fruits.  Many local farmers belong to a farming cooperative and make their living by harvesting their cacao and selling the cacao beans.

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Having Chocal in their community provides another buying source for their cacao beans.  When Chocal is in need of more cacao than their own trees produce, they buy from the farmers in their community.  In turn, when those farmers need additional cacao trees for their land, they can purchase young trees from Chocal at cost.  The farmers provide compost for the seedlings, and pay the equivalent of ten cents for each two-foot tall tree they purchase.  This covers the cost of the bag, and the (free) labor is provided by us volunteers.  IDDI representatives work with Fathom and Chocal to facilitate the volunteer process.

It was in the nursery where we ended each of our three volunteer days at Chocal; however, it is where I will begin our tour here, since this is the origin of chocolate.  It all begins with cacao.

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Once the teams were in place at the bag filling station, bag brigade, and seedling planting station; we rocked!  I never noted how much time we spent in production mode (perhaps one hour); but, whatever the time period, we produced.  Our bus load of +/- thirty volunteers filled bags and planted 504 seedlings our first day, and 584 the second day. Our group had less time to work on the third day; however, we still managed to complete 403 bags.  That’s teamwork!

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We met Jessica, age 9, and her dad, Len, during the first night aboard ship.  They were wonderful table mates, and became fast friends.  Erin and Erin were college friends who we met during the bus ride.

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Leurys explained how the bags should be filled to the top and compacted.  Next, a hole is inserted in the soil and a cacao seedling is planted.

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Carola (right), helps plant the seedlings.  She was our table mate on another night aboard ship.

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Gumarcindo lines up the seedlings on our first day.  Our group planted 504!

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By Day 3, Gumarcindo was trying to figure out where to put them all!

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These little cacao trees will be sold to area farmers at cost– about ten cents per tree.

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My new amigo, Gumarcindo.

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After our work was completed, Gumarcindo, the nursery manager, showed us how the beans are processed at the nursery, before they are taken next door to the factory.

First, the cacao pods are carefully removed from the trees, and then manually cut open within 7-10 days of harvest.  The beans and pulp are scooped out from the pod and placed into the top level of boxes in the fermenting room.  After two days at the top level, they are dumped down into the middle level for another two days of fermenting.  Finally, they are transferred into the bottom level where they ferment for an additional two days before being spread out in the sun to dry.

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Although many cacao growers skip the fermenting step before drying their beans, the Swiss consultant explained to the co-op members that fermented beans would make for better-tasting chocolate.

After the fermentation process is complete, the beans are left in the sun to dry to reduce the moisture content from about 60% to 7.5%.  If it looks like it’s going to rain, the roofs are pulled over the bean tables to keep the beans dry.

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The drying process is done carefully and slowly to ensure that off-flavors are not developed.  If the beans are dried too quickly, some of the chemical reactions started in the fermentation process are not allowed to complete their work.  This causes the beans to become acidic and taste bitter.  If the drying is done too slowly, however, mold can develop.

To ensure an even drying process, the beans are spread out in the sun and raked or turned periodically.  In all, the drying process takes about six days.

Once dried, the beans are packed in large sacks and stored in Chocal’s warehouse that is kept cool and dry.  Under these conditions, the cacao beans can be stored for years.

My next post will be about those cacao beans that are processed to become delicious chocolate!

Meanwhile, as our tour came to an end, we said “Hasta manana!” (See you tomorrow!”) to Gumarcindo and the IDDI facilitators helping out at the nursery.  All of them gave us a funny look, because nobody comes back tomorrow if they are on a Fathom cruise.  As a matter of fact, the Fathom website doesn’t allow for registering for multiple Impact activities at the same location.  Besides, most people opt for a variety of volunteer opportunities rather than just one.  Not me.  Between my passion for all things chocolate and my strong belief in the women’s co-op; I was determined to spend as much time as possible at Chocal. Bruce was fine with it, so I called Fathom’s headquarters as soon as we signed up for the cruise and pleaded my case.  Happily, the gal I spoke with empathized and did a manual override of their computer system to sign us up for to volunteer at Chocal all three full days in the DR.

