Colombian Coffee - Good or Bad?

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March 29th 2011
Published: March 31st 2011
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Relaxing at the hostel, ManizalesRelaxing at the hostel, ManizalesRelaxing at the hostel, Manizales

We are now converted to hammocks for relaxing
The trip from Bogota to Manizales was through some of the most consistently beautiful and spectacular country we have travelled anywhere in the world. Beautiful mountains, villages that made you want to pull up and stay a while – except that rural areas are subject to all sorts of (Australian and maybe other government) warnings around here. Green and lush for almost the entire length of the trip. It would have been nice to be able to pull up and take photos at many, many points. But we could only pull up for pick
-ups and drop-offs. Not for photos. It was a long and, just a bit, gruelling bus trip but the scenery made up for it – most of the time.

We walked into the bus station at Bogota with no settled view on which company to go for. One company beckoned and called more insistently than others so, with no other basis for decision – and against the rules – we went with them. It was a good price for the trip. The bus was one of the short, chunky ones they seem to use here. Chinese manufacture I think but no brand I knew. Not bad,
Street corner in IpialesStreet corner in IpialesStreet corner in Ipiales

There were several blocks with street art like this
that is, not bad as a collectivo goes but not so good either. They should carry about 20 but then you can have people standing. We left at a little after 10.00 am and didn't stop for any sort of break – other than innumberable times to bellow for passengers or to pick up or drop them, until after 5.00 pm. Then there was a flat tyre and then we made it to Manizales. The 8 hour trip took 10 but it was OK really, except for the hot period when we were down at low altitudes. We all arrived with splitting headaches, partly due to altitude and partly starvation. No sellers had time to get on this bus. Will have to sort out the food thing a little more.

Manizales is a pretty spectacular town nestled in the mountains. There is a lot to see and do around the city but you do need excellent legs, good mountain climbing ones with excellent quads and calves. The city is built on hills and, those who walk get fit. There are plenty of cabs though. Plenty of bars and restaurants around as well. We checked some of these out by
Llamas for posingLlamas for posingLlamas for posing

In Las Lajas.
a quick walk around on the night we arrived but didn't meet the age cut-off. It is a long time since we have been 25 or perhaps 30.

The rather nice hostel in Manizales where we had made a telephone booking initially let us in, registered us and allocated rooms but then said sorry but you have to shift because you don't have a reservation after all. There is a chance they double booked. There is a chance that our Spanish wasn't up to the task but they were very nice about it and we were shifted to the Mountain House Hostel, also owned by the same people. It wasn't too bad but we did have to share a dorm room for one night.

A coffee tour was really the main reason for a stop in Manizales. This is coffee country and the hills are alive with the stuff. We had planned to go to a particular plantation highly recommended in the Lonely Planet but read a review or two and decided instead on the Haciend Venecia plantation. Our tour was excellent and good value for money so we were happy. Still not sure of the story with
Old farmhouseOld farmhouseOld farmhouse

Near Las Lajas
the other but it sounded like management may have changed.

We were picked up in an old Willys jeep to be driven for half and hour or so out to the plantation. Our guide spoke very good English and knew his coffee. We were given a very useful rundown in the 'classroom' and then went for a walk around the impossibly steep plantation. Interesting farming practices that sound reasonably sustainable. You do have to wonder though. They are careful about erosion and they are very careful about use of chemicals but it is still a monoculture and it is still on the side of hills that simply could not allow the use of any machinery. It might be a reasonable punt that decent wages for the hundreds of skilled pickers they have to employ would hurt the industry although their planting and cultivation methods allow for reasonably straightforward maintenance.

Our guide did do a good job on selling us on the value of the Colombian approach to coffee. He was assisted in no small way by the excellent coffee we were served on arrival. There is a Colombian coffee growers collective (or some such) that determines practices. First, they grow only Arabica coffee, no Robusta at all. Then they have to treat it by removal of husk/skin without using fermentation and so on. The result is a very smooth but powerful drop. As you would expect, we were taken through the entire process of production, even though there was no production actually happening at the moment. It seems to me to be a very labour intensive process but then labour is reasonably cheap. I was impressed though at the level of commitment expressed to the establishment and maintenance of quality and the clear view that, only through cooperation across the industry would they achieve, and continue to achieve, the results they were looking for. More strength to their arm.

In the highly unlikely even that Duncan reads this post, we have posted a photo of a Colombian Walking Horse stallion. I may have let time and distance colour my memory but I think this fine fellow may just shade Domingo, the Peruvian Walking Horse that I assume is still doing the business at our block in the Obi Obi Valley. He was a beautiful animal being trained. I was prepared to ask for a price but thought
Colombian Walking HorseColombian Walking HorseColombian Walking Horse

They move so smoothly, with little steps
better of it.

From Manizales it was another transport day – and these look like being the pattern in South America. We left at 9.00 am. As luck would have it – and it was dumb luck – we rode a nice airconditioned bus to Cali. It cost a bit more than it probably would have in a smaller, less opulent bus but that is OK sometimes. We arrived in Cali at 3.00 pm without too many stops and again moved through beautiful country all of the way. The sort of country where you couldn't wait to get out of bed before dawn just to see the sun hit the mountains. Daylight bus travel has its compensations. You can forget your sore arse if the view is good enough. There was still plenty of coffee and you do wonder at the environmental destruction that this has caused but then I find it a little hypocritical to carry on too much about that so I won't.

