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Published: April 18th 2009
Don Elias shows off his kill!
Day 725 (24.03.09)
When we'd headed out on foot this morning from Salento, a small and pretty village perched amongst the verdant hills and valleys of Colombia's main coffee growing region, we never expected the experiences that would greet us before the day was out.
In all our guidebook searches and chats with locals we couldn't seem to find out anything about coffee plantations that you could visit but a guy Mark had met had said he'd been out the day before and found one you could at least walk through. So, armed with just a tiny hand-drawn map, we put on our walking shoes and took the gravel road past the cemetery leading out of town.
As we walked down the road views of the lush and dramatic scenery that, with the local climate, somehow provides the perfect coffee growing conditions opened up in front of us. It made for a stunning start to the walk and before long we'd found the small muddy path that our map-drawing friend had said would lead into the coffee plantation that he'd walked through.
Reaching the steep hills of the plantation we followed various mud tracks through the coffee
trees checking out the bunches of firm, shiny coffee beans making their way towards maturity and a steaming, tasty brew. We met a local hard at work amongst the trees and he pointed towards a path that would lead us back to the road to continue our walk.
We obviously hadn't understood his directions very well as we were soon surrounded by coffee and banana trees with no paths in sight. Trying our hardest not to damage any of the plants around us we picked our way through until we found a manageable drop and jumped down onto the track beneath.
Almost as soon as we were back on the road again we bumped into a local lady and her son sat outside a gateway in the shadow of several banana and mandarin trees. She seemed to be saying that if we went though the gateway and followed the track it would take us to a coffee plantation where we could have a tour and taste the coffee - perfect, exactly what we´d been looking for. Hoping that we´d understood her correctly after our mistakes with the coffee picker, we followed the little boy through more banana trees
and soon found ourselves outside a small house meeting Don Elias.
He'd owned this small plantation and had been growing coffee for 40 years. For a small fee he´d take us around the plantation and teach us about the process of growing and producing coffee for sale. Strapping a small wicker basket around his waist he was leading us across the dirt yard and past a large tree sporting an exotic red flower when Vic exclaimed "Look, a snake!".
The same sight of this patterned green snake curled in amongst the large waxy leaves of the tree that had seen us reaching for our cameras to catch a quick snap had sent Don Elias into a frenzy of stick searching. Wielding a massive machete he cut the stick down and shaped it into a point all the while urging us to step away from the snake. In rapid Spanish his wife explained that one bite from this sleepy looking creature would result in certain death.
Hefting his stick above his shoulder and utilizing a nervous looking Mark to hold back a branch, Don Elias proceeded to whack the snake down from the tree and continue whacking it
until it was definitely no longer a threat to our health. An exciting start to the tour!
Poisonous snake dealt with we set off around the plantation not sure that the rest of the tour would live up to this breathtaking opening but with our translating brains in full use we followed and listened as the charismatic Don Elias explained in Spanish the growing process and taught us how to find the ripe beans. As we climbed up and down the muddy paths amongst the trees we picked the beans that were ready and also sampled some of the many fruits that grow within the plantation.
Back at the house we helped to skin the beans, learnt about the washing, drying and toasting process and ground some freshly toasted beans that would go towards making our own brew, the culmination of the tour. It had been great to be involved in the whole process right from the picking and we were looking forward to tasting the final result as we smelt the rich aromas of it being made for us. We weren´t to be disappointed as we sipped the smooth organically grown coffee of our new friend.
Having bought Don Elias out of coffee to take with us we continued on our way pleased that we´d had such an excellent and unexpected experience. The rest of the walk was equally beautiful as we spotted kingfishers and many butterflies and enjoyed the views down to the river in the valley we´d just crossed over.
Back at the main road from Armenia we were able to pick up a bus to take us the remaining kilometres back to Salento. Finding the town a lot sleepier on a weekday we finished a fantastic day with another trout dinner in one of the only restaurants open in town.
Tot: 2.449s; Tpl: 0.25s; cc: 10; qc: 28; dbt: 0.1175s; 1; m:saturn w:www (126.96.36.199); sld: 10;
; mem: 1.3mb