5 March 2015
Today we are going on a visit to a coffee growing cooperative and Hugo has arranged a trip for us that includes a lot of local transport.
We fortify ourselves with breakfast (or at least that is the intent). Lily, Anne, Gill and I are shown to the other Los Bucaros hotel just around the corner being told that they have a buffet breakfast. We got there at 8.20am but they started clearing everything away when we sat down. We didn’t go totally hungry but we decided to make a point because we weren’t made to feel welcome and certainly didn’t get much of a buffet. This causes quite a stir and later we are advised that we can just pay half the amount.
We meet Hugo and most of the others to walk to the Market Area and the Chicken Bus depot, and find our bus to the village of San Miguel Escobar where the As Green As it Gets Cooperative is based. Usually the bus stops at the bottom of a steep hill but payment of an extra Q2 each persuades the driver to take a detour. At the village we are met by Manuel, who loads us all into the back of a pickup truck where we stand for our extremely rough and dusty journey up the volcano Volcan de Agua (Volcano of Water because it only erupted water and rocks) to where the coffee plantation is, planted in fertile volcanic soil. It is particularly dusty because nearby Volcan de Fuego (Volcano of Fire – producing ash and lava) erupted less than a month ago and ash now covers a large area.
Manuel talks us through the whole process of how they select seeds for planting, germination, seedlings (1 year), transplant and then 3 years to first fruiting. There are 2 main types of coffee plant in the area, both very long lived but one grows to 2m and the other to 50-100m tall!! We have a go at harvesting the coffee; it is the tail end of the season so there aren’t many berries left. Pickers are paid Q0.60 per pound and in 20 minutes or so our collective efforts would hardly be enough to pay for a cup of coffee.
We then head back down to the village to Manuel’s house to see the rest of the process. There are now 30 families in the cooperative and it has been going for about 10 years with the help of an American who helped them cut out the middleman and be able to make a profit themselves. He also showed them how to set up the tourism aspect as well. Being able to pick coffee differentiates them from the bigger plantations that also offer coffee tours.
Each of the farmers processes the coffee back at their own house. Manuel’s backyard is full of drying coffee beans. He shows us the machine that is used to separate the pulp – it has a motor now but used to be bicycle powered. The beans are all slippery and covered with a sweet sap/honey; they are left in the bag for 24 hours to ferment, then washed 3 times and then spread out to dry in the sun for 15 days. They test to see if it is dry enough by removing the outer ‘husk’ and biting on the inner bean: if hard then it is dry enough. Then they have to separate out all the defects by hand. They export the coffee in this state “Oro” as it lasts for up to a year, 6 months when roasted and only 3 months when ground. Most of the coffee is exported but the cooperative owns some roasting machines for local supply (currently only run twice a week). Manuel’s mother-in-law shows us how they roast and grind the beans on a small scale and we are made a cup of fresh coffee. We are give a bag of coffee of our choice to take away with us.
A local minivan then takes us back to our hotel. After showering and washing all our clothes to remove the dust that is caked on, Lily and I walk to a little café at La Merced church for a cuppa in the courtyard. Gill decides a rest is in order after a hard day’s coffee picking. Anne is leaving us (our tour is a combination trip and we have finished the first half) and has to move to the other Los Bucaros hotel.
At 6.00pm we meet our new group. Hugo is continuing as our guide. There will be 11 of us in the group: Gill, Lily, Jane & I from the old crew plus Judith (30s, Scotland), Matt (30s, Canada), Bronwyn (30s, Canada/Australia), John (30s, UK), Kamal (30s, UK), and another mother/daughter Patricia (50s, Australia) and Amanda (30s, Australia).
For a farewell dinner to Anne (who flies home the next day), Gill, Lily, Jane, Anne & I have booked a table (well Hugo did the actual booking and gets us a table in prime position) at the Don Rodrigo Hotel that we visited on the first day – they have a cultural show with traditional music and dance in the evening. The dance is Baile de Moros (Dance of the Moors) which recounts the expulsion of Moorish rule from Spain. [In Guatemala, the traditional folkloric dance is Dance of the Conquest and re-enacts the invasion of the Spanish Conquistador Don Pedro de Alvarado y Contreras and his confrontation with the K’iche Maya.] There is a merimba band playing in the background. All 5 of us choose the shrimp & crab fettucine.
For this and other similar trips see:
Peregrine Adventures Travel Destinations (Comfort and independent tours)
Geckos Adventures Deals for South & Central America (for 18 to 30s)
Note: After people telling me they had booked an Intrepid Tour on my recommendation, I now have affiliate links with the Intrepid Travel group of companies and may receive a commission if you book a tour online within a couple of months after clicking through to these sites. So if you are enjoying my tips and stories and finding them useful in choosing your own travel, please click on these links and help me to bring you more ☺.