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One Week to Fall Back in Love with Colombia: Part Two, Coffee with Jesus

February 29, 2012

(This post is the follow-up to One Week to Fall Back in Love with Colombia: Part One, Medellin)

Much relieved, I finally arrived in Salento, a quaint little town in the south of the coffee region that has been almost-overrun by backpackers. Generally not my scene, but whatever, I was ready to read, write, and relax without being harassed and Salento was going to be just what the doctor ordered.  It was however, still pouring rain, and pitch dark by this point.  I found my hostel, thankful I had made a reservation, only to hear the last thing I wanted to hear…they had given away my room…alone, in the pouring rain after 9 hours of travelling (half of which was spent almost giving myself a heart attack) and now they had given away my room.

This relationship “Break” was not working. I was not happy with Colombia.

The hostel offered me a room at a nice “finca” (farm) outside of town for the night at the same price as my room at the hostel. Although the last thing I wanted to do was worry about getting up in the morning to move hostels, this was a better option than wandering around in the rain in the dark by myself.  “You can help yourself to our free coffee while you wait”, the owner said. One of her employees showed me to their kitchen to wait. When I asked where the coffee mugs were he couldn’t find any, and then pointed at a couple of old dirty mugs that backpackers had left, obviously for quite awhile, half-full of old coffee in various places around the room. It was one of those grungy scenes that I ate up as a 20-year old backpacker but now, although I hate to refer to myself as old, I’m just too old for this [insert choice word here].  Forty-five minutes later a lovely woman named Luz Angela and her young son showed up in their family car, to take me to their farm.

The minute I arrived at El Rancho I knew I would stay for days; it was a beautiful old farmhouse, with a veranda that looped around the outside of the house and hammocks to snooze in. Ohhh yes, I am so over the grungy hostels of my 20s.

Happy to be at El Rancho, Colombia.

That night I sat down to a beautiful “trout” dinner (although Colombian “trout” in no way resembles Canadian “trout” and I have yet to figure out what we would call this fish, its taste and texture is some kind of half-trout-half-salmon fish) with the 5 other guests, 4 of whom also had booked rooms at the hostel but whose rooms had been “given away”.  A side note, given that I was 20 years younger than the other guests at the finca, but definitely older than the guests at the hostel, I had a sneaking suspicion that anytime an  “old” person showed up, the rooms were “full”. And if that’s the case, fine by me, the finca out in the country was much more my scene.

Delicious trout dinner at El Rancho.

The next morning we were up early to see the famous Valle de Cocora, Cocora valley.  This valley is home of Colombia’s national tree (although it’s not really a tree), the Wax Palm. Our first stop was to the town square where we caught a “Willy” or 4×4 Jeep up to the Valle. It’s about a 35 minute ride on a rough road, and they usually pile up to 13 people in one Jeep, standing room only.  We got lucky and only had 7 in ours.

"Willy"s lined up in the Plaza Mayor, Salento.

When we arrived in the Valle we tried to ask people which way to walk but they all just wanted us to do a tourist-horseback ride and wouldn’t tell us where the hike started.  So we walked straight along the road in order to get away from the peddlers as fast as possible. This was our first mistake on a day that ended up being much more than we bargained for. The lesson of the day, as it had been on many other days, was that the authors of this Lonely Planet had not in fact been on the hike they were describing. The “well-signed” [SIC], 2.5 hour hike was actually a 5 hour hike, 7 if you get lost, which we did.

Although it was a much bigger outing than we signed up for, it was a beautiful hike.  The wax palms against the rolling hills of the coffee region created a very distinct scenery.

Wax Palms, Valle de Cocora.

More Wax Palms.

Still more Wax Palms.

Early on in the hike.

After a few hours of hiking we came upon a family farm where we had some great hot chocolate with the requisite bread and cheese for dipping (putting cheese in your hot chocolate is required in Colombia).

Mid-hike hot chocolate.

Can never have too many wax palms.

After that break we headed into the steep downhill, muddy portion of the path and were VERY thankful for our rented rubber boots.  After another couple of hours we reached another stopping point famous for its hummingbirds and hot chocolate (although the hot chocolate at the “non-famous” stop was much better).

River to cross along the way.

Humingbirds at the 2nd hot chocolate stop.

At this point we were getting a little worried, this 2.5 hour hike had turned into a full day event, it was now almost 4 p.m. and the last jeeps headed back to town at 5p.m.  We started off back down the trail, and followed the river to the bottom. This last part of the trail ended up being extremely tricky, the first part of this section was home to 5 or 6 wooden, swinging “bridges” over the river. The trickiest part was the last couple of kilometres of an old mud road that had been completely hollowed out by rain. The muddy bumps were hard to even manouever on foot, to make matters worse the road was lined by barbed wire, which I did end up falling into at one point, ripping my pants, and slicing my thigh.  But no time to stop, we finished the hike at a jog and arrived at the jeeps at 5 p.m. on the dot, and made it out just in time. A little more than we had signed up for but all-in-all, a very good start to my stay in the coffee region.

A few hours in.

One of the "bridges" along the way.

Safe and sound back in Salento with Jane, Charlie, and our new Argentinian friend we met en route, and our "Willy" of course.

