When I was in Medellin, I realized what a shame it would be if I came to Colombia and didn’t spend any time on a Colombian coffee farm in the coffee region (zona cafetera). So I started looking for opportunities in the three main cities: Manizales, Pereira, and Armenia.
In Manizales, Juanita offered to host me and take me to a nearby family that grows a variety of products – coffee included.
It was truly amazing.
Uninvited Guest In My Shoe
The day started off by me putting on my shoes and noticing something hard inside. I knew it couldn’t be a rock since I took them off the night before. It was obviously a bug. But after Central America I am much less of a princess when it comes to bugs. I am still no boy scout, but I can hold my own. Anyway, this is what was in there.
The Real Juan Valdez
We arrived by car, but had to park up the hill and walk 20 minutes to get to the house. It was a typical rural setting I’m used to with animals, bugs, and the nicest people on earth. During the walk to the house, I got to meet the real Juan Valdez. He was tending to his coffee plants and was all smiles.
Walking To The Farm
Upon arrival we had some lemonade. But their lemonade is more like sweetened water with a hint of lemon. The water is sweetened with panela, a natural sugar made from sugar cane.
Installing A Horseshoe
We talked and I got to see some of the farm. They were in the process of putting horseshoes on a mule. Talk about an interesting process!
They tie a rope around the horse’s mouth to distract it from any potential pain while installing the horseshoe. They tie two opposite legs together so it can’t move too much. Then they hammer in the nails and install the horseshoe.
Since this place is very mountainous, the horseshoes have “tacones”, which is the same word they use here for high heels. These little “heels” make a huge difference when the horses and mules have to walk uphill while carrying a load.
The more we talked, the more I realized how little I know about the basics of living out in nature the way they do. So I told them how ignorant I feel but they made me feel better by saying the feel exactly the same way in the “modern” world.
Mounting A Horse
After lunch we prepared the horses and mules to carry cargo. We were going to descend the mountain and take in all the natural awesomeness below. But the mules and horses would also bring up some bamboo recently cut down that will be used in a building the family is constructing.
Before going down the mountain, they suggested I get up on the horse for a picture. There was no foot thing in the saddle since the animals were set up for carrying cargo and not people.
No problem. Watch the video below to see the unexpected solution that left me speechless!
Getting Off The Horse
Getting off the horse was a similar process. I felt like a little kid throughout the whole thing. Everyone laughed heartily throughout the whole process though – including me!
Descending The Mountain
The descent down the mountain was a buffet of natural beauty though a camera can’t capture the beauty of the landscape. There were plants, animals, fruit, flowers, and more. Below you can see what sugar cane looks like in the wild, though this sugar cane is used to make panela and not the white or brown sugar you might know. I also saw pineapples growing, which I had never seen before. Same with Guanabanas. Given how big they are, I couldn’t believe they grow on trees! And we saw cacao, the plant that gives the world chocolate.
The Animals As Cargo Carriers
The animals were loaded up with the bamboo and climbed the hill. Surprisingly, they said that mules are smarter than horses and the mules automatically know to climb the hill and return to the house. Horses have to be guided.
I couldn’t believe that the animals can carry 200kg/440lbs of cargo uphill. For me it was borderline strenuous exercise and I wasn’t carrying anything.
Getting Eaten Alive By Bugs
Along the way, I was bitten by bugs like crazy. As “fresh meat” they took what they could from me. Below you can see a bug on my hand, what happens after it bites you and then the swollen bump you get at the end. I estimate I got about 25 of these bites on my arms and about 10 on my face/neck. Thanks to the bugs, I learned that chicken pox in Spanish is “varicela.”
Though I wasn’t hungry at all, we were served an early dinner maybe three hours after we had lunch. As you can see, it was lentils, rice, fried plantains, and a real egg. For desert we had a caramelized plantain that was insanely sweet, but very good!
Below you can see the amazing family that made this all possible. They are family friends of Juanita, my couchsurfing host in Manizales. They were so hospitable, fun, patient, and welcoming. Muchas gracias a ustedes otra vez!
Coffee Cultivation Process
On the farm I learned how the coffee cultivation process works. They pick coffee beans when they are red and ripe, dry them, remove the outer shell using a machine, and then pack them in big bags. The farm sells the raw coffee beans and then these beans are roasted and ground by whoever buys them. Coffee’s flavor really comes out in the roasting process and there are family recipes galore.
On the way back I noticed I had a guest on my thumb. This may not seem remarkable, but growing up the bug I hated and feared most were centipedes. When we turned the light on in the car and we saw what it was, Juanita said, “es un ciempies.” I instantly knew what that meant even though this one was black and the ones at home are brown.
But it was ok somehow. As I said to start off this post, Central America really prepared me when it comes to bugs! And when I got back to my room, this gigantic moth was on the window curtain. No problem. I turned off the light and went to sleep thankful for such an amazing and wonderful day.
In the end, another wonderful day on The Happy Nomad Tour.