Colombia, Day Four in Bogota

On our last full day in Colombia, we flew back to Bogota. We had a lazy early afternoon and then got together later for a visit to the Salt Cathedral or Catedral de Sal in Zipaquirá.


There are 14 small chapels inside which represent the Stations of The Cross complete with kneeling prayer platforms. All of it is carved out of salt.


The walls when you enter are covered with salt and the guide had us taste it. Yep. It was salt. Here is the salt waterfall.


Here is a closeup of the salt texture.


This huge cross is made entirely of salt.


In the evening, we went to the famed Colombian nightclub Andres Carne de Res in Chia, 45 minutes north of Bogota. I don’t know if I can adequately describe this wonderful place but I’ll try. It’s a very large and ambling bar and grill type place. Each wooden table has a heart-shaped light above it with a name and number. There are people paid to dress up in costumes and makeup and walk around, entertaining and taking pictures with the clientèle.

Fotos Colombia 912

There is a man with a bowl of limes cut in half and slightly hollowed out that dips them in salt and fills them with tequila and hands them out to everyone that passes. There are a few dance floors that don’t quite meet but are within view of each other. The music is loud and has a great beat and everyone, it seems, is dancing. And the dancing is fantastic to watch. They all seem to be professional dancers but they don’t mind including someone like me that knows only a few steps. To get from one place to another there is no choice but to squeeze in between and through the bodies lining every inch of the floor. Everyone is smiling. And the DJ’s voice coming over the loudspeaker in between songs is Andres himself. It’s a warm voice that invites you to have a lovely time. He loves to come and watch the action but stays mostly to himself. You can get a small cup of Aguardiente, the liquor of choice and made in these parts. It has an anise flavor and burns your throat as it goes down. And a little goes a long way. Also a must try is the tangerine slushie called Mandarino. A word to the wise though: They are strong and one will do you fine. Two and you just might find yourself vomiting out the van door in front of the club and urping all the way back to the hotel out the window in the shotgun seat. Just sayin’.

The next day I flew home. It was an uneventful flight. I had the whole row to myself. I slept most of the time and enjoyed my last cup of fried plantains during the in-flight meal. The plantains over there are used at almost every meal. They have both a sweet and a non-sweet variety. My favorite was the non-sweet when pressed very thin and fried. It was wonderful with a type of salsa or beans and cheese on it. The empanadas were delicious as were the yuca and arepas. Here is some fried yuca with beet sauce. Delicious.


I tried the Ajiaco (soup) which I liked mostly because it came with a huge slice of yummy avocado. And my favorite thing is probably the grilled corn on the cob which is called Mazorca. I also tried a sweet granadilla which is kind of like a pomegranate inside but softer. There was fruit, fruit and more fruit. It was great.

Carolina Castaneda of the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia was a wonderful guide. She made sure we were well taken care of. She explained everything thoroughly and completely. I almost declined to come on this trip because I don’t know Spanish and I thought it might be rude to go to a foreign country and not speak the language. Carolina put my fears to rest and never made me feel dumb because I didn’t know Spanish. (But I think I’ll take a few classes before I go next time.) Carolina was fun and her energy was contagious. It would not have been as good a trip without her.


Nora and Mike, frequent world travelers, were fun to get to know. It was their second time in Colombia so they knew a little bit about what they wanted from their second trip. They had a great sense of humor and were up for just about anything. It was a pleasure to travel with them. I hope Nora wins another contest soon and invites me to come along.


Donna Walter from Weber Shandwick was the one that arranged all the travel for me. She did an impeccable job. Every connection was right on time and I always felt well taken care of. She didn’t know any Spanish either so we stuck together. And she shared her bite relief pen with me. It really worked!


Also deserving thanks are Santiago Echavarria, General Coordinator of Public Affairs National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia. He had the fun idea of the surprise of Juan Valdez coming down the mountain with Conchita to meet us. (video coming soon) Also Juanita Arboleda, of Public Affairs. She organized all the agenda in Colombia. Without her our fantastic trip wouldn’t have been possible. And Alfonso Angel, Executive Director of the Coffee Committee of Caldas where we got to view all the orchids and butterflies.

I had a great time and never felt far from home as everyone was so welcoming.


My time in Colombia was wonderful and I would love to go back. (Thank you, Blogher, for the opportunity.) The countryside is beautiful and lush. The people are so kind and welcoming. They love visitors and go out of their way to make them feel at home. There is even a nightlife for the adventurous. Pack a little bug repellent, a hat and some sturdy walking shoes and go see the countryside. Or stay in the city and wear your best dress. Either way, get ready for a great time.