When Bruce and I returned the following day, we found Gumarcindo and greeted him with, “Hola, Gumarcindo!  Que lo que?”  (“Hello, Gumarcindo!  What’s up?”)  (“Que lo Que” is a special DR greeting that is very much appreciated by the locals, so we enjoyed using that greeting often!)

A big grin and a fist bump greeted us back!

On the third day, I was sad to have to tell Gumarcindo, “No hasta manana.”  I didn’t know if or when we would ever be back…

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Next up:

CHOCAL:  MANY HANDS MAKE LIGHT WORK

FATHOM:  PREPARING TO MAKE AN IMPACT

Fathom’s Adonia departed Miami for Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic on New Year’s Day during the early evening while golden light of the warm sun reflected off the condo towers. The view from our spot on the top deck was beautiful, and we enjoyed the sail-away before joining in on the first activity.

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It was then we discovered this would be nothing like a typical party cruise.  Waiters weren’t hawking expensive cocktails, and the poolside activities were much different than I had ever seen before.

For those who chose to participate, we were given a “passport” and instructed to look for five stations that were scattered around the two poolside decks.  At each station, we did the required activity and earned a stamp in our passport.  One station was posted at the railing of the upper deck.  The end of a string was tied to the railing, and the other end was tied to the pool railing across the deck below.  We were instructed to take an index card, and write an inspiring message to a random passenger below.  We were given a metal bell to attach to our card and asked to tie it in a loop around the string.  A good push sent the bell and message down the string to the waiting hands of another Impact Staff member below who untied the message and gave it to a random sunbather on the pool deck.  Smiles and laughs spread throughout the pool area.

At another station, questions were posted on glass window panels, and we were instructed to respond to any or all of them.  “What are you grateful for?” and “What is your passion?” were two questions that I liked, as was “What is your favorite inspirational quote?”  I chose to answer that one with, “Believing in your dreams can be far more rewarding than living by your limitations.”  I previously wrote a blog post about the origin of that quote.

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The final station was clever.  We were photographed and given a Polaroid mini photo and asked to write our name and city on the picture.  We then placed the photo (with a magnet attached to the back) on the huge map located on the metal wall of the pool deck.  Mine joined several others from the state of Georgia where we live now.   (Georgia ultimately won over my beloved home state of California where I instinctively went to place my photo.)

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As the photos collected, it was interesting to see where other passengers were from.  Many had traveled from faraway states and countries!

All of these details are to say this wasn’t shaping up to be your typical Caribbean party cruise!

During the following full day at sea, many workshops were offered to prepare us for upcoming Impact Travel activities.  We were assigned to small “cohort” groups where we would meet with the same passengers and facilitator for two preparation workshops and one wrap-up session, and there were several optional workshops we could attend as well.  For those who would be teaching English, there was an additional required session.

We were fortunate to have Colin as our “cohort” leader.  A former professional football player with the Cincinatti Bengals, he didn’t look the stereotype of someone who deeply cared about other people and making a difference in the world.  This environmentally conscious, Whole Foods-loving do-gooder had the looks of the Mr. Clean Man!  He was hilarious, though, and I’m sure our cohort group laughed far more than any other.

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The purpose of the “Getting to Know the Dominican Republic” workshop was to orient us to the customs and culture of the “the DR,” learn about its history, and build a community with our fellow travelers as we prepare for our on-ground impact experience.

The workshop entitled, “Being a Fathom Traveler” is described on Fathom’s website as, Fathom Travel is about transformative experiences through connecting to locality and place with an open heart and mind. Being a Fathom Traveler sets you up with valuable insights, tools and knowledge that will help you get the most out of your experience.”

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Colin’s final cohort workshop, “Fathom What’s Next,” will be detailed in a later post.

I also attended a couple of “Social Innovation” workshops that helped prepare us for our on-ground experience by learning skills for authentic interactions with others.  These workshops were designed by Ashoka and Ashoka Fellows (www.ashoka.org), and they were quite interesting!

The ultimate goal of these workshops was to help us integrate the week’s experience into our lives going forward.

Coming up next: 

CHOCAL:  MAKING A DIFFERENCE AT THE WOMEN’S CHOCOLATE COOPERATIVE NURSERY