Our trip to the Zona Cafetera (coffee zone) began with a 30 minute (plus or minus) flight to Armenia in the Quindío department of Colombia.
It was an easy flight and we were greeted by rain, rather surprisingly, umbrellas given out by the airline crew to walk from the plane to the tiny terminal. We then had a 40 minute drive to our accommodation which was a lovely old hacienda and the room had a massive balcony with hammocks, unfortunately we never really have enough time on trips like this to enjoy the hotel facilities.
The next morning our ‘local’ transport (Jeep Willyns) turned up to take us to a Coffee farm, now more set up for tourists (mostly local tourists) than coffee but interesting never the less. We learnt all about the life cycle of the coffee plants and the process from bean to coffee as well as getting an opportunity to try our hand at picking coffee beans (I don’t think it is really a career option for me given the small amount I picked lol.
In a nutshell key coffee facts are:
- Pickers earn COP6,000 (about NZ$3) per 10k and can pick up to 150kg per day!
- Colombian coffee is some of the best in the world and they export the best of it, so the coffee we are drinking in Colombian is actually second/third quality and can be made up of burnt beans and/or beans with beetles and beetle eggs in it – ummm, coffee with protein! 😬
- More often than not, they export the unroasted beans to other companies/countries can roast it to their taste
Other very important lessons learnt were:
- Drinking dark roast coffee is like drinking charcoal in water
- Coffee should not be prepared with boiling water as it will burn the coffee – stop the water just before boiling!
As with all great tourist traps, we were then invited (though I am not sure a no would have been acceptable) to dress up as a chapolera (female coffee picker) and perform a dance – all part of the fun I suppose! 😂
As the rain had stayed away, the drivers took the roof off the jeeps and we went for a drive around the area and to a view point over a small town called Buena Vista (basically ‘good view’). Thankfully I had long trousers on as a number of the group succumbed to multiple mosquito bites at the view point. We were to discover later, that this area is known for its very small mosquitos that pack a bite 4 times stronger than their larger cousins! Those who were bitten were in a lot of pain for a number of days and some still suffering over a week later!
The next day we were on the road again. First stop was the Valle de Cocora, part of the Nevados National Natural Park, a beautiful lush green valley with hills covered in palma de cera, or Quindio wax palms which tower over the cloud forest. These are the largest palm trees in the world growing up to 60m tall and are the national tree of Colombia.
Again the forecast was for rain, but the sun was shining brightly when we arrived and we had to quickly swap raincoats for sunscreen before we set off on our 2 hour walk in the valley. Our local guide told us not only about the wax palms and other flora in the area, but also of the troubled times during the 80’s/90’s when the guerrillas roamed the area, killing at random and families hid in tunnels they dug in the valley until it was safe to come out.
We spent the night in the beautiful little town of Solento. Very quaint, lots of colourful buildings and cute artesian shops. It was here we were introduced to the game of Tejo – one which is ‘world famous in Colombia’. It involves throwing a shaped stone, or Tejo, at target made of wet clay with a metal ring in it. Around the metal rim you place little packets of gun powder. Of course the aim of the game is to hit the gunpowder on the metal rim with you Tejo so that it explodes. Another key rule is that you must also drink beer whilst playing lol. Probably the only game in the world that mixes gunpowder and beer. It was great fun and I event managed to get 2-3 explosions. 👍
An explosive way to finish our time in the Zona Cafetera.