To Paradise and Back

Ok to begin, I will warn you that I took about 120 photos yesterday. I am going to use about 76 to tell the story of yesterday’s excursion. When you reach the “Continue Reading” message, if you are planning to continue the journey with me, then I suggest you take a break and get something to drink while the photos load. Now on with the post.

Yesterday was quite a day. My friends Jorge and Vicky invited Lilliam and I to go see some friends of theirs that make and sell raspadura. Jorge thought we would leave about 8:00 AM and return around noon.

While Jorge has lived in the US for many years before recently returning to Chiriquí, he has not forgotten how to tell time like a true Panamanian. We did indeed leave at 8:00 AM, however we did not get back to David until 5:30 PM.

There were two ways to go to yesterday’s destination. One was to take the Interamerican Highway toward Bugaba and then exit to Bucheron. The other was to take the via Boquete road and go through Potrerillos on the new highway that is being built going to Volcan. We chose the later route.

I have already told you that it was a full day. I will also tell you it was a very enjoyable day. You can’t help but have a great time when you are with good friends and you get to make new friends.

It has been a long time since I have driven up this way. The last time was my last post on Zapadora in 2007.  Sorry Diane, I didn’t have time to stop in and say “hello”.

I must admit that the road has improved a lot and this new road to Volcan is going to be a very pretty drive when it is completed. At the current time, this is one of the best rural roads in Chiriquí.

After stopping for directions several times, asking for the location of Jose Anel’s raspadura factory, we were there. Raspadura is processed sugar cane that has been turned into sugar blocks. You can purchase it all over Panama and it is the best tasting sugar you will ever try.

Jose’s wife was in the process of slow cooking the noon meal over a wood fire, on a home built stove.

People living in rural settings tend to be more resourceful than those of us living in the city. Here is an example of what you might use to sweep a dirt covered floor.

Here is the area where the sugar cane is pressed and the juice is extracted. On the left is dry sugar cane after being fed through the grinder. This cane will be used as dry kindling.

Jose took me to show me a tree that is very important in the production of raspadura. Here is a photo of that tree. I am sorry, but I don’t remember it’s name. I will cover it’s use later in this post.

Here was another interesting plant I saw on the way.

People in Panama have become experts in knowing plants that are used as health remedies. Jose pointed out this plant that is good for treating diabetes.

Here is another plant, he called an insulin plant.

OK. If we are going to make raspadura, we have to have some sugarcane, so lets go get some. We drove out into the cane field. Jose said that sometimes it is too wet and you can’t go by pickup and have to by horse back. Luckily, today was not one of those days.

Here is the pickup ready to be filled up.

Here is another important person in today’s process. His name is Ricardo and is from Dolega. He comes from Dolega on Monday and returns to Dolega on Saturday night. He told me he became involved in making raspadura when he was 8 years old and he is now 32. Through his 24 years he knows as much as anyone in the business and is proud to share his knowledge.

Jose has clients in Panama city that purchase 12,000 bagged items of raspadura a month. He said he had a request to produce 5,000 more a month, but he could not get workers to do it. When asked why he couldn’t just go and hire some local Indians, he said you can’t go and get temporary workers. They have to know what they are doing.

Here, Jose is explaining how to know when the cane is ready to be cut. The cane is usually growing in clumps of multiple stalks. Some of the stalks are ready to be cut now. Some will be ready in 2 months and some in four months. If an inexperienced person was cutting cane, he might have an entire area cut and would be out of business for 9 months, which is the growing period for the sugar cane.

Here is cane that has been cut and is ready to go into the back of the truck.

In this photo, Jose is showing starter plants that will be taken to other areas and planted.

Next we walked to the back of the property. I am obviously trailing the rest. 🙂

This photo shows what we went to see, The back of the property drops off and has a river running beneath it.

On the way back to the pickup, Jose explained that after harvesting has been done, they have to go back and clean the area around the plants. They have to be careful to prevent vegetation doesn’t get started between the sugar cane.

Now we are back by the truck and about ready to take the cane to be processed. I looked over and saw Jose. What do you think he is doing.

Here is a close up. Jose is using his machete to cut the peal off of an orange. Notice how he peals the entire orange without breaking the peal.

Here is the finished orange.

