I am beyond exhausted but at the same time energized by the day that we’ve had. Indeed it was a long drive, and it was prolonged early in the morning by a traffic jam caused by a pretty major highway accident. Several vehicles seem to have collided head-on on the highway shortly before we set out this morning. Passengers climbed out of the vehicles and were gathered along the highway watching the scene. It looked really, really awful and I think we all had a tough time gathering our thoughts as we passed through the scene.
On the outskirts of Piura the roads are sadly littered with garbage but soon enough you pass further into the countryside and the views are spectacular. At first the landscape is flat and very, very dry. In one little town that we pass Leo notices that they have a big shop at the side of the road that has tall blocks of bamboo that they are selling the way we Canadians would sell lumber. Soon enough we enter into valleys of lush green mountain. We stop to take photos along the side of the road where a farmer is working his field of rice pattees. We also notice random livestock as we drive along. Mainly donkeys and pigs. The pigs always have a collar with a stick protruding from it so that they can’t squeeze their way through the fences to eat at the crops.
We stop for a quick break in Montero and pick up our boots. The locals are very friendly but we certainly stick out like sore thumbs. I don’t think they get many visitors in these areas.
The second leg of the drive was very rough. Three of us are squished in the back of each truck and we are bouncing around everywhere. Finally the drivers decide that they can’t get their vehicles any further and they pull over to the side of the mountains and everyone climbs out. We are walking here on in. The first thing I do is step into a giant puddle that spills mud over the top of my knee high rain boots. Sigh. The hiking is tough. It’s slippery, and puddles are mucky enough to grab a hold of your boots as you walk. And it’s hot and humid, but you want to stay as covered as possible to avoid the mosquitos.
About half way through our trek our hosts stop at a mountain side home and introduce us to a family of sugar producers who are not members of the co-operative project but who are very friendly and happy to show us their home and their way of life.
As their young child peers out at us from the doorway of their home, they are a few feet away in a dug-out covered trench, producing sugar syrup from sugar cane the old fashioned way. There are three of them down there working. Two of them are sitting on crates on the dirt floor. One of the farmers is a woman and she is maneuvering long shafts of sugar canes through a wooden contraption. Across from her sits a man who is pulling the mangled shafts through the other side of the contraption while collecting short bursts of liquid from the sill. A third man is managing a large bull who is attached to the wooden contraption and who uses his force to hoist the contraption while walking circles around the first couple. It sure seems like a lot of work for 3 people with very little output to show. But they are very friendly and smile widely at us while we watch them work for a few minutes.
Farther up the mountain we finally reach our lunch hosts who are all standing outside the solidly constructed building waiting for us. Kids and livestock are running around all over the place. Everyone is there: men, women, grandparents, babies... And everyone is smiling. After a few moments of greeting each other we are invited inside for a formal presentation. We hear from the Managers, the farmers, gender and youth representatives and even local politicians who are all so grateful for our support.
One of the members of Norandino who has escorted us here today borrows my camera to take a few shots of the group. He is sitting with a few young girls and starts taking their photos with my camera and showing them the image that appears on the screen moments afterwards. They are amazed and giddy with excitement, blushing and screeching at every shot. As we sit among this group of simple farmer producers a cell phone rings loudly and a young woman among them reaches into her pocket and rushes out with her phone. It boggles my mind that a community with such basic amenities, little running water and barely any electricity, happens to have mobile phone connections to the outside world.
We are then served an incredible meal of chicken, turkey, delicious brown rice and a pineapple fruit sauce. Warm, sweet coffee follows. As soon as we are done eating they rush us back outside to show us the amazing sugar cane plant that we have been able to support them in building.
We stand under the canopy outside, livestock at our feet, while one of the workers starts the motor by turning a crank. The motor immediately ignites and starts grumbling. Each of our team are invited to gently pass a shaft of sugar cane through the motorized contraption and we do so proudly with ease within minutes. The motor is shut down and we all stand around anxiously awaiting the next steps. I walk back inside confused until I realize that the contraption we’ve just fed has pipes leading from it into massive steel vats in the building and liters and liters of brown syrup is being pumped quickly and efficiently through the process as we speak. I can hardly believe what I am seeing. With very little man power and very little time, the vats are filling with liquid that will now be heated and stirred until it crystallizes to its perfect consistency.
It is hard to believe that it is only recently that these producer farmers were able to join CEPICAFE/NORANDINO and adopt this new way of life instead of using the old-fashioned way of producing sugar the way we saw the family working earlier this morning. Everyone in the room is so grateful for our visit and incredibly grateful for the support that CCA-ID and CDF have given them. They complete our visit by bringing out a guitar and singing a few songs in celebration. They are disappointed that we are leaving so soon and wish that we would stay to celebrate. But the roads are dangerous and we want to be on the regular highway before nightfall. Before we leave, the talented John Harvie picks up the guitar and sings an English-Canadian song for the group. It’s really an awesome experience.
We are all exhausted on the way home but as I start to doze off Leo nudges my arm along the highway to show me the most beautiful sun setting along the landscape.
It’s late at night again when we arrive back in Piura and everyone is too tired to leave the hotel. We sit outside in a patio tonight and have a quick bite to eat. We are all in awe of the experiences that we’ve shared that day. But it’s hard to put into words. We say our good-byes to Philippa who will be staying on to have more in-depth meetings with the project managers.