Learning about the coffee and the processes was very interesting. I will try to buy only 100% Colombian coffee from now on. Not just because it tastes better but because of how they run the organization to help all the cafeteros. They are such hard, hard workers and they really put their blood and sweat into creating a high-quality product that they are proud of. And knowing that the cafeteros get the rewards and a good price because of the Federation makes me feel good supporting them.

Colombia, Day Three in Manizales and Chinchina, Caldas

In the morning we went to visit the Coffee Growers Committee of Caldas or Comite de Cafeteros de Caldas in Manizales. The Coffee Growers Committee of Caldas is the representation for Caldas of the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia. This is also where they manage the tree renewal program in Caldas. They also manage the extension service or technical support services (yellow t-shirts people). One of the most important projects of the Caldas committee is education, especially in elementary and secondary schools. They have beautiful land there with animals, orchids and butterflies. I was a little scared of the ostriches when one tried to bite my bag. I was standing a little too close.


This bamboo structure is called Zeri Pavilion or Guadua Pavilion. Guadua is the type of bamboo it is made from. This is actually the prototype for the pavilion built in Hanover for the Expo 2000. The one in Hanover was destroyed before Expo 2001. They were both built by architect Simón Velez. They sometimes hold coffee congress meetings in this one.


It was really quite remarkable and mesmerizing. Here is a view of the ceiling from the inside.


We took a tram ride over to the other side where they housed the butterflies and had the orchid garden.


This particular orchid is called Dracula.


This pink orchid named Cattleya is the national flower of Colombia.


And this is a monkey orchid. See how there is a monkey face inside?


As we left, Pilar from the Committee of Caldas gave us wonderful hats that are like the one Juan Valdez wears. They are hand-made in a small town called Aguadas by women head of household.

Then we went to Chinchina where we visited Cenicafe, The National Coffee Research Institute.


This is where they have labs and go into the soil to find out what is there and what needs to be there to make the best coffee.


They also test how the insects work with the plants and how to create disease resistant varieties.


Ah, here are Nora and Mike enjoying a delicious cup of 100% Colombian Coffee.


After a short break, we went to visit Buencafé, the Freeze Dried Coffee Factory.


Here we had the expertise of Camilo Gómez (on far left), the marketing and sales coordinator at Buencafé.


Here is Donna putting on her sturdy socks and shoes for the tour.


We all had to wear special outfits.


The face masks came in handy when we went through the freezer at -50 degrees Celsius. The factory uses a very specific formula for coming up with delicious freeze dried coffee and they support many brands around the world. For more on their process, click here.

Colombia, Day Two in Pereira, Juan Valdez, National Coffee Park


After the coffee farm we went to the Extension Service farm where they do technical support for the cafeteros. These people in the yellow shirts are like the peace corps and work for the Federation. They were all very nice and slightly excited. We thought it was just because we were there but we were wrong.


There’s this man – perhaps you’ve heard of him – Juan Valdez? I don’t know anyone that hasn’t heard of him, but in Colombia, Juan Valdez is THE most famous person. And we got to meet him. He was very nice. Carlos Sanchez, who has been Juan Valdez since 1969, recently retired and a search for the new face of Juan Valdez commenced. The winner was Carlos Castañeda, a 39-year-old rural coffee grower from Andes in the Antioquia region of Colombia.


And here is Nora, the ‘Win a Trip with Juan’ contest winner and her husband Mike with Juan and Conchita, Juan’s mule.


And here I am with Carolina and Juan and Conchita.


After everyone in the entire place had a chance to get a photo (or three) with Juan, we packed up and went to the National Coffee Park or Parque Nacional del Cafe in Montenegro, Quindio. Think ‘small Disneyland’ but all about coffee. They even have an animatronic orchid show similar in style to the Tiki Room. There were plantains surrounding the park. Here you can see how they cover the fruit with bags to protect them from mosquitoes and other bugs.


Here is the group of us, from left to right:

Alex, our guide in Pereira, Reinel, Park Guide, Carolina, our translator and guide from the Coffee Federation, Donna Walter from Weber Shandwick, me, Nora, contest winner and husband Mike.


After our fun-filled afternoon of bumper cars and souvenir buying, we retired to the Hacienda San Jose where all our needs were taken care of and then some. It was a really wonderful place. In this picture is owner Isabel and Nelson, the person that catered to our every need.


Colombia, Day Two in Pereira, Coffee Farm


Day two found us taking a short flight to Pereira, located at the western part of the Andes.

From there we wound around and around up the Andes mountains until we reached a small coffee farm run by two women.


One of the women, Anita, showed us around and told us how they run the place. Carolina Castaneda of The National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia translated for us.

This is the place where they wash the beans to remove the pulp. They do a triple-wash method that takes longer but helps the beans have a very good flavor.


This is a sun dryer where they scatter the cleaned beans on the floor to dry. The beans stay in there for a few days and lose a large percentage of their humidity. This drying method works so well that on hot days it is unbearable to go in there.


