Robin & Jean's Travels travel blog

Today was a sunny, hot day. Breakfast at the hacienda is not like the hotels. It is a very small buffet of breads, cereal, and fruit. I had a light breakfast since I was not feeling well. The internet is very slow or nonexistent here at the hacienda. I was able to upload, after a lot of trouble, the Easter Island tour blog that I worked on last night. Couldn't do anything else.

We were suppose to start our day at 8:00, but there was a major accident that delayed the bus and our local guide, Alejandro. They arrived by 8:15, and we hit the road. Along the way, Alejandro talked about the coffee region and geography of the area. He also discussed the history of coffee, which originated in Ethiopia. Coffee was introduced to Colombia by the Jesuits.

Alejandro talked about the various kinds of coffee, and the different levels of coffee quality. Colombia is #2 in coffee production, and Brazil is #1. Finland is the #1 nation of coffee drinkers. The USA ranks about #5. Coffee has not been a money maker crop for a while. Some Colombian farmers have switched to other more lucrative crops.

Our first stop was at the El Laurel School. This school has 209 students (380 in all the schools in the region), including 12 students with special needs. The Grand Circle Foundation has been helping the school for the past two years. They have: put up a fence which the school requested to protect the computers; installed a chicken coop for the students to learn about raising chickens; installed solar panels; and helped build a library at the school.

Our contact at the school, Nina, told us we would be with 4th & 5th graders today. The average class size is 15 students. To become a teacher, you need 5 years at university.

The class we joined was the English class. Our assignment was to describe relatives on our genealogy tree. The form had mom, dad, me, uncle, aunt, grandparents, etc. The students needed to work on their adjectives. Our group sat two or three at a table with the students to help work on the project. After our time with the class, we looked in the library. It has been newly painted, and a new floor has been installed. The shelf units were pretty full of used books. After the library, we donated our gifts for the school to Nina, who hugged everyone who donated. Ron and Ana donated some money towards uniforms for two of the students with whom they sat.

Our next stop was nearby at the Santa Ana coffee plantation in Quimbaya near Armenia. Here we met Rosita and Diego. Rosita is the cook for the coffee pickers. She fixes them breakfast, lunch and dinner. She charges $3.00 USD a day for the meals. Right now, she is feeding only 5 pickers. During the regular season she will feed up to 30 a day. She has been doing this for 26 years. Her husband is the field manager, and they live on the plantation for free.

The pickers live in a bunkhouse for free. They usually work from 6:00 am until 5:00 pm five days a week. They are paid on Saturday. They are paid .06 USD per pound. A good worker can do about 150 lbs. per day. From their paycheck, they have to pay Rosita $15.00 USD for their meals. Some will send money back to their family. Many do not have family and go to the bars on Saturday night.

Pickers are seasonal workers, going from plantation to plantation. Coffee picking is year round. Those pickers that have families now make sure their children go to school. Once the students are educated, they do not want to become pickers. So, the pickers are getting older with no one coming up behind them. Colombia is running out of pickers. In other countries, they have mechanical pickers. But in Colombia, the region is too hilly, and they are small plantations. They need to use pickers. This is a look at a few of the people behind your daily cup of coffee.

Rodita had prepared a plate of cooked plantains and pork rinds for us to sample. It was good, especially the pork rind. We were also provided a drink.

We then walked out to the edge of the field, where Diego explained the life cycle of the coffee plant from seed to picking,with examples. He had a line of coffee beans (did you know that it is actually a fruit?) from small & green up to the ripest, and those that are over ripe. Now that we knew what to look for, each pair was given a coffee bucket and given 6 minutes to go down a row and pick ripe beans. Jean had the bucket tied on her front and she went low and I would go high down our row. Let me tell you, it is not easy, and we would've starved for that day.

