Just got back from the Finca after 2 days. Rode back on the motorcycle through clouds, that was very fun.
Before I forget, I just ate a "cuso" a 2 inch long fried grub. I was hesitant. Actually delicious though. Still only ate one.
Before I describe the end of the Panela making process, let me describe my doctors visit from a couple of days ago. Went to see the doctor, in a random alleyway in San Miguel de Los Bancos. No appointment, and only waited 5 minutes. The doctor spoke only Spanish, and I explained I had a sore throat, a little bit of diarrea, but mostly had just been exhausted and slept for the last 4 days. He asked me a couple of questions, poked my tummy a bit and listened with a stethoscope, and then proceeded to perscribe me 4 different things. A shit-ton of ammoxicilin (I figure you can't go wrong), two other unmarked pills which I am a little bit scared of, and a big bottle of "Pedialyte" which is like baby formula rehydration fluid, which I am supposed to drink a half cup of every half hour, which I did for about 2 hours. The doctor consultation cost 5$. Seriously. And the drugs, altogether, cost 16. Forget health care, lets just send all the poor people to South America. I'll bet I could have my appendix removed for 20 bucks. That being said, my throat still feels like shit and I am still a bit sick, so I think this doctor was incompetent. I guess you get what you pay for. Moving on. (Two days later and I am in Quito ready to see another doctor...you get what you pay for...)
FInished the Panela making process. Dragged a veritable mountain of cut sugar cane to the Trapicha, the machine which crushes the cane into juice, and start the motor. There is a filter system for the juice when it comes out of the machine, which is a wooden box with a screen in it. The juice flows through this box and then through a long hose into the top of the oven, which is a 3 part long metal container on top of a very large amount of fiercely burning wood and embers. Cane is juiced until each of the three parts has a solid eight inch bed of sugar juice, and then the oven is superheated until the juice starts to cook. For about four hours people stand by the various compartments skimming froth which comes to the surface off of the juice, which is the leftover dirt from the cane, and impurities. Halfway through, syrupy water made from soaking a special kind of treebark is added, which further helps remove the dirt, and later burns off. After four hours the first compartment, which is the hottest, starts to bubble up and is filled with golden sugar bubbles. When this gets to the right consistency is it poured into another container to cool briefly and the liquid from the other countainers, which boils down to about 2 inches, is poured in the first containter, in order to cook faster. The liquid hot Panela is first poured onto long pieces of Banana bark, to make ghetto taffy and marshmellows. This parts just for fun. The rest is then loaded into giant wooden scoops, and poured into circular metal molds sitting on a table (which we built earlier). The Panela has to be in the mold without the first 2 minutes or it turns hard. When it cools, the molds are removed and there are 25 shiny golden sugar bricks ready for sale, and a ton of micelaneous powder and chunks to snack on. This is how Panela is made. From aabout 500 stalks of sugar cane, you get 25 circular blocks, three inches tall, with a diameter of about 5 inches. Lots of work for a little product, but its delicious, and watching the molten panela is awesome. We did two loads yesterday and were making Panela until 10.
Today we relaxed, went to the river and swam around, and then came back to LT. More later