29.09.2009 - 01.10.2009 80 °F
The bus out of Medellin swirled precariously around the seemingly over lush mountainsides, miraculously clinging effortlessly to the road- much to our relief. All the travelers we met told us that Medellin can and will suck you in to its hip ways keeping you in the city longer than expected. They were right. The city welcomes you with gorgeous weather, beautiful women, and contemporary art. It spills out of the confining valley, draping the surrounding mountainsides with thousands of brick homes, twinkling lights, and vertical walkways. To add to the eye candy of the city, little cable cars are rhythmically scattered overhead connecting the city together. The heart of Medellin is no doubt Botero park, where large naked bronze beauties exquisitely reveal their plumpness without any shame. Botero´s work obviously carries on to the psyche of the Medellinos with the women proudly displaying their bodies with the same attitude as if they were bronze statues themselves. It doesn’t matter if bodies are small, thick, large, thin or fat, they walk with an air of body love and acceptance that can only make one smile. In the few days of being in Medellin I had this desire to purchase a pair of tight booty jeans complete with rhinestones, high heels, and a corset top- luckily Adam had all the money. The allure of the city captivated us for days however it was time to leave the city towards the coffee growing region.
The zona cafetera lies about four hours south of Medellin where suddenly the glossy leaf coffee plants replace the tall banana trees. We settled on the small sleepy village of Salento, a much needed change from the hustle and bustle of Medellin. The road to Salento was a breeze, just a quick one hour minibus ride from Armenia and we were let off in the town square so delicately painted in white and pastels. A small church greeted us along with no electricity as we peeked our heads into the candlelit shops and restaurants along the main street a little after the sun had set. Tired of staying in typical gringo backpacker haunts where you spend more time talking to other travelers than Colombianos, we decided to simply try our luck and walk the town in search for a room. A small boy befriended us instantly and took us to his family''s house that rented rooms. We hesitantly came to a large bright blue door in the main plaza with the simple lettering "hospedaje" and out came Holanda, a robust Salentina who kindly showed us in. We smiled, agreed on a price, and instantly fell the country charm of this place along with the luxury of having a towel and a bar of soap. The next day we were on our search for a coffee plantation within walking distance from town.
We found the finca de Don Elias outside of Salento, about an hour walking downhill from the village (mind you- Laurita steps not Adam steps). The farm was overshadowed by the larger farm before it which advertised tours in fancy letterings. We were not easily swayed by the overt capitalistic display so we pressed ahead. We continued on and were rewarded by a tiny farm owned by a man wearing a sombrero and calf high rubber boots, a small basket was tied around his waist. He greeted us with a smile and led us on a pleasant walk about his property. What we found out from Don Elias is that many of the neighboring farms practice intensive production of coffee complete with heavy use of pesticides that is slowly creating an ecological trouble zone in the area. Don Elias is part of an organic cooperative that produces small batches of coffee for exportation along with growing bananas, pineapples, yucca, avocados, and oranges on his small farm. As he led us from tree to tree, he showed us the difference between the original Arabico coffee bean and it’s eventual child, the Colombian bean. The small berries are reddish to yellow coloring and look just like that, a shiny round berry. We picked several berries and placed them into the basket with Don Elias occasionally taking the berries, smashing them with his fingers to produce a pale green nut inside the berry. Green Gold indeed!
From time to time, Don Elias would find diseased beans which he put into his pocket to eventually burn back home to contain the spread of disease and critters from the rest of the plants. After we had collected enough beans, we returned to his house where he peeled the berries, placed them in a greenhouse to dry, then taking us to the roasting stage. Don Elias’s house reminded me of my grandparent’s house in San Roque containing a small fire pit for cooking where he placed the beans inside a frying pan to roast. The best part of the tour was drinking a fresh cup of coffee using familiar beans from Don Elias’s farm. The cup of coffee we shared with Don Elias was more than just a basic cup of coffee, it transformed into a cup full of history and experience, easily turning into the best cup of coffee we both had ever had.
These days Don Elias produces just enough coffee to sell to the people who visit his farm. We bought a pound of beans to thank him for giving us such a personal tour then he slipped us a handful of bananas, nuts, and oranges into our bag, sending us on our way back up the hill to Salento. We opted to take the local jeep bus as nightfall was quickly approaching, thankfully as my thighs were hurting just thinking of the hour uphill climb we would have to do.