Farming in Colombia so near the equator sheds a whole new meaning on the cliché, “early to bed, early to rise.” The sun sets around 5:40 and rises 12 hours later, give or take a few minutes. I cannot recall the last time I was asleep by 7:30 p.m., let alone night after night. I’m here working as a volunteer.
Here we rise around 5:30 in the morning. The other workers and I are often picking blackberries before 8:00, stretching plastic over the gulupa vines, tying cloth twine around the top sagging branches of the tree tomatoes, or weed-whacking jungle-like vines between orchard rows with a spinning steel blade.
The amount of manual labour it takes to produce these tropical fruits is eye-opening and makes me wonder how North Americans can ever have a true sense of appreciation.
After lunch when the storm clouds roll in, the patrona (boss) calls siesta time if the rain pummels down. If it is a mere sprinkling, work often carries on. Cindy Jensen, the Canadian who bought the farm here when her inheritance allowed for nothing meaningful in Canada, loves everything about Colombia.
The first day I arrived, I picked beans with farm manager Nidia Urrego’s entire family. Jensen and Urrego argued over who is the real patrona.The next day, I removed damaged leaves from the the gulupa rows and wrinkled fruit. Flies lay eggs in the flowers that open for only one day. Those eggs are then trapped, hatch inside the fruit, and larvae destroys the fruit from the inside. Jensen goes up and down the rows spraying a molasses mixture (toxic to the flies) into the flowers, which protects the fruit.
Then there is plastic to stretch from one end of the row to the other. After that, each supporting post requires us to tie a string to another string inside the folds of the plastic and stretch it taut across the rows. Hard to imagine how Urrego transformed a jungle into approximately 840 gulupa plants in less than a year. I have only had to perfect my granny knots for an average of 10 posts per 120 rows. I am nowhere near done.
After the gulupa are momentarily maintained, I attend to neglected tree tomatoes by clearing the surrounding soil of debris and inserting a rotten banana near the “trunk” to replenish needed potassium. When disease attacks, workers slice the damaged stock, rub a sorrel leaf on it, and leave it on the cut edge as a healing balm.
Back to the gulupa to track down bees leaving holes in the flowers that then do not close properly to create the environment for the fruit to grow. These gulupa vines will continuously produce fruit for at least three years, requiring a gentle gloved harvesting every week. Soon the gulupa will require bi-weekly harvesting.
If any of the gulupa do make it to Edmonton, most people, unaware of its delicacy, will pass on the $3 per fruit cost. After tasting them, I can heartily suggest they are worth every penny. Imagine a pomegranate but juicier, easier to eat, sweeter, and with a hint of mango-like flavour.
To me, gulupas will forever taste like the musicality of the Spanish language, the kindness of the people, and the warm Colombian rain and sun with a tinge of perspiration on my lips.
Header image: Writer Rusti Lehay stands by crates of blackberries ready to be sold. | Supplied