After another homemade dinner at the finca, we decided tomorrow would be horseback riding.  The following morning we did a nice horseback ride along the river, through an old unfinished rail tunnel, to a beautiful waterfall.

Waterfall in the woods.

Mid-ride.

That afternoon, after our ride and 2 days into my time in the coffee region I finally had a coffee!! And what a coffee it was! We went to Cafe Jesus Martin, a cozy little cafe in Salento with by far the best coffee I’ve had in Colombia, and one of the best I’ve ever had, I’m still deciding whether it’s THE best (those of you in Toronto will have to stop by our place this spring and decide for yourselves!). That night we had more of the local trout at a restaurant in the square and then headed back to the farm for another long night’s sleep in the country.

A cafe at Cafe Jesus Martin

During all of this time I had been texting everyone at my office, trying to find out if our latest work trip was actually going to happen. Although everything happens last-minute here, I at least needed enough of a heads-up to physically get myself back to Bogota and as I’d been messaging them for days with no response, air tickets were now way beyond my human-rights lawyer’s income and I needed to take a full-day bus back. Given this uncertainty I decided that I better do a coffee tour the next day, I couldn’t leave without doing anything related to coffee! So the next day I headed back to the infamous hostel to do a tour of their coffee farm.

The first hour was an explanation by the British owner, in English. The second hour was a tour, in Spanish. Not even one minute into the 2nd hour it became apparent that some people spoke a little Spanish and some spoke none at all, relying again on the old, well there’s always someone that speaks Spanish. Which is fantastic, unless you’re always the Someone that speaks Spanish. Today I just couldn’t do it, I needed at least a couple of hours away from being the interpreter/organizer/point of attention, I just wanted to be able to enjoy one thing like a normal tourist. Don’t  get me wrong, for the most part I don’t mind it at all and enjoy translating for people but sometimes it just gets a bit much, especially when everyone is peppering you with questions and comments to translate and cutting you off and no one bothers to say thank you, which is what happened at the end of this tour when people realized I actually really spoke Spanish.

Raw coffee beans.

Coffee berries on the tree.

Grinding the beans

Roasting beans the old-fashioned way.

Almost ready! Notice the unhappy helper in the corner.

In any case, it was great to finally  have a coffee experience in Colombia. Although as nice as it was, I still didn’t feel I really knew that much about coffee. The guide had mentioned that Cafe Jesus Martin actually does a 3 hour coffee appreciation workshop. I thought to myself, that’s what I need! So I went back to the finca, and asked Jane and Charlie, my new American friends, if they would consider doing the workshop with me. Although I could tell they were nowhere near as excited about it as I was, always good sports, they agreed to join me (I needed at least 2 people for them to run the workshop).

During all of this time I was still trying to get ahold of anyone at my office for any information as I would have to leave the following day if this work trip was going to happen.  Friday morning I finally got a text from my boss saying he would confirm by 2 p.m. 2 p.m. came and nothing, 4 p.m., 11 p.m., nothing. Finally I said to myself okay if I have nothing by the time I wake up tomorrow, I will write them and say I will just keep travelling. I was not yet ready to risk that I could be facing another week alone in the office until the others showed up. So that’s just what I did, I wrote the email…and low and behold not only did I get a text, but an actual telephone call from my office. Saying that the trip was happening, we would leave Monday, meaning I would have to get the bus back to Bogota the following day, just in time to leave for the next trip.

That afternoon, Charlie, Jane, Luz Angela, and I did the coffee workshop.  It was much better than we had imagined.  Jesus himself was our guide (well Jesus of Cafe Jesus, not THE Jesus). He is a Salento local who is passionate about coffee. As those of you who have been to Colombia know, one of the most dumbfounding things for a foreigner is that you just can’t find a good cup of coffee in this country. He described Colombia as a coffee-producing country and other countries like Canada, Switzerland, or the U.S. as coffee consuming countries. Currently, almost all of the high quality coffee is exported while the low quality, un-exportable beans are consumed here in Colombia.  His vision is to create a Coffee culture here in Colombia.  He wants to develop a taste for good coffee in Colombians.  Because every part of the coffee process is crucial to a good cup of coffee they do everything, from the buying of beans from certain local farmers, to their coffee shop (Cafe Jesus Martin) where the barista prepares each cup with “love”.  He belongs to international coffee associations and uses their standards for each stage of the development, but he does not, nor does he have any plans to, export the coffee. His goal is simply to bring good coffee to Colombians. Hallelujah!

Jesus introducing us to the process.

Jesus took us through tests like you would at a wine tasting. We learned about the colour, the taste, the aroma,the roasting, and the bean selection.

Sorting the beans by hand.

Learning about coffee!

Jesus and his roasting machine.

After our lessons we all headed to the cafe for some fancy cappuchinos.  Now I felt like I finally had experienced coffee in Colombia!

Back at the Cafe Jesus Martin.

Our barista Diego, making our coffees with love.

A coffee made with love.

The grande finale.

The new coffee connoisseurs.

I shared another great dinner with Charlie and Jane and the next morning I was off on a 11 hour bus journey back to Bogota….to see whether this work trip was actually going to happen.

I don’t know that I fell completely back in love with Colombia in one week, but we are making good progress…stay tuned!

Some Colombian love.

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2 Comments leave one →
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