The little town of JardÃn, nestled in the Andes, is an impossibly charming village with traditionally white-washed houses and brightly painted doors. It is a three-hour bus ride from MedellÃn, but it feels worlds away from Colombiaâ€™s second largest city.
My 16-year-old son River and I, tag-alongs to my husbandâ€™s business trip, had been in the rain-drenched city of MedellÃn for days, and I was beginning to feel desperate for a bit of unpolluted air. I arranged to take a day trip to the country, to see a little bit of coffee farming for ourselves.
River and I left MedellÃn before dawn, arriving in JardÃn early in the morning, while the locals were still enjoying their morning coffee in the main square. It was Tuesday morning and the village was quiet, very quiet, as if it was recovering from a busy weekend of hosting city-dwelling visitors.
The Cable Car Ride
We wandered around JardÃn until I spotted a sign for La Garrucha, a cable car that I had briefly read about in a blog. I paid the 8,000 pesos for tickets, eager to experience all this town had to offer and waited for the cable car to arrive.
It was River who noticed the tourist plaque.
â€œMom, did you see this?â€
The plaque was written in English, describing the cable car that was built to bring farmers down from the mountain, across the deep river gorge and into town. It had a picture of the colorful wooden slab box, only a little bigger than my parentâ€™s doggie crate that their golden retriever sleeps in.
I had already bought the ticket, so I watched the wooden cable car approach slowly across the gorge. â€œHmmm. It doesnâ€™t look like anyone has died in it.â€
When it arrived, my son walked around it, noting the cable and the breaks while I distract myself by talking to the only other tourist there, a Swiss man traveling European style, slowly, taking weeks to make his way through Colombia.
While we rode across the gorge, I looked through the open floor at the distant river below and I willed myself to suspend my fears. The other side of the gorge offered a generous view of the lush green mountains, thick with coffee farms and banana trees, and the little town below. I felt peaceful like I had not experienced in days.
The Coffee Farm Tour
Back in town I found our tour guide, Alejandra, a reserved but friendly Colombian who ran a Spanish immersion school and organized tours with translation. For 80,000 pesos each (about $27) she agreed to meet us in town, take us up the mountain by way of the local bus and take us on a tour of a family-run coffee farm where we would have lunch made by the farmerâ€™s wife. I immediately felt like Alejandra was my new best friend and she genuinely seemed to enjoy my delight as I sampled her country.
The chiva trip alone was worth coming to JardÃn. River and I boarded the open-sided bus, painted like a perpetual Cinco de Mayo fest, and found places surrounded by school kids and local laborers, a woman and her elderly grandmother, families returning to their homes after a morning in town. Bouncing along, our truck disguised as a bus, chugged up the rocky, unpaved mountain road, past farms and banana trees, a school and even a local bar at the top of the mountain. At the end of the line we climbed out of the chiva and walked the rest of the way to the farm.
The farm was a simple property, a mountainside covered in coffee plants and banana trees, a small but gorgeously maintained house, and an older couple, who had lived and worked and raised two boys on their piece of heaven.
The Coffee Farmer
Alejandra translated for us, and the farmer turned into a storyteller on his own private stage, telling us the wonderful epic tale of how coffee came to be one of the worldâ€™s most cherished products. When he got to the part about people all over the world drinking coffee, especially in Europe, places like the Netherlands and Sweden, I was amused enough to interrupt with a question.
â€œWhy do people drink so much coffee in Sweden?â€
His big brown eyes held mine and explained that it is very cold in Sweden, and that is why people drink so much coffee. I wanted to capture that ironic moment and save it for all my Swedish friends, a compassionate farmer, living on the edge of paradise, devoting his life to growing coffee, just for us, sun-impoverished people living at the top of the world. I was amused, but he was completely genuine. Coffee was his passion, his mission, his life. I could not help but love him.
We walked around the farm, learning about the different coffee plants, the size of them, how long they grow, when the farmer cuts them down and why he starts over with a new sapling. He strapped buckets around River and me, took us by the hand so would not trip down the steep hill that the coffee plants were growing from. He pointed out the ripe red berries and showed us how to pick them. River loved it and offered more than once to come back and work for free, just so he could be on the farm.
When the combination of all of our buckets was still less than half full, the farmer moved on with the demonstration, taking us to the shed where he processed the beans himself â€“ washing them, crushing them and leaving them to dry on the metal roof. For decades he has done the whole process except roasting. He was saving up for that part of his operation, hoping that the extra money from the farm tours would help him purchase his own roaster. In the meantime, he sent his dried beans down the mountain to a wholesaler who roasted and sold them in town.
The JardÃn Connection
When he walked through the rest of the farm, he showed us the pile of sticks from the older coffee plants that he had cut down. His wife used them to heat their wood burning cook stove in the kitchen, the one that she had used to make us lunch. We finished the tour by sitting on his back porch, drinking black coffee with a spoonful of panela, unrefined whole cane sugar.
The whole experience was sublime, a reminder that the best traveling experiences are always the ones with the human touch, the kind eyes, the welcoming hands, the hospitable heart, the satisfaction of sharing someoneâ€™s life and offering them a bit of yours. It opened my heart to Colombia in a way that no fancy restaurant or impressive museum ever could, and I left JardÃn deeply grateful.
Written by: Theresa Haynes
Theresa Haynes is freelance writer living with her family in Europe. She is a Californian, currently living in Sweden, studying the history of Christianity, Judaism and Islam in Europe. She loves road trips, hiking mountain trails, swimming in the Mediterranean and sitting in silence, waiting for shooting stars over Baja. Of all the incredible travel moments she has experienced over the last few years, she has found that nothing is more meaningful than simply sharing a meal with someone in their home.
You can follow her adventures at sunrisechasing.com
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