Meeting Sugarcane Farmer Rogelio

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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.

sugar cane processing

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.

sugar cane juice heating

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.

zhumir aguardiente

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.

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Join the Conversation

  1. If your on a budget in Ecuador and still like to party, this liquor is prefect! jajaja I used to be able to get a coke bottle of this stuff for $0.25 at the local indigenous market. If you could drink a whole bottle of it and still be able to talk, you were a better person then I! 🙂

  2. Migrationology says:

    Interesting tour, that sugar is cheap! I love to drink sugar can juice in Africa with a squeeze of lime and ginger mixed in!

  3. Camels & Chocolate says:

    I have NOT met Rogelio, but I’d very much like to! His his name the Spanish equivalent of Roger, you think? I like Rogelio much better!

  4. The NVR Guys says:

    Extremely cool! Not only do we LOVE “factory” tours (if you will) I think the experience of meeting someone like Rogelio is invaluable. You will probably never look at sugar the same way again.

    It really is amazing how the things we take for granted are so often thanks to the grueling, dangerous and barely (if at all) profitable work of people like Rogerio and his crew. Really makes you thankful for what we have and more aware of the true cost of things.

  5. Thanks for introducing me to Rogelio. His beautiful mind shows even through the photo. What you are doing on your trip – going up close with the locals – is what travel is all about – at least for me. This are the most precious travel souvenirs one can take home. And a free education on top 😉

  6. adventureswithben says:

    What a cool experience!

  7. its incredible how much work goes in for such little profit, and sad how big companies can manipulate the growers.
    love the picture of rogelio, you can tell he is a great bloke just from that.

  8. Sounds like an interesting day. I like local tours. You learn a lot.

  9. Hey Ayngelina, great story and photos! That “machine” looks wild.

  10. I haven’t met him, yet, but I do now. Anyone who helps make aguardiente is a friend in my book. (Until I wake up the next day with a pounding headache)

  11. I really enjoy visiting places like this and seeing how people live outside of the cities!

  12. wow great story. When I was in dominican reppublic. We went on a sugar cane filed trip. They told us they worked so hard and they only make so little money. They have to wear these long boots to prevent the scorpion. They are very hard workers!! I love to see the process but we only get to taste the sugar cane.. 😛

  13. Heart warming indeed. Meeting people like Don Rogelio is what makes travel so fascinating.You never know who waits round the next corner.

  14. Seems like you had a great day! Sugar Cane juice is so yummy! We’ve also had it with Ginger and Lime too-So good!

  15. What an awesome experience – how did you meet Rogelio?

  16. What an interesting experience, R seems like such a great person. So sad that people lose fingers. 🙁

  17. Ayngelina Author says:

    @Matt

    There aren’t a lot of tours in Cuenca at all but my hostel took me out to meet him. If you stay in Cuenca, La Casa Cuencana is a great place to get to these types of things.

  18. David @ Malaysia Asia says:

    Awesome experience though I would love to visit this place one day. We have sugarcane here in Malaysia but it’s on a smaller scale.

  19. So sad that he works so hard for .80! It sounds like meeting him was an incredible experience and I’m sure you’ll remember it for years to come!

  20. Looks like a torture device 🙂

  21. Christy @ Ordinary Traveler says:

    I love stories like this! What a great experience, Ayngelina. Thanks for sharing!

  22. Cathy Sweeney says:

    Wonderful profile. Text and photos tell quite a story of this man and life in the countryside.

  23. Chris - The Aussie Nomad says:

    That’s a great days outing if ever I’ve seen one. Great story mate.

  24. Lisa E @chickybus says:

    Cool post w/great pics! I used to live in Ecuador and had the cane alcohol a few times, but never met anyone who made it.

    Nice that you wrote about Rogelio and the process he uses. Must have been fun to go there and to meet such a sweet man!

  25. As far as I’m concerned, meeting people like Rogelio is what travel is all about. People who work hard, but are happy and gracious and willing to give you a glimpse into their lives. Sounds like it was an interesting tour!

  26. Love it and Rogelio. Thanks for taking us along to meet him =)

  27. What a great experience, to meet someone like that and see what they do.

  28. Nice to meet him! interesting story and day for sure!

  29. I love this post. More stories about locals please!

  30. I love stuff like this! It is so great that you are seeking these people out…thanks for sharing 🙂

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