From bean to cup

Mar 15, 2011 by     No Comments    Posted under: Colombia, Cori's blogs, Uncategorized

Another belated Cori blog about a really cool thing that we did when we were in Salento, Colombia. Quick background: Salento is a small town in the Zona Cafetera region, which basically is the main coffee growing area of the country and is characterized by lush green valleys and an altitude and temperature that is conducive to great coffee cultivation.

So we were staying at this beautiful Eco Farm and Hostel called La Serrana that is on 20 acres of green gorgeous pastures with a backdrop of mountains and valleys. Absolutely peaceful and amazing. Here is a view right outside the door in the morning:

View outside Hostal La Serrana

On our first full day there we wanted to explore our surroundings so decided to go out a coffee plantation tour – a common thing to do in the area. We set out on an hour walk to Finca Don Elias, a small organic coffee plantation that was highly recommended by the staff at La Serrana. The sun was finally out after days of rain and we enjoyed a quiet and peaceful walk along a dirt road surrounded by farms. Our views along the way:

Brandyn and Bamboo trees Self portrait funValley View on walk to Coffee PlantationStaring contest with bulls

So we arrive at the plantation of Don Elias (I think its actual name is Finca Las Brisas) and learn that Don Elias himself is not on the plantation at the moment, but his grandson Asdrubal  is there to give us a tour (for 5,000 COP – like $2.50) that covers the coffee plantation and the production. In sum, it was an amazing tour. Asdrubal took his time explaining EVERYTHING about coffee growing to us in such clear and beautiful Spanish that we really felt knowledgeable by the end.  What made it all so interesting too is that this is a relatively small farm so everything seems so personal…there are two harvesting periods for Colombian coffee, one in May that takes about 6 people to do, and one in November that is just Asdrubal and his grandfather.  So cool. I’ve shared some additional highlights of the tour and pictures (though if you’re are really interested in the details you can just google coffee growing and see how it is done! I have a horrible memory for these kinds of things so I’m sure I’m leaving out important pieces).

Coffee trees can be small! Their heights vary based on the type of coffee, but I had never seen coffee plants before and was shocked at how small and cute some of them were.

Coffee tree and me Unripe coffee bean

Colombia has 10 different varieties of coffee, but Colombian and Arabica are the two ones grown by Don Elias. We learned how to tell when a coffee bean or ready to be harvested (Colombian when it is yellow, and Arabica when it turns red).

Coffee is not all that’s grown on a coffee plantation! Don Elias also grows bananas, plantains, avocados, pineapples and lemon. Turns out that the reason bananas/plantains are grown with the coffee is to help fertilize the coffee plants (since its an organic farm and no pesticides or artificial fertilizers are used). Very interesting and my first time seeing an avocado tree (sadly, it was past harvest time so no fruits could be seen).

avocado tree = yum banana tree

All coffee production at Don Elias is done manually. After our tour of the coffee plantation, Asdrubal took us back to the house to explain what happens after the coffee beans are harvested. Basically, they put the beans in this mechanical thing that strips the shells off. Then the beans sit for a day to ferment…then are washed and laid out to dry in a greenhouse-like structure (which can take 1 day or way more depending on the weather). Once dried, they are roasted on the stove and TA-DA!! they turn into the dark brown coffee bean that we’re familiar with. One more machine to go…a special grinder is used to grind the fresh beans into a fine powder and then the coffee is ready to be made. I’m not exaggerating when I say that Brandyn and I swooned once the beans were ground to the powder…the smell was outrageously good.

machine to strip the shells off the bean washed beans drying in the sun roasting coffee beans Asdrubal and Cori proudly showing off the ground coffee

We relaxed for a bit at the plantation, enjoying our coffee and the views and thought about a comment that Asdrubal had made.  He said that normally when you eat or drink something you probably don’t think about how many hands it passed through (which is true). Our coffee that day that we were drinking was touched by five people – Asdrubal and his grandfather Don Elias for planting, cultivating and harvesting the beans, Brandyn and me for sort of helping/watching the process, and Asdrubal’s grandmother that made our final cups of coffee. Neat to think about.

Making our FRESH coffee

Salento, Colombia

Mar 15, 2011 by     No Comments    Posted under: Brandyn's blogs, Colombia, Uncategorized, Where we've been

Cori and I have come to the conclusion that we’re sticking to the towns rather than big cities. We live in a big city, we dealt with tourists every day stopping in their tracks to look up at a big building. Smaller cities offer charm and seem to be much safer than many of the larger ones. That being said, Salento was perfect. It is a small town nestled away in the coffee growing region.