In Panama, it is common to take an orange cut as you see here and than squeeze it and drink the juice directly from the fruit.

I did a pretty good job, don’t you think?

On the way back to the factory, Ricardo cut some more oranges for later.

We are now back at the processing site. This is the sugar cane that will go into the press.

This is the firebox that will be used to boil the sugar cane juice. It will be filled with wood and dry and green sugar cane stalks that have gone through the press.

Remember that tree that I told you was important to the raspadura process? Jose is beating some bark off of one of those trees.

This is the bark after it has been beaten. We will see how it is used later.

As a side story, I took a photo of this chicken. I asked if other chickens pecked the feathers out of this chicken’s neck. I was told that they were born this way. This breed is known to get fat quicker and be easier to clean. I guess they should be easier to clean – fewer feathers. 🙂

Back to the raspadura process. Here is Jorge trying his hand at feeding the sugar cane press. I took this photo especially for his friends in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He looks different without his suit and tie I bet.

Here is Ricardo catching the cane after it has been through the press.

Inside, the juice is going into the stainless steel cooking tub.

This photo shows the sugar cane in three states (to be pressed, just pressed, and pressed and dry).

Here is some of the extracted juice. Smooth and sweet. I tried some as it came out and some with lemon juice. I used to buy the sugar cane juice at Parque Cervantes from vendors that pressed it on site. They are no longer there after the park was modernized, but if you are in the area and want to try it, go the the park in Bugaba, where they still press and sell it for 25 cents a cup.

While the juice was cooking I walked over to a neighbors to see her tomatoes.

The second photo was of pear tomatoes.

This was another attractive plant I took a photo of. I think it is called a trumpet plant.

This plant is a plant called, achiote. It makes a red seasoning that is used a lot in Panama.

Jose’s wife rang the dinner bell and we all got to eat some of the chicken she was cooking in the first photo of this post. She said Jose had taught her to cook. She was a very nice lady and kind enough to invite us to share their lunch.

Meanwhile, the fire has been built in the firebox.

You can see that it is starting to froth up.

Remember that special tree that had the bark that Jose beat with the mallet? It had been put in the plastic bucket and soaked in water. It is added to the sugar cane juice to clean it. Something in this liquid cause it to float all of the non wanted residue of the sugar cane to the top.

In this photo, you can see some of the bark in the bucket.

In this photo you can see that the fire is going well. On the left of the photo you can see some of the green cane that has been processed. It is placed on top of the fire to cause it to burn slower.

In this photo, Ricardo is skimming off the residue that is to be removed. Nothing is wasted. The residue will be taken out and used to feed the chickens. I wonder if these chicken eggs are sweeter than others? 🙂

It is going to take a an hour or so for the sugar cane juice to be ready to put in the molds. We decided to go to another area called Paraíso (Paradise). This is also on the new road to Volcan. Fasten your seat belts. This is going to be a rough ride, so here we go. and off we go.

In this photo, you can see a new bridge that is being constructed over a river.

You can see that a lot of road is being built on the other side of the river.

We are getting ready to cross the river. I hope you can swim.

We are now on the other side and have to go up this steep hill.

We made it. Jorge, I and Jose’s youngest daughter were in the back of the pickup. Meet Anneth. She is 10 years old and cute as a button.

She had one real advantage over Jorge and Me. Notice the bars on the top of the pickup? Jorge and I are in the front and both of our heads reach the bar level. During a later part of the trip, Jorge had changed places with Anneth and he called my name. I turned to see what he wanted, just as the pickup hit a bump and I got whacked by one of the cross bars. Let’s just keep that a secret in case my head damaged the bar.

We have now reached Paradise and are going to see another process that makes use of the sugar cane sugar. Before we get there, I took this photo of an enormous parasitic plant, growing on this tree.

Here, mienmesabe or bienmesabe is being made.

You will find this being sold many places in Panama. It will look like this.

Jorge tried his had at this also. This is not an easy job.

I have included a short video to show you.

When we arrived, it was nice and clear. It looks like a fog has come in.

I took this photo as we were getting ready to return to Jose’s factory. This is a previous generation sugarcane press.

Here is a closer view. Horses or cattle were used to turn the press. I forgot to mention that Jose is about the 6th generation of raspadura makers.

