Some years ago, in Wroclaw, when we already had in mind the idea of this trip, somebody told me about a book, in which a couple formed by a Polish girl and a Catalan guy told their story about their trip across South America. What a coincidence!!
I told Kasia about it, and as St. Jordi day (when in Catalonia a book is given to the guys and a rose to the girls) was coming soon, she found the book and bought it for me.
The funny part came when Kasia discovered that Aneta, the author, lived in Wroclaw too, and that as it turned out, she was giving conferences about each country they had visited, and the place chosen for those events was 200 meters away from our house. That’s how we met, and had the great chance to listen to her stories, ask our questions and as it happened with Natalia in Manizales, share her local contacts. Thanks a lot again Aneta!
So while being in Medellin we wrote to Natalia and she welcomed us with her arms open, actually, her whole family did, so we where off to a great start with them. We had told Natalia we were looking for a volunteering experience in a coffee farm, as previously they had put in contact Aneta with some friends of them who did have a farm. But as it turned out, Natalia’s family also owned a coffee farm, and they offered us to join them. They already had people working that took care of the coffee production, so our main task would be to recover a room that had been abandoned for long, so that they could start using it again. We could do some restoring and learn about coffee at the same time, it was a great deal!
Their farm is found between the departments of Neira and Aranzazu, in an incredible spot placed in the central Andes mountains. It was quite a ride to get there, but totally worth it.
The room we would be working on was quite a mess, we found stuff you wouldn’t even find in a pawn shop, it was crazy. Bags with 30 years old toys, toilet covers still packed and many other weird stuff. So first thing we did was to take everything out, so that we could start cleaning and then painting. It was hard but very nice.
Among the many stuff we found there, there was an old fridge, which now I guess would be called vintage, that Kasia and I transformed into a nice closet. It was great to work on it, the first time we did such thing and I think it went quite well.
Natalia showed us around and we could enjoy the great landscapes the Colombian coffee region has to offer, really really nice.
In the farm there was also a nice little fella called Canelo, a horse whose eating habits included the most fancy pastry delicatessen. He helped carry the coffee from the field to the farm.
One day, the main door was open so Canelito decided to enter running and throwing his legs up and down. Luckily nobody was outside and we all took cover, it was quite a show he performed, scary but really nice.
One day we had quite a comic story with the bathroom in our room. As it happened already few times in this country, the toilets get stuck pretty easily, so we had a situation like that in there. We wanted to sort it out by our self, for quite obvious reasons, but had no means to do so. After trying with hot water and getting no result, I came across this flower:
Don’t tell me it doesn’t look like a toilet brush. I thought nature was bringing me the solution, I would just need to destroy in a pretty awful fashion a very nice flower, it seemed like a good plan for some reason. I know, it probably wasn’t a good idea, but I thought it was worth a shot. When I was in the middle of cutting the flower, Jose, the administrator of the house asked me what was I doing. It was quite a weird moment, I just told him I kind of needed it for the room and run back. The experiment was not successful at all, and coming out of the room with this flower slightly tainted and completely destroyed was quite funny. Finally Jose gave us the right tool.
While at the farm, we got a very nice tour by Cenelia, Natalia’s mum, who showed us the different steps needed so that the coffee makes it from the crops to the mugs.
It all starts here, in the vast coffee crops. Their farm had 7 acres, if I recall correct, and there’s coffee all over it.
The grains are picked up manually, so 7 acres full of coffee plants plus plenty of grains in each plant, well, numbers are not my thing but you can do the math, it’s plenty of work.
The coffee is then transported by Canelo to the house to start the pulping. To do so, it is thrown to this hole placed in the ceiling, where it falls straight to the machine in charge of the pulping. It then falls into a tank of water, to clean it up and soften it. There’s then a second manual pulping, done with filters similar like the ones used to get the gold out of the rivers.
After that, the coffee is placed in the ceiling for drying.
Then they weight it and take it to the toasting plant, it gets also milled and packed and it’s good to go!
After the pulping is done, there are many grains that are discarded. Those are then put into water and manually pulped once again, then dried and toasted. This coffee is called pasilla, it’s what Colombians say that’s their coffee, and that the good one is exported.
As it happened in other regions with mangoes, where you could find them on the floor, dozens and dozens of them, here at the farm it was the same but with guava. There were so many guava trees that the floor had a carpet of this delicious fruits. I went mad eating this deliciously sweet delicacies.
After spending a great week at the farm, we headed back to Natalia’s house in Manizales, where they hosted us over the weekend. Thanks a lot to Jose and his family and everyone we met at the farm!
In Manizales we walked around the city and visited the great place called “Rincon del Pensamiento”, a sort of botanic garden with plenty more to offer than just amazing plants and flours. With the entrance (15k per person) comes a guide, as people are not allowed to walk around the enclosure alone, only with a guide. As there were no more people the hour we went, we had a guide just for our self, Pablo, who gave us an amazing tour, from showing us and giving us to try many different medicinal plants to allowing us to stay as long as we wanted in the humming birds area.
During our route we got to see 3 times the famous Colombian bird called “Barranquero”, which makes its nest in the walls of any cliff, or any wall in the mountain. And of course the humming birds, we just sat down in the little house where many of them live, and just enjoyed their crazy fast flights and their amazing colors.
Pablo told us plenty of stories and made our visit really interesting and entertaining. As it turns out, the humming birds need to eat every 8 minutes and they put themselves in a sort of coma while sleeping, which they do hanging upside down like a bat. In this wonderful place there was also a little house full of butterflies. You could get one that was staying on a flower to come to your hand by licking the tip of your finger and putting it next to the little animal.
There was also a part of the route full of bonsai trees, where Kasia found the first palm she could climb.
We also had the chance to see the incredible building built by the Colombian architect Simón Vélez, who was born in Manizales, where one can admire what can be done with bamboo canes. In this case, the structure can resist earthquakes and it was tested by German scientists, as the building was designed as a prototype for one that should be placed in the Expo Hanover 2000.
And as it couldn´t be any other way with so many trees and plants, we saw for the first time the coca tree, which looks like this. Besides for obtaining the famous drug, it is also used to help with altitude sickness and helps remove the feeling of being hungry.
As Pablo told us, we were really lucky for visiting the place that time, as we got to see an orchid called Embreea, which takes three years to give a flower, and once it appears, it only lasts three weeks. It was really big and beautiful. Along the path we got to see many other orchids, these things are really amazing.
We had a great time, learnt about coffee, got to try new things and enjoyed very much this part of the Colombian coffee region. Thanks a lot once again to the Marulanda clan!!