Those of you who know I took a trip to the Giron Waterfalls this week, probably assumed this blog is about running water. While the waterfalls are just one more amazing example of the beauty of this country and the inspiration for pondering God’s wonders, they are not the story I am telling today.
Today’s blog is a recounting of a truly inspirational story about a man who turned adversity into triumph in a monumental way. This is the story of Angel Salvador Ortega as told by our tour guide. Pull up a chair, grab a shot of tequila, and sit a spell. I will tell you a story.
Angel is from a very small desert town south of Cuenca. Like almost everywhere in Central Ecuador, the town is surrounded by mountains and valleys. It is beautiful, is a tight knit community, but there are very few opportunities there. So years ago, Angel struck out for the United States in hopes of making a better living to support his family back home.
Angel’s story is not all that different from many who try to reach the land of plenty. He was caught. Having run out of money, he began working with a tequila maker, and learned the trade. Then he returned to his beloved Ecuador and what he did with his newfound knowledge is inspiring.
Tequila is derived from the agave plant. Agave plants are wild in Ecuador and grow everywhere. Angel knew this and decided that he could bring his new skill home and begin to make a difference. But he changed how things were done. In Mexico, the agave is grown on farms, the leaves are harvested to extract the juice, chemicals are used to speed up the fermenting process and often times other ingredients are added as well.
Angel’s vision was to use pure juice from the agave. They tap a hole near the base of the plant and extract the juice morning and evening from the plant, leaving the leaves intact, and allowing the plant to survive. It takes 3 to 5 years for the plant to produce juice, and this method allows them to extract juice from a single plant, for as long as 12 years. Instead of planting and harvesting farms, the people of the town all have agave growing and extract the juice per his standards. The juice is collected in large barrels and the Ortega family picks up the barrels about twice a week. By working in this manner, the Trancahuaico company is supporting the entire town. They only extract the juice for about 6 months of the year, because during the rainy season, water can mix with the juice and dilute it. They monitor the juice in the barrels until it has fermented about a week, and then they distill it into Aguardiente De Agave. (The term tequila can only be used to describe product made Jalisco, Mexico, by international agreement.) The product produced is 100 % agave juice, and has the Ecuadorian seal of Sanitario meaning it is pure and organic. Those who drink it say it is very smooth and many proclaim it to be the best “tequila” in the world. They also make agave syrup and are waiting on approval of a mora (blackberry) wine.
Angel is retired now and his sons run the company, though they call it a community. His desire to provide for his family, turned into a community effort and his efforts now provide for the entire town. Their products can be purchased at the facility in Ona, and at the Tienda del Sur in Cuenca, but are served throughout Ecuador. Watch for the label with the agave plants.
The next time you feel that one man can’t make a difference, think of Angel and his family, who are supporting a community and producing a quality product in a space not much bigger than a 3 car garage in the States.
Thanks for stopping by and sharing a story with me. Now, would you please give me back my bottle of Aguadiente De Agave?
in Cuenca, Living the good life!