Diego broke open a bean in our hand, and we placed the fruit in our mouths to taste it. Taste like grapes. We did not swallow, just tasted and spit it out. Diego told us the finest beans would be used in the Jesus Martine brand coffee. This was step one of the process.

We then boarded the bus and drove over to the main house to learn about the next step in coffee production. Before we did that, we met our cooks of our lunch for today. We also met the wife of the plantation owner.

We then learned more in the process of the Jesus Martine coffee brand. There was a gentleman sitting at a sorting table separating the beans. It takes about 80-90 lbs. of coffee beans to get 8 lbs. of the high quality coffee. The rejects are returned to the farms for regular coffee production (no waste). The next process is wash & grind the beans. The pulp is not discarded, but used to make coffee tea. Then there are three processes that is used for high quality coffee. The best process is the natural process, which does not put the beans through the grinder, but leaves them in the shell.

We walked over to the drying racks. After talking about drying and how long each process takes to dry, we were invited to pickup a handful of the various beans and smell the difference. I could not smell any difference. (Not being a coffee drinker, it just doesn't matter to me.)

We then used the WC, before heading over to lunch out in the side yard. We were served a plantain soup, chicken, pork, potatoes, rice, salad and more. It was all you could eat buffet. The group had to spread out at the tables and leave room for others who would be joining us. Our table had Dan & Pat and Jean & I. We were joined by the son (Jesus Martine) of the plantation owner's wife, Angela, and Catherine, who was visiting from State College, Pennsylvania. Catherine grew up in State College and went to Penn State studying geography for three years before taking a break. When I asked Angela had she travelled and where she would like to go, she replied she would like to visit Indonesia, Spain, and Brazil.

We were later joined by Jerry. He has been living in Colombia for the past 8 years. Along with his niece, they opened a coffee shop a year ago in State College called Barranquero Cafe using Jesus' brand, among other Colombian coffees. They were visiting the plantation to learn more about the coffee process, the same as us, but probably more intense. They had to pick beans for 30 minutes.

We then returned to the bus to retrieve the presents for our host/hostess. We were going into the main house for a sample of Jesus' brand coffee. While Jesus was thanking us for visiting, he told us that he was a lawyer, but decided to go into the high brand coffee. Colombians do not drink much coffee, so why not keep the best in country? While he was talking, his mother was circulating and offering packages of chocolate cake. Then, after the coffee was brewed, we were served a cup (I smelled it and took a small taste). Not my cup of tea! I gave the rest to Lily. Then we did our hostess gift presentation. Jean was first. She wanted to comment to Jesus that she too was a lawyer. And of course, talk about the SPS CD.

We returned to the bus for our trip out to the horse farm. After turning off the main road, It was a very bumpy drive out to the horse ranch. They had some chairs and stools for us to sit on under the trees. We watched as the horse farm workers did a horse and pony show. Alejandro narrated during the show talking about aspects and the history of Colombian horses. Horses were brought to the South America continent by the Spaniards. Colombian horses were brought over from Argentina.

First to be seen were the ponies, with a very young, active foal. Then we saw some examples of a pinto donkey. Cross a donkey with a horse to make a mule, which is what we saw next. Mules are a more stable animal. Then we saw the Colombian Creole horses do their special prancing for which they are bred.

Then the group was offered a chance to ride the last horse. Some of the ladies did, including Jean. They were escorted twice around the sitting area.

We took the bus back to the hacienda, where if you wanted, an extra activity was to go visit a restaurant at the end of the street and learn how to make the special Colombian salsa. We did not go. It as already a long day. Jean showered and washed out some clothes. I typed today's blog.

At 7:00 we had dinner. We sat with the Texas contingent - Richard, Margie, Dan and Pat. We had some good conservations. I had the chicken roll for dinner, stuffed with cheese and carrots, and a green rice. Jean had the stir fried vegetable crepe.

After dinner we returned to the room and found a week-old Jimmy Fallon show in English with subtitles which we watched while reading and typing before falling asleep.

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