In every village we visited we were greeted with youthful enthusiasm. Sometimes, the children would paddle out their canoes to play in the wake of the boat. Other times, they climbed up on the boat and used it as a diving board to jump back into the river. Children were in the majority in every village we stopped in and they were always the center of attention. Over the years, the difficult living conditions and poor medical care take their toll; we saw few old people in the villages we visited.

Most of the villages grew fruit trees: lemons, limes, or more exotic star-fruits and mangos. A short walk into the forest and we were lucky enough to find and sample fruit from cacao, the chocolate tree. Our 21-year-old guide, Abelardo, a Yaguar Indian, showed us which fruit was ripe and how to peel it.

The fruit from a cacao tree is football-shaped and green and about six inches to a foot long when ripe. Outside there's a tough exterior; inside there's a soft, fibrous, white "meat" and small dark cacao seeds (from which chocolate is made). The white meat of the fruit is mild-tasting with a nice texture, the dark seeds give it a bittersweet chocolate flavor.

Two children followed us into the forest. A girl about nine years old asked for our knife. We handed it to her and she began to expertly peel the cocoa fruit for herself and her younger brother. Pretty soon we had a chocolate party in the forest!
 Friends in the forest

 Discovering the Amazon:
The World's Greatest River

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