To get to Salento we took an 8 hour bus ride to Armenia (described by one of the guide books as a concrete jungle). Armenia is a trading city used when the coffee growers sell their wears. About an hour minibus ride away is the post card town of Salento. It’s pretty popular with backpackers and other Colombian travelers alike. We had “reservations” for this real stick up the ass joint who sold us out to in my opinion a wonderful little hotel, Las Palmas. The Senora was amazing and made us felt at home. We had a room with private bath for $20 a night and that includes breakfast.


After a few nights at Las Palmas we decided that it was time to get off the beaten path a bit and stay on a working cow farm 1.2kms outside of town. This was the best decision we could have made. This place was perfect. A little more expensive but very luxurious and the rooms were HUGE with plenty of hot water and excellent pressure. The place was called La Serrana we would highly suggest it to anyone in the area. It is very worth the $35 a night with breakfast.


The afternoons were rainy which gave us the opportunity to sit around read, socialize with the other travelers, and not feel guilty about doing nothing.


There were communal dinners and breakfasts every morning which gave Cori and I the opportunity to meet some amazing people, gossip later about the not so amazing ones, and get travel advice from people who have been where we are going.


Salento is a must see for anyone in the area…even if you’re not in the area it’s worth the effort.

I like towns, not so much horses

Mar 12, 2011 by     1 Comment     Posted under: Colombia, Cori's blogs, Uncategorized

Hi, its Cori.

I’m telling this story a bit out of order and it feels like so long ago now, but here goes.  Quick background – getting out of Bogotá was great. We had both had enough of the city and were ready for a change. Villa de Leiva (or Leyva) is a small colonial town about a 4 hour bus ride north of Bogota (see Brandyn’s post for more information). Not much to do in the town itself but wander through cobblestone streets and people watch in the enormous plaza staring up at big mountains. Absolutely gorgeous and peaceful and just what I wanted/needed.

Our first full day in the town (March 5) we wanted to get out into nature, so we figured a good option was horseback riding, and there was a tour place in town that gave 3 hour tours to various local historic/natural sights which seemed like a good idea. Brandyn has experience horseback riding, while I think the last two times I was on a horse was when I was in the Girl Scouts earning my horseback riding badge and then when I was in Merida, Venezuela about 13 years ago with my fellow teaching colleagues, taking a short ‘trek’ somewhere. Point is, I have no experience with horses and frankly they’ve always scared me a bit.

So we arrive at the horse farm and I proceed to nervously edge around a group of horses that I’m afraid may kick me, and also try to make conversation with the horse owner Raul while he replaces the horseshoes on one of the horses by asking inane questions like “does that hurt him?” (Note: no it doesn’t.) Brandyn and I are then quickly strapped into leather chaps and Raul cheerfully plops dirty straw cowboy/girl hats on our heads. Apparently straw is just as good as a helmet! (Note: no it isn’t.) I’m then hoisted onto a horse by an 11 year old, reins are thrust in my hands, and then as I realize that there are no instructions beyond that I begin to panic a bit and start to ask literally a dozen questions (in Spanish) to anyone nearby that works there that will listen.

“How do i hold the reins?”

“Like this?”

“Wait, like this?”

“What if the horse goes fast what do i do?”

“What’s my horse’s name?”

“Why is she making that noise? Is she angry?”

“Are you sure I’m holding the reins right? Is this too tight? Like this?”

Then off we go! The beginning was okay…I mean let’s face it this was a tourist package and the horses know the route so it was pretty straightforward but STILL! I have to admit I was a little nervous walking through town since there were cars, motos, bikes, trucks just whizzing along right next to us as we walked to the trail. So it’s just me, Brandyn and the 11 year old, who apparently (after much questioning from me) admits that he is our guide. Perfect.

We’re plodding along and I’m still trying to get the hang of how high and loose to hold the reins when we come to a short but steep hill that is a bit muddy. Brandyn’s horse quickens his pace and charges up. Mine starts to as well…and then I thought I felt her stumble, and then suddenly the front left leg of the horse buckles and all I can think of  is “Oh my god my horse is falling down and its so big and is going to crush me and how can it be falling only 5 minutes into the trek?” Let me reiterate that I am scared of horses and have no idea how to ride them. So I think I let out a weird garbled half scream and then as my body was being pushed forward onto the horn of the saddle I just pulled myself back as hard as I could and as I was doing that my horse was trying to push up off her knees too so between the two of us we got back into normal position and up the hill. It all happened so fast that it didn’t really register what happened but the 11 year old was already on his cell phone calling the ranch and telling them about it so it must not have been such a normal occurrence.

