For 500 years, the young men of La Gomera have been harvesting palm sap to make a special local “honey”. But the days of this industry are numbered. I went to meet the last of the guaraperos.
For centuries, the palm tree has been one of the world’s most important plants for humans, both practically and symbolically. As well as being a religious sign and motif of relaxation, it provides shelter from the sun, animal fodder and fruits, including coconuts, dates, betel nuts and acai.
On La Gomera, one of the seven main islands of Spain’s Canaries, the trees also provide a vital livelihood for the young men known as guaraperos. For the last 500 years, they’ve been scaling the Phoenix canariensis (Canarian date palm) for its sap: guarapo.
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Watching guaraperos climb the trunks of tall palms on a series of stakes placed at intervals, as if they were climbing a ladder to clean a window, you can see why it’s a hard sell.
“Many people have a fear of heights,” says Sebastian Ramos from Miel de Palma Encantadora in Vallehermoso. “Imagine then if this is your profession, it’s impossible. You have to work at a great height, it’s hard work, and dangerous.”