Sunday, August 12, 2012

Mt. Mansfield With The Boys

After completing our Gust application for the UVM Business Pitch Competition, Austin and I decided we needed to let loose. We threw around a couple of ideas and finally reached a consensus of what needed to be accomplished that weekend. At first we were going to bike 20 some odd miles to Underhill State Park where we would disembark and go for another 4 hour hike up Mount Mansfield (tallest mountain in Vermont) before making the bike ride back. We were both up for the challenge but then came our conscience knocking at our ambitious goal. Our Jiminy Cricket came in the form of our good friend John Little who was skeptical that his own bike could make the trip, instead we opted for riding in style in his VW GTI. And was it sweet. The trip there was short but it was magnificent. Being brought up in the suburbs of Georgia looking at the scenery of Vermont was somewhat reminiscent of those cliché scenes when a country person enters a major city like New York. The Green Mountains though diminutive in size to the Andes that I had seen in Ecuador were no less awe-inspiring. The ride their was like a portal to a new area I had never been to even though I have lived in Vermont for 2 years now. 

Once we got to the park, first thing was first, how do we get to the top? So after trying to pay for our entrance to the park with no place to put the fee into, we just jumped into adventure mode. We needed to find how we could get to the summit using a topographical map, which for me can sometimes be a little troublesome. If John hadn't corrected me on the routes we might have extended the hike another 2-3 hours. So we got right to it and made our way to the Sunset Ridge Trail. Hiking with Austin and John made me immediately reminisce about the scenery of the Appalachian Trail as portrayed in Bill Bryson's novel A Walk in the Woods. It was sick, we talked about everything that would come to mind. It's magical how something as simple as walking in the woods can get best friends who have known each other for years to dig deeper and forge an even stronger bond. This was the good vibes that I constantly was feeling step after step up the mountain. To be honest Mansfield was a tougher battle then I had expected as I had been brought up on hiking the Southern Appalachia. I was wimp compared to John (White Mountain bred) and Austin (Adirondack seasoned). But in the end we did get to the top in one piece. I have to say that at the point we reached the top together I was the happiest I could be. This feeling of euphoria jolted through my veins and everything felt right. I was in good company, the view of the surrounding valley was insane, and there was nothing else I could ask for. I was content where I was in that particular moment. 
      As we made our way back down we had a couple of spills along the way ( as it had rained the night before making the rocks slippery) but not anything too serious. As time passed it was as if the sun was slowly overpowering the cloud cover and finally opening the true scenery surrounding us. It was unreal. We laughed, joked around, and just had some good old fun. It made me reminisce about my time as a Boy Scout where I would have moments just like this one without any form of technology. This was good natural fun. There were no touch pads in sight and because of that we (Austin, John, and I) really got to know each other that much better. So in the end I would love to see Napo Natural be a company that really is geared to people like us who in reality is everyone they just need to be reawakened as I was to see the beauty of nature. I want to see Napo Natural be a catalyst to get people outside and have some good ole' fun. Napo Natural will be the catalyst to  live, learn, love,  and laughter.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Burlington...Its the place to be.

Church Street is Testing Ground for New Businesses - FOX44 - Burlington / Plattsburgh News, Weather & Sports

This sounds promising. I am going to shoot for the stars here and say that we will have a stand on both Church Street and the farmers market next year. April is when the sign up begins hopefully we will have everything in place by then. Right now we are looking at commercial kitchens in the area so that we can actually have a product to sell to our future customers. We have also received support from Eric Lampman at Lake Champlain Chocolates to hopefully get our formulation down in terms of having a bar that is both delicious and gives the energy that you need. With regards to formulation cold processing of the cacao has also peeked my interest. After visiting the local farmers market yesterday I got in touch with Wholey Cacao that makes chocolate here in Burlington using a cold processing technique. Apparently the technique retains much more of the antioxidants and makes the chocolate much more healthy for the consumer. Wholey Cacao directed me to read up on Naked Chocolate by David Wolfe which elaborates on the processing technique and the health benefits associated with raw chocolate. This is really interesting in that we want to create a chocolate that not only provides the the consumer with energy but a sustained energy that is complemented with be a healthy alternative to a cup of coffee. I'm excited for what the future holds for this project.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Rough Video of Our Story