Our next bus that day was from Cali to Popayan. We made the mistake of not preparing and were all hungry because, as usual, the next bus is leaving now and you have no time to eat or piss or whatever. Small bus this one and stopped a lot but we were in Popoyan by 7.00 pm so not so bad.

The hostal we picked in Popoyan was another Hostel Trails place and was excellent. We didn't really take full advantage of the place. Just did the usual and walked around the town. It is a nice and easy place with a good square and good feel to it. This was an allocated back-off day but we could have done a 30 km downhill bike ride which might have been good.

Ipiales is in the border region of Colombia. We decided that it would be a reasonable place to stay on our way to Quito in Ecuador. 9 hours in a good bus brought us to Ipiales.

We are getting a little more assertive these days. We originally bought tickets on a bus that was about to leave but we simply couldn't get our packs and us into the bus so, after dismissing the option of putting the day pack (with the computers in it) on top of the fuel tank, we decided it was a no-go and got our
Swept asideSwept asideSwept aside

What was a bridge near Manizales. The river flooded a week or so before this.
money back. This allowed us to take a Bolivariano, the flash ones. It didn't stop often – once for lunch and a few times for police – but it still took 3 hours longer than the original estimate. Comfortable bus but the toilet didn't work and that became an issue late in the day.

This trip was marked by very detailed police searches complete with bag searches and pat-downs of selected people. There had apparently been some sort of threat against the Colombian President and the authorities were on edge and paying a lot of attention. In the 40 kms prior to arriving in Ipiales we were stopped and fully searched 3 times. This involved everybody off the bus with their bags. A search of the luggage and then pat-downs of most of the passengers. Those with tattoos were looked at pretty hard. Old people weren't too much of an issue though. The copper took one look at me (as I put on my most revolutionary persona), smiled and said, 'Buenos noches Papa' and waved me to move to the group that had been checked. I wasn't that offended.

Ipiales is a nice normal type of town. There is probably not a lot of touristing things to do. It is mostly about working and getting on with things. Our hotel was run by a lovely lady. Not the flashest place we have ever been in but comfortable and warm and, in this country, you do need to be warm. Eating is a little bit of an issue around here. You have a range of options but they all include chicken and chips or chips and chicken or a mix of the two. Eventually, we found a place that served a more extensive menu. We ate there but we were the only people in the entire town that did. This is a chicken and chips place definitely.

Ipiales is famous for the church that was built a couple of hundred years ago in a gorge about 30 minutes from town. There is no doubt that it is in a spectacular location. There is no doubt that it is a very nice looking building and, perhaps, it is a place of very special religious meaning. It was built in this location because an old bloke – these days we might consider that he was suffering from dementia –
Bamboo constructionBamboo constructionBamboo construction

A feature of building in Manizales area is the use of bamboo
spotted a vision of the virgin on a rock. Miracles and such ensued and a lot of people came to the spot for various reasons. They built a church. I would never cast doubt on any of this stuff but am still prepared to bet that there were workmen engaged to build that church who wondered why the old bloke couldn't have spotted the vision on more level land.

From here it is into Ecuador. Another day, another border crossing. This one was easier, if a little more time consuming than most. The exit out of Colombia was very easy. Into Ecuador there was a very long queue that sat for over an hour and then suddenly started to move. Once we made it inside the building it was clear that there was one offical who was very slow and two others who were fast. The fast ones, we reckoned must have been off for lunch.

So that is it for Colombia. And the answer to the question we put at the beginning. If you get Colombian coffee that is exported then it should be great. But the local stuff is likely to be robusta, is likely to
Bamboo PeajeBamboo PeajeBamboo Peaje

This highway toll station looked spectacular with a bamboo framework - near Manizales
be treated by fermentation or is the culls of the coffee they produce. The sweepings you might say. The locals get rubbish and the rest goes to export.

On now to Ecuador where we look forward to being able to buy hammocks, authentic 'Panama' hats that are really Ecuadorian hats and other things.

Additional photos below
Photos: 28, Displayed: 28


Coffee beansCoffee beans
Coffee beans

A lot of work before you can get a drink from them
David on the new bridgeDavid on the new bridge
David on the new bridge

Not really necessary as the water was not deep
Klaire on the new bridgeKlaire on the new bridge
Klaire on the new bridge

Also not necessary if you're wearing gumboots
Learning about coffeeLearning about coffee
Learning about coffee

Part of a very interesting tour
How the other half livedHow the other half lived
How the other half lived

Part of the main house on the coffee plantation. The verandah support is of bamboo
Orchids on the verandahOrchids on the verandah
Orchids on the verandah

There were dozens of different types all along the verandahs of the old house
Another orchid on the verandahAnother orchid on the verandah
Another orchid on the verandah

We were told this is Colombia's national flower
Farmhouse near ManizalesFarmhouse near Manizales
Farmhouse near Manizales

Red on white is very popular around here. Apparently strong colours represent happiness, and the red had political connotations back when this one was built
Who needs a motor?Who needs a motor?
Who needs a motor?

Moving furniture along the highway near Cali
Street near the centre of PopayanStreet near the centre of Popayan
Street near the centre of Popayan

Also called the White City

3rd April 2011

Very jealous of plantation visit. Though dregs comment reminds me of Kenya - where they only served Nescafe... Alex

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