This is Cesar, the director of the Specialty Coffees in Pereira, showing us how one branch holds many different aged beans. There can be tiny new blossoms to mature and ready-to-pick beans along the same stem.


This coffee plant is about 6 weeks old. They must be about that old before they are planted in the fields.


And this baby might be the cutest in the entire world. She is the daughter of one of the cafeteros.


This is Nora and Mike standing in front of the coffee field. Nora is the winner of the ‘Win a Trip with Juan’ contest that was on Blogher and why we are all lucky enough to be there.


After the tour of the farm and getting a few ant bites around the ankles, we sat down to a delicious breakfast they prepared for us of plantains, rice, eggs and hot chocolate.


The Federation encourages the cafeteros to grow other food in their fields along with the coffee to sustain themselves like corn, tomatoes etc. On this particular farm they grow a variety of arabica coffee bean that is resistant to rust (roya in Spanish) which destroys the leaves and beans.


I'm Home

I had a great time in Colombia. And I’m happy to be home. I have lots of stories to tell and photos to share and I’ll get to that really soon. I’m nursing an upset stomach and general fatigue for today so I’ve been resting and napping. I had planned to update every day while over there but the spotty internet made that impossible. It was so nice to step off the plane last night and see my name L.PETERSON on the sign with the driver ready to whisk me home. I could get used to this personal driver thing.

Colombia, Day One in Bogota

Day one in Colombia has been long but great. My red eye flight over was only 7 hours and I had a window seat. Unfortunately I was seated next to an elderly gentleman who couldn’t get out of the seat by himself to let me over to my seat. He at first expected me to just climb over his legs. I mean, have you seen how much leg room there is? None. After I said no about 6 times he finally called a flight attendant to help him get up so I could sit down. After a few hours we tried to make polite conversation with one another but his no English and my no Spanish got old after a few minutes. We went back to smiling and nodding.

After being picked up from the airport in Bogota, the first thing I noticed were the cars and how they really follow no rules while on the road. It’s kind of like – if it will fit in there, go ahead and go for it. They ride three or four wide in two lanes, maybe 2 inches away from each other, and honk at each other impatiently. After the first few near misses I kind of got used to it and relaxed. People cross right in front of cars going fast, get honked at and keep moving. There are motor bikes everywhere weaving in and out of all the cars. Cars turning left from the far right lane. It’s pretty exciting.

After lunch we went to the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia headquarters where we had the opportunity to watch some of their processes and how they quality control the coffee that gets exported. The Federation’s mission is to ensure the well-being of Colombian coffee growing families through an effective, not-for-profit, democratic, grassroots organization. The Federation has three main goals: to achieve a sustainable coffee culture, to strengthen community networks in coffee growing regions, and to promote Colombian coffee’s superior quality worldwide. The Federation guarantees growers the purchase of their coffee crop at a fair price and the growers vote directly for their representatives in the Federation.

Ivan Lamilla Munoz, a Quality Assurance Officer, was our tour guide.


He explained how the beans can taste different depending on which region they are grown in. The altitude, soil and humidity all make the bean have a particular taste.


He showed us the green Arabica coffee beans and demonstrated how the husks get removed.


Here he is showing us the filters that the coffee beans go through to separate them into like sizes.


We saw how they hand pick through the beans to remove the ones that are inferior.


And then we had a taste test. First we smelled the coffee grounds.


Then we stirred and smelled the grounds with the hot water releasing the aroma.


And then we tasted the four kinds and compared them to one another. (The way the professional tasters suck in the spoons of coffee with so much force sounds like a machine. My lame sucking in was nothing compared with theirs. And they spit better, too. I always had a little drool.)


No shocker that my favorite was the one that is exported to the United States. It has less acidity and a bolder flavor. I didn’t care for the ones with high acidity but apparently they are hot in China.


Did you know the roasting actually happens after export? I assumed they were roasted prior. And a darker roast is not used on great, flavorful beans because it would cover up the flavor. Usually the dark roasts are covering up some imperfection in the quality. This I did not know.

After the taste test, we watched a video with Santiago Echavarria R. of Public Affairs.


The video was all about Juan Valdez and how that marketing campaign has helped the Federation. Do you remember this commercial? (During the video, a woman in a smart blue skirt with pompadour hair came by the table and poured us a cup of coffee. As she did each pour she pulled the cup away, away, away from the carafe and then brought it back up again. It was quite remarkable.)

But the really great thing that the Federation does is put the money back into the lives of the 512,000 Cafeteros and their families. For more than eight decades the FNC has invested heavily in coffee growers’ life quality, and with the ongoing support of the Colombian government, has brought schools, roads, healthcare centers, aqueducts and electricity to Colombia’s coffee growing regions.