We, Ana María, Martin and Kerstin, have made a precision landing at the Vienna International Airport – with our backpacks filled with chocolate, pictures and stories for our backers. We arrived healthy and happy after an exciting but also exhausting journey through Bolivia. Here comes a short overview of our journey to the Chocolate Road, our encounters with old and new friends and the next steps ahead.
La Paz did not disappoint and took our breath away. Not only because of its extreme altitude (El Alto International Airport is situated at 4.061 meters above sea level), but by its impressive views and vibrancy. The latter immediately caught us too, and we started working straight after our arrival. After all, we had the first meetings and interviews scheduled for the next morning, before we would take off from La Paz towards the Chocolate Road a few days later.
Our journey took us from La Paz (3.600m, 15°C) to the central offices of El Ceibo in El Alto (4.061m, 10°C) and further to the tropical lowlands of Alto Beni to Sapecho, Sara Ana, Cobendo and Palos Blancos (420-480m, 38°C) and back to El Alto and La Paz before we passed through Uyuni (3.653m, 15°C) and the highlands (Altiplano) 4.300 – 4.900m, 0-8°C) to Tarija and San Lorenzo (1.900m, 25°C) close to the border of Argentina and then back to La Paz and Vienna – always equipped with camera, tripod, microphone and notebook so we would not miss out on any opportunity to learn new things and interview interesting people. It was a very emotional and physically exhausting journey, showing us everything Bolivia has to offer – most of all great encounters and conversations. Among others, we met with the following people from different fields of expertise:
At El Ceibo: Hoved Pacara (President of El Ceibo), the Members of the El Ceibo Executive Board Emilia Roca Medina (Vice President), Felipe Cancari Capcha (2nd Vice President), Nemion Condori (CEO), Michel Yucra Vargas (Sales), Rogelio Moya Huanca (Finance & Controlling), Victor Jiménez Torrez; Fredi Alcón, Head of the Sara Ana Research Center; teachers, students and social workers from Sapecho and of course the cocoa farmers of the El Ceibo cooperative.
At the Vice-Ministry for Tourism: Ernesto Rossell Arteaga, Vice-Minister for Tourism; Ruth Suxo Martínez, Head of the Department for the Development of Community Based Tourism in Bolivia; Paola Medina, Oneline Marketing expert at the Vice-Ministry for Tourism; at the Ministry for Culture and Tourism: Jazmín Antonio, formerly responsible foir the development of the nation brand “Bolivia te espera”;
At cooperation talks regarding culinary tourism in Bolivia: the Board Members of the Tarija Tourism Board (OGD): Viviana Ugarte, former President of OGD, Patricia Barroso, current President of OGD, Heidy Rivera, Coordinator of OGD; Claudio Miguel Ávila Navajas, Mayor of San Lorenzo; Carlos Ríos, tourism expert and Chief Cabinet Secretary to the Mayor of San Lorenzo; Don Fernando, eco-farmer and owner of the first “pick your own fruits-farm” in Bolivia; Carlos Carafa, business consultant and founder of a tourism platform for individual travel offers to Bolivia, and many, many more …
The big workshop we planned for the farmers had to be transformed into several smaller workshops, due to geographical circumstances and lack of mobility of the local population. This made them look slightly less spectacular on the pictures, but also more intense and efficient.
We spent some exciting weeks in Bolivia, in which we saw, experienced and heard loads of new things, but most of all, we listened. We consider listening the most important element on our way towards creating the Chocolate Road. Only if we know what moves the people in the region and what they think, fear and wish for, can we move and create something good together.