“Everything real is invisible.”

That’s the last entry in my notebook from Belize.

It’s not nearly as cryptic as it sounds; what I was thinking about when I wrote that was something most of my interactions with people in Belize affirmed: everything that’s most important in our lives–the most intimate aspects of relationships, the most mundane aspects of our work–is largely invisible to other people.

* * *

When I wrote that, I was thinking about Austin Rodriguez, the man who’s been making drums for 35 years in his open-air shop next to where the river meets the ocean in Dangriga.

I was thinking about the men who haul nets and bring fish to market each morning.

I was thinking about the family who makes cassava bread and of Mercy Sabal, the dollmaker.

And I was thinking of the farmer Eladio Pop and his family, who welcomed me to their home and showed me how chocolate is made. I’m not sure I’ll ever look at a chocolate bar quite the same way again.

What I mean is that I’ll remember where it comes from.

And that I’ll start to care more about the invisible efforts that bring products into our hands.

[Note: This post was produced in partnership with our friends at the Belize Tourism Board.]


1. Eladio Pop, owner of the Agouti Cacao Farm, grows cacao, bananas, mangoes, ginger, and dozens of other fruits and vegetables.


2. Even before the cacao pod is ready to harvest for making chocolate, it can be picked and its fruit can be eaten. Here, Eladio has split the cacao pod and is offering the sweet fruit to visitors.


3. Cacao pods are harvested November-May. This pod is close to being ripe; it has changed from green to this beautiful purple-red color.


4. Eladio is the father of 15 children and has many grandchildren as well. Some of them are pictured here. His daughter says the family roasts two pounds of cacao beans every three days for their personal use.


5. Before the beans can be roasted, they must be dried in the sun.


6. Depending on how long the beans have dried in the sun, they must then be roasted on the comal for 30 minutes to an hour. Eladio's daughter uses a dry corn cob to shuffle the beans around to ensure even roasting--and to ensure she won't burn her hands. She adds allspice and black pepper during roasting to give the chocolate a special flavor.


7. After roasting, the beans are crushed. Eladio's daughter uses a stone to separate the cacao nibs, which will be used to make chocolate, from their shells.


8. The nibs, once separated from their shells, are put into a hand-cranked grinding machine.


9. The grinding wears the nibs into a paste.


10. Once the cacao is in its paste form, it can be mixed with water or milk for drinking. Add a little bit of sugar for sweetness.


11. Eladio's daughter shapes the paste into a ball and wraps it in a leaf for me to take home.


12. Eladio takes a break in his hammock.

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