Landslides, Skyroads + Coffee


6 July 

Last week was exhausting but exhilarating as I spent most days visiting coffee farms, coops and dry mills all around Manizales. Every day we would be in the car by 5:30 or 6 am to drive 3 or more hours down continually winding mountain roads to reach these remote farms.

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Before I say more about the coffee farms, I must note that Colombian roads are an experience in themselves.

I’m pretty sure there’s no such thing as a straight road in Colombia, at least not anywhere near Manizales. Luckily, the continual swerving is rewarded by stunning views looking out for miles over mountains and valleys filled with endless groves of coffee, sugar cane and banana. In between the vistas, we passed small villages filled with multicoloured houses and stalls of fruit, catching small glimpses into people’s lives. The roads place you in stark moments of contrast. At one moment you feel like an ant as you drive through a valley of sugar cane which resembles grass twice your height, the next moment you are so high that you can look down at the clouds blanketing valleys below, and you feel like a bird watching another world from above.

For all their beauty, Colombia’s roads are perilous. Dogs and children play on the sides, or the centre, of the road and often have no fear of oncoming cars. We would regularly round a bend and screech to a halt, narrowly missing a nonchalant pooch or a wide-eyed child. The roads are also frequently obstructed by landslides. Every 10 minutes or so we could see where the mud and rock from a landslide had been pushed to the side of the road, a reddish-brown scar still on the hillside. A few times we would have to wait while they cleared away the rubble from a landslide that had just occurred. But, for the most part, the constantly changing nature of Colombia’s roads is a good thing, makes every journey new and exciting.

And despite the many… interesting obstructions, we would always make it to the farms and coops in one piece. Paved roads would lead to dirt lanes and dirt lanes to mountain paths which we would sometimes have to hike 20 or more minutes upwards in heat and humidity to finally reach the farms. By no means was it easy, but the view at the top made it all worth it (from one farm we could see Manizales miles away, a speck in the distance), and it gave me so much respect for these farmers who work so hard on these mountains every day. Having seen the entire lifespan of the coffee we drink every day (seed to cup, as they call it here), I have so much more appreciation for it because I’ve seen the real lives and hard work that goes into every cup. I think this might be one of the best jobs I’ve ever had because I truly feel like the work I’m doing is making a positive difference, in a small way. It makes me so happy and grateful to be here.

Every time I travel or live in a new place for a long time, I spend the first week or so counting the days, the hours, worried that time will pass too slowly, homesickness will set in.  That’s how I felt when I started my road trip around the US two years ago, and it’s how I felt when I first arrived in Manizales. For all the excitement, the thought of spending a whole month here made me anxious, I kept telling myself the time would start to pass quickly, it wasn’t as long as it felt.

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But, as I’ve learnt, the feeling quickly subsides as I get swept up in my new home, my new life, and now I don’t know where the last two and a half weeks went, and I’m  wishing time would pass more slowly so I could stay longer.

I also took a trip this Tuesday (on Monday I didn’t have work because I somehow managed to arrive in time for two 3-day weekends in a row!) to one of the farms, but the rest of this week I’ve spent in the office, working and writing. This weekend I’ll either be off to visit Los Nevados National Park or to the town of Guatapé near Medellin and then on to more adventures next week!

I’d love to hear if you guys have experienced this feeling of anxiousness when you travel somewhere new and how you’ve dealt with it? 

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