Sapped by the morning spent in the organic workshop, we rush off to the domestic airport – EnRoute the island of Makira. We are seated evenly to even out the weight in the tiny plane, which I'm sure would terrify anyone afraid or not of flying!
We take off quickly, and I can't help but sheepishly hold on tight to the chair, butterflies in my stomach. Did I mention tiny plane...Brian has been telling me about the local legends of the Solomon Islands, giants and the moon loving kakamora. I think of them living here as I'm looking down over the mountains and coconut plantations.
We arrive in no time, and Makira is another world! A wildly world, mapped with dirt roads, filled with fruit trees and blossoming with fragrant flowers. We jump in the back tray of a ute (the local way of travel) and head to the provincial capital of Kirakira. On our way I can already see wild cacao trees peeking through the forests.
Checking into Fresh Winds Guest House, I notice a healthy banana ice cream shop at the front. This seems appropriate as Makira is known as ‘Banana Land’, thanks to the hundreds of varieties found on the island. It's hot and its very humid, but already it's hard not to be happy here.
I convince Brian that I need a coconut (always!) and we head to the local markets, picking up some ripe bananas while we are there. This seems to be the place where people gather, with plenty of traditionally farmed (yep – all chemical free and organic) produce to pick from. There's todays fresh caught Tuna, taro, cassava, sweet potato, beans, popcorn, banana chips, rice and nuts. I'm feeling excited about tomorrows organic certification session with the farmers, as I get to give Lenard, a local cocoa farmer, a taste of our chocolate – made entirely with beans from his estate.
Genetic testing was previously complete as part of a thesis for Makira cocoa beans, and the results found that the majority are the Amelonado variety with strains of Criollo cocoa. The reason we loved Lenard's beans were the high quality, consistent size and amazingly rich tasting notes (golden caramel and hazelnuts). His beans actually won first place at the Solomon Islands Chocolate Week earlier this year.
Lenard was one of the best farmers we met on our trip, and he has a unique way to support and teach other local cocoa farmers – who he calls his 12 disciples. What he does is he takes 12 passionate farmers and teaches them his best known practices to improve their farms. Its all about connection and kindness on this island!
Up next on the blog: Training program day 1, chocolate tasting, women in chocolate and a visit to Lenard's farm.