I Wish It Would Rain Coffee

26 Jul

I’m sorry I’ve been away for so long.  I’ve missed you.  Have you missed me?  I promise it was for a good reason.  I was off seeing more of this beautiful country.  And I brought you back pictures, oh yes I did.  Several hundred, to be precise, but 50% of them are so blurry they could be my living room carpet and you wouldn’t know the difference.  I hope you’ll think some of the others are pretty cool.

If you’ve ever had to write a college term paper and work the graveyard shift, then you’re probably familiar with this guy.  (Even though the site is in Spanish, click around to get a pretty realistic feel of the landscape and houses I’ll be talking about below.)

If you’re not yet old enough to have done one of those two things, you shouldn’t recognize this man and his donkey anyway, but I’ll tell you who it is.  It’s Juan Valdez, and of course, he’s the most famous face of Colombia’s most famous export: coffee.

We took a little trip to an area called the Eje Cafetero, the region where all the coffee is grown.  To get there, you have to head more or less south from Bogotá, down the mountains, up again over a crazy, two-lane stretch of super-high, super-curvy highway called La Línea, and down again to a city called Armenia.

Despite the dramatic heights of the mountains, the landscape on the journey makes you feel as if you’re a world away from the cool, woodland surroundings of Bogotá.  This is the Colombia you might recognize from a movie.  It’s not the impenetrable Amazon jungle, but it is definitely tropical.

Shampoo ginger looks like a honeycomb

Hanging heliconias

Red Anthuriums

Orchid in a tree

Something pretty

The flowers that a florist in the United States would charge you $50 for are growing here on the sides of highways like weeds: heliconias (birds of paradise), anthuriums, orchids, ginger blossoms, impatiens.

Two tropical yellow birds stop for a chat in a coffee bush.

And did I mention the birds?  Such vibrant blues, yellows and reds you think somebody’s left a cage open somewhere.  But, no, they just live here!

Banana (or plantain?) trees are planted all over the mountainsides

You really remember you’re in a “banana republic” when you see solid walls of banana orchards rising on the mountains around you.

These wax palms are short compared to a few we saw.

The national tree, the wax palm, dots the landscape, towering above the canopy to heights as tall as 230 feet!  That’s almost as tall as a football field is long!

A coffee bush is heavy with beans, but they won't be ripe until they've turned from green to red.

And of course, the rich, waxy dark green of the stout coffee bushes that cover vast swaths of the terrain…

A cloth draped over the shoulder, along with a cool straw hat are mainstays of men's dress in the Eje Cafetero.

With the change in weather comes a change in culture.  Gone are the wool suits and sweater vests, the bustling business people of the capital.  In their place, you see tank tops (for women) or (for men) shorts or pants tucked into boots, a cloth draped over one shoulder, and a hat that’s usually cream-colored with a black band.

Our hotel was built like the typical houses in the Eje Cafetero.

The wrap-around porches and their hammocks invite you to come sip a lemonade, chat a while, or take a long nap.

In the Eje Cafetero, the main business is farming and ranching.  You swap tall apartment buildings for sprawling white houses with wrap-around porches, laden—of course—with the most colorful and inviting hammocks; tile roofs; and wood-carved ceilings, window shutters and French doors in reds and purples and yellows.

A humble home perches between the highway and a mountain cliff.

In the case of more humble families, a home might be fenced in with bamboo and made of brick with a scrap-metal roof, out of which frequently wafts a little trail of smoke high up into the sky.  These overlook vast expanses of land that looks like a quilt of different greens.

Mustard Seed on a ride that demonstrates how the coffee gets washed

Bamboo, also called guadua, grows abundantly in the Eje Cafetero. The stalks are extremely tall and thick, perfect for making buildings, fences, tools, musical instruments and much more.

