A morning breeze woke me just as the sun rose above the eastern mountain peaks. A rooster crowed and rain danced on the tin roof. By the time we were eating breakfast, the rain had stopped and the temperature was quickly on the rise.
Our first activity of the day was to hike to the sugar cane field and gather canes to process into brown sugar. The field was a good distance up hill. We thought it took effort to climb all the way to the field, but coming back down carrying the canes was certainly more difficult than the trip up.
When we arrived at the field, a local had already cut the leaves off from the stalks and chopped down the canes. This was a very sticky and uncomfortable job. We gathered stalks and bound them to carry down the mountain. Our guides said that they take up to 30 and a time but since we had so many people, we need only take 6 to 10 per person (we were okay with this as the stalks were heavier than they looked and we knew there was a lot of hard work ahead of us).
A difficult downhill struggle of a half-mile lead us back to the cane processing equipment near the stable. We stacked the canes and awaited further instruction. We had already worked up a sweat and were sticky, but it was nothing compared to how we soon would be.
After we were told how sugar cane is processed we set to work. One person hammered canes to crack their bamboo-like shells while another stacked the cracked canes and stacked new ones for the hammerer as needed. Two people manned the cranks for the old pressing wheels. The wheels had a 1:not-nearly-enough gear ratio and proved to be very tiring even for the fittest guys in our group. In additions to the previously mentioned tasks, there was also a person feeding canes into the wheel and another to catch them on the other side.
Each cane required being sent through the press three times which made the process take a good bit of time. When we finished pressing the several dozen canes, we had strained about 15 gallons of liquid from the canes we collected. This would be boiled down to make about 20 pounds of sugar.
The liquid was strained into a large basin, boiled down, and scooped out when it was a paste. It was then put into wet wooden cylinders in order to make blocks of brown sugar out of it. Some of the brown sugar was also mixed with peanut butter and given to the kids as candy. It was far too sweet for my liking though.
While the liquid was condensing into the paste that would become sugar, we went to rinse off in the swimming hole. The sugar from the canes had covered our bodies and we had worked up a lot of sweat cranking the wheels.
While we swam, we found a “Jesus Christ Lizard” which earned its name from its ability to walk on water. One of the members scared it and we were amazed as it ran across the water and scurried over the rocks to disappear. We swam and cooled off before heading back to learn the finishing process of making sugar from sugar cane. When that was done to went to the house.
Once at the house, everyone took time to themselves. I climbed into my comfortable hammock in the shade. Another group member who also owned a hammock crawled into his as well. In his case, however, the knot came untied just as he transferred the last bit of his weight onto the hammock. With a crash he fell on the wood floor.
The abuela (grandmother) ran into the room to see if everything was okay. When she saw what had happened, she laughed and said something in Spanish to the member who fell because he was fluent in Spanish. They both laughed and she went back to the kitchen.
As time went on, the group reconvened by the beds where the guys’ slept on the upstairs balcony. I joined in and played cards with my group members as we enjoyed the beautiful scenery and weather we were experiencing. We often remarked about the fact that we could be back in the Michigan winter with the grey sky’s and sitting in classrooms. Life was grand where we were.
Before dinner, we were called downstairs to ground corn, add salt and water, and make tortillas from the mix. It was quite an interesting skill that none of us perfected. There was a lot more that went into cooking a tortilla that we had been aware of. They must be cooked first in a pan then let sit against the vent on a wood stove to finish cooking. If the wrong side faces the stove, the tortilla will be hard and inflexible. The women took a lot of pride in the quality of their tortillas.
While the rest of dinner cooked, some of us played with the children. We spun them around the floor of the main room on a mattress until they giggled so hard they could hardly breathe. Diego enjoyed spinning on the mattress, but his sister, Loupe, was more partial to flying around the house in my arms. They tired us out but we all had a great time. Dinner was a good break for our bodies.
As the night progressed, we realized how much everyone missed the three members who had gone into town for evacuating the student that needed to leave. We really missed out comrades and wanted them back. It came up in our evening meeting that everyone really wanted them all back even though we knew that couldn’t be the case.
The night was young, but with our early awakenings, we were tired. Everyone retired to their comfortable beds for the last time. The next night would be spent in solitude as we took overnight solo’s away from the house.