I hadn’t yet arranged a firm travel date for my business trip and then the „unexpected“ happened. One day the television channel PRO7 rang me and asked me detailed questions about „Guarana“. They were looking for an expert on Guarana from Germany with whom they could produce a film about Guarana in Brazil – from the harvest to the finished product. My close contact with Brazilian suppliers and cooperatives as well as the fact that I was one of the first importers of Guarana in Germany was a bonus. And so I was tense and excited as I could combine a business trip with the rare experience of making a film!
Join me on this exciting and unforgettable trip to the jungle.
Flying from cold and rainy Germany in November to the moist warm rainforest was a real contrast. The first thing one sees on landing is an indescribable, grey flickering jungle of concrete called Sao Paolo: seething metropolis, wild traffic chaos, heat. Thank goodness I don’t have to stay here.
My first objective is having a good business partner in Ourinho, Mr Moacir.
Due to his love of nature, he moved away from Sao Paolo in order to take care of the cultivation and processing of small acerola plantations in the immediate vicinity. Although plantations is a slight exaggeration: they are more like huge gardens in which there are acerola bushes as well as other plants. In this way the freshly harvested fruits can be transported to the production site and processed as quickly as possible to meet the highest quality standards.
The acerola harvest takes place between October and April/May. I get to help pick the ripe acerola cherries for two days, which I collect in a shoulder bag and then transfer to boxes which Mr Moacir picks up daily and then processes immediately.
Before I leave there is a convivial meal of Feijao at the home of the plant owner, Jose, with his wife and two sons. This traditional bean dish is served everywhere and often. Acerola fruits are served straight from the bush for dessert.
Salvador is the best known tourist city of Brazil with the most beautiful beaches. But I don’t have time to sunbathe because now it’s the most exciting part for me, I am going to meet the Galileo film team: Claudia, Paul and Jens. They greet me with noticeable relief, which has a good reason. None of them speak Brazilian (which is of course Portuguese, but is similar to the variations between Bavarian and German – luckily I do. When a Brazilian says he speaks “fluent English”, it is no means a lie but is often only almost true. He has mastered three indispensable words, namely “yes”, “no” and “stop” and they are fluent. So now I am not only a professional consultant and amateur actress but also an interpreter.
We travel in a “micro” (a kind of South American VW bus) to Valenca, which is a very simple “jungle village” with charming local colour. It lies in the middle of the Atlantic jungle (the so-called Mata Atlantica). This is where the cooperative office is, where after a very warm welcome, we carry on to about football for three hours, because we Germans managed to beat the Argentinians at the last World cup. Around 100 family businesses have come together in “our” cooperation in order to be able to optimise prices, provide targeted training courses and have the best medical care.
Next day – we meet at 6am on the plantation. Temperatures rise to 35 °C in the shade in the middle of the day, which means that it can easily be 50 °C on the plantation – thoughts of sun stroke come to mind. But the guarana harvest is being filmed today.
A quick breakfast of guarana juices and biscuits with the harvest helpers and then it’s off to work. Everybody gets their harvesting tools: basket, pliers and machete (I still need to get to grips with the machete, I barely managed to free my path, never mind open a coconut. Instead I made holes in the floor).
A guarana fruit is ripe as soon as the outer red shell cracks open and the black seed is visible. Guarana originates from the Amazon region. The excellent growing conditions in Bahia means the plant can thrive there too. Guarana grown in Bahia is meanwhile recognised as having the highest grade when it comes to quality.
Guarana is not a mono-culture. Guarana bushes grow among a wide range of other plants and are very spread out. The harvest helpers cover 5 - 10 kms per day on uneven beaten paths on hilly land in the harvesting season by 40 °C in the shade – it is an extremely tiring job.
Bananas and delicious cocoa plants are quite literally growing into our mouths if we get hungry in between. Our thirst is quenched with a refreshing coconut, which explains why the harvest helpers are constantly waving machetes around: firstly to clear a way for themselves in the thickets and secondly, to be able to cut a delicious coconut off the tree.
It’s time for lunch. We’re fed and entertained generously. Rice, potatoes, chicken, bacon, fish and - manioc. That always has to be there – the flour that comes from it is used like Parmesan. We eat from simple tin bowls – it tastes delicious! Life takes place outside: cooking, bathroom, meals – everything is open air.
The harvested fruits are then put into sacks and stored in a hut for approximately 4-6 days to ferment. Afterwards the helpers stamp on the fermented seeds as if dancing the Samba and in that way separate the shells fully from the seeds. Then the shells are sorted by hand and washed in a water tank and the shells which swim to the top are fished out with a hand held sieve and the shells are used as natural fertiliser.
The black seeds are now heated on an open fire in order to reduce the moisture content to approximately 7%. Once the seeds have cooled on tarpaulin they are put into sacks and driven to the cooperative warehouse in Valenca where they are cleaned in a wooden drum with the use of a ventilator (which the Brazilians proudly call “wind canal”) of any remaining dust and dirt.
I find it interesting that the main purchaser of “our” plantation is the largest soda producer in Brazil, who sells the “national drink” Guarana (water, sugar and a hint of guarana) with great success all over the country. A few years ago there was an attempt to introduce the drink to Europe but that failed due to its extreme sweetness.
My journey is nearing an end, the team from Galileo has already moved on. I seize the opportunity and visit another small acai plantation.
Here is where the plantation owner lives on his fazenda and primarily grows acai and cloves, which are experiencing a great boom. The young acai palms grow in the middle of the jungle, a popular meeting point for blue and yellow parrots.
I have observed a world which is often not seen by tourists. A world without mobile phones, without computers, without television. Just radio – one needs to know if another country beats Argentina again. The intense impressions and feelings – as so often after my visits here – will stay with me for a long time. But my next visit to this diversity and abundance of life found in pure nature, will not be long.
Our suppliers are exclusively small, committed family businesses, whose motivation is saving the rainforest, which is their livelihood and not to exploit it.