My first visit to Up in The Hill took place about 4 years ago. A friend from California invited me to take a hike from Isla Bastimentos´ main dock all the way to the pristine Wizard beach. On the way back we stopped at Up in The Hill for some refreshments and the most amazing, mind-blowing coconut covered chocolate truffles that I have ever had!
Since then I have set my priorities straight and every time I travel to Bocas del Toro I must get my truffles from Up in The Hill, even if a visit to Isla Bastimentos was not on the agenda.
Sometimes my chocolate transactions seemed to be almost illegal. I’d hire a water taxi and go on a 15 minute boat ride from Isla Colon, the main island, with a cooler on my lap.
Javier would be at the dock waiting with my order and put it inside the cooler. The first time, I noticed that my boat driver was nervous about the transaction. I opened the cooler and was hesitant about sharing my treasure but I gave him a truffle anyway and said “this is what we came here for”. Nowadays, you can get Up in the Hill’s products at Super Gourmet Bocas del Toro so the suspicious boat rides are all in the past.
Javier, a former MTV producer from Argentina, says that it all started when he discovered the tropics on his first trip to Brazil when he was just 16 years old. He was amazed by the colors of the water, as well as the tranquility of the sea
and he set a goal that one day he would live in such a place.
Javier traveled for many years looking for that special place and in 1996 he visited Bocas del Toro and was attracted by its Caribbean feeling, pristine waters and lush nature. He finally decided to settle in Bocas and was lucky enough
to purchase the land for his project.
Jeanette, originally from Scotland, came to Panama in 2001 to work at the PROMAR foundation as a volunteer for a turtle conservation program in Playa Larga, Isla Bastimentos, where Javier was the project director. They got together and after the turtle conservation project, they started working on their life project. In 2002 they started planting on their purchased land, gathered wood to build a house and they even camped on the farm for 3 months in order to really get to know it and to plan where they wanted to build the house. It took them approximately 2 months to build their house.
A little while later, Jeanette who has a BSc in biology and chemistry, started to study and understand more and more about the plants on the farm as well as coconut oil and created the Pure Tree natural body product line made from
coconut oil, plants, flowers and fruits from their organic garden. They also started working with cocoa making pure chocolate from the trees on their farm and selling it on the main island, Isla Colon.
By the time they had their first child, it was becoming a bit harder to take the products from Up in The Hill to the main island. One day Javier was down at the beach talking to a couple of girls who were surfing and he told them about his farm, the natural body products sold there as well as having lemonade and brownies. The girls came up
and they were the first customers, and that is how they decided to open their shop.
Since their home is far from the town and it is a bit complicated to travel back and forth every day, Javier and Jeanette homeschool their 3 children who speak English, Spanish and Guari-guari (Bocas del Toro creole, a hybrid tongue of English and Spanish with elements of the Guami and Ngöbe Bugle natives). The children have a teacher
from the USA and Javier takes care of their Spanish education.
Their first son’s name is Theo influenced by the genus name of the cacao tree, Theobroma, which is derived from the Greek roots Theo which means God and Broma which means food “food of gods”.
The 4 hectare farm was originally a cattle farm, so Javier and Jeanette took it upon themselves to plant all kinds of fruits, trees and plants using permaculture, working with natural elements such as nitrogen and compost.
There are 3 different kinds of cocoa: Criollo (native), Forastero (foreign) and Trinitario, a hybrid between Criollo and Forastero originating in Trinidad Tobago. Trinitario’s fruit is really sweet and very resistant to disease while Criollo is the best cocoa seed, tastier but more difficult to find.
Shade from other trees like banana trees and balsa trees offer the optimal temperature for cocoa trees to grow. The cocoa fruit grows right at the trunk and takes about 2 to 3 months to ripen. During the harvesting season, a tree can produce around 40 to 50 fruits. Inside each fruit there are about 60 to 70 seeds.
Up in The Hill produces approximately 1 ton of cocoa per year and, in addition, they produce coconut oil and other fruits, leaves, spices and vegetables such as pineapple, pejibaye, pumpkin, coffee, nutmeg, avocado, jackfruit, tamarind, passion fruit (which happens to be a vine), chaya (tree spinach), ayahuaska (used by Shamans), papaya, cilantro, lemons, cinnamon, ylang-ylang (used to make Chanel #5), garlic leaves and a variety of wood for construction that comes from their reforestation project.
Up in the Hill offers a guided tour around the farm where you not only get to learn about all these trees and their qualities but also you get to experience the cocoa production process from the tree to the table. At the end of the tour Javier and Jeanette prepare a nice picnic where you get to sample fruits and chocolate. All products are readily available for sale including hand painted t-shirts.
In addition to the natural products and the coffee shop, Up in The Hill offers two eco-friendly solar powered cabins with a kitchen and a wonderful ocean view.
Up in the Hill is an organic farm located on the highest hill on Bastimentos Island, Bocas del Toro. A visit to the farm and especially the coffee shop is a must. It is one of those rare cool places only found when creative and visionary people pour their efforts, ideas and love into a project so others have the luxury of experiencing great products.
For more information contact:
+507-6607-8962 / +507-6578-2277