IT’S EXCITING, AS IT IS DAUNTING.
We had concerns for the road conditions. Whenever we asked, “how are the roads from Kota Kinabalu to Ranau and Tenom?” the response was a giggle and, “steep”.
Here’s a map. We start in Kota Kinabalu (see marker below), drive to the circled places – Ranau and Tenom.
SEARCHING FOR CACAO IN THE UNKNOWN, REMOTE AREAS OF SABAH IS EXCITING.
Hiring a 4WD was pretty easy – we found a company that rented a Mitsubishi Triton for 200 MYR per day, which is equivalent to just under £40 if rented for one week. It definitely showed it’s age, and the engine light was lit majority of the journey. Nonetheless, it got us from A to B without hassle.
We left Kota Kinabalu, drove a couple of hours to Mt. Kinabalu (4,095 m) and stayed at D Villa Rina Ria Lodge for 2 nights before we met with Malaysian Cocoa Board unit in Ranau. Kota Kinabalu was around 33° and arriving at Mt. Kinabalu was like stepping into London again at 19° with a bit of wet humid mist.
It's Thursday, 15 May
Ready to meet Mr Affendy, the chief officer for Ranau from the Malaysian Cocoa Board. It’s our first trip to a cacao farm — I can't tell you how excited we were, there are just no words to describe the feeling we had.
It's Friday, fully awake at 6am
We met with Affendy and his two colleagues who drove us to a cacao village called “Togis”. We then met with Mr Mujin who is one of the cacao village leaders, they explained to us their way of harvesting, processing, developing and sustaining their crop.
We learnt plenty of new things on our first trip; how many cocoa pods each tree produced, roughly how many beans per pod, type of trees and how they make their money.
We also explained our new business, ideas and future. It may have been a lot to take in on the first encounter, but it’s worth saying to let people think and absorb. We want more than just people farming cacao.
We like innovation, efficiency, beliefs and understanding, and all to strive for the end product. The end product relies on the growth of cacao, and we want the growers to understand that they play a vital role in making successful and delicious chocolate. With much better pay than they already get; farming is not easy.
This was an overwhelming experience. The people were full of kindness, smiles, laughs and generosity. Mujin gave us a bag full of bananas. I was craving for bananas, or going bananas without bananas as it wasn't glamorous to buy bananas in Kota Kinabalu town.
And at the end he prepared a refreshing coconut for us, the best coconut we've ever had.