Saturday after a simple breakfast at our lodge (with Nescafe – the Colombians don’t drink
good coffee… the export it) I left ahead of the family to secure our bus tickets, then we met Jaime at the plaza where a rented Land Rover drove us and a few other locals down out of town then up a narrow dirt road that skirted the steep hillside. With two bench rows behind a driver’s bench seat, these Rovers are the buses of the mountains. To better enjoy the ride I stood on the back deck and clinged to the roof rack, and once it felt secure enough Ben joined Javier & me for the great view… but we had to stay alert and duck overhanging branches.
High on the mountain the land rover dropped us off and we walked a short distance to Javier’s gate, where a half dozen horses and half as many farm hands awaited our arrival. His farm consisted of a small but sturdy home with processing equipment in back. We strapped on baskets and followed Javier down some narrow, steep and muddy trails into the coffee bushes, which thrive on these impossibly steep hillsides. This is “Romancing the Stone” territory – easy to imagine a svelte, young Michael Douglas sliding head-first down the hillside into Kathleen Turner’s loins.
Turns out picking coffee is pretty easy sport… pluck the red beans, drop them in the basket strapped to your waist. No thorns, no spiders, no ladders, no bending, light baskets, temperate climate… it beats figs, bananas, citrus, and strawberries. We hauled our baskets back up to his small processing center and poured the beans into a de-husking machine which fed a sifter… husks and unripe beans are separated from the good stuff and become fertilizer. The good beans go up on a tarp on the roof to dry; a sliding cover gets pulled over them in the event of rain. Small scale, no pesticides, this is organic, fair-trade coffee… so far. But climate change and related bug infestations are decimating lower elevation crops, so farmers are substituting bananas… better than coca I suppose.
Next we saddled up and our boys took the second horse rides of their lives. These caballos were smaller but twitchier than their Mexican brethren… the softer saddles and narrower girth made he riding more comfortable, and with a little experience we soon soothed our savage beasties into comfortable strides down and up these steep Andean slopes. On our way we stopped at another finca, sampled and bought some fresh brew, then paused for lunch at a local home overlooking the town of Andes, perhaps the most productive coffee town in the Western Hemisphere. Our hosts had some fresh juice and tough but tasty beef and beans for fuel.
After lunch we reversed course and rode back to the finca where another land rover met us for the ride down to down… one stop to deliver some beans then with a little schmoozing they gladly re-routed by our hotel then delivered us and our bags to the bus station for the journey home.