On the way back, Jose stopped at a friends farm. I took this photo of an unusual fruit tree called mangostino.

Here is a closeup of the fruit.

This is a new fruit to me. You open it up and it looks like this. It is a very sweet fruit and I liked it.

On the way back to the pickup, I took a photo of these wood mushrooms.

Another tree I saw on the way was a mamon chino. I have posted about eating these in the past, but this is the first time I have seen them on the tree.

We have now made it back to Jose’s factory. Let’s see how it is doing. Looks like it needs a little longer.

Ok, 20 minutes later, it looks like we are getting close.

You can see that it has gotten thicker and the color has changed.

Time to test it’s consistency.

We are good to go, so lets put it in the mixing area.

This is some residual that was left in the cooking tub. It is like a taffy. Some of the best candy, I have ever had.

Ricardo is stirring it until it gets to the right stage to pour.

Now it is time to put it in the molds.

10 minutes later, here is the finished product. This is a much lighter color than I buy in David. It also has a better taste.

Here is Vicky contributing a little effort to the process. Notice the intense contraction on Vicky’s face.

At one time during the process, Ricardo places a small amount of the micture in this bowl. It sat for about 15 minutes. Then Jose used a large wooden spoon to stir mixture until it hardened. Talk about a great candy. It was outstanding. The only thing that could have made it better was to have tossed in a cup of toasted pecans.

The sugar cones are packed two to a package.

Then they are placed in plastic bags.

As we were finishing up. Notice how I worded that so that you would get the idea that I actually did something during this process? Like I was saying. As we were finishing up, this young lady came up to see if we wanted to buy any of here freshly made empanadas.

I told her I would buy some if I could take her photo. Guess what I ate for supper last night.

All of the bags have been filled. Jose sells them to his buyer to be sold in Panama City. He sells 100 for $21.50.

The molds now look like this.

I asked how hard it was to clean the molds. I was not expecting the answer I got. There is a honey farm not too far away. Bees from that farm come and by noon tomorrow the molds will be completely clean and the bees are well on their way to making some outstanding honey.

Well, that completes out journey. I hope you have enjoyed reading about it as much as I enjoyed living it.

Thanks go out to Vicky and Jorge for inviting us to go along with them. Thanks go out to Jose and his family for making all of us feel of welcome and showing us the process.

69 thoughts on “To Paradise and Back

  1. Thanks for a great blog! My partner and I traveled to Panama last Sept to scout it out for when we retire in 10 yrs or so. Glad I was still subscribed to Retire n panama digest or would have missed this. I am originally Cuban and remember a fruit called mamoncillo, the description is a lot like your mamon chino but they were smooth, not hairy and had a bright orange pulp around a large round seed. We would swin in Varadero Beach and eat them in the water (I think because they stained clothing very easily).

  2. Great story Don. Both Kim and I enjoyed it. We need to get to Jorge and Vicky’s restaurant during our upcoming trip. He had inquired about some of our organic produce and soon we will have enough production to sell to them. See you in a couple of days.

  3. I don”t know the people that are responsible for this articule, but, it
    was very informative. I made rapaduro drink for a long time, and was
    not aware that was the process. I was in Panama recently and bought
    some, and forgot it at my brother & sister’s home. I will have to wait
    for my next visit to have some also the pina. So delicious.

  4. Hi Don, thanks for your educational artical and good photos about making raspadura, wish i had some when i was in Panama. About cane juice, i had two glasses every day when i was there in David from the guy accross the park. Say hi to your friend for me.
    Thanks again
    Lynton Lam

  5. Thanks so much for sharing this very incredible trip. Being a Panamanian myself I love raspadura, however, never new how it was made. It is all so very clear to me now.

    Again Thanks a Million!

  6. Hi Brunilda. Thanks for dropping into Chiriqui Chatter and taking the time to leave a comment. I am always happy to have another Panamanian reader.

  7. A friend sent me the email. I’m a native Panamanian living in the US, and though I use raspadura, I didn’t know the process. What a great lesson! When I visit home, my sister melts the raspadura in water, then squeezes limes in it. Oh my goodness! What a refreshing drink -with ice, of course. I’ve done it here, but it does not taste the same; I must not have the right “mezcla”. I intend to move back in a few months. SS ck will stretch much further.
    Thanks for the lesson.

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