Trip Report: Colombia- Where the Travelling is Easy….

Written by Cafe Campesino on Mar 5, 2009 in NEWSLETTER, Trips |

By: Bill Harris

I am still unpacking the bags, going through the mail and catching up on life after a two week trip to Colombia. Joining me on this latest adventure were friends and fellow coffee enthusiasts. This was the first trip to Colombia for all of them, which allowed me to see this remarkable country with a fresh perspective. Of course, we were all there to visit with farmers and we managed to schedule two wonderful visits with our partner cooperatives. Reports of our time with Fondo Paez and APCO will be ready soon…. but for this newsletter I want to share a bit with you about other aspects of travel and culture in Colombia.

One of my fellow travelers mentioned one day just how many different forms of transportation we had taken in order to get from Bogotá to Cali and then up the mountain to the remote coffee growing communities. Granted the day’s travel was a bit of an odyssey involving taxis, walking, a shuttle van, a bus, a plane and ultimately, the “Red Dragon”, an extended jeep that got our whole group up the mountain to the cooperative’s office.

What struck me, however, was how easy it is to move around this “less developed” country that is actually twice the size of France. Regularly scheduled buses and cooperative vans quickly shuttle folks from city terminals to all points – usually departing on time and usually clean. Taxis are quite inexpensive and security systems are in place at air and bus terminals so the traveler can register their destination with a clerk before heading off in the cab. Roads are in great shape, and the volume of construction that we spotted along the way points to continued improvements. Formal and informal public transportation systems are flourishing. And above all, Colombians love to help you! During my first few trips to Colombia, I attributed this to my “tall gringo” status – I stood out and surely these nice people just want to practice their English (especially after hearing my Spanish). But after many encounters with bus and taxi drivers, farmers, clerks, fellow patrons of the many coffee houses, friends of friends, and mucho observation; I believe that this society is simply one of the most kind and gracious on the planet. That never makes the headlines, does it?

And the Food Just Keeps Coming…

I usually lose a bit of weight when I visit Colombia. The food is fresh and healthy, the lifestyle is active, we walk a lot and I can even be talked, on occasion, into an evening of dancing. There is, by the way, no more humbling experience than to try and keep up with Colombians on the dance floor. Anyway, I noticed that a team routine developed rather quickly on this trip. Food came out of the kitchen and landed on the table – and cameras came out of the bags with flashes popping. Think color… and volume! Fresh fruits – some easily recognized and some that haven’t found their way to your local market (and probably shouldn’t). A flat corn bread, called an arepa, that tastes different in every region, is prepared on a griddle or even quick fried, and is always delicious. Soup, or chicken broth based caldo, as a starter with every meal. Freshly-made juice is always available ranging from the expected mango and papaya to the exotic lulo and tomato de arbol (tree tomato).

These well documented and impressive meals were served to us at every turn, as we wandered around the coffee growing communities that we were visiting. I was reminded of my very first farmer visits in Colombia, three breakfasts served before noon because we had scheduled a number of meetings that morning and every meeting needed to start with food! Farmers work very, very hard – up before the sun – in the field most of the day – and back to the house for chores before losing daylight. Most of the families that we visited have thriving, integrated farms. They were growing or raising most of their “calories” and burning them up through hard work in a tight, sustainable cycle. We experienced a few days of their normal caloric intake but they failed to give us our balancing work assignments. The result – I brought a little more of Colombia back with me than I had intended…time to dust of the bicycle.

Next month – More Colombian adventures with trading partner Fondo Paez in southern state of Cauca.

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