While Laurent was making his second attempt of Volcán Acatenango, Emily made her way to Valhalla Macadamia. This was by ways of a recommendation by the tourist office, and was conveniently located less than 9km from Antigua. Since we had not seen a macadamian nut farm yet on the trip, and we are avid nut nuts, she took the officer up on her suggestion. She boarded one of the very packed chicken buses to San Miguel Dueñas for Q 4 and told the driver to let her off at Valhalla Macadamia.
It was pouring rain when she got there, but she was still greeted by a very cheerful guide who began the tour immediately. The tour itself is free, and you have the option to tip the guide after. The guide explained that macadamian nut trees produce nuts throughout the year and are very easy to maintain. Once the nuts are ready, they just fall off. Each branch produces flowers and are capable of producing 5 to 50 nuts on each branch. These nuts are collected by the workers, who take them to a very simply designed machine, which takes the green skin off. The workers sort through the nuts to take out the oddly sized “twin” nuts or the hollow ones that the squirrels had already got to. (Their policy is to never hurt the squirrels and just to co-exist with them.) Once sorted, they are placed in sacks (which are raided by the seriously oversized dogs), dried out in the sun, and then placed in another fascinatingly simply designed sorting machine based on size. Once sorted, they are sent to the cracking machine, where the final nuts for consumption are sorted.
Since the trees do not require much extra work, the farm also engages in socially conscious work to alleviate the poverty in the region. Visitors can make a contribution to give a macadamian tree to a family, and the family grows the tree. After about 10 years, the tree begins to produce nuts, and they can sell the nuts on the market for a profit. A tree, capable of producing nuts year-round and for about 200 years each, makes for a pretty great investment in a family’s income.
The farm does not produce enough nuts for export, and instead sells its products locally. They turn the nuts into some great things: nut flour, soap, chocolate, nut oil, etc. Its café sells some (expensive) macadamian nut pancakes, which Emily did not have because she still had food poisoning, but the other guests seemed to be truly enjoying them. At the café, Emily joined a group of young Americans who were on a bike tour (there’s also a chicken bus factory located half a kilometer up the road away as well, but it was closed on weekends), and eventually, the owner.
The entire enterprise is run by a very interesting American man. The word “valhalla” is not Spanish, but borrows from Norse that refers to a place in heaven. The owner made some questionable jokes before delving in a sharp criticism of how Antigua has changed, and stated that this place was the place he would rather be any day. Emily managed to slip out before the conversation got too awkward. All in all, the experience was excellent, and highly recommended if not just to learn about nut farming.