You say banana they say banano. Or platano. In Costa Rica, bananas are served with everything. Breakfast. Lunch. Dinner. Fried, mashed, boiled. You get the point. Good thing I love bananas. Prior to my trip to Costa Rica, I never gave any thought about the bananas I brought home from the store. Where they came from – how they got here. Most people don’t. One of the world’s major growers of bananas is Costa Rica. A stunningly beautiful little Central American country bordered both by the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. Amongst the many plants found in Costa Rica are bananas. That’s right, bananas come from banana plants, not banana trees , but, I have to admit that visiting a banana plantation wasn’t on my “must see” list. As an “animal person” Tortuguero was on my list, as it is home to the two toed sloth, several types of monkeys and sea turtles and it was nesting season for the Green Turtle. I opted to take the journey from San Jose to Tortuguero for a chance at a glimpse of an expectant Green Turtle dig a nest with her giant flippers, lay and bury her eggs before heading back to sea without so much as a backwards glance. It’s a long and bumpy ride from San Jose to the launch points for the boats to Tortuguero and the buses usually stop to take a break along the way. Their stop of choice is at a banana processing site, billed as a sightseeing opportunity. It’s really also an opportunity to promote their number 2 product and it was educational as well as entertaining. The first thing I learned is that there are no Banana trees. That was a big surprise to me. They may be called banana trees but they actually are banana plants with a surprisingly short lifecycle. After each cycle of producing fruit, the banana plant dies and new rootstocks are produced. The new rootstocks then grow a brand new banana plant.
The second thing I learned is that if you have an amazingly large and ugly bug on a stick, you can actually earn a living by posing for photos with the less timid tourists.
I was surprised at the amount of human interaction involved in getting the bananas to the processing plant. The bananas are still taken from the plants by humans without mechanical aid. The bunches of bananas are cut by hand. Even the process of getting the bananas from the field to the processing plant is quite simple and practical. Why did the bananas cross the road? As it worked out, the bananas are grown on one side of the primary road while the processing building sits on the other side. A team of workers cuts the green bananas from the plant and encases them in blue plastic bags to deter ripening. Each blue sack is fastened to a rope and pulley system similar to a clothes line. When the line is fully loaded, the flashing lights signal road traffic to stop, the gate arm comes down, think railroad crossings, and as a worker pulls on the rope the bananas begin to bounce their way across to the processing plant like a platoon of banana soldiers. Once they have crossed, the lights darken, the arm is raised and traffic resumes. At the processing plant, we watched, actually fascinated, as the workers sectioned off the larger bunch of bananas into smaller groups each containing 5 bananas The bananas were sorted, washed , stickered and bagged, and then packed for shipping. Simple but efficient and keeps quite a few people employed.
Chances are you packed a banana today for a midday snack or to go with your lunch. Maybe you had a banana in your morning cereal. In case you were curious, tourism is currently their number 1 product and well worth the visit. You may not be able to bring bananas home with you but you can bring home another famous export, Costa Rican coffee to go with that breakfast.
About that man with the large and ugly bug on a stick, I hear he’s still there and doing quite well.
Hercules beetle: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hercules_beetle