Latin American tour August 2008 – Day 5 – Guatemala

Today we moved onto Guatemala, leaving the Dominican Republic behind. The flight stopped off in Costa Rica, giving us an hour and a half in the country and at least we had a chance to buy some good looking coffee and a few chocolate products in the airport.

We arrived in Guatemala City at 12 noon, an extra 2 hours behind the Dominican Republic. We were met by Seventypercent forum member and Vice Chairman of private sector Guatemalan cacao development company ANAKAKAW, Juan Francisco Mollinedo and his colleague Astrid Ortiz, Executive Director of the company.

ANAKAKAW is a private sector project, whose aim is to revive and revitalise Guatemala’s historic, but neglected, cacao production. As a cacao source, Guatemala has only a small production of a few thousand tonnes annually, compared to say, Ecuador, which produces 115,000 tonnes a year. ANAKAKAW’s aim is to scale this up significantly, and at the same time try to improve the varieties grown. Equally important, is to recover some of the lost cacao, which in Aztec times made areas like the Socunusco belt famous.

Juan Francisco was previously a professor at the Universidad Francisco Marroquin, a private university specialising in business and economics, while Astrid still teaches at the University. Juan is now working full time to further the development of ANAKAKAW, and sits on two think tanks closely associated with the University, CADEP and CEES.

We soon checked in, meeting up with photographer Kate Malone and partner Tom Bouwens, who had already been in Guatemala for a week and were to join us while we were in the country. Another friend of Seventypercent and sometimes Guatemalan resident, Emily Stone – the writer behind Chocolate in Context – also joined us and would be our travelling companion for part of our Guatemalan adventure.

After all these reunions and meeting of new friends, we were now running well behind schedule, so by the time we arrived at the University we could only manage a quick fast food lunch, which we ate in a semi-covered canteen area in the beautiful University grounds. Next we met some members of the University staff, including Giancarlo Ibárgüen, President of the University, before heading over to the Museo Popol Vuh, a museum with a substantial collection of ancient Guatemalan artefacts.

In 2005 the museum was host to a conference led by Michael Coe, Mayan expert and co-author of the ‘True History of Chocolate’. The museum has a good collection of cacao related objects, and it was this event that inspired the formation of the ANAKAKAW project. Michael Coe has also promised the museum his collection of Mayan related writing and library upon his death.

We were given a private tour of the exhibits (as we were by now well after hours) by the museum curator, which was a fascinating insight into the collection and for which we felt very privileged. Some of the Mayan pots were quite amazing, and looked like they had been made just yesterday. Juan Francisco is hoping that this collection can be brought to London in the future for an exhibition specifically focused on cacao, which we agreed was an excellent idea.

Next we all drove over to the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala, which is helping ANAKAKAW with research into the genetics of Guatemala’s cacao. We spent time there looking at the lab facilities and then ended the visit by viewing the University’s 100,000 collection of insects. Most were dead, some were big though, cockroaches the size of bats!

Back at the hotel exhaustion set in and the availability of wireless internet, which seemed to be standard in even cheaper Guatemalan hotels, prompted an early night and room service.

Also I failed miserably taking photos during this busy day, sorry for that, but I promise to do better tomorrow.

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