Thanks to ten hours of solid sleep and the natural alarm clock of La Serrana‘s roosters, Seth and I awoke at 6:30 ready for breakfast. We walked over to the eco farm & hostel’s “restaurant room,” where we shared our table with a family of four—an early thirty-something American couple and the husband’s parents—and ate two fried farm-fresh eggs, pan de queso paipa, and two cups of coffee with unpasteurized milk. As we admired the beautiful views beyond the building’s generous glass windows, we talked about where we were from, what we did, and where we were going. The younger couple of the two was living and working in Bogotá just a few blocks from our apartment; the husband was a teacher at an international school, and his wife was seven months pregnant with their first child. (Don’t worry; she was careful to avoid the farm-fresh milk.) Although we did have a few other breakfasts with them over the days, we failed to exchange contact information. Since they live so close, though, I am hoping to run into them on the street or at our neighborhood grocery store.
After breakfast Seth and I began the two-hour trek to the Reserva Natural Sacha Mama, a—you guessed it—natural reserve. The walk was more or less made up of three segments: the first, from the hostel to the viewing point, was mostly at level; the second, from the viewing point to the river, was a steep downhill; and the third, from the river to Sacha Mama, was a shallow uphill.
Pedro, the owner of the reserve, only gives one tour of his property per day, so Seth and I had to give him a call from the hostel and notify him when to expect us. Sure enough, he and his peppy puppy Simba (King of the Reserve) greeted us at the gate and promptly led us to the main building—a small, open-air house furnished with little more than a dining room table, a tent, and some lounge chairs. Upon arriving Seth and I removed our shoes, climbed the stairs, and began an hourlong session of bird-watching and coffee-sipping. We identified the different species on his chart and talked about different recipes for coffee drinks. (Pedro’s wife seemed especially interested in our iced coffee recipe, which features both panela and canela. Perfect for the warmer months, she thought.)
Once we were properly caffeinated, Pedro led Seth and me on a slow hike through his personal rainforest. He allowed us to sample at least four different types of bananas, encouraged us to taste the coffee cerises (“cherries”) straight from the plant, and took our picture next to his oldest and largest tree, of which he was rightfully very proud. We discussed the exorbitant expenses of green certifications, and Seth and I were able to liken the process and its costs to LEED certifications by the United States Green Building Council. It was interesting to learn how much we had in common despite our seemingly different backgrounds and trades. Additionally, Seth and I very much enjoyed conducting a different kind of Spanish conversation, something that was not about architecture or the submission of legal documents.
Pedro then took us back to the house, where he showed us the simple machines he used to remove the coffee beans from their plump red skins. He was an unusually small and careful producer, so his preferred method of drying the beans was to have them sit outside in the sun for two days or until they looked “about done.”
After our morning lesson, we shuffled inside for lunch. Pedro’s wife had prepared us a delightful vegan meal of a papa criolla, eggplant, and onion puree; a red pepper, carrot, broccoli, chayote, and onion sautée; and pineapple.
Bellies content, we proceeded to the other building on Pedro’s property to learn about the second half of coffee production—the shucking and the roasting. At this point the dried coffee beans looked kind of like little peanuts, but before we could roast them we had to remove their thin shells using a large, loud machine. (Pedro typically uses the shells as stuffing for chairs or other rough outdoor furniture.) Once the beans were completely stripped, we began to roast them. “Twelve minutes,” Pedro insisted, but every two minutes or so he spooned out a few beans from the machine to check their progress. “Are they ready yet?” he would ask. A couple minutes later, “What about now?”
Once the beans were indeed ready, Pedro transferred them to a very shallow wooden bowl. “Stir them,” he instructed Seth. “They need to cool.” As soon as some of the beans had cooled off, Pedro ground them and brewed a round of coffee—by far the freshest and most delicious I had ever tasted. About thirty minutes later the other beans were ready for bagging. Seth and I bought two of the 250-gram bags for ourselves, thanked Pedro, and began our two-hour hike back to Salento. Simba followed us for about a quarter of a kilometer before his owners summoned him back to his kingdom.
I cannot speak highly enough about the innumerable shades of green and vivid colors on the reserve and the subtle sounds of the birds and the nearby river. The whole experience was more relaxing and informative than I could have ever imagined. Pedro was so intelligent, so patient, and so passionate about his work.
On our walk back Seth and I encountered a bit of rain. We bypassed our hostel in hopes of finding a warm, comforting dinner in Salento. Around six, just in time for sunset, we ducked into La Gran Trucha, a semi-al fresco restaurant on Calle Real. Seth and I both ordered the trucha al ajillo (river trout in a garlic sauce), Salento’s trademark dish. Accompanied by two giant patacones (flattened, fried plantain) and two límonadas, the meal was a perfect end to an already perfect day.