I am flying down a road on the back of a 1960’s motorcycle. The rush of air feels glorious in the stifling Guatemalan lowland heat. We zigzag around many potholes while semi-trucks from the mines in El Estor roar past us.
My friend, Scott, is taking me to visit Fruits of the World, an experimental farm and nursery. Scott lives on a tugboat on the Rio Dulce, but, like me, he is deeply connected to the earth. He works with biochar and worms to improve the fertility of tropical soils.
Finally, we pull off the main road into a little town. Dodging people and dogs, we weave our way through town. We stop briefly to chat with a man tending a garden, something you don’t often see in these parts. He is growing corn, squash, bananas, some sort of a starchy tropical root, and other things.
We pass through town and continue down a dirt road lined with thin, regularly planted rubber trees. Scott tells me that the price of rubber was high a few years back so many people planted rubber trees, but now the price has fallen again. Before the rubber they grew a type of tree used to make pulp, and before that they ran cattle.
We dip down into a valley and cross a large river with a collapsed concrete bridge, and finally we arrive at Fruits of the World. As we pull in we see that Dwight is busy with some customers so Scott begins to show me around.
We step among the trees, some of them heavily laden with fruit. The air is heavy with the scent of ylang-ylang. We recognize some of fruit like starfruit, zapote, cacoa, and rambutan, but others are a mystery.
We cross a rickety suspension bridge and see bright red bamboo next to some guest houses. We find the head worker in a nursery area, tending thousands of tiny seedlings, and ask him about some of the trees. He shows us a little nut that he cracks out of the shell.
We continue on and find a grapefruit tree. They are all green but we find one that is soft and open it. The pale yellow pulp is sweet and juicy and it runs down our elbows. It is easily the best grapefruit I have ever eaten.
Exploring further we see fish ponds, giant bamboo stands, and goats. Does this guy ever rest? We walk back across a ford in the creek and find Dwight, still talking to his customers who have come 5 hours from Guatemala City with the whole extended family to buy some of his special plants. Scott snags a mangosteen, peels open the thick skin, and lets me try the white, segmented fruit. It has a sweet and sour flavor that tastes like nothing I’ve ever had before.
We go as a group to look at some trees so the customers have some idea of what these plants will grow into. I follow along the best I can in Spanish, and Scott translates some of it for me. We see giant jackfruit and little palms with mean-looking thorns that bear dragonfruit. He tells us about another fruit that tastes like white-chocolate, but I don’t catch the name.
Back at the sales hut, Dwight gives us a taste of some dried fruit, seed, and chocolate bars that he is making in a solar dryer. Amazing! He dries a lot of his fruit since he is so far from a market.
Dwight finishes up with his customers and they drive away, loaded up with many different kinds of fruit trees and shrubs. Dwight tells me about how he came here in the Peace Corps and he was thinking of growing blueberries in the highlands, but he met another couple from the Peace Corps who wanted to do rambutans and other tropical fruit, so they ended up down here. They worked at it together for a while until the woman became pregnant, and wanted to head back to the states. His other partner tried to come back and help out a few times, but eventually became too busy with life, and since then, Dwight has been alone down here.
It seems like people are finally starting to hear about Dwight and his plants are being sought out, but I can tell it is a labor of love. In town I have seen a lot of rambutans for sale, most certainly the trees originated from his farm and the popularity of the fruit here has grown.
As for the grapefruit, Dwight says, “Take all you want. I can’t sell them because they are too sour for the locals.”