So we sit there on our horses waiting and soon a replacement horse and guide come galloping up and Raul also comes racing up in his Jeep, at  first all concerned asking if I had been scared and if I was okay, and that its dangerous if a horse falls because it can fall on top of the rider. (Note: duh.) Once he realized that I was fine he quickly changed his tone to saying that this is normal, that it happens all the time, that horses sometimes get distracted and fall, etc. Um….right.

The End.

No, just kidding, that’s not the end. The end is that my new horse didn’t fall and I finished the whole 3 hour tour and I sort of got the hang of how to hold the reins and I even slightly trotted a few times. But I still never felt fully comfortable and I feel like I bruised my lower stomach from hitting the saddle horn so hard and horseback riding always looks so romantic in pictures but in person it is decidedly not. At least not for me. See below pictures for proof…but as dorky as I look I do have to admit that the scenery is absolutely amazing. I would’ve enjoyed it better walking though. : )



Cocora, land of hallucinatory beauty

Mar 10, 2011 by     4 Comments    Posted under: Brandyn's blogs, Colombia, Uncategorized, Where two now?, Where we've been

I woke up extra early so that I could get on the wifi before the bandwidth got eaten up at the place we’re staying.

Cocora Palms over 50m high, the tallest in the worldValle de CocoraBeginning of a difficult day

We took the bus from Bogotá to Armenia and from Armenia it was an hour minibus ride to Sarento. We checked into our hotel and the next morning decided to take a Jeep to Cocora. Now the guide book said that the slogan for the Jeeps was “one more will fit,” these guys won’t leave until there is at least 8 people in one Jeep.

Insane scenery Cloud Forrestvilla de cocora

When we arrived in the valley we didn’t see the big sign with the arrow pointing to the entrance to the park. Instead we walked forward and immediately crossed a river. This was apparently a mistake. We saw a small sign saying that it was 7.2km to our destination, what we didn’t know is that we were going to have to hike up the mountain instead of meandering around it.

View from the topIt's clearing upClouds lifting

The weather was terrible. It hailed on us for a short time and was pissing rain for hours. By the time that we finally got to the top, it was so cloudy we couldn’t see the valley. We ate some Vegemite that our hiking buddies brought and held out for the weather to clear which turned into some of the best views I have ever seen.

Tall PalmPeakyes...they are THAT kind of mushroom

So we went down the mountain and walked a few more kms to a place where there are a number of different species of hummingbirds where we ate cheese and drank tinto. There was a guest house there for around 7.50 a person which I would have loved to have stayed at but we didn’t have a change of clothes.



Now began the long and muddy walk down. At this point it was raining hard and I didn’t have a rain jacket so I was drenched to the core. The views made the trip totally worthwhile, without them I think we would thrown in the towel hours ago.

QuesoPalmas de ceraCocora

The walk back was tedious and wet.All that I could think of was how good the beer was going to taste when we finally reached the Jeeps.


When we finally arrived in the village we had some warm beers and waited for the Jeep to take us back to Salento. We waited for about 45 minutes and then had to call another Jeep in because there were too many of us. We started the ride back with 7 gringos and managed to pick up another 5 locals. So in total we were riding in a clown car / Jeep with 12 people in total, 5 standing, 2 of which were under the age of five. All in all my favorite day of our journey so far. I wouldn’t change any of it for anything.

Villa de Leyva, Brandyn

Mar 9, 2011 by     4 Comments    Posted under: Brandyn's blogs, Colombia, Uncategorized, Where we've been

This place was a wonderful get away from the crowded streets of Bogotá. We took the Libertadores bus from Bogotá and transfered in Tunja’s busy station for our minibus to Villa de Leyva. One thing that I’ve read about a lot before this journey was the bus rides. Everything that I read said that the would play insanely violent American movies dubbed in Spanish. This bus was much different, they played a movie called Fireproof about a man who wanted a divorce from his wife who finds god and destroys his computer with a baseball bat because he’s addicted to pornography.

Main Square Villa de LeyvaLocal brew in the plazaTypical Street in Villa de Leyva

Arriving in Villa de Leyva blew my mind, it has the largest open air square in South America. At an altitude 2144 meters at the base of a mountain which dwarfs the valley and being established in 1572 it’s beauty blew me away.

