Then he silently picked up loose soil and gave it a big whiff. Methodically, he pulled at the limbs of a tree above one of the pineapple plants, revealing cherry-red berries.
We came here for coffee, not berries, pal, I thought to myself.
Then he said “café.”
Wait, I thought coffee came from a can you bought for five bucks at a store from your buddy Ralph? Apparently this stuff comes from trees. What a revelation!
We followed him to a tarp spread out over the ground under direct sunlight near his barn. There were hundreds of ripe, red berries. Amongst the hundreds of ripe red berries were dried berries turned white and brown from the sun. He told us this is where the coffee beans dry.
Then he told us that the sun dried his berries with extra care.
Then, he picked up a handful of dried beans off the tarp and waved us over to a metal grinder that was bolted to a splintered workbench.
He put the beans in the metal grinder, cranked the grinder, and out shot coffee grounds. He then put the powdered grounds into some boiling hot water, gave it a stir, and voilà! We had coffee. We cheered our cups.
Ricardo lit a cigarette and we sat on log stumps sipping our coffee. Who would have thought such a meticulous process went into every American’s morning fix? For each of us, the black bean would forever have an added touch of magic.
At the time, I felt like a coffee snob, letting my facial pores open to the pungent steam, rolling the liquid over my tongue and gulping the brew in a slow, deliberate process. But I was on a coffee plantation in Colombia sipping the stuff with a true coffee padre, so I suppose the ritzy behavior was justified.
The caffeine hit us like a whip on a bull. We said our goodbyes to the coffee maestro and shot off through the surrounding jungle in a spurt of caffeinated lightning. The Spanish, the Chilean and I all reached the same conclusion on our walk back to town: This guy didn’t do it for the love of opening another store to outsize the coffee world, nor for the fame and money. He did it for the coffee.
After this adventure we were back in Salento by afternoon, still wanting to squeeze more out of the day.
So we piled into a Jeep along with some Aussies for a tour of the Cocora Valley, famous for its pristine terrain, waterfalls and horseback rides. The Indiana Jones–style jeep could only fit five including the driver, so Ricardo and I sat on the metal roof (left), while the Jeep bucked and bounced us around turns as if we were on horseback.
The paved road ended and a dirt road started. In the middle of the dirt road sat a local Colombian policeman on a makeshift stool, decked out in camouflage and shiny high black boots. His buddy, also sporting camouflage, was giving him a haircut with a battery-powered hair clipper. These men were daring – and indifferent to the location of their operation. It just had to get done.
We all saddled up and got in line behind our guide, each one of us on a horse. We trotted up through a grassy valley surrounded by hills on each side. There were the tall, sexy wax palm trees, sparse yet magnificent in grandeur. The humidity would cause me to sweat as if I was wearing clothing made of plastic, and then when the heat seemed too much to bear, a cool breeze would roll down the mountain and dry me off.
We soon came to a waterfall, where one of the oversized gung-ho Spaniards stripped down to his skivvies, dipping into the pool for an icy bath. For ma and pa, for the friends, or just for the record, we all lined up next to the waterfall and took a photo for keepsake.
From here, the journey led south: Ricardo and I had decided to head for the Ecuadorian border by bus, with a couple of stops on the way. The hard-faced Spaniard and his soft-spoken travelling partner were headed to the jungles of Bolivia.
We knew there was more adventure waiting under the horizon ahead. And with our luck, it would find us.