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. Thank you for sharing this great educational and delicious adventure! say Hi to Jorge and Vicky and let them know I will come for another delicious meal at their restaurant soon.

  2. Hi Michael. Thanks for leaving a comment. The only thing I did wrong was to forget to put on sun screen before leaving. I didn’t realize that it was going to be such a long day. Still, I didn’t get it as bad as my kayaking trip.

  3. I spent part of the week having pangs of anxiety as we come closer to quitting our jobs in the US and moving to Panama…wondering what we could be thinking, how could we be so irresponsible? Reading this wonderful adventure reminded me why. Thanks for taking so many pictures and detailing the process!

  4. Hi Allison. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. Moving is always tough. Look at Panama as an adventure. I have never regretted my move.

  5. BTW Don potrerillas is actually “Potrerillos”. I took that road back in March this year and one definitely needed a 4X4 however from looking at the images it looks like they have made progress. I can here the rumble of construction equipment every morning as they continue to move forward. Perhaps we will se the end result this time if the $$$ doesn’t grow legs and disappear like many projects before this one. We will all see…..

  6. Don Ray:
    You are killing me! I have not have coffee make with raspadura in almost 4 years! I enjoyed the picture of Jorge peeling the orange, the same way and the only way I knew how to do it when I was living in David.
    Thank you Don Ray for allowing to peek in the window and see my beautiful CHIRIQUI.

  7. Hola Don esperamos Jorge y Yo que no hayas amanecido muy adolorido de nuestra aventura ayer …fue muy entretenido ,dulce y relajante la pasamos muy bien son grandes compañeros y amigos de aventura el reportaje te quedo muy lindo y muy bien explicado te felicitamos cualquier dia viene el proximo y para los que deseen asitir a ver el proceso en vivo podemos ponernos de acuerdo e ir Anel y su familis estaria encantados….y Fran cuando gustes venir aqui estamos sera agradable poder atenderles aqui estamos para servirles …chao

  8. Don Ray:
    I forgot to mention, the old wooden (or previous generation) “press” you showed on your picture is called “trapiche”. Bueyes (oxen) were used as power.
    Oh…and thanks for the bienmesabe (which literally means IT TASTE GOOD) picture…YUM! Its been about 20 years since I ate some…con queso blanco, ah! Nostalgia!

  9. Don Ray:
    Sorry, read your post again and I took a trip to memory lane one more time. The chicken in your picture we used to call “pescuezipela” which is a contraction of 2 words meaning “bare neck”. The sugar cane juice was “guarapo”.
    Thanks again, today’s post is one of my favorites.

  10. I agree completely with Jaime .. thank you so mucho for taking us down Nostalgia lane. You should try some of what we called “te de raspadura”. 🙂

  11. Hi Vicky. I am happy you enjoyed the trip report. Your and Jorge’s company made it special.

    Hi Jamie. Thanks for adding more detail. I am happy you enjoyed the trip report also.

    Hi Mirethy, Thanks for leaving a comment and I am happy that you too enjoyed the post. I have had te de raspadura. We use raspadura a lot. One of my favorite ways is heated and covering my pancakes. Better than any store bought syrup.

  12. Great article ! If you get a chance to see the trapiche in Pariesio (sp) working you will really be in memory lane. Again, great article !!

  13. That was the best travel documentary ever done on Panama, Don Ray! Thank you for all the photos and the commentary. The last raspadura I had was years ago and wrapped in banana leaves, I can still taste the sweetness. Now, if I only had some limón dulce to chew on while viewing, it would be a perfect world!
    jim and nena
    fort worth

  14. Don Ray, I just showed the photos to my sis in law and she tells me the mystery tree is called “mezote”. She knew all about the process of raspadura and commented that the ones in the photos were very light and “bonito”. Now she and Nena are off to find something to satisfy their sweet tooth!
    jim and nena and lela
    fort worth

  15. Excellent article and pictures, Don!
    Many of us, panamanians, have not been able to experience first-hand how the raspadura and bienmesabe are made, or been close to a trapiche. What a great day you have enjoyed and we are so thankful that you had shared it with us!

  16. Hi Alex. Yes I had it that evening in fact. Thanks for dropping in and taking the time to leave a comment.

    Hi Lilia. Glad you enjoyed sharing my day trip with me. Thanks for leaving a comment.

  17. Hi Don, thanks for the great story. It looks like it was a fun day. I bet those empanadas were delicious.. Can you send some my way?