Our first attempt at coming with a pseudo-commercial. Excuse the audio quality and such Austin and I created this as a rough draft for our upcoming kickstarter video. If you have any comment please feel free to comment on it. Give us the good, bad, and the ugly. Check it. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Homestay with Bartolo Licuy

It has been a week or two since my homestay with Bartolo Licuy and his family in the community of San Jose. The decision to be part of a homestay was suggested to me by CassWalker – the Internship Coordinator -- so that I could improve my fluency as well as learn more about the life viewed through the eyes of a Producer Executive Board member.
Most of my time during my internship experience has been devoted to working with the needs assessment that Fundacion Runa has been working on for some time now. The needs assessment has it’s basis on the questionnaire given to farmers during the harvesting of guayusa leaves. Fundacion Runa’s goal is to interview ten percent of the farmers they work with to get an accurate picture of what the needs of the farmers are. Needs that are specifically being targeted include education, nutrition, financial security, and areas of disparity in general.  The idea behind the needs assessment is that it would yield results which could then aid decisions made by the Producer Executive Board – a representative body of the guayusa farmers --as to where funds from the Social Premium Fund would be allocated. By taking advantage of the opportunity of staying with Bartolo – PEB member – I could really make a real world connection to the numbers that I would be working with.
In the beginning I didn’t really know what to expect of my host family and what my situation would yield. All I remember is that Cass dropped me off at the house and told me that I could return to the office whenever I was settled in. The first person to greet me from the family was Bartolo’s wife. Since the rest of the family was either at school or work, she took care of the house and the tienda that the family ran. She was an elderly figure who for some reason reminded me of my own mother in terms of her mannerisms. She was very soft spoken but at the same time was very independent. She showed me to my room which to my surprise was similar to my room back home. Then after settling into the room and doing a little bit of exploring in the immediate area I went to the kitchen so I could interact with Bartolo’s wife. Though I was nervous I knew that the only way to communicate with her would be to force Spanish to come out of my lips. From that point I didn’t care about the sentence structure but just spit whatever vocabulary I had in my head to convey a point. I formally introduced myself and told her why I, a student from the states, was here in a small Kichwa community in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Then she told me about what a normal day consisted of. Usually the day started of with breakfast and of course guayusa, immediately following children and adults went to their respective work place, then everyone would reconvene during the afternoon to talk and socialize as to how everyone’s day went by. She also warned me that the smaller children would probably want to play during the evening which I was excited about. After talking to her for a little bit in the kitchen, I went back to my room to lie down for a little bit as it was midafternoon by this point. When I came out of my room I saw that she was tending to customers at the tienda while holding one of her grandchildren. I decided the least I could do was help her out with the shop for a little bit. After which I headed off to the office and work on some data input of the needs assessment data.
When I returned to the house later that evening it had seemed like a party was ensuing in the house. I walked to the kitchen area while greeting everyone with a “Buenos noches”. Then the questions started. To give you a picture I was sitting on a chair in the kitchen when practically all of Bartolo’s family was in the room. Four of his daughters were there along with six to seven grandchildren who varied in age. All of whom, who were interested in who the new extranjero was and why he was here. So I explained to them that I was a student interning with Runa and wanted to learn more about Kichwa culture. What I found fascinating was how immediately after asking my name they immediately asked how old I was and if I was married. Once I sat in the hot seat I didn’t get up for another 3-4 hours. I listened and conversed and I wasn’t bored for a single second. Because everything was new to me and all I wanted to be was a sponge that could absorb as much information as I could. The electricity would go on and off, food would be served, and new people would come up to me to talk. They would share their stories and I would share mine. Even their lives were completely different from that of my own I knew that a human connection was ever present.
I had an especially deep talk with Bartolo in which we discussed respective histories of our people. I spoke of both American and Indian history as I have background knowledge of both culturally and historically. And Bartolo would talk of Kichwa culture and how it began and how it has weathered time. It was an inspiring conversation to have with Bartolo. And Bartolo reminded me of my now deceased grandfather in the way he was enthusiastic about his culture and want to inspire the youth. By comparing these different cultures we sparked new ideas and all of this was done through a language that was a second language to both of us. I stressed the importance of the PEB and how the representation of the farmers is really the base of Runa’s operation. To avoid exploitation as has happened in the past with tea in India I stressed that the PEB working with Fundacion Runa should be knowledgable of what is happening in an effort to prevent wrong doing. We recognized that what Runa was doing was helpful for the Kichwa farmers but by each part of Grupo Runa being knowledgeable of all activities we can move forward in a sustainable sense. This conversation supplemented with guayusa went on late into the night in a candle lit room at times when power would go off for hours at a time.
The interactions that I had with Bartolo and his family gave me a renewed sense that no matter what boundary or characteristic that all humans have an innate connection to each other. The interexchange of ideas was really something that I will treasure for my entire life. It was also an eye opening experience to also learn some historical background to how the Kichwa culture has evolved with time. And most importantly I got a glimpse of what world is viewed through the eyes of a Kichwa farmer’s eyes in small community of San Jose. 

