The coffee region of Colombia (La Zona Cafetera) has been one of the primary places on our bucket list to experience on this trip. We felt it obligatory being that we are both big coffee fans and we serve it up daily at the café (though Raider Ridge coffee comes from Guatemala and Peru). We had the opportunity to see two distinct sides of life in the coffee region: One, more rustic and the other, a bit more luxurious (and touristy).
We will start with the rustic side...
As it turns out, this trip has been built upon making connections. Making friends with locals is a wonderful way to enrich any experience and get an inside look at the places you visit. Thanks to a friend of a friend (thank you Heidi and Edna!!), we stayed with the lovely Dignorey on her 160 acre coffee farm near the small town of Cordoba, Quindio. Dignorey took us in like family from the moment we arrived.
Dignorey and her 11(!) brothers and sisters inherited this land. She and her brother (the youngest of the 12) decided to make this their home while the other brothers and sisters moved away and had families in other parts of Colombia and the US. In 1999 a magnitude 7 earthquake devastated the area: buildings and houses were flattened, and many lives were lost. Dignorey and her brother picked up what remained and rebuilt their family home little by little. There is still evidence of the earthquake in Cordoba and in the nearby town, Armenia.
The open air living room:
Dignorey showed us around the nearby coffee and banana farms, explaining how farmers are now planting single crops rather than a variety, which dries out the soil, invites pests, and causes farmers to use chemicals to remedy the situation. The traditional way is to plant banana trees wth coffee plants to provide them with shade. (Dignorey and some of her neighbors still stick with this method).
Tobacco hanging to dry:
Most families also grow frijoles (beans), a staple on most plates. For this reason, most of the houses have a space below the roof to dry out the beans. Dignorey's cat likes to hang out up here and bat them around until they fall through the cracks down to the living room.
During our visit we visited the bamboo museum, hiked past beautiful coffee and banana plantations to waterfalls, met other coffee farmers, visited the botanical gardens and visited the school across the street. Dignorey graciously guided us to all of these places and offered incredible insight. She is a very wise and strong woman (both emotionally and physically).
Butterflies! (My reminder to be carefree):
This is the sack lunch that Dignorey packed for all of us in banana plant leaves:
Delicious (and still warm) chicken, potatoes, rice and yucca:
The matapalo tree surrounds a host tree with its roots and eventually strangles it, leaving a hollow center (great for climbing up):
Our hiking crew:
A local campesino home: this sweet lady kindly offered us the typical drink of this region: agua panela (unrefined cane sugar in water):
The garden of the campesino home:
We must have sat down to a cup of coffee about 6 times a day. Dignorey and several other women farmers are part of a coffee farmer co-op made up entirely of women. With financial assistance from the government, they built this coffee kiosk in the town plaza. Every week they serve up espresso drinks from the coffee beans of a different female farmer.
Traditionally, homes were built from bamboo and mud. The flexibility from bamboo protected a lot of those homes when the earthquake damaged other homes made with wood, bricks and cement.
What an authentic experience! We never even saw other tourists during our visit here. If you plan to go to Colombia and want to get off the beaten path, you really shouldn't miss this.
Our next finca experience was quite different but just as wonderful! Stay tuned!