  18. Don Ray
    This is my favorite excursion with you. I enjoyed bienmesabe, rapadura, sugar cane juice,empanadas, queso blanco,jugo de naranja,cafe con leche y rapadura and many other things last month when a visited Panama.That is one of many things about Panama that I miss.Thank you for the educational adventure.I never knew how rapadura and bienmesabe was made just that it was GOOD!!!!!!!!!
    My parents used to have a friend that owned a orange farm in Potrerillos. His kids,my sisters and I used to have a fight with the rotten oranges.After we were done we eat the good oranges. My dad used to call them”chupa,chupas”.For the longest time I thought that was their real name.My dad’s Spanish was not the best but we always had a good laugh when he would make up words.Sorry but you just brought up a bunch of good memories from my childhood.Thank you and I am glad you are enjoying Chriqui.

  19. That looks like an amazing day! I felt like I just watched the travel channel! Hey, you might call them…I think you’d have a good shot at getting a weekly spot!

  20. Hi Kim. Naw. That would start feeling like work. I was tired enough after making that post. Having to do it on a weekly basis would be too much and it would stop being fun.

    Hug the kiddos for me.

  21. Hola Don Ray
    What a great article. I want to know more about Jorge and Vicky as they are from my home town, Grand Rapids, Michigan. I moved to Boquete 4+ years ago from Grand Rapids. What restaurant do they own in David???

  22. I am really surprised that you have not seen mangosteen before. It is sold by vendors on the road to Volcan. The mamon chna can be seen growing on trees many places on the road to Volcan as we type They are in season now as is mangosteen and have been for a while. My wife’s favorite fruit was mamon china until she discovered mangostee.


  23. Hi Robert. I have seen and eaten many mamon chinas. However this was the first time I had seen them on the tree.

    No. This was really the very first time I had seen mangosteen. I also like this fruit a lot.

  24. Hola Don,
    Too bad Chiriqui is such a long drive from Coronado where we live. My wife and I have seen parts of Chiriqui, and to be honest, we might have located there but for it being so far from modern, medical facilities. We are both “tercera edad”.
    I want to thank you deeply for your great article on the making of raspadura. You have a definite talent for online story telling that seems to come alive as you read and view the pictures. This blog was about much more than the making of that remarkable cane sugar; you share the experience of the countryside, its people, the trees, fruits and truly an appreciation for the way of life for “locals” in Chiriqui. Thank you very much for your sharing of your adventures.
    Oh, by the way, now I am going to go try to find some raspadura. I found it once in San Carlos quite by accident. I am going to try it on some of my sourdough pancakes! Mmmm

  25. Hi Marty. Thanks for dropping into Chiriqui Chatter and taking the time to leave such a nice comment. You have made my day.

    By the way. The medical facilities in David continue to improve every day.

    Enjoy the pancakes!

  26. Don,
    This was a special treat! I enjoyed the photos and story. Thanks for the time spent on your “blog” as it is getting information out and I can not wait to get to Panama and our Finka! I hope to “bump” into you around David someday. Is there more info on the new road to Volcan?


  27. Hi Steve. As you can tell from the area where the photo of the bridge was taken, there is a lot of work that remains to be done. I would not expect it to be completed anytime soon.

    Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. I appreciate it.

  28. Hi Don: Mangostin is my mom’s favorite fruit. She used to eat it a lot as a child in China and never again in Panama until she came to David, Chiriqui. In one of my visits to New York City, I saw it and it was selling for over $40 a pound. At this time of the year, on the road to Volcan, at the litlle huts, they sell them at 5 for a $1.

  29. Hola Ray,
    Great job on your To Paridise and Back … it turned out great! It was fun to revisit the trip with pictures and your comments.
    Anel, his wife Marleni and their two daughters were here at Maná on Friday night. They saw the piece and loved it. They laughed and totally enjoyed the entire story. They were so impressed that you could remember so many details and very appreciative that you would post their place on your blog. They are truley good people and friends!!!
    As you know thru Vicky, I went back Saturday so help him put out as many ataos of raspaduras as posible for shipment on Sunday to Arraijan, Panamá City. It was a hard day but a great one! I had to leave because of my ride but they were prepared to work all night to make as much raspadura as humanly posible.
    There are few things that I remembered (better late that never):
    The tree where Anel gets the bark to clean the sugar cane is called “Majaguillo or Mozote”. The flowers that you named trompet, it is called “Floripondio” this flower has a nice strong smell at night and it is said that people use it as a drug that puts you to sleep ???. The plant that helps with diabitis with the small redish and yellow flower is called “Pasarruin”.
    Couple of comments, you put there that Jorge is the one that sells the raspadura to the buyer at 21.50 when it is accually José Anel who does that. I only have them available at Maná if someone wants to purchase some of the goodness. Last comment is that I can not believe that you saw the neighbor´s tomatoes! How did you get away with that!!! 😉
    Hope to see you soon mi amigo…

  30. Hi Jorge. Thanks for the extra information and catching my typing error. I knew it was Jose, but sometimes the information does not get down to my fingers.

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