Photos and Words by Shantel Dickerson.
Whether you are backpacking your way through South America, or are born and raised in Antioquia, trying locally produced goods is sure to be a refreshing adventure no matter where you are.
Eco Language Spanish students and volunteers had the privilege of visiting a local farm where they made sugar cane juice and tried the honey produced by the thousands of Meliponas bees that call the farm home.
Setting off on foot early in the morning, the group trecked alongside the Arenal River towards popular swimming spots known as ‘El Trocadero’ and ‘Jamaica’. The trail then branched off the main path and up the vast, green mountain. Tiny brick houses with outdoor kitchens popped up here and there, and all I could wonder was how long it must take for the people living there to run an errand in town — since the only mode of transportation from their farms is by horse.
After an hour long hike, we arrived at our guide’s, Mauricio’s, family farm. Mauricio grabbed his machete and enthusiastically began chopping down branches of sugar cane. It was clear he had done this many times, appearing relaxed and comfortable while aggressively hacking away at the plants. He only paused to laugh at our surprised reactions. After all, we aren’t accustomed to using machetes to harvest sugar cane in our own countries.
We walked over to a rusty contraption that is used to crush the sugar cane and produce the juice. Typically, horses or mules would push the beam in circles which would then begin to turn the gears. The students and volunteers were the horses today! As they ran in circles pushing the beam, the gears started turning. Mauricio began feeding the sugar cane through the gears, and out came sweet, sweet sugar cane juice! After adding a bit of freshly squeezed lemon, it was ready to drink. And, oh my, was it delicious!
Mauricio was happy to show us how to make sugar cane juice, but he was markedly more excited to share his knowledge of how the Meliponas bees make honey. On the farm, there were at least 10 different beehives. Not to mention, Mauricio was also the first person to introduce Meliponas beekeeping to the San Rafael area.
Having been born and raised in countries where bees have stingers, the students and volunteers were nervous about getting stung at the farm. However, after learning that Meliponas bees do not have stingers, they gathered next to the beehives as Mauricio took a part each layer.
Using a syringe, Mauricio sucked up some of the honey and each of the students indulged in tasting it.
Perhaps the most surprising part of the adventure was learning that it isn’t uncommon for people in the countryside to put drops of honey in their eyes as a preventative measure against diseases such a glaucoma. We watched Mauricio and Manuel cringe as they bravely dripped honey into their eyes.
The group descended from the mountain in sweet spirits, and Mauricio was overjoyed to have had the opportunity to share his passion of beekeeping with others.