July 12, 2013-In Search of Juan Valdez
wingssail images-fredrick roswold
Motorbike ride in the Sierra Nevada
On the outskirts of the city of Santa Marta begin the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, the snow covered range which rises abruptly from the sea to 18,000 feet here in the north of Colombia and which is said to be the highest coastal range in the world. The Sierra Nevada provides a scenic backdrop to Santa Marta.
On the moist mountainsides of the Sierra Nevada coffee is grown. Colombian coffee.
For this reason Judy and I set off to the Sierra Nevada on a quest: we wanted to visit a coffee plantation and buy Colombian coffee directly from the source. In this we were successful but getting there and back proved to be an adventure in itself.
First we had to get to Minca, a little town 2000ft up in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. The tourist map shows Minca Station near the central market, but if we thought we'd get a bus at the Minca Station we were wrong. It is taxis only, and they are the most disgusting and decrepit taxis we've ever seen. But of course, who would waste a good car on the world's worst roads? The road to Minca, while only 17km from the Minca cut-off, is so bad that it quickly destroys any car. We were lucky to get a Jeep Waggoner, for which we paid extra, that was tough enough not to have been shaken to bits on this road.
Off we went into the hills in the Waggoner.
At Minca, a delightful little town of mostly backpackers and restaurants, we had lunch overlooking the Rio Mina. After lunch we hired motorbikes to take us farther up into the mountains to Finca la Victoria, a coffee farm, at 3000ft. Cars won't even try to go to La Victoria because the road is worse than the 17km bit to Minca, although some trucks and 4x4's make it. That ride was pretty fun; up the hills and into the mists we rode, going around the curves, through the bamboo forests, and bouncing over the bumps. Half of it was in the rain and we had no raincoats but the driver's bodies mostly sheltered us from the rain. The two drivers took turns leading, or was it a race? If so, Judy won; she and her rider arrived first.
We even saw Juan Valdez, or maybe it was his father, coming down the mountain on his horse as we charged our way up on the motorbikes.
Finca La Victoria, laid out on a hillside 120 years ago and in operation ever since then, was quiet. The coffee harvest is in the winter and is finished by this time of the year, but a few employees were present and one, a charming young woman named Jaime, whose family has lived on this farm and worked it for three generations, gave us a tour and sold us a kilo of beans. We walked through the factory and looked at the old equipment, still in perfect order. The operation is completely powered by water ducted down the mountain from above, and a 120 year-old Pelton water turbine provides electrical power for some of the equipment and for the homes of the 20 families which live there. This is one of the oldest hydroelectric power plants in Colombia and Minca was one of the first locales to be electrified.
Coffee in our backpack and the tour over, we saddled up and headed back down the mountain to Minca and then back to the humid heat of Santa Marta, where we finished the day with happy-hour Margaritas at the Blue Agave bar and and roasted corn from a vendor on the malecon.
A good day.
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Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Santa Marta, Colombia