Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The life of a coffee bean (Sam's supposedly secret birthday present)

Colombia, home of some of the world's finest coffee. I wouldn't be able to even fathom writing this blog entry at 8 am (current time) on a Tues. morning without a hearty dose of the stuff, ahhhhhh. Colombians call black coffee with sugar "tinto", which in other countries means red wine, but I'll take either meaning of the word any time. In honor of the hard working coffee growers everywhere, and to make my sister Sam's cheap birthday present seem more special, I will attempt to blog on how it's grown.

I stayed in the coffee growing region in a town called Salento for about a week. It was a lush green hilly place where cows mooed you awake in the morning and where buckets of rain tend to splash down in the afternoon. One morning the sun came out and I took a little walk down to Don Elias' coffee plantation.

Don Elias looks exactly like the guy in the pictures you see on coffee packaging. He wears the typical hat, has the mustache, and owns his own little organic coffee farm full of banana trees and pineapple plants. He gave me a tour with his beautiful granddaughter. They apparently don't own a digital camera because she liked to pose for pictures and asked to see them later, giggling with delight. She was so darn cute.

First you grab a basket and pick the beans. Some beans are red when they are ripe, some yellow. Don Elias mixes the different kinds, saying they all taste the same. I've heard some are purple too, and the mix looks like Skittles on trees, but Don Elias didn't have any purple ones. He says the banana trees keep the beans from getting too much sunlight.

The beans are put through this contraption that separates the beans from the skins. At this time the beans are white and still covered with a sweet film.

The beans are dried out in the sun for, uh oh, I forget how many days...a week? The sweet film dries and comes off, er, somehow.

When the beans have thoroughly dried, Don Elias toasts them on the stove. This is when they turn black. When ready for a cup of coffee, you grind them...
and Viola! Don Elias doesn't have gas, so he had his grandson start a fire on their wood burning stove for the water.

The granddaughter and her cousin were singing along to Shakira songs while I sipped the best coffee I've ever tasted. I bought a couple bags for Sam's birthday to complement an apparently "surprise" other present from mom that Sam picked out. They were toasted just the day before. I took them to the post office today in Medellin but they were rejected. Hmmm, I might have to try my luck in customs...they might end up being a Christmas present---fingers crossed nothing gets confiscated!

In the meantime, my backpack smells goooooood...!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Alive and wired in Colombia

I tried hiding it at first. When mom and dad asked where I was heading to next, I said "north to Venezuela", banking on noone knowing their South American geography. I was going to write nice neutral entries on food or salsa dancing in the meantime. But they found me out.

I did find the coolest Colombian snack--- NESTLE Can Can Pops, ¡explota en la boca! Or as the English translation on the back of the wrapper says, "Explode!" Do we have these in the States? They actually put Pop Rocks into the cream of the cookies. I had 8 hours on a bus from Popayan to San Agustin to master the art of getting them to pop the loudest. You can't just eat the cookie, no no, that won't work. You have to do it Oreo style (you do eat them how you're supposed to, don't you?) by pulling the cookies apart very carefully and scraping the cream frosting off with your top front teeth like a beaver. Here's the trick, you have to let the cream melt in your mouth until you feel the Pop Rocks start to sizzle, wait a little longer and---CRACK! I personally think they should put Pop Rocks into everything.

But I suppose you might want to know something about Colombia. First important traveller's fact, the coffee here is to die for! (no pun intended, parents) I haven't seen a single jar of Nescafe since crossing the border, and hence am the happiest girl around (and haven't been this awake for ages---weeeeeeEEEeEE!!) Coffee vendors walk their hoods with big metal barrels strapped to their backs to be able to supply glossy-eyed addicts on the streets with their fix as swiftly and economically as possible. I will have to get a picture of one of them, it's great.

Anyway, the first city I visited was the border town of Ipiales. Very ugly city, but very nice, courteous people. 5 miles out of town is the Sanctuary of the Virgin of Las Lajas, a religious and architectural treasure:

8 hours later I was in Popayan, a colonial town all painted in white. Here I visited the History of Natural Sciences, a hilarious display of taxidermified creatures in intriguing poses. Here they actually had to turn the lights on for me since I was the only visitor. I especially liked the fish, did you know they could preserve them like that? Pretty weird.

Downtown Popayan

Then again 8 hours later I arrived in San Agustin, famous for its pre-Colombian archeological site. I stayed at the "Casa del Sol" in my own little cabin with the most amazing view of the countryside for $7 a night. I loved this place.

An 11 hour bus-ride later took me to Bogota. Have you noticed a reoccurring theme of long buses? It's a big country...and I now really hate buses. More than before. Especially because I have to take only day buses for "safety" and am fully awake to truly feel the hours, no, minutes slowly tick by. But at least they don't drive like the suicidal maniacs of Ecuador and Peru.

It rained, then hailed and flooded all of downtown Bogota today, but I managed to make it to the Museo de Oro, Gold Museum.

Looks like a scene from StargateI wonder if they have people posing behind lights? That's how people in Colombia used to dress before the Spanish robbed them of their treasure. I'm sure they must have worn something under the gold, I hope.

Not the most exciting entry, but I'm trying to complete it before dark. Will update again in a few weeks!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


For fear of overusing words such as "amazing" or "awesome", I will limit my Galapagos entry to mostly pictures. (Hope it's not too heavy...) To start, here is one of my favorites:See it? See it? I took this picture while snorkelling, a friend from the cruise lent me his underwater camera---it's a hammerhead shark! If that picture doesn't stimulate your optical nerves, here are some that I hope might...

Very handsome land iguana, Santa Fe island Marine iguana soaking up the sun, EspaƱola island, Suarez Point
Marina iguanas, EspaƱola island, Gardner BeachSea lions are a constant presense, this pic is from Santa Fe island
Young sea lions playing (or fighting?)
Lava lizard resting on sea lion, Bartolome islandRed footed Boobie, Genovesa island
Red footed boobie chickBlue footed boobies doing famous mating dance
Blue footed boobie feet
Nasca boobie with chick
Majestic frigate bird males showing off their creepy red sacks
Frigate bird chick, awwwww
Galapagos penguins going for a dipGiant land tortoises at the Charles Darwin research and breeding center The Guantanamera cruise ship (L), My cruise group (R)

Bartolome island at sunsetTaking in more volcanoes at Isabela islandLeaving the Galapagos, boo hoo

If that's not enough pictures for you, don't worry, next time you see me you will be subjected to 500 or so more. It was amazing. Truly awesome.