May 31, 2013
Nestled in the soft-contoured, lush Cocoa Coast landscape, Fazenda Almada, founded in 1855, welcomes visitors to Bahia with a spell of delightful indulgence. Open for day use only, the property near the town of Uruçuca, about one hour away from Ilhéus, lures the traveler with time spent in the beautiful farmhouse with many intact architectural features and period furniture, lunch served on the family's vintage dinnerware, handcrafted chocolate made from the farm's cocoa and a tour of the cocoa grove.
Owner Elizabeth Torres de Cerqueira Lima, a gracious hostess who receives all visitors personally, married into the lineage of Almada owners in 1976. Born and raised in Rio, she had to quickly adapt to a new lifestyle when she and her husband moved to the farm with their two-month daughter. "Living in Rio, I was constantly in high heels," said Elizabeth. "When I opened the farmhouse window and saw nothing but grass, that was quite a jolt."
"The house is nearly 160 years old. The walls are made of stone and the wood for the flooring came from Fazenda Almada," she says. In the past, the farm had slaves, who lived in houses rather than in a senzala, or slave house. Some of their descendants are still around. "All the workers here have their roots in Almada," says Elizabeth.
Like other farms in Ilhéus, the cocoa farm prospered. Then came the speedy and virulent witch's broom infestation of 1989, which devastated the area's cocoa farms. After Elizabeth's husband passed away, she paid compensation to the workers and devoted herself to the farm's recovery.
Today, besides receiving tourists for the day, the farm has recovered part of its production. It also has a golden lion tamarin preservation project.
Tourism helps keep the property and allows for a lavish display of Cerqueira Lima hospitality. On the wrap-around veranda surrounded by grassy expanses and mature trees, a baiana dressed in traditional attire makes acarajé as an appetizer for the newly arrived group; the table is meticulously set with the family's white and gold china for an al fresco lunch. On our visit, we ate fish and stew, vegetables from the garden and truffles made by Elizabeth herself from their pure cocoa.
A short walk leads to the cocoa groves where workers cut fruit you can sample fresh, deliciously gooey. The pretty chapel, the cocoa drying area, and trails are part of the attraction.
A small statue of St. Rita sits in a place of honor in the Almada living room. The icon once had its hands and head cut off when a band of rough individuals invaded the farm in 1889, led by a man who was infuriated at the family's refusal to sell the property. As the story goes, the man who perpetrated the vandalism and the band leader had fates similar to that of the statue.
Whereas the statue with no hands and its delicate head glued to the body guards the place, a spider is the farm's symbol. A ceramic tile on the living room wall depicts it above the Latin words "Persiste et Vinces" (persist and you will win), a perfect motto for this lovely farm, a paradigm of Cocoa Coast struggle and overcoming.
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