Posted in Uncategorized by leoniemilner on 19/03/2013

A Trip to TIPNIS



Territorio Indígena y Parque Nacional Isiboro Secure [Tipnis], has been recognised as protected indigenous territory since 1990. The people living within its colossal 1,091,656 hectares belong to the Tsimané, Yuracaré, and Mojeño-Trinitario peoples. Spanning between the Cochabamba and Beni Departments of Bolivia, it is land wild and rich with chocolatales. With three days away by boat to the nearest port of Trinidad, it is also somewhat faraway.

We had just arrived in Tipnis territory to buy chocolate, or, more precisely cacao – dry beans by the Arroba [11.5kg]. It is an annual trip for REPSA, a first for me and traveling to Tipnis, I soon realised how important the wild cacao harvest is to these communities.

Firstly, it is of interest to note, and admire, that the price paid for the beans has risen over 300% in the ten years that REPSA has been buying in this area. B$60-70 per Arroba, to the current B$260-270 [£1/€1.2 to B$11].  An impressive rise, brought about by a competitive and growing market. This is why we pay good money for a nice bar of chocolate.

The sale of cacao doesn’t just bring the obvious benefit of capital however – it brings people in boats from Trinidad, fully stocked with provisions of rice, flour, sugar, coca, cigarettes etc, all for sale or to exchange for a couple of arrobas of beans. It generally brings some excitement too, for both parties, a break in routine; I felt that.

Here again, similar to Tranquilidad, is a simple life, but stripped-down even more so. The people, by appearance, are healthier than their city dwelling contemporaries, fit and lean and it never felt more true that we all lead excessive lives in comparison. One thing that should be valued however is that we also have within reach, everyday certain things that allow us to develop as healthy human beings; a standard of education, which is often absent on the river, and calcium, which was never there in the first place, resulting in most adults having all but one tooth left. The incredible sugar consumption doesn’t help matters. You can travel to the most remote parts of this world and people will still know and desire Coca Cola – perversely impressive.

One community we visited had settled about 200 years ago on the banks of a secluded Laguna, leading off from the Isiboro River. It is called San Pablo – fairly well developed, it has a generator and a basic medical facility. A beautiful place and where it turns out, we brought most of the cacao. Word spread, as always I was told, and soon the boat was filling with beans and emptying of rice and flour.

‘12.03.2013: I made my bed on sacks of cacao as it looked quite comfortable and I was too lazy to tie my hammock. Terrible. Hardly slept – stupid idea. Find new place for bed tonight.’

If you have heard of Tipnis at all, it is most likely in connection with the contentious subject of a highway being laid through it, linking directly the Departments of Cochabamba and Beni for the first time. A major concern about the impact of the road is it’s contribution to de-forestation but projected estimates and percentages are conflicting and ambiguous. The status on the construction however, is forever changing and subsequently, so is the fate of Tipnis. If you would like to know more information, you can access it here. 

By the fourth day, the boat was heavy and full: 272.5 Arrobas; a mountain of sacks, smelling unbelievable, filled with beans dried by the Beniano sun. With no money left to buy anymore cacao during this trip, it was time to make the journey back to Trinidad. When we left, there were still so many mazorca [cacao pods] attached to the trees, bright yellow and standing out amongst the shade they grow so well beneath. For this reason, the boat will return to San Pablo once more, to purchase the last beans of the harvest, maybe in the coming week.

The ‘chocolate’ is something these people know very well; it is in their life like fishing and the wood of the land that they live on. It is apt then, that these wild beans are equally as special and intriguing as the people who harvest them. What a story.

Until next year Tipnis, Saludos, Leonie.

 International Cocoa Organisation– constantly follows and analysesthe world´s cocoa market.

 REPSA  Rainforest Exsquisite Products

Sources of information on the Tipnis Highway construction

Original Beans – making bars of chocolate with the Beni Wild Harvest.


Posted in Uncategorized by leoniemilner on 08/02/2013

WILD CACAO is a topic vulnerable to romantic exaggeration. It is an exotic thought and our imaginations are strong. It would be easier to write something poetic, but it would be mis-leading.

The Chocolatales of North Eastern Bolivia are half a world away. Masses of land abundant in a concentration of wild growing cacao, they are `islands´, surrounded by trenches; ancient territorial hang-overs, left behind by the people who populated them once before.  Hacienda Tranquilidad was built at the heart of a chocolatal approximately ten years ago and is at the centre of a fine, wild harvest in this particular area of the Beni Department.

