Wax Palms and Coffee Beans
Mar 17, 2019
|Yesterday we travelled by car from Barichara to Baramango. Two things stand out. The first was a hotel by a theme park made from an old DC 8 plane. The other wa the last pass we went over. It is a national park....Chicamoca. We followed the Chicamoca River as we went ever higher following transport trucks and passing them....mainly on hills. At times it was a hair-raising experience. Rodrigo was cautious though. At the top was an adventure theme park with air trams, swimming pools, little restaurants, gift shops, and a huge parking lot. We stopped briefly to take pics as you could see into two canyons, one on each side....spectacular.
Once at the airport we said our goodbyes and thank yous to Rodrigo and flew Avianca to Bogota and on to Pereira. We were picked up by a driver, Andreas, and driven, mainly in the dark 1-2 hours to Salento. He left us at Grand Azul but agreed to take us back to town so we could eat.
We awoke to a valley surrounded by high mountains...a beautiful setting.
This a.m. we were up early to meet Alberto, our guide, and ride in a "Willie" to go hike to the wax palms....up, up, up the side of the mountain.
The wax palms grow to be 60 meters tall (14 stories) with fronds at the top. They are hollow iside with fibery wood useless to the pioneers but they bend in the wind. They have shallow, shallow roots. Wax is produced on the bark. The Indiginous scraped it off and made candles as well as mixing it with beeswax to make moulds for gold.
An experiment is being tried to grow wax palms so forests can be replanted. So far the deep African grass has killed them. We saw seedlings and approximately foot high wax palms in a geenhouse. They were 15 years old and must be taller still to attempt repanting them. This is the only region they grow in.
We saw lots of flowers including orchids.
Next we walked back down and continued on to walk along the Quindio River....a clear water river tumbling down the mountainside past the town. Colombians can drink from it. We crossed it on a narrow wooden suspension bridge, walked a little way on the rocky indiginous path....until it became necessary to wade. The area was heavily forested with palms and lower bushes. Heliconia plants etc. Along the river as we went back were huge fields of Haas avocados...in all stages of life.
We were amazed at all the people present...on horseback, walking. Cars, jeeps, and small buses were everywhere.
Views were amazing....of mountains and valleys.
We walked down to the jeep parking lot and took a willie with annn open back so we could stand on the way back to town...no seat belts. There are benches in the back, sides are open. Fun can only describe the ride....and we could see so much more. Like the avocado plantations stretching far up the mountainsides.
We followed a line of cars slowly with bicycles in between back to town. There we went for lunch trying the trout and palecon....fried plantain. After we walked about seeing the old wooden houses made from bamboo, wood and horsemanure before being whitewashed. On the street balconies were brightly painted.
Next it was back in a willie to sit holding on tightly as we bounced down a country road down the mountain to Ocaso, a coffee plantation. And yes we were given a tour.
Coffee does not grow above 2000m. We were at 1500m. First we put on a small rattan version of the coffee pickers' basket...his is plastic and 4-5 times the size. Next we picked a red bean...cherry...spit it open to find two halves or moist sweet smelling beans. We planted them in river sand. In 12 days they will show themselves and in another few days a butterfly shaped leaf will form. They are now ready to be planted in soil. When they are about 6 inches high they go in the ground annd compost is added. They can grow quite tall.
Arles, the roaster at Ocaso, told us Colombia ranks 3 out of 6 countries producing coffee. There are only 3 types of coffee...Arabica is the most widely grown for its soft sweet caramel taste. Others are bitter. He showed us one type that grew like a huge Christmas tree. They use only Arabica beans. Coffee originated in Ethiopia and spread from there.
Coffee is grown in the shade. In Ocaso it is grown in the shade of banana trees, plantains and other trees. Flowers abound amongst the coffee trees as well.
We then picked some of the ripe beans noting white flowers...about an inch in size...as well as geen beans of all sizes along with the ripe ones. We picked till the bottom of our baskets were covered. Thunder rolled...and we ran for a covered area only stopping to briefly look at the compost pile.
All parts of the bean is used...even the insect ridden ones. We were in the area where the beans were dumped to have the cherry or skin removed and separated. Next the beans have the sticky coating washed off. The bad beans are dark and are removed. Those that float are also skimmed off. The beans are fermented in vats of water and then go on to be dried. They are now ready for sale. The buyer will roast them.....although Ocaso roasts some of their own beans for sale too.
There are many different end products. Beans can be roasted lightly to 160 degrees Celsius, medium to 180 degrees or highly to 210-220 degrees Celsius. Highly roasted beans are burnt and bitter as well as dark.
Beans at Ocaso are roasted to medium. Bad beans or deseased beans are sold to the co-operative for less money, are roasted highly by whoever buys them and have flavors added. Interesting. Most of the exported beans are in this category....or are blended varieties.
We also learned about Juan Valdez. He is a promoter that goes about the world advertising Colombian coffee. The first Juan Valdez died and has been replaced with another. Good Colombian coffee has a Juan Valdez logo.
Now it is raining heavily. We have sipped our coffee. It is soft. It is time to go. Alberto calls for a car. In the pouring rain we run up to the parking lot evict some tourists from a willie...we have priority...and drive back to town As we leave 2 more willies arrive. We bump up through the now puddle-laden road to town some 1000 meters higher. We are dropped in the Plaza Mayor and go for dinner. We share a meal. We watch some salsa dancing, peak in a bar but most places are closing. Sidewalk restaurants and kiosks must vacate their spots tonight till next weekend. We take a willie back up the 700 meters (altitude) and 1 1/2 km to Grand Azul and home.