Today I ventured out of the city through the Ecuadorian highlands to the countryside to meet yet another remarkable farmer. In Panama I met Don Cune who continued to grow coffee in the traditional way and had taught himself to become organic and I’ve quickly learned that industralism isn’t always progress.
Today I took a unique tour with Casa Cuencana. I met Rogelio, a very kind farmer who was so happy to show me how sugar cane is processed and its many uses.
He first explained that sugar cane workers have a perilous job as the cane is tough and difficult to chop. Many of the workers lose fingers and have very serious injuries working in the hot sun.
The people I would meet today had easier jobs but once chopped there is still so much to do.
It all starts by crushing the sugar cane where workers also need to be careful to watch their fingers in the machine.
I watched the sweet liquid pass through the machine and Rogelio he passed it through a strainer and then he gave me a fresh drink of the pure sugar cane juice.
While it was delicious enough to end with strained juice it goes into a hot vat for processing, is cooled and most of it becomes unbleached sugar. Shockingly a 2kg size brick of brown sugar was being sold for 80 cents.
All that hard work from field workers and processors and only eighty cents to show for it.
Like most farmers, Rogelio makes the most of the land and nothing goes to waste. Once the juice is extracted from the sugar cane the leftover stalk is used as firewood to fuel the processing.
But brown sugar isn’t the only thing that can be created, Rogelio also distills the liquid and sells it to aguardiente companies. This is where the real money is made, sadly mostly by the distilleries. Although aguardiente became a favorite of mine salsa dancing in Cali, I found it to be strong so Rogelio mixed it with a dash of juice and it was delicious.
There are days when a person’s spirit really touches you, Rogelio was the kind of man that made you feel comfortable right away with a smile that warms the room.
He’s invited me back tomorrow to watch them make brown sugar but I can’t go. If you’re passing through Cuenca and want to visit him and some other farmers in the area Casa Cuencana can arrange tours as they are personal friends.