Colombia’s Zona Cafetera (1): Smell the Coffee, Don’t Eat the Tripe

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Our friends Andrew and Nelly, sharing their cooking prowess (encouraged by the threat of a headlock from Rebs)

People embark on cycle tours for a number of different reasons. For us, cycling has been a great excuse to eat more. Until that is, we encountered boiled tripe, when we had to use all our creativity to sneak it back onto the communal serving plate. We felt lost in the world: what are we if not rampant food-consumers?

Guillermo and Miguel, our Argentinian friends of karaoke fame in Huila, popped up again to help us out with a night of gnocchi making (and eating). Guillermo has made gnocchi on the 29th of every month of his adult life in homage to its origins. Made from potatoes and wheat-flour, it is one of the cheapest and most filling meals around, traditionally made just before payday when money was tight. We were introduced to this Italian tradition in Pereira, in the centre of the Zona Cafetera, Colombia’s coffee growing heartland.

Our host there, Juliana, searches out the non-labelled in life, and took us along for a few days to explore the Zona not-so-Cafetera. With her, we drank chicha, the indiginous sugar cane drink (originally fermented with spit), watched a folk music performance, busked on a local bus and learnt a new technique for getting into cold, shallow rivers: the press-up.

The Zona Cafetera is vast. Though just a dot on the map, it is days of cycling through mountains of coffee. We stopped one night to stay with the police at La Violeta, a few houses in the middle of one of the numberless mountainsides. The police showed us the ‘Cafetera’ side of the region, taking us to lunch at an enormous coffee farm. We saw the first half of the coffee process: growing, harvesting and washing the beans, in huge cement channels. The owners explained the volatility of their income: coffee farmers are at the mercy of global markets, so with current prices low, many farmers are struggling. Well heck, you shouldn’t plant a monoculture.

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Friends from home, Andrew and Nelly, came to visit us the following week. With them, our normal 8:30pm lights out took a battering. Our first night together, sitting on a balcony overlooking the mountains, was the perfect whisky setting, and we stayed up late, setting a precedent for the rest of the week. On top of the fantastic whisky, Andrew and Nelly brought their skills in the kitchen, which were put to good use over the week, as we improvised an oven-less pizza and experimented with grits.

On the rare occasion we let them leave the kitchen, they probably wished we hadn’t. In the countryside, lost en route to a P1050642waterfall, we were eyeballed by an intimidating group of horned cows guarding their calves. Our forays to town were accompanied by the only thing scarier; hordes of schoolchildren clamouring to ask questions about us and our country.

Another obstacle, though this one entirely self-created, arose when we left our room, locking the door, leaving the key on the table inside. We were already down to the spare, after Rebs snapped off the first in the lock the previous day. Bear in mind that we were staying in the hotel for free, in exchange for a few hours dressed in Hawaiian shirts serving coffee. We can’t be 100% sure, but we think two keys later, they probably regretted their generous offer. We were temporarily spooked by the warning of the damages we would incur, but after half an hour of deliberating and trying to pick the lock (ha), we found out the costs would amount to £1.50. Sol reached for the nearest rock and smashed the window.

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2 thoughts on “Colombia’s Zona Cafetera (1): Smell the Coffee, Don’t Eat the Tripe

  1. sound like you are doing a lot of good work.
    I understand that you might be trying a different location to grow avocados or some other fruit ……………enjoy all that you do , otherwise you will have to find a job that gives you lots of holidays like me

    I am off to the Himalayas next week
    In my endeavours to go where no west end accountant aged 56 has ever been and raise money for charity, I am trekking to Everest base camp and then turning right and going much higher to scale the 6,200 metre summit of Island Peak. At that altitude the oxygen in the air is less than half that at sea level. The air is so thin that a helicopter rescue, is not possible. Temperatures plummet below minus 30c.

    • My competative side wants to train as an accountant, bide my time until I turn 57 and scale Island Peak…TWICE! Haha. Sounds amazing. Good luck. Don’t forget to pack your long johns and a thermos.

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