The natural stretch of sand on Ponta da Maresia beach is a discussion point in the Brazilian town of Maués. Early risers go down to swim in warm waters with neither waves nor salt, for the beach is on the banks of the Maués-Acú River in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, some 1,000km from the ocean.
The beach only appears for a few months of the year, from August onwards, when the river levels fall at the start of the dry season. This time of year also marks the beginning of the guaraná season. The fruit native to the Maués region begins to ripen, its red skins bursting open to reveal white flesh and a black seed that bears a disturbing resemblance to an eyeball.
Maués is one of the top guaraná-producing regions in Brazil. Both its economy and its culture revolve around the fruit, whose seeds are highly prized for their stimulant and medicinal properties and find their way worldwide into everything from fizzy drinks to energy drinks such as Monster and Rockstar, as well as medicines and cosmetics. It’s an industry worth millions of dollars to the Brazilian economy each year.
Maués might be called the “land of guaraná”, but the fruit’s history long predates the town. The Sateré-Mawé indigenous people have been growing guaraná in their ancestral jungles nearby for millennia.
Their ancestors domesticated the species, studied its properties, and devised the best processing and cultivation techniques.