Panorama of the Week: Bolivia and the Banana Millionaire

Have you ever heard of the banana millionaire?

He was an urban myth (or perhaps he was real) making the rounds in Lithuania in the early 1990s. The story goes that just after the country’s independence from the Soviet Union, a young Lithuanian entrepreneur got hold of a big truck, drove it south to somewhere like Spain, filled it with bananas and drove it back north again to his home country. In Soviet times, bananas were a precious commodity; the man sold his truckload of bananas at a premium and became a millionaire overnight.

One man’s commodity, another man’s luxury. And another man’s million dollar banana truck.

If you’ve ever wondered where and how a banana’s journey begins, the following panorama might offer a glimpse. The Chapare region of Bolivia is more famous for its production of coca leaves, but a growing number of farmers seeking to raise alternative crops have found refuge in the banana. We visited one such farm — and that’s how we came to take this panoramic photo.

360-Degree Panorama: Banana Production in Chapare, Bolivia

panorama directions

Banana stalks make their way from the fields by way of a long pulley line. Men machete the stalks into smaller bunches and women pull the reject bananas and wash the rest. After a few more cleaning dips and a spray or two, the green bananas are hand packed into boxes to be sent to destinations around the world. Often with the aid of chemicals, the bananas ripen along the journey. By the time you buy them in your grocery store, they’ve known a color change and a long journey.

Random bakers’ note: Never throw out a banana that is over-ripe and beginning to blacken. Put it in the freezer and save it for a batch of banana bread. Delicious and easy. Not to mention, it prevents wasting food.

Travel articles from Bolivia

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  1. says

    Hmmm so true, when you see all the “fresh” fruit piled up neatly in the supermarket it’s easy to forget where it came and that it’s often traveled miles and miles to get there. Easy to forget, until you see the actual plantations and taste the fruit when it’s just been picked :)

  2. says

    @Andi: That’s not a bad idea! Perhaps baking banana bread will make it on the schedule this Sunday afternoon.

    @Karin: And taste of the fruit is also so different when you taste it “fresh” at the source – almost like a different fruit altogether. I usually avoid buying papayas or mangoes outside of tropical countries anymore because the taste and texture is so different when you buy them in Europe or the States. One forgets what a long journey so many of these fruits and vegetables have to take to get to our shops.

    @Dave & Deb: Yes, the full screen viewing does make for the best experience. When I’m putting these together, I love trying to find all the little details inside the image. Quite fun.

  3. says

    Also on a bakers note, you can also toss it into a smoothy! My go-to for all slightly too old fruit :-)

    The shot is like a Where’s Waldo – the expressions and little details that you’ve permanently captured are so fun.

  4. says

    @Shannon: Great idea re: throwing aging fruit into a smoothy. Yummy, healthy and nothing goes to waste!

    It’s a bit tricking taking these panorama photos when people are moving around, but when it works out it’s a lot of fun exactly because of these little details.

  5. says

    I’m not much of a baker and usually find myself just eating the black banana so that it doesn’t go to waste. But the smoothie idea should work better next time (thanks Shannon!).

    And this was the first time I also checked out the full screen view of one of your panoramas and it’s far more incredible that way. The detail is unreal!

    Enjoy the trip to Berlin!

  6. says

    @Earl: My confession is that I don’t really eat bananas – I just use them for banana bread :) Dan’s the banana eater in the family.

    The detail in the full screen view really does make these panoramas come more alive, especially when the scene is inside and there’s a some sort of action going on.

    Bus leaves in 7 hours for Berlin, so I should probably get some sleep!

  7. says

    Yum, banana bread! I haven’t made that in a while. Probably it’s because I avoid turning the oven on when it’s 100 degrees outside. I get the organic bananas without nasty chemicals because it’s a lot better for both me and the banana workers that way.

    @Dave and Deb – Even though it says full screen, I never tried it until you mentioned it. What a difference!

  8. Jennifer says

    Throw out bananas? Who would do such a thing? I do the same, peel them, put into freezer and use on days when I make a yummy fruit smoothie!

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