For the families here, the cacao is a crop and an opportunity to increase their income for a couple of months each year. It is also a nice fruit to suck on when you are walking through the forest. Wild harvest commences any time between November – March but right now, with most of the pods on the old and knuckled trunks still green, it looks like harvest will come closer to the end of that spectrum this year.

There is no doubting the beauty of this area. It´s like I have been asleep for five weeks, in a dream. Not because everything in the Beni is perfect  – far from it, it is just a different kind of existence, more simplistic and you adapt without realising.

I will return to Tranquilidad at the end of February, to milking the cows each morning, running through the chocolatales each evening and to trees decorated with yellow pods, ready for the wild harvest of 2013.

Life is simple. No more, no less.

Pretty content right now. Next chapter  in March. See you then.

Posted in Uncategorized by leoniemilner on 20/12/2012


Trinidacito is found four-hours downstream of the River Chapare where, eventually, a cluster of dugouts and well-trodden, grassless slopes signal the way in. Like other remote settlements along the river, Trinidacito is both the home and life of indigenous people inhabiting the lowland areas of Bolivia. They have been here for a long time.

Situated as they are, the river is essential; it is water to cook with, clean clothes and bathe in. And, of course, it brings fish. The abundant plantain makes up a good part of breakfast and now the harvest of wild cacao is steadily providing a more reliable income for these communities.

The people of Trinidacito, with others – from settlements up and downstream – are part of a cocoa recollection project managed by REPSA. Initiated in 2011, the projects’ ongoing objective is to increase the quality of the entire harvest process, thus ensuring a better result for the people who carry out it out. This work also re-enforces the importance and value of non-timber products to come out of the forest.

This particular recollection system is now – after what sounds like three years of hard work together with ARCASY* – Fairwild certified. It stands alone in this certification, completely unique and the only cacao in the world to be recognised as so. Fairwild is an interesting organization if you have time to look it up.  →

Joining as part of the REPSA team for an assembly, I watched people over the four days. They were welcoming and with a first glance, somewhat more friendly and content than their contemporaries in the bigger cities.

The 2013 wild harvest will commence in February and I really hope to return to Trinidacito at some point, because, at times it is nice to take your evening bath in the river and be part of this life for a moment.

*ARCASY: The Association of Cacao Collectors on the River Chapare.

Posted in Uncategorized by leoniemilner on 16/12/2012

Just watching football. Thursday evening, Trinidacito, Rio Chapare.

Posted in Uncategorized by leoniemilner on 18/11/2012

THROUGH THE ANDES AND INTO BOLIVIA I GO. What can i tell you about the last week? I touched down in Peru and then, the next day, took a ten hour train to Puno,  close to the Bolivian border. Yes, it was a beautiful train, the ‘Andean Explorer’ with armchairs, complimentary drinks and a three course meal. The only thing that hindered this otherwise five star experience for the passangers on the train was the drab figure sat opposite them, just hoping to get to the other side. Yes, that would be me, sick and unconscious of almost anything outside my illness – apart from a nose bleed and some really stunning views. Altitude sickness or ‘Soroche’ as it is known, doesn’t affect everyone but apparently my lungs weren’t quite upto it. The three course menu was redundant but I just about managed a Pisco Sour and a bowl of chicken soup. Some thoughts that went through my head:  1. How amazing it was to see men making bricks out of clay on an industrial level – very interesting. 2. Where do all these women grazing their herd in the middle of nowhere come from? 3. The incredible colour of the Andes, like brown carpeted velvet.

Once in Puno, I travelled over the border, by bus, to La Paz. The Journey to Hacienda Tranquilidad continues.

Posted in Uncategorized by leoniemilner on 20/08/2012



Posted in Uncategorized by leoniemilner on 21/04/2012

Going to Bolivia in November to work with cacao and will document the whole thing on here I expect. Amazon basin living. Cannot wait.

Posted in Uncategorized by leoniemilner on 30/03/2012

Lambing Season 2012. 550 ewes. Busy days.

Posted in Uncategorized by leoniemilner on 18/03/2012

o brother.

Posted in Uncategorized by leoniemilner on 03/11/2011