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The Purest Coffee: Part 1

On Monday I got the privilege of joining Andes EcoTours for an ecotourism trip to Tibacuy, a little town roughly two hours out of Bogota where a collective of families still produce coffee in the most traditional of ways. While it is certainly far away it is more than worth the trip especially when the driving time seems to just slip right on by thanks to Andres’ extensive knowledge of Bogota and its surroundings.

This time we found ourselves heading South West, straight through the less desirable areas of the city. As Andres points out, in some ways they are totally different cities. The North is a concentration of wealth, and high paying jobs that closely resembles any European or North American city with tall and new buildings. The South meanwhile is a concentration of working class people with a daily commute of up to two hours to reach their employers in the North. There buildings are much smaller and rudimentary and often made from homemade bricks. Perhaps the greatest example of this separation within a same city is the fact that tourists map do not include the South. Simply put the South is nonexistent to the privileged Northerners; it is merely a place you pass through on your way to your vacation home in warmer lands.

We reached Silvania after roughly an hour and a half. It is one of the rare sizeable towns of Colombia that was not founded or settled by the colonial Spanish. This is because until a farmers union strike last century, all the land from Bogota to here belonged to only a handful of families. Through workers' efforts and bloodshed, the huge landholdings were broken up and given to them, which led to the sprouting of Silvania - once the capital of coffee production in Colombia. At the same time France, Italy, and the rest of Europe were getting fond of this unique Colombian coffee that was grown just a few hours from the city.

Another 30 or so minutes later we reach our final destination of Tibacuy. The distance, the change of altitude, and the role of the mountains were quickly felt. While I left La Candelaria with a raincoat in hand with my eye on the bleak sky, the first thing I did when getting out of the car was apply a healthy layer of sunscreen. It was 20-25ºC and the humidity could most certainly be felt. Colombia truly is an incredibly diverse country, both with regards to climate and culture.

Our first stop at Tibacuy was Marina’s house, a 15-minute walk from where we parked the car. To begin we grabbed a ladder and ascended an enormous bunker sized rock that dominated a nearby field. Once we reached the top we had an incredible panorama view of our surrounding but more importantly we were able to see Panche indigenous rock art etched into the rock. These carvings ranged from contracts between leaders to representations of their ancient belief system.

The most prominent and apparently common of these was a spiral, representing their belief of life cycles and its repetition. It is due to this that the Panche were fierce warriors who were not afraid of death. They believed they would simply come back to this world in another form. It is also believed that it is from this very rock that local leaders would rise above the crowd to speak to their people.

To reward us for our climbing efforts, our gracious hosts gave us our first of many tries of this pure Colombian coffee. As one of the other guests on the tour commented, this was one of the rare times she enjoyed drinking her coffee black. Instead of the bitterness you often taste in North America or Europe, this coffee was neat, soft and pure.

Feeling the coffees invigorating effects it was now time to discover the first step of making coffee: planting the actual tree. I joined Marina to a small greenhouse out back and helped her pick out and water three saplings, one for each of us guests. From there we collected a hoe, a shovel and a machete and headed on our way. In short order and with relative ease considering the ‘gringo’ workforce, we planted our coffee plants. If we were to come back in two years these saplings would already be tall and bearing their first fruit.

After this we were ready for lunch. Along our way though, we made sure to take advantage of the lush landscape and grab a few juicy oranges from the trees and pluck a few sweet coffee fruit to suck on as we meandered to Doña Flor's house, one of the nicest of the farms. It was complete with a personal garden and a special side building used to dry coffee beans that was draped with a few comfortable hammocks. When we arrived we were quickly greeted with a succulent plate of rice, patacones, eggs, Guatila (a vegetable medley) topped off with one of Colombia’s delicious fruit juices and a plantain veggie soup. Finishing the meal more than stuffed we decided it was more than time for a quick power nap before continuing on our way.

Be sure to come back next week to read the rest of my experience that includes picking our own coffee fruit with a local cafetero, peeling the coffee plant, and roasting dried beans among other activities. Matthew

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