What’s the plastic bag for? Do you harvest all year? Why don’t the bananas taste as good in Holland?
The tourists have many questions.
They’ve been in Ecuador for three weeks: in Quito, Otavalo, the rain forest, Cuenca. After El Guabo they move on to Guayaquil and the Galápagos islands. They arrive in their bus to the farm San Vicente, right outside El Guabo, on wednesday morning.
A couple of hours earlier we’ve brought chairs, tables, coffee, tea, crackers and a bag of t-shirts, banana liquor and purses made out of banana plant that we’re hoping the tourists will buy.
It’s our first Bananatour. As volunteers, Sandy and I are going to help with the practical arrangements and interpret the tour from the Spanish of the local guides to English.
It’s 35 degrees and the sweat is trickling down my back under my new t-shirt with the Asoguabo logo. Today I’m going to listen and make notes. Next time I’ll be interpreting the guide’s information and the tourists’ questions.
As we enter the farm, the tourists immediately ask about the blue plastic bags hanging above us.
– That’s where the banana grows, says the guide Wilson Sanchez, and Bananatour’s manager Marco Valle interprets.
– Careful! The ground can be wet and slippery, says Sanchez as we make our way further into the farm.
– The banana leaves on the ground work as fertilizer and keep the ground clean, he says.
And yes, we harvest 52 weeks a year, is his answer to the amazed tourists’ question.
Then they get to see the red banana flower, which will pollinate itself and turn into a bunch of bananas.
– Why is there white plastic between the bananas, someone asks.
So they won’t get scratches as they turn up towards the sun.
Today it’s not harvesting time at the farm. But we get to see a demonstration. The banana bunch is cut down, hung on a hook and pulled on a transport cable to the packing station. One worker can pull up to 20 bunches at a time.
At the packing site the tourists get to wash the bananas, weigh them and put Fair Trade stickers on them. Wilson Sanchez shows how the packers make 18 kilos of banans fit into one box.
Then he puts a stamp on the box. The number shows the week of harvest, the code of the farmer, the number of the farm and the date of exportation.
– When we get back home we’ll be looking for this code, the tourists say.
After the tour we have lunch.
– It was really interesting, says Gonnie Renders.
– I didn’t know how the banana is cultivated. But I eat Fair Trade bananas in Holland.
And yes, why do the bananas taste different in Holland? Because in Ecuador they ripen naturally. When they are shipped to Holland, the bananas are green. When they arrive they are treated with ethylene inside ripening chambers, in order to ripen quicker.