Now a days we are more aware of traveling ethically, sustainably, and with a purpose! For Girls Who Travel, those three topics are really important while making choices for our next trip. No matter if it’s during a staycation, national travels, or on a world wide adventure, traveling with a purpose is always something to aspire to.
I spend many months out of the year on a cruise ship. While my other half is working hard, I go out and explore. Cruising is a quick and easy way to explore new places – a taster to see if you want to come back. At the moment, I’m in the Caribbean. Like you’d expect a lot of trips offered to spend a day on a catamaran, snorkel, going to a local beach, and, of course, swim with dolphins (for those who want to enjoy wildlife ethically, you can find a great article about that here).
While we docked in Amber Cove the other day, I decided against enjoying the beautiful beaches; instead, I went to help local women at a chocolate factory! The ‘Chocolate de la Cuenca de Altamira’ (ChoCal) factory is founded by the enterprising women of the Dominican Republic. ChoCal is located in Altamira and provides critical income in a region with limited employment opportunities. When visiting the factory, you will be helping the organization to thrive so it can hire more local women. My visit to ChoCal wasn’t just financial – I did it all! I helped them from preparing the soil all the way to the finished product (and obviously purchased some yummy chocolate to take back with me)!
First stop was at the nursery, where they plant and grow the trees. When making the bags of soil and planting the beans, we got information about the growing process of cocoa beans. Did you know that when a plant is 3 years old it can produce the fruit with the cocoa seeds? And that it can produce for over 30 or 40 years? One of the trees in the town has been producing for over 100 years. Making chocolate is a whole process! After the fruit is harvested, the beans are taken out of the fruit. They have a soft layer around them that is really important for the taste of the chocolate. The beans (and that important soft layer) are fermented for 6 days in different boxes. Afterwards, they will be dried outside or in a drying machine when it rains.
After washing our hands, we moved on to the factory and were welcomed by all the women there. We started with a dance, welcoming us into the family! Visitors experienced 4 different processes during the hands-on visit. 1. Sorting out the beans. Not an easy task for a beginner like me! What’s considered too small or too flat? Thankfully, one of the women from the factory was always around to help. 2. Separating the shells from the cocoa. 70% of the shells are taken out by a machine, while the other 30% has to be taken out by hand. Thankfully, the shells have a lighter weight then the cocoa; shaking the tray brings the shells to the surface so you can easily remove them.
The next steps were the ones that I liked the most! But we first had to put on a mask and gloves – health and safety is key. 3. Putting the melted chocolate into a mould. It’s not just putting the chocolate in and done! It’s important to shake the moulds so all the air bubbles will escape from the newly poured chocolate, otherwise the chocolates will fall apart when they’ve hardened. After finishing the process with success I received a spoon full of melted chocolate as a reward! Milk chocolate with orange – YUM!
Final job. 4. Sort the chocolate bars and put them in the right order in the paper boxes. It was a fun thing to do, getting the finished product ready to be sold. The ladies at the factory had an order of 300 boxes for that day, and the people who visited the factory packed 298 boxes! Those other 2 where done in a heartbeat.
After every step was successfully done it was time to say goodbye, but not before a visit to the gift shop to buy ourselves some chocolate. With the $200 my group spent in the gift store that day, the women will pay of a bit of the loan they have with the government to buy more equipment and employ more women.
When visiting the Caribbean you don’t have to lay on the beach or be on the water all the time. You can make a difference – one for yourself and one for someone else! The trip back to the ship was one that I did with a heart full of love. My help just made a little difference for the factory and the women working there; but when a group of 25 persons visit the factory every day, we can make a big difference together!