November 2nd 2013
When I stayed with the Family in Envigado (suburb of Medellin) while I was a student at Centro Interactivo de Espanol, Lucas, who was the Commercial Director of the School, was responsible for my cultural immersion and we did some interesting side trips that gave me a better understanding of these wonderful people. While traveling by car to various cultural destinations, we were able to have long conversations and I feel fortunate to have had these discussions with a local Paisa, (the name for a person who comes from this part of Colombia), even more so because Lucas had lived in Canada for a few years and spoke perfect English – neither of us was battling to communicate with single words and a show of hands. One thing about Lucas: he is an excellent driver, but drives at breakneck speed so the conversations were interesting but the driving was a white knuckle experience.
One of the cultural trips offered was a visit to an authentic, small coffee farm or “Finca”, on the outskirts of Jardin, a not to be missed old Colonial town, four hours from Medellin – driving at “Lucas speed”, we reached it in two hours with a couple of brief stops for photo opps.
The center of Jardin has a beautiful landscaped square, and mature trees framing the Cathedral. The houses around the square are so perfect, one may wonder if it is a facade.
Most of the houses are two stories, freshly painted in bright shiny colors, a Colombian version of trompe l’oil embellishments decorating the doors and windows and colorful flower baskets with trailing plants hanging from the balconies.
Surrounding the square, are hotels and coffee shops or little Mom and Pop stores. Brightly painted tables and chairs line the sidewalks and are also available on the square for outdoor eating and drinking. There is a prominent bandstand and recorded music with a heavy Latin beat blaring through overhead loudspeakers. Later in the day, the square was alive with food carts and people milling around.
Lucas suggested one of the coffee shops and we sat down to enjoy real Colombian coffee and paused to watch the passing show before making the scenic drive to the Finca on the outskirts of Jardin.
The Coffee Farm proved to be an enlightening experience and I had no idea how many stages are involved in the process from planting the coffee bean to ordering my addictive cappuccino at home.
The scenery in this area is bucolic, rolling green velvety hills, covered with coffee plants, and some sugar cane, pineapples, avocado trees , banana and plantain palms. Why the mixed agriculture ? Land is very valuable and the price of coffee has plummeted since the good days, that is, when Colombia had a monopoly on coffee before a number of other countries took away their market share with cheaper quality coffee. It was at one time as high as $19.00 and also as low as .65 cents a kilo and is on the low side now. Mixing the other crops in with the coffee gives a higher yield on the land and creates a continuous cash flow as many of these farmers are struggling to survive.
The Government does assist them. In the case of this farm, a Government Agency supplied an architectural drawing for the building where the coffee is processed and also helped in buying the machinery.
The favorable climate and altitude (6,000 fee above sea level) plus volcanic ash in the soil creates a terroir that encourages the plants to continually grow and bear fruit, allowing for about three harvests a year. One of the photos shows green and red berries and also a flower proving this point, all three stages present at the same time.
The Farmer was very proud that Nestle of Switzerland had sent a representative to hand pick the best Coffee in Colombia, and after traveling throughout the country and testing the quality along the way, one of the farms he selected was this one, for its high quality and consistency.. A coffee taster has to have a very developed palate and can be compared to a wine taster or “the nose” in perfume testing.
In order to maintain this quality, the farmer has to be exceptionally careful in sorting the beans. They need to be fully ripe and sweet, Any green or over mature beans can affect the taste and contaminate the final product.
Before embarking on the white knuckle drive back to Envigado, we took the local cable car to the top of the Mountain which was a few degrees cooler, to be blessed by the local Saint
and admire the telescopic view of the Cathedral and town from above.
Returning to Envigado, we passed through active little market towns, with not a tourist in sight. Some of the buses were loaded with enormous bags of coffee or fertilizer on their roof racks, plus huge branches of bananas, on their way to market.. These are “wooden box buses”, colorfully hand pointed and very distinctive in appearance known as Chicas. They are fully “air conditioned” in that they do not have glass on the windows. I am not a great photographer and never have my camera ready for the wonderful photo opportunities but managed to capture just a couple of these.
American Jeeps from the 1950’s are everywhere in this part of the countryside. They have been reconditioned and painted and are essential workhorses, also loaded with enormous bags of coffee, and several people hanging on as they go from town to town over th e bumpy roads.
Another form of transport are what seemed to be motorcycle taxis. It is a shell built around a motorcycle that can transport two or three people inexpensively.
Coming back to the modern City of Medellin, with its noise and stop and start traffic was a contrast to the slower tempo of the coffee region. There were other stops along the way and I will eventually get to writing about them.
These are some of the flowers that were growing in and around Jardin.
Colombia is a spectacularly beautiful country and the springtime climate that persists twelve months a year in this region, creates spring flowers throughout the year. No sooner have the flowers finished flowering, then they re-enter the flowering cycle again without ever going into dormancy. This is why the coffee region has at least three coffee harvests as the plants are never dormant