There’s a long road that leads from the top of our lane to the main road and it’s lined on one side by a large banana plantation bordered by a low, dry stone wall.
We call it the banana road.
When you live on Tenerife, the sight of banana plants becomes something you take for granted and you quickly forget that, to many people, seeing bananas growing by the side of the road is an exotic novelty and a fascination.
From time to time when we walk or drive along the banana road we pass taxis parked, their occupants (usually Spanish mainlanders) being led into the plantation by the taxi drivers who are explaining the whole process of how the bananas grow; how the large, pendulous seed that hangs from the end of the flowering branch is removed to force the baby bananas to grow, and how each year a new shoot appears to replace this year’s fruiting plant which will die once it has been harvested.
Three times a year a truck comes along, drives through the dry stone wall to create a gap and the banana workers get to work harvesting the bananas that are ready to be picked.
We take the bananas for granted here. Every week I go to the supermarket and buy a large bunch of Tenerife bananas which usually cost me somewhere around 60 cents. They’re small, sweet and delicious.
Last year, on assignment for an in-flight magazine, I was driving along the south west coast from Los Gigantes to Playa San Juan and was just approaching Alcalá when I spotted some banana workers in one of the plantations that line that entire stretch of road. As my assignment was about the burgeoning gastronomic scene in the Canary Islands and some of the excellent produce which is grown, it seemed like the perfect opportunity for a spot of ad hoc banana photography.
There were about ten banana workers in total, including the guy who loaded the truck, and every one of them was filthy and sweating profusely. When I first arrived they had just cleared one plantation and were moving to the next so they invited me to watch and photograph as long as I didn’t get in the way.
The truck was parked in the middle of the plantation and the workers dispersed in pairs, disappearing into the dense forest of banana plants. Each pair approached a ready-for-harvesting plant and while one guy carefully placed the whole stem onto his shoulder, the second guy cut the stem cleanly from the stalk using a half moon blade attached to a long pole. Each stem was then carried out to the truck and stacked upright, every alternate one wrapped in a sack to prevent the fruit from bruising. When the lower level was full, a board was placed on top and a second layer of bananas was stacked.
It must have been 32º C in that plantation with the sun beating relentlessly on our heads. Each inflourescence (the whole stem containing all the hands of bananas) weighs between 40 and 50 kilos (6 to 8 stones) and has to be carried on shoulders through the plantation, up the ramp to the truck and gently lowered into position. While I photographed and asked questions, the guys never once stopped working. When one man of slight stature who must have been in his sixties paused for a moment for me to photograph the particularly large inflourescence he was carrying, his co-workers good humouredly called for him to carry on working instead of posing and trying to impress me with the size of his stem.
In less than 12 minutes these guys had filled the truck to capacity, which must have been something in the region of 40 stems in total. While the truck moved off, they walked on to the next plantation where the next truck was waiting to be filled. Before I left, they gifted me a part of an inflourescence that had ripened beyond harvesting. Although it only contained a fraction of the number of hands of bananas on a full stem, it was really heavy and it reinforced just how hard these men worked.
For the next two days while I was on the road my car smelled delicious and I had a ready store of sweet bananas in the boot. So to the banana workers of Tenerife I say “Gracias”. Thank you for the hard work you put in to bring me my weekly supply of bananas and every time I walk the banana road I will remember you and your big stems and I will smile.
Andrea (Andy) Montgomery is a freelance travel writer and co-owner of Buzz Trips and The Real Tenerife series of travel websites. Published in The Telegraph, The Independent, Wexas Traveller, Thomas Cook Travel Magazine, EasyJet Traveller Magazine, you can read her latest content on Google+