BeforeSaturday marketAfter

We rode horses the second day in town. Our first guide was an 11 year old kid who was totally legit (sarcasm). Cori’s horse had to take a knee. Read her post because she’ll tell it better than I. We got a replacement horse for Cori and the kid’s older brother Freddy took over as our guide. I think he must have been about 15? We went to a desert highland with a pretty cool blue pond on it. My horse was deathly afraid of dogs and at one point four or five of them chased my horse while I held on for my life. So with Cori’s horse falling, getting a replacement horse and guide, my horse tearing off because of a few dogs I would definitely recommend taking a mountain biking tour instead.

Cowboy BrandynTons of penis statues everywhereBlueish waters

Our final day we climbed over some barbed wire to a field with bulls feeding so that we could find a hiking trail which overlooked the city. The views were muy rico. Our host Luis at Hostal Rana was amazing, I would highly recommend it. Private rooms with private bath for $50.000 pesos per night.

Now off to Salento.

Beginning with Bogota

Mar 9, 2011 by     2 Comments    Posted under: Colombia, Cori's blogs, Uncategorized

I’m not even sure where to begin!  One week ago today (Monday) we arrived in Bogotá late at night and now we’re on a bus leaving it for other adventures. My initial impressions of Bogotá? Big sprawling city, youthful student vibe, smell of exhaust fumes from the endless traffic, very polite and friendly people, tiny taxis, and a well laid-out street grid. Truthfully I wasn’t that impressed or wowed by Bogotá, in part I think because it reminded me of Caracas (where I have spent a lot of time) and how I anticipated a major city in South America to be, and also in part because coming from New York City I was used to traffic congestion, lots of pedestrians, tons of bars and restaurants, concrete buildings everywhere, etc. That being said, Bogota was a great easy introduction to Colombia I think and a good way to ease into our travels. My highlights:

1) The instant hospitality of Moises, a friend of a friend who graciously picked us up from the aiport, welcomed us into his home, and taught us essentials such as how to hail and pay for taxis, where the ATMs where, how to interpret street addresses, names of local fruits, how to use the shower, as well as toured us around Bogota telling us lots of interesting stuff about the buildings which I promptly forgot. : )

In Plaza Bolivar

2) Walking around in Plaza Bolivar near dusk, looking up at the massive (old) buildings, buying slices of mango off the street, and just enjoying an open expansive square filled with people in the midst of such a busy and crowded city.

3) This tiny spot where we got breakfast twice in the morning…I think it was called “Cafeteria Daniel” and it was across the street from Moises’ house. From the outside it didn’t look like much, like a hole in the wall very basic shop. You enter, and there was this little cooking area to the left – an oven and a deep fryer – and the nicest Colombian woman ever making delicious pastries.  Our best totally-by-accident pick? A “pastelito de yuca” that was like a deep fried oval thing (picture a gigantic mozzerella stick shape) that I think was made of yuca dough and then it was filled with a hard boiled egg, rice, meat, and other magical things. AMAZING. The freshness of the pastry plus the cozy yet simple vibe inside plus the friendliness of everyone who worked there that were trying to help us understand the different pastry options, made this an absolutely perfect experience.

View from car to Guatavita

4) Taking a day trip to a nearby attraction – Laguna de Guatavita – just a few hours north of Bogotá. Driving through the mountains the landscape reminded me a bit of our drives through Slovenia – rolling green hills, cows, and fresh smelling air.  The hike to the Laguna itself was steep (reminded me that at this high altitude even a half hour walk is pretty exhausting!), with an emerald pool at the top where we were essentially the only visitors. Another highlight of this day trip? Having lunch at a cute restaurant in the town of Guatavita, where we finally got to eat a “menu del dia” or set meal of a soup for starter, then a meat with rice, salad and some potato type thing, and a glass of freshly made juice. All of that for between $6,000-$8,000 COP which is about $3-$4 USD.

Walking to the Laguna

Cori and Moises at Laguna de Guatavita











5) Last but definitely not least, it is great to speak Spanish again. Okay so this is less about Bogotá and more about me, but I really like being able to actually talk with people here, and you can’t get an easier version of Spanish to understand than how Colombians speak it. Clearly enunciated, slow…a gringa’s dream.

Self portrait! On top of Cerro de Montserrate.









(Note: This post was written Monday, March 7 but was posted a bit late!!)





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