Mustard Seed and me at the beautiful Parque Nacional del Cafe

The two main things to do in the Eje Cafetero, besides laze around and take in the beautiful, relaxing countryside, are go to the Parque Nacional del Café (National Coffee Theme Park) and Panaca.  Parque Nacional del Café has beautiful, very clean grounds with bamboo forests, specimens of all the areas tropical plants, and coffee.  They offered an absolutely fabulous show that told the history of coffee in Colombia through folkloric dances (but sadly, they didn’t allow pictures).  It turns out the way the bush got to be so widespread was that a priest told people they should plant a coffee beans as penitence for their sins!

There was a show featuring a fairy tale about orchids performed by robotic, talking flowers.  Aside from that, there were a section for small kids that has rides representing the process of picking and washing coffee beans; paths presenting the indigenous peoples’ history, Colombia’s popular legends, and the children’s poems of Rafael Pombo; and plenty of rides.

Panaca is an agriculturally themed park that lets kids interact with farm animals and see how food products are made.  It looked interesting, but we chose to use our second day to do some of the lazing I mentioned before.

If you’d like to learn about the process of growing and harvesting coffee, see this nice photo essay or check out this video from the Discovery channel.

I have so many interesting photos just from the highway alone, but I think that’s another post unto itself.  And I want to tell you more about Bogotá soon because although in the States, we see mostly images of what is really small-town Colombia, the major cities of Bogotá, Medellín, Cali and others are really quite different from that, and in some ways, might seem very familiar to you.  I want to give you a balanced portrait.

I leave you with a link to this song, which was running through my head pretty much the whole trip, sung by the Venezuelan, Juan Luis Guerra.  It’s called Ojalá que llueva café, which translates to I Wish It Would Rain Coffee.  Musically, I like that version best, but kids might prefer this video, which has cartoon folkloric dancers and musicians and is set to a different rythymn.  I’ve translated some of the lyrics below because it just gives such a nice picture of all the crops that are typical of this area, and the music is very fun to dance to!  Learning songs was one of the main ways I became fluent in Spanish, so see if you can follow along.  Try to get the refrain stuck in your head.  It’s really a fun way to learn!

Ojalá que llueva café en el campo

I wish it would rain coffee on the fields
Que caiga un aguacero de yuca y té
That a deluge of of yucca and tea would fall

Del cielo una jarina de queso blanco
From the sky a sprinkling of white cheese

Y al sur una montaña de berro y miel
And to the south a mountain of watercress and honey

Ojalá que llueva café
I wish it would rain coffee

Ojalá que llueva café en el campo
I wish it would rain coffee on the fields

Peinar un alto cerro de trigo y mapuey
Furrow a high hill with wheat and ñame,

Bajar por la colina de arroz graneado
Come down a knoll of cooked rice,

Y continuar el arado con tu querer.
and continue the plowing with your love.

Ojalá el otoño en vez de hojas secas
I wish the autumn, instead of dried leaves,

Vista mi cosecha de petit-salé
Would dress my harvest with petit salé

Sembrar una llanura de batata y fresas
Would sow a plain with yam and strawberries

Ojalá que llueva café

I wish it would rain coffee


Pa’ que en el conuco no se sufra tanto, ay hombre

So that on the land* there wouldn’t be so much suffering

Ojalá que llueva café en el campo
I wish it would rain coffee on the fields

Pa’ que en Villa Vasquez oigan este canto
So that in Villa Vasquez they would hear this song

Ojalá que llueva café en el campo
I wish it would rain coffee on the fields

*A conuco is actually like an allotment of land that a farm worker lives on and works.

3 Responses to “I Wish It Would Rain Coffee”

  1. David September 5, 2012 at 1:07 am #

    Juan Luis Guerra is not venezuelan, he’s dominican.

    • Michelle September 19, 2012 at 8:51 pm #

      Hi David! Yes, my husband pointed that out to me way back when I posted it, and I’ve never gotten around to correcting it. Guess I’ll have to do that. 😉 Thanks for bringing it to my attention and for stopping by.~Michelle

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. I Lost My Heart in Medellin « Nourished at Home - June 25, 2012

    […] a dime a dozen all around.  Here, they are.  In fact, this landscape was similar in many ways to what we saw 2 years ago when we visited the Eje Cafetero, with the difference that there was even more of a jungle-y feel there compared to around […]

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