Friday, March 21, 2008

The Real Juan Valdez

I walked down a dirt road leaving Salento this morning. I passed a small cemetery and soccer field just like I had seen on the map drawn on the back of a Plantation House handout by Tim Harbour, the owner of the hostel where I was staying. I passed a bunch of cows grazing on tall green grass. Apparently there is a sloth living in the trees and telephone wires at a turn in the road but it seemed like a story the owner had made up to make the walk more exciting. The mountains that could be seen around every turn and bend in the descending dirt road from Salento were enough to make it a pleasant walk. I was going to visit some coffee farms an hour or so from town on foot. At 2,000 meters above sea level, the main urban area of Salento is too high for coffee plants to grow well. A third of the way down a car stopped and the driver offered me a lift which I accepted. In retrospect it would have been better walking because the road was so bumpy and I couldn’t really enjoy the view. The small car I rode in wasn’t built for this type of road. This is why there is only one main road entering and leaving Salento.


“He is more Juan Valdez than Juan Valdez,” Harbour said to me earlier when describing Don Elias, the owner of a small coffee plantation I was visiting. Indeed this was no exaggerated claim. By the way, Juan Valdez is a fictional character representing the Colombian coffee farmer and appears in advertisements for 100%-Colombian coffee. (Note: The coffee served in countries such as America, Europe, and Japan is blended with beans from Colombia and other countries.) As I expected, Don Elias didn’t speak any English. He had owned a much larger plantation in the Valle del Cauca, but moved to this four-hectare farm 15 years ago because it is more relaxing and the air and water are cleaner. He decided he could live without the warmer weather and overall better climate for coffee growing. I think he made a wise decision. As he gave me a tour of his land, his young grandson tagged along, picking ripe coffee beans. On his hillside plot there are 1,500 coffee plants in addition to his various fruit trees (avocado lemon, mandarin, plantain, and others I lost in translation). Everything is organic, though he can’t have a certified organic farm because it costs too much money for the inspection and paperwork. He only charges 4,000 pesos (about $2.25 due to the lousy U.S. economy) for visitors like myself who show up unexpectedly for a tour. His plot was like a mini version of Hacienda Guayabal and his tour was also like a mini version. I didn’t really want another long tour anyway. Afterward, I hung out in his kitchen with his family, who had made a visit to his two-room house because it was Good Friday. Naturally I had a cup of coffee. One of his relatives gave me an arepa she had cooked. Normally I’m not fond of arepas, but this one was good. It was made from yellow corn instead of white corn like those in Bogotá. The family was laid-back and friendly like virtually everyone I met in Salento. With the beautiful scenery and fresh food and coffee, it was hard to be any different.



6 comments:

Claudia said...

That is a really cool story, I enjoyed reading your adventure with "Juan" :D


Just passing through, saying hello at interesting blogs, so HELLO!

Brett Garamella said...

Hello Claudia, Thank you for checking out my blog.

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