My Unexpected Tour of a Panela Mill

February 12, 2010

Packing up early that morning, a local finds a baby owl in the street. He works at the Archaealogical park and says he will take it there to release…I tell in that the owl has no wing feathers yet, it cannot fly, and it needs its mother still to learn to hunt.

The host at the hostal tells him to take it to the Veterinarian and he will pay the bill…thanks gracious Don Mario at Hostal Maya!!!


I decide to take the road to the North out of San Agustin. This is for three reasons…one, the more southern road is closed between 8-12 am, two I hate to backtrack even a little, and three I would ik to see the big waterfall that they say is second highest in South America (since I missed the FIRST highest one in Venezuela, Angel Falls)

This road is quite rural and goes through several small villages.

I also pass through miles of sugar cane fields…

Everyone has their work cut out for them up here.

After passing a couple of sugar mills, I finally stop roadside to snap some pics of this one…

and what happens next is SO typical of Colombia, and why I loved it there so much.

A lady comes out and says hellp. I tell her I’ve been riding through all this sugar cane, and finally I had to take a picture of a mill. She invites me for a tour! It turns out to be a panela mill. Panela is this sweet substance, what you get when you burn off all the water from the sugar cane. They sell it packaged in the store, crumbled as a sweetener (it has a distinct taste so be prepared!) They also sell it here at the mill in a brick form. People will add water to it again and make a morning warm drink out of it, or use it to make candies and such.  Here’s more info from Wikipedia.

Heres the business end of the mill: the fire.

She tells me they burn every two weeks. They spend two weeks cutting, then two weeks burning and making the bricks. They use the spent cane stalks to fuel the fire. I am glad I came here when they were not burning– otherwise I would probably not have gotten a tour!

Ok, Yum. They left this is in the vat…

Mind you, this is sticky, sweet matter. There are bees EVERYWHERE. Everyone that knows me knows that I can become irrational when confronted with flying-stinging things. It’s 800 degrees but I leave all my gear on!

Here’s the “still”

The molds:

And the crowd that has gathered to talk to the gringa.

I’d like to point  out that this happened everywhere I went–immense interest in a stranger. This was one of the few times I’ve been bold enough to ask to take a picture.

At the end of the tour I bought a brick of Panela and gave it to the Villega family when I arrived back in Poayan…looking at the pics again they much have thought I was nuts bringing them this sticky blob. What’s a girl to do?

Although rural and poor, there is quite a lot of beauty up here…and not very much trash!

Another one of the many, many panela mills up here.

Colombians love their sweets! Here’s a whole wall full of them in a really small, rural tienda I stopped at.

from the store I got directions to the Salto de Borbones (the waterfall) .


The place is deserted. And vandalized. It looks like the people just walked away…

I backtrack a bit

And I get to a town where I can have breakfast (soup! it’s whats for breakfast!)

I ask why the lookout for the waterfall is in such a sorry state, and they tell me its because of the guerillas! The people running the place got sick of all the hassles and left. It was SUCH a great place, too. So peaceful. Although the waterfall was so far away it wasn’t much to look at…

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