Living in the Marañón Canyon and working at our cacao bean processing facility was one of the joys of my life. It was hard work, but incredibly rewarding.
My wife and I lived about two blocks from the facility. Every morning, I got up at 6:30am and went to a local market to buy fresh fruit for breakfast. Our favorites were the local bananas but they were out of season and hard to come by. Next best was mango brought in from the coast. We always ate a big breakfast of fruit and oatmeal. It was important to be well fed because cacao processing is very physical work.
The work day starts at 8:00am. I always showed up ten minutes early to unlock everything and wait for the guys. All of our workers live right there in town and always showed up on time, except for one. Juan always showed up late. It was tough to notice though because he had a slick way of sneaking in. As soon as he got there he would start barking orders. He was a natural leader and the others always did what he said. The first time every day that I noticed him, he seemed to be taking charge and getting stuff done. Thataboy Juan! I figured him out eventually and we fixed the problem.
At the facility, the first order of business is always water. Processing cacao is a messy business that requires a lot of cleaning, especially the way we do it. We spend so much time testing the beans, touching them, and making sure that they’re perfect that cacao pulp gets everywhere. It takes water and hard thistle brushes to clean that stuff. Water in the little town is only accessible between 6:00am and 11:00am and again after 5:00pm. That was always confusing to me because it rains pretty hard almost everyday during the harvest season. It sure seems like there is plenty of water to go around. There is another obstacle to getting the water into our possession. We fill a big tank with water whenever can. The facility is configured in such a way that the tank is located above the water source. As water can’t flow upwards without enough pressure, we have to pump water into the tank using an electric pump. Our problem is that storms knock out the electricity from time to time. If there is no electricity, we can’t pump water into the tank. In that case, we have to fill up lots and lots of buckets with water and use bucket water to clean. Using bucket water makes every job much harder and is a serious pain.
Once the water situation is figured out, we have to clean the fermentation room. The mucilage that covers freshly picked cacao beans drips onto the floor through the fermentation boxes. If we just leave it there it will go bad and start to stink up the room. Also, the white juice is very acidic and eats right through our floors. Generally, lots of bees hang out in the fermentation room. They are attracted to the high sugar content of the mucilage. Unfortunately for many bees, their trip into our facility will prove to be a doomsday mission. The juice puddles up and they drown in it. So, we have to clean up a lot of dead bees as well. As a rule, somebody gets stung in the fermentation room almost everyday. I got stung 3 times myself.