Tuesday 23 January 2024

Learning the tricks of the tribes!

Somewhere deep on the Cuyabeno river (a tributary to the Amazon river), and close to the Aguas Negras river, a young boy from a Kichwa family is listening intently to his mother as she explains how to make a chocolate bar.

Three days ago, he had opened the cacao fruit, taken out the white glistening and slimy beans to dry and now, at last, he could learn how to make a chocolate bar as delicious as his mother's. First, his mother explained that they had to toast the dry cacao beans for 20 minutes. It was fun stirring the cacao beans around and using the lines to create pictures. The smells rising from the pan were intense and warm.

When they stopped stirring, they had to take the shells off the beans to reveal their glistening brown colour but the boy could not pick them up because they were still burning hot. He still managed to do a few after the beans had cooled down (enough for him to hold). The warm feeling on his hands felt  uncomfortable as the tropical sun of the Amazon was beating down around him and he was glad of the shade above his head and a light breeze wafting in from the river beside them.

Then, was the real fun part: grinding the cacao beans in the machine! He loved turning the handle and watching the cacao butter ooze upwards, then fall into the bowl when it could no longer support itself! 

After grinding all the beans, it was time to add some other ingredients. The boy chose sugar, milk and mashed banana. He turned his dollop of cacao paste into a round container and poured the milk powder and sugar in. Then, he paid real attention to how his mum added the banana, she scraped the banana with a spoon till she had as much as she wanted, then shook it off the spoon onto her plate. He did the same, and then, used a knife to shape his bar into a rectangle and wrapped in silver foil. It was finished and ready to go in the fridge for tomorrow! When he tries the bar tomorrow morning, he's pleasantly surprised (as he always is when he tries the bars his mother makes) with the intense chocolate flavour. It tastes nothing like the chocolate bars he sometimes buys from the shop.

Meanwhile, along the Aguarico river, another young boy, this time from a Secoya family is learning to make yuca bread. Yuca is like a potato that grows in the Amazon and you eat its roots. He pulls up the tree which is only 6 months old (the tree not him) and takes the large, muddy ovoids off the plant. To his surprise, his older sister asks him to put two of the twigs back in the ground and learns that two new yuca trees will spring from those only in a few months time. This is a never ending, forever giving plant, he thinks. He is shown how to peel the skin and is surprised to find a hard, white and moist root underneath its seemingly impenetrable skin!

He learns to wash the roots and then grates them into a clay-like paste. Then, he's shown how to squeeze the water out of the grated roots, first by clamping balls off the damp clay-like yuca paste tight in his hands. Then, he puts it in a cloth and wrings out the water from there. The milky coloured water feels cool and comforting compared to the blazing sun overhead.

Afterwards, he passes it through a fine sieve and collects the yuca flour in a wooden bowl. He carefully lays a heap of the yuca flour on the flat round stone sitting on top of the fire and spreads it into a thin pancake shape, then smooths the dough using the bowl. After flipping it, he lifts it up and realises that he has just made his first yucca bread! Yes!!  He can hardly wait to have it with his lunch, and secretly breaks off a bit of the warm bread to try. Delicious!

That whole process took him two hours but he knows that when the whole family works together, they can make a hundred breads in a day. 

P.S. The two boys were fictional, it was really us learning how to make the chocolate bar and the bread on our trip to Amazon. These characters were just my way into the post.

P.P.S. Quechua and Secoya are the main two tribes/nationalities in this area of the Amazon. We were lucky enough to stay and meet families from both tribes. 

P.P.P.S. An ovoid is a 3d oval.


  1. yum yum! Will you be able to make me a chocolate bar when you get back? Sal xx

    1. Probably not sallie, the sun isn't hot enough to dry the beans and I don't know were to by the pod!

  2. What an evocative post! We really felt like we were there with you ❤ Ioni, Dania, Aisha and Mariam xx

    1. Thanks for the feedback Ioni. How are you?
      P.s I had to ask Dan what evocative meant! Ha ha ha.

  3. Very glad that we know someone with chocolate making skills! Looks like an absolutely brilliant experience and I loved the way you wrote about it to really bring it alive for your readers! Steph & the Keenans xxx