I’m hot. In the torrid blistering heat, we drove to El Sur. This town of only 13 families is on the Pacific coast, circumscribed by Corcovado national park. Years ago, the town was thriving with cattle land and hectares of pastures. In the 1940’s, in an attempt to encourage people to expand their farms and continue developing the country, the Costa Rican government allowed squatting. Any person could claim uninhabited land, and after a few years, the government would legally give it to them. So forests got cut down and towns established. But in the 1970’s, when Costa Rica realized that their natural biodiversity was attractive to foreigners (and the cattle market crashed), the government decided to take this land back. In a lot of ways it was great—converting pasture and agriculture back into forests reduced tons of environmental degradation. But it was also cruel—giving people land and then grabbing it back as soon as they’d established there. Though the government said they’d pay people back, they were also in debt and even today have thousands of people to repay.
So El Sur had most of their land converted back into forest, and are now trying to figure out how to sustain their tiny town. We visited one of the only industries they have there—a little sugar mill. Three men, of three generations showed use how to make sugar. First, they used oxen to crank these big presses that squeeeeeeze all of the juice out of the sugar cane. Then they heat the sugar over a fire in these huge cauldrons and it becomes a sweet gloopy thick syrup.
They cool it off a bit, mix in some leche and pour it into molds.
Some of it they sell, but most they eat. White granulated sugar that we buy in the states is heavily processed and chlorine and other chemicals are added to make it pure white. This sugar is sold in blocks and people can shave it off or slice out slivers or just eat it as candy, like we did. The grandfather kept saying how healthy the sugar was. How it’s natural and unprocessed and straight from the ground into our bellies. In the united States, we know that eating natural is healthier. We know it because of scientific studies, and because higher prices at Whole Foods tells us which is best, but people here know it for other reasons. They know it’s healthy because the sugar cane stalk is tall and hearty. And because its smooth and pure when they heat it. And because it tastes good. I have so much to learn.
On this Friday night we’re making banana bread, and reading. This semester is so different for me, and so healthy. Smells wonderful.