So sad to say that this will probably be one of my last entries because I am leaving PG in less than a week! As I prepare to say goodbye to wonderful Jamie tomorrow, it’s becoming more and more real that I’m leaving soon myself. PIECE OF CRAP. There are definitely some things I’m excited about…eating a hamburger made and grilled by Paul A. Whitman, getting into a shower that has a real shower head in it, and going to a grocery store where the dog food isn’t stored directly below the baking ingredients, but there are many more things that I WILL miss than things that I won’t! As the title of this blog suggests, I have three highlights to share. And they are…
1. Coi! Coi Mach is one of our intrepid ProWorld volunteers, and today marks her 22nd year of life! Yesterday, we had a lovely little office celebration where we surprised her with a cake obtained by Olivia! She was very surprised and pleased, and it was fun to celebrate her special day Belizean style! We also went out to dinner last night at Asha’s to celebrate both Coi’s birthday and Jamie’s farewell, and Emmeth played the Creole drum version of “Happy Birthday,” which was pretty fabulous!
2. Corn Tortillas! Wonderful Andrea and I finally got around to our long-discussed corn tortilla lesson. I would like to say that the process of making corn tortillas looks deceptively simple, but actually requires some major technique. The ingredients in corn tortillas are as follows: ground corn. Seriously. Simplest thing ever. In the US, I believe that you may have to buy a ground corn mix to which you have to add water, but I imagine that there are also places where masa is available in its truest form. I plan on making a search upon return home…or just pulling out my biceps and grinding some corn with a mortar and pestle! Anyway, once you’ve got your masa (ground corn), you break off a little piece (like a 1″-diameter ball) and place it on a round piece of wax paper that’s a little bit larger than the size of the tortilla you want to make. Then use both your hands to press the tortilla into a circle shape and make the edges nice and neat. Andrea had this crazy fast and efficient way of making her tortilla edges look beautiful, and if I could explain it, I would…sadly, I am unqualified to do such a thing and you’ll have to wait until I get Andrea to come and visit the USA! Once you’ve got your tortilla formed, the real “technique” part of the process comes in. You put your hand under the tortilla so that half of it is resting on two or three of your fingers. Then you (quickly) peel off the wax paper with your other hand and gently (but still quickly–aaah pressure pressure!) lay it flat onto a komal or griddle at very high heat. You have to lay it so that the “top” (the side that wasn’t resting on the wax paper) becomes the “bottom” (the side closest to the heat source) when you place it on the griddle. I’m not sure why, but this seems somewhat crucial, and Andrea thought it was pretty funny when I did it backwards. Once the tortilla starts puffing up, you can use your hand or a spatula to kind of press down the bubbles a few times and then flip it to the other side and let the same thing happen again. The whole cooking process is pretty fast–no more than a minute or two–and then you have some pretty delicious tortillas that you can eat by themselves or with meat or veggies or eggs or really just about anything. I don’t really know if these instructions are follow-able, but I’m available for demonstrations for a small fee upon my return to the USA! 🙂
3. Cyrilla’s Chocolate! Though it took me far too long to get there, I’m so glad that I made it to Cyrilla’s Chocolate before my departure from Belize. What an AWESOME place! Cyrilla’s is owned by Juan Cho and his wife Abellina, and they live in the same place where they make and sell their chocolate, in a village called San Felipe. Juan is the same Juan who served as our guide to Blue Creek Cave, and he is a man of many talents, among them making amazing chocolate of various flavors! Juan and Abellina also opened their home to wonderful Haley, who lived with them and their two children, Henry and Lucretia, during her month in Belize. Haley told me a lot about her experiences living and working at Cyrilla’s, but it was so cool to actually see the place where the chocolate is produced, and the tasting portion definitely helped to give credibility! Juan picked up Jamie, Coi, Swithin, Eric, Brittany, Fatima, and me and drove us all to his home, where Abellina had set a beautiful table for us with chocolate samples (chocolate with cacao nibs, milk chocolate, spicy chocolate, and ginger chocolate) and AMAZING hot cocoa (which I had to buy to bring home because it was so stinking delicious!). After Juan told us a little about Cyrilla’s, he gave us each a plate of fermented, roasted cacao beans to shell by hand. This was actually harder than I expected, and I was pretty proud of myself when I finally managed to shell the contents of my plate. I actually have a pretty major blister on my thumb from my efforts! We also had the chance to grind the cacao nibs using two pieces of stone that work similarly to a giant mortar and pestle. We each took a turn mashing the cacao nibs, heating them up from the motion of the stones grinding against each other and releasing some of the oil from the nibs. This pretty much transformed the nibs into smooth, 100% cacao, baking chocolate, which I got to take home as a souvenir of sorts. I plan on making something delicious for the volunteers before I head home, but I’m not sure what it will be as yet. After the upstairs demonstration, we headed down to the cooler, lower level of the house, where Abellina runs the business operations and sells chocolate bars and other products to visitors. I made some pretty awesome purchases (I’m really excited about the cocoa!), and then it was off to Blue Creek for the July volunteers. As for Jamie, Coi, and me, Juan dropped us at the bus junction and we hopped onto a bus headed back toward PG. Jamie and Coi sat together on the bus, and I sat by myself, and ended up being quasi-harassed by a Creepy McCreeperson Belizean guy named Junior, who not only asked me to marry him, but also told me that he would “search all over for me” in the US and asked for my picture to “remember me.” Needless to say, it was a huge relief to arrive in PG and debark from our bus. For the next few hours, Jamie and I hung out on the dock and enjoyed the feel and sounds of the ocean–a final goodbye to the Caribbean before Jamie has to head home!
Hopefully there will be a few more adventures to come before I make my trip home to the USA!