We awoke to loud bird calls as sunrise stole over the Hacienda Castilla. Our mission du jour was to visit an authentic coffee plantation in the Manizales area to learn about the Land of Juan Valdez. The Coffee Triangle is at about 4,500 feet above sea level, and is so beautiful that UNESCO has designated this area as a World Heritage Site. It is one of only two natural areas in the world on which UNESCO has bestowed this designation. Alsong the way, there is an army checkpoint, and we stop to chat with the soldiers about life since the guerillas and drug lords have been routed. Once again, most of the soldiers were very young men who were very curious about us as North American tourists and very friendly. Their captain wandered over and he, too, wanted to hear the discussion and pose for pictures with us. The Colombian people who passed us on the road all smiled and waved at the soldiers, who they uniformly welcome since the Army helped get rid of the dangerous gangs.
We arrive at the Hacienda Santa Ana, which is owned by the Martín family, and are immediately put to work learning how to pick ripe coffee beans. Luckily, we only had to do this for about 20 minutes, because even at 4,500 feet, it was still very hot and muggy. All of us on the tour agreed that we would never be able to support ourselves picking coffee at our slow speeds! We then went on a tour of the coffee processing facilities, which incorporate many eco-friendly techniques, including the composting of the coffee bean husks.
In the Coffee Triangle-at Hacienda Santa Ana
Finally, we have worked hard enough to have earned lunch, and what a lunch it is! We are treated to the national dish of sancocho, which is a very “stick-to-the-ribs” meal of stewed chicken, pork, green plantains, yucca, potatoes, rices, and onions to which you add herbs/salsa and avocado. It was beautiful and very filling, and of course, we finished the meal with cups of the plantation grown coffee, which so rich and smooth, it was almost sinful!
But, wait, dear Readers, there was more! Our next stop in coffee-land was at the Colombian Creole Paso Horse Farm called Hacienda Providencía. These horses, like those in Peru, have a unique gait. This gait is not trained, as we learned from watching a new foal being led around the pasture, but is inherited. This hacienda is famous for its horses, and we saw one stallion which was worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. The name for the men who train the horses is críadero. The criaderos helped all of us who wanted to have a ride on these fine smooth-gaited horses.
Finally, as a fun optional activity, Ernesto had arranged with a local chef, Claudia, to give us a lesson in Colombian cooking. Specifically, we learned how to cook plantains in several ways, including the ever-popular patacons. The best part about making the patacons is that they must be flattened to an almost paper-thin thickness, which is best done by placing the plantains between two boards and twisting on the boards while singing the patacon song (and drinking beer). We all excelled in this lesson! The flattened patacons are then fried and served with various condiments. And, of course, more Colombian beer. Yum!