A thriving little market town slung along the Eastern Main Road, SANGRE GRANDE (“big blood”, after a long-forgotten battle between Amerindians and the incoming Spanish) – pronounced “sandy grandy” but usually just called “grandy” – is a bustling transportation hub for the whole east coast from Toco to Mayaro, and the only place in the region with a bank or ATM. Residents of surrounding villages crowd the pavements every Friday to deposit wage cheques, shop at the market stalls, take a fast-food fix and drink the night away at the many rum shops. Most visitors pass through en route to somewhere else, or stop off to change taxis and maxis, but it’s well worth diverting just south of town to check out the excellent Velaja cocoa estate.
This ten-acre working estate Velaja Estate offers a fantastic insight into traditional cacao production. Trinidad Select Hybrid cocoa is grown and processed on site using age-old methods, and the estate has been opened up to visitors by way of a couple of excellent tours. The “Love of Cocoa” trip takes you through the shady cocoa groves, with guides explaining how the trees are maintained and the cocoa pods harvested, and into the processing house, where the raw beans are fermented, “danced” to remove the sweet outer pulp, and then dried ready to be ground into cocoa powder; the tour also includes tasting of raw beans, cocoa nibs and a cup of hot chocolate tea. There’s also a “Secrets of the Forest” tour, a moderately challenging hike up into the high reaches of the estate to learn about the trees which make up the woodlands here, and how they’ve been used in traditional agriculture and husbandry. Workshops on organic and hydroponic gardening are also regularly staged, as are special activities for kids; and custom-designed tours are available: call ahead to find out what’s on.