After visiting Chocolat Bonnat in Voiron, France, we made our way back to Paris and boarded a flight for Madagascar. It was a long flight (about 10 hours), and we arrived in the airport in capital of Antananarivo, nicknamed Tana, at midnight! After waiting in immigration for an hour for our visas to be issued, we went to a hotel near the airport and crashed.
The next day we went back to the airport and grabbed a 2 hour ride in a prop plane to the island of Nosy Be, also called the “The Island of Flavors” (L’Isle des Parfums). It is a island off the northern coast of Madagascar that has been developed for tourism, and it is not far from the cacao growing region of Ambanja.
While we were waiting for the flight to Nosy Be, Cyrus met a woman named Alice who had just arrived from San Francisco. Alice said that she was going to fly to Nosy Be and then travel to Ambanja to visit a cocoa plantation. She is the chocolate maker at a new company called Dandelion Chocolate and she and her business partner Cameron were visiting Madagascar in order to source beans. Several days later, Cyrus got a call saying that they would like to meet us at a restaurant on the beach before they got the plane back to the mainland. Our lunch was organized by Bertil Akesson, part-owner of one of the largest plantations in Madagascar that we had arranged to visit the next week.
Alice and company arrived about 1 hour late due to boat trouble (not unusual in Madagascar) and we had a quick lunch so that they wouldn’t miss their flight. Besides Alice and her partner, Cameron, there was Bertil and Oliver, a chocolate maker from Germany. As we sat down for lunch, I was beginning to put it all together: Bertil’s father founded a plantation in the 70’s, and that plantation sells beans to some of the best chocolate companies in the world. Oliver and Dandelion were there to source these wonderful beans and to learn more about the plantation. And the reason that we were there having lunch with them was because Cyrus is a great communicator and had the sense to borrow my aunt’s cellphone before leaving Germany, getting a local sim chip, and staying in touch with our friends at Madecasse who were arranging our visit to Ambanja!
During lunch I sat next to Oliver and he asked me if I knew of a certain distributor in Calgary. “He’s the distributor of Coppeneur”, I said and then Cameron announced “Well, this is Mr. Coppeneur!”. This information totally blew me away. What are the chances of randomly meeting Oliver Coppeneur at a beach side restaurant in Madagascar? What luck to be at the right place at the right time. It was exhilarating to feel like I was part of some global cacao network. This chance encounter cemented my belief that what we were doing, traveling the world in search of cacao, was the right thing.
We now were anxious to begin our trip to the cacao growing region of Madagascar, the Sambirano Valley, and the town of Ambanja.