Mountaineering the slippery highlands and precariously descending muddy slopes while carrying PVC pipes is no walk in the campo. Water-building is a laborious task – digging trenches, laying down pipes, mixing and lugging buckets of cement from eight in the morning until the afternoon can take a serious toll on ones energy and strength. Combined with the tropical climate and sometimes-unpredictable weather, (oh helloooo, random tropical storm – where did you come from?) it can be easy to lose the motivation, energy and positive attitude necessary to complete the task at hand.
Thankfully, there are ways to overcome fatigue and exhaustion while you’re working. Although staying hydrated and taking periodical breaks are of upmost importance, one of the most useful and convenient methods of keeping my energy levels up while working was taking advantage of the DR’s natural resources all around me.
The Dominicans introduced us to cacao when our group first started working and needless to say, we were addicted to it in no time. For those who are unfamiliar with cacao, it is an oval-shaped seed that grows in abundance on the trees in the Dominican Republic. Chocolate and cocoa butter are derived from this seed among other things. It is full of natural sugar and offers a variety of health benefits upon consumption.
Basically, this is how the introduction to cacao went down: a Dominican spotted a ripe cacao on a tree ready for the taking. After finally attaining the cacao (not as easy as one would think), he slammed it against the tree. At first, I thought this was some sort of ritual – destroy the first cacao as a sign of respect or something – but actually, this is how they break the outer shell to expose the fleshy pulp inside. The surrounding Dominicans then huddled around the glorious cacao, picked the seeds off with their fingers and excitedly popped them into their mouths. Then they offered it to me and the rest is history. I became a cacao-fiend and it’s one of my most cherished memories from my time at the campo.
Not only did the cacao have a sweet, almost floral flavor, it fueled my body and my mind. I was pumped with natural sugar and had revitalized energy to continue working. The best part was that cacao wasn’t the only fruit available for us to try – the lush foliage and tropical climate induce a plethora of distinct seeds and fruits. It was an amazing thing to experience and it really made a difference for me.
By the end of the week, most of us became experts on fruit picking and tasting. We knew which were ripe, how to break the shell and learned the importance of using the natural resources around us.
So, next time you’re working on that mountaintop, feeling like you can’t go any longer, take a look around – you might just find the answer to your problem and learn something new!