Journey to the sugar land part 1 – getting to Antique, intro to sugar production

While a friend inviting you to visit his place is a common enough occurrence, that said “place” being a functional hacienda is not quite as common. My friends and I got to visit Mike’s home in Patnongon, Antique last March and stayed there overnight. Funny thing is that I basically invited myself along 😛

We caught Air Philippines’ first flight out to Iloilo (hurrah for seat sales!) and saw the sun rise as we were flying. In all honesty, I don’t think we were conscious enough to fully appreciate it *sheepish*

We landed at around 6:20am then waited for Nonoy’s wife Queenie, his daughter Xi, and his brother-in-law Lai to pick us up in Lai’s van. It took us around 5 hours to get to Patnongon because of our various pit stops – the church where Nonoy and Queenie got married, UP Visayas in Miag-ao, and lunch – and the not-so-nice roads.

Mike’s farm was just outside the poblacion. In order to find it, all he said was to ask people where the hacienda was and they’d give us directions. We all thought he was kidding but apparently, he wasn’t. When we thought we’d traveled far enough from the town proper and asked someone by the roadside, he promptly raised his arm and pointed to a spot about 15 meters away. We’d overshot our destination.

It was easy to see why we missed the entrance the first time around. There was no gate announcing its presence, just a small metal archway hidden by the tall trees beside it. That archway felt like a portal though time, as the first things we saw were the sugar mill and an ancient truck for hauling the sugarcane from the fields to the mill. To our left was the house that Mike’s grandfather built, still with its original wooden walls and ceilings.

The sugar mill and truck for hauling sugarcane. The brown mounds are dried sugarcane stalks that will be used as fuel for the boiling vats in the sugar mill.

We found Mike in the shed, overseeing the repairs of a small red tractor. A red tractor! A farm cliché in the flesh! Er, in the metal? Mike himself was a walking cliché, clad in a khaki polo and shorts. The only things missing were a white wide-brimmed hat and a horse. He led us into the house and showed us to our rooms. The living areas had their original furnishings, with Mike’s grandfather’s initials elegantly carved into the dining room chairs.

After a much a needed nap, Mike took us on a short tour of the sugar mill. We were just in time – the latest batch was just about ready to cool. Mike was very patient, explaining each step of the production process and answering my endless questions.

The first step is crushing the sugarcane between the crusher’s huge rollers to extract the juice.

Step 1: crushing the sugarcane. This crusher was built in 1886!

Prior to the development of mechanized crushers, a crusher was turned by teams of four carabaos each. The extracted sugarcane juice is piped to a vat where lime is added to adjust the juice’s pH to 7 and to precipitate some impurities. The mixture is left to stand for several hours to allow the lime and impurities (including cane fibers) to settle.

Read Part 2

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