That's what CLTC did - in addition to many other fun activities. CLTC visited the sizeable rain forest plantation (of all sorts of fruits and spices) managed by the Pop family. They treated CLTC to a truly delicious traditional Mayan lunch in their home - beans, rice, hearts of palm and a home baked bun made with coconut milk.
Afterwards, they demonstrated the roasting of the cacao beans and grinding them into cocoa balls that are used to make a cocao drink (with water and maybe some sugar) or to bake a delicious chocolate cake. In fact, on the last night of the week, the group celebrated (a bit in advance), Clay Gordon's 50th birthday with just such a cake.
CLTC stayed at the eco-friendly and very green Cotton Tree Lodge - outside of Punta Gorda. It's located in an idyllic setting on the Moho River.
The group visited the opening of the Toledo Cacao Festival - where there were several booths with chocolate products, Mayan and Garifuna handicrafts and music. Nearby was an open food market with wonderful offerings for the palate.
Other venues were:
A trip to the Garifuna village of Baranco - where they learned about the culture, history and spirituality of these black caribs. A lovely dance, drumming and singing recital was the perfect ending to this afternoon with the Garifuna.
Several CLTC members sailed down the Moho and across the pristine Caribbean waters to Snake Caye for snorkeling/swimming. There was ample opportunity to observe birds and iguanas - known locally as "bamboo chickens."
Other CLTC members indulged in a picnic and swim at Rio Blanco - up in the mountains to the west.
In addition to his evening lectures and comparative chocolate tastings, Clay Gordon conducted Modern Chocolate Making Part I & II, where the group learned to ferment, roast, winnow, crush, refine, conch, temper and mold chocolate into bars.
On the last day, CLTC visited the Toledo Cacao Grower's Association to learn about the industry of cacao. This is a cooperative that educates farmers and funds their harvests no matter how many beans they bring in. Money literally grows on cacao trees, year round.
Response from some of the participants is as follows:
"Belize & The Toledo Cacao Festival was a very special trip for me. My greatest pleasures in addition to the chocolate experience was meeting the local people and their families including the Mayan and the Garifuna. The meeting site was perfect for this experience.
"All members of the group were special and their knowledge added to this tour's success. The upcoming trips look very interesting. It was a pleasure to meet you."
"We really enjoyed meeting Clay, Holly and the other CLTC guests. The chocolate dinner evening was great fun for us and I was pleased that Clay's presentation addressed and cleared up some puzzling things that had been bothering me for quite some time. Thank you!"
-- Lauren, Dave, and Tracy, Idaho
"The trip was a positive and enlightening experience...thanks for the good work and good company."
Sandy & Donald, Washington
CLTC is planning 2 more journeys to it's members in 2008.
Clay Gordon, author of Discover Chocolate, is providing a VIP seating and behind-the-scenes tours at the World Pastry Team Championships in Nashville, this coming Labor Day Weekend. In addition, participants will see a Grand Ole Opry performance, dine at the Wild Horse Saloon and sail aboard the General Jackson showboat. Reservations are being taken throughout the month of June at the website below.
In mid October, Aloha Kona & Oahu! Clay Gordon, Timothy J. Castle & Joan Nielsen, authors of The Perfect Cup and The Great Coffe Book - will be leading CLTC on tours of cacao and coffee plantations, host a chocolate/coffee tasting - with recipes for the group. They'll visit a Hawaiian chocolatier and experience a cupping at a local Hawaiian coffee company and much more!
In the spring of 2009 - a private chartered Caribbean cruise with Clay Gordon to 3 cacao plantations & much more - details coming soon.
Other journeys are in the planning stages: Mexico, Australia/Indonesia, The Orient - specialty teas, Africa, Europe - Orient Express, and South America.
For captioned photos of the Belize journey or more information about upcoming tours, go to www.ChocolateLoversTravelClub.com - membership is complimentary.
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GPE, LLC arranges travel for the Chocolate Lovers Travel Club and is based in the Phoenix metro area.