Sunday, June 3, 2012


Dude, I freaking climbed Chimborazo and it was awesome. The mountain is... I don't know how high but each step was a closer step to death. It was freaking awesome. Got to meet a cool French couple on the way up the mountain. I really need to learn more languages because I feel that is the most important thing in order to open doors to other peoples' minds and therefore stories and opportunities. I finally feel clear in the head now that I am breathing the clean fresh air in the Sierra. I see why people in India go to hill stations it literally feels cleaner here. And since Riobamba is an actual city it has food from all over the world. There is a freaking KFC here. Oh and that Italian place I found was awesome. The lasagna con pollo y popeye pizza estaba muy delicioso. Y tambian la cocinero aprendaste cocinar de su papa quien vivia en Italia por 16 anos. Mi espanol ha mejorando con tiempo. Then the burrito at San Valentin Club was bomb last night as well . And I got to meet Luis which was awesome. Ecuador is such a cool country in that you can take weekend trips to a totally different region so that your mind doesn't fall in a lull. For a country the size of Nevada the biodiversidad es increible. $5  on a bus can take you pretty much everywhere in the country whether that be the Sierra, Oriente, Costa, ... well not quite the Galapagos. I have once again fallen in love with Ecuador and have recargando mi cuerpo to return back into the jungle. Alright well time to loiter for a bit before I catch my bus. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Questions That Need To Be Answered

How much per bar? 
Cost of shipping?
Finalize recipe...
Ask Francisco about how much per quintal of guayusa?
Ask Jaime about numbers of production equipment?
Caffiene content?
Effects of Theobromine and Theophyline?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

First Batch - Varun Gopinath

Finally made the chocolate with the guayusa, sugar, and cocoa. That's it... those are the three ingredients that is going to be in the first product of Napo Natural. We might have to change the name to be more culturally sensitive. So the product in terms of testing was quite simple to process. All you need is a hand crank mill which is in essence a pulverization device and a source of heat and pressure for the raw materials. The first batch was a bit bitter. So more sugar than usual was needed to compensate for the taste. This was due to a double toasting which burned the cocoa needed to make the chocolate. So next time which is tomorrow we will solely use one toasting. It was a really fun process and we think that the idea is going quite well. Giving out chocolates tomorrow is going to be our source of data. We are actually starting it. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Our Beginnings

Little snippets of Austin and I's trip to Ecuador which inspired the creation of Napo Natural. We went to Ecuador on a medical brigade with a student organization called MEDLIFE. MEDLIFE sends undergraduate students to parts of Latin America to help with health aid operations.  It was my second brigade to Tena, Ecuador which is at the heart of the Ecuadorian Amazon. Our experience showed us problems in the province of Napo that could be easily curable with proper sanitation and infrastructure. While there I rekindled my friendship with Jaime -- owner of hotel we were staying at -- and forged a lasting relationship between Austin, Jaime and I.

Friendship and inter-exchange between different cultures is where our story as Napo Natural begins. Though Jaime, Austin, and I come from different places and backgrounds we have all realized what it truly means to be human. And being human is helping your fellow man/woman out. Jaime with his background with Ferrero really propelled the chocolate concept as a vehicle to aid in the sustainable development of the Amazon.