Costa do Cacau
Bahia is a most important tourist center in the Northeast and the second in the country. It preserves, virtually intact, the landscape seen by the Portuguese fleet when they first landed. Situated at the Southeast of Bahia, the magnificent Costa do Cacau (Cocoa Coast) is a major tourist destination featuring natural splendors and attractions for all ages. There are hundreds of kilometers of beaches, many uninhabited, adorned by the luxuriant vegetation of the Atlantic Forest.
The main characteristics of this fascinating zone are the intensive cocoa production, tourism, and preservation of primary portions of Mata Atlântica, of which the State Park of Serra do Conduru (CFSP)¹, established on 1997, is an extraordinary example. With 9,275 hectares covering areas of the cities of Ilhéus, Itacaré and Uruçuca, it holds one of the greatest biodiversity of the planet with a high degree of endemism and a world record of 458 woody plants per hectare! The park offers accommodation (see below). A reminder: on tours that go through trails and into the forest, don´t forget the use of hiking shoe or boot, pants to avoid scratches, shirt and a jacket that protects from wind and rain, a hat or cap, sunscreen and insect repellent. I promised myself to visit this extraordinary sanctuary in the future.
In 1939, American naturalists Mulford and Racine Foster explored the region of Ilhéus, at the heart of Costa do Cacau. The story of this journey² is an extraordinary legacy that we MUST not let be forgotten: “In certain sections of Brazil cacao is the backbone of the life of people: and it was just here at Agua Preta. One of the first sensations that greeted us when we arrived was the smell of drying cacao beans, cacao everywhere spread out, dehydrating. .. We have often enjoyed some tasty chocolate cremes and warmed up over a cup of cocoa, but it was not until we were in Brazil and at Agua Preta, where we learned some of its romance and history, that we thoroughly appreciated chocolate.”
Racine continues: “Centuries ago, long before Cortez and Hernando wrote home about it, yes, long before Columbus discovered the American continents, chocolate was being used as a favorite drink by natives all over Central America and northern South America. True, when Cortez tasted it at his first reception in Mexico City he did not care for it because it was bitter. Yet it was strangely interesting and he made great effort to tell his king about it. In those days its preparation was in the hands of old women who fermented and roasted the beans in great secrecy, putting corn meal, vanilla, pepper and herbs to complete the beverage. It was more of a honey than anything else and it is reported that Montezuma drank two hundred cups a day. When sugar cane was used with this new beverage the King of Spain induced the Fathers of the Church to serve it after mass in order to create a demand for it and thus increase revenue for the Crown from the colonies afar.” ² The rest is history, a tale of incredible success that lasts undisturbed over the centuries for the delight of generations of peoples.
“Mulford’s and Racine’s book Brazil, Orchid of the Tropics, a long out of print book but available through used sources was a well told story of their 1940 trip to Brazil. The book was a success and its completion brought the artful teamwork that was to mark the relationship between Racine and Mulford. His keen vision, liveliness and resourcefulness balanced with her devotion and help in caring for all of the plants and helping organize his materials, keep fastidious notes of her own were replicated many times over the years with many projects.” Wikipedia.
Yes, I keep coming back to Racine´s narrative of the Foster´s adventures in Brazil in 1939. Always with praise, admiration and genuine fond remembrance of the agrarian country I knew at an early age. Not to mention how much I would love to participate in the group! Born almost two decades later in Rio, I was fortunate to live and to wander in a rural country, the reverse of the present status when the majority of the population is concentrated along the coast in mammoth cities with problems that equal their size. My frequent excursions in the wild are necessary to my peace of mind. Luckily I still find enchantment in nature, sort of redemption from the limitations of urban life. A cry of freedom and celebration of life, as recommended by John Muir:
“Keep close to Natures´ heart … and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”
This presentation is the result of one brief visit to Itacaré (2006) and two visits to Marau (2006 & 2014). They contain photos of rare bromeliad species, information of their habitats and a BIG surprise of astonishing proportion! I look forward to returning in the near future. I prize both places, the people, the desert beaches, the spectacular flora and the regional Brazilian cuisine with giant shrimps, lobsters… flavors, aromas and spices that backtrack to Africa and the Orient.
² Brazil – Orchid of the Tropics by Mulford B. Foster and Racine Sarasy Foster. The Jaques Cattell Press, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, 1945.
http://parquedoconduru.org/ (page offers translation to several languages)
Photos from Google
I acknowledge the kind assistance of Michael and Karen Andreas, Derek Butcher, Howard Frank and Domingos Cardoso.