Cacao and Coco

Chocolate and coconut

One of the highlights of our trip to Panama was a visit to Up In The Hill Farm. Located on Isla Bastimentos, the same island as Outpost Panama, it required only a short boat ride and a 20-minute walk to the cafe.

The higher up we went out of Old Town toward the cafe and farm, the more rugged the trail.

We started out in Old Town, which had a narrow sidewalk that seemed to serve as the Main Street, but we quickly walked out of town and up a slippery, muddy trail to our destination.

Up In the Hill Cafe is a cute place for a local, fresh meal and fun souvenirs.
Owner and tour guide, TK, said when he bought the land 20 years ago, only a few trees were on the property, which was a cattle ranch. He and his family have composted diligently to enrich to soil and bring back native plants that they can cultivate. They started producing enough to share five years ago, which is when they opened the cafe.
Shampoo ginger. Rain water collects in the petals. The plant adds enzymes to it, making the liquid thicker and giving it a sudsy quality. Smells good too.
Turmeric. I’m certain these are sold in stores in the US for their foliage.
You can’t tell here, but this pepper plant is a huge bush. My pepper plants in Dallas are 2-3 times larger than the ones anyone grew in Minnesota. These were 4-5 feet tall.
Everyone seems to grow pineapple in Panama. We saw them in the city as well as on fence posts along the street in Bocas Town.
Our host’s property is not ideal for coffee. Too hot and humid. But he’s attempting to grow it anyway.
Delicate flowers form on the trunk of the cacao tree. When pollinated, they form the pods that contain the seeds that become cocoa after they are roasted.
Unripe cacao forms on the trunk of the tree.
There are two types of cacao trees: Those with the yellow pods produce better quality cocoa but are more difficult to grow than those with red pods.
Our guide was blasé about the red pods, but I’m guessing most American chocolate comes from these.
Termites! Surprisingly delicious. No sensation of insects when in your mouth. They have a sharp, peppery taste. I’d eat them again.
We ended our tour with a locally grown feast. Everything we ate was grown on the property. The white sticks are sugarcane. We had the opportunity to try cocoa and cacao, custard apple, pumpkin soup (made from a squash and tasted similar to pumpkin or butternut soup), papaya, pineapple, dried jackfruit, coconut and garlic spinach from a plant that is neither. The most unique was the miracle fruit that made a sour lemon taste like the most incredible lemonade. It also made the bitter cocoa taste like heavenly chocolate. I looked it up. Miracle fruit is banned by the FDA as an illegal undeclared sweetener.
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