Despite a long Monday that found our group from Centro waking up at 4 am for a day at Tikal and not arriving in Antigua until 9:30 at night, all ten members of the team were ready to go for our 7 am breakfast on Tuesday. Lottie and I greeted them and began the day, as all good days do, with a shared meal. We then headed up to the hotel's terrace to take in the view and go over the day and week together.
After a brief stop at the De La Gente office, where we made some introductions and picked up Joe, our interpreter for the day, we headed to the plaza in the town of San Miguel Escobar. Waiting for us were coffee farmers Gregorio and Freddy, and two of Freddy's sons. They gave us a brief history of the town, and then we were on our high up the volcano named Agua, to see Freddy's coffee cuerdas. The hike up the volcano was a little strenuous in the heat but we made it to some of Freddy's territory on the lower slopes of the mountain. He has even more coffee plants higher up, but spared us the 90-minute one-way hike.
Settled into place, the group's introduction to the coffee process began. Freddy and Gregorio explained everything about the coffee planting and harvesting process: the growth and care of new coffee plants; the time it takes for new plants to produce coffee fruits/ beans; when the beans are harvested; how to spot the fruits ready to pick; and more. The team from Centro asked many questions, and everyone seemed amazed at the intricacies and dedication that goes into producing the cup of joe many of us take for granted.
The group then got to work, filling two large baskets with the bright red fruits over the next hour. Once our work on the volcano slope was completed, we headed down (much easier and faster than the climb up!) and were rewarded with a delicious lunch of chicken, rice, tortillas and lemonade at Freddy's house.
Following our meal, we continued our coffee education with a look at what happens after the coffee fruits are harvested. First, they are sorted in buckets of water and any floaters are removed, as they will not produce good coffee. They are then run through the pulpador, a bicycle-driven machine that removes the husks and exposes the beans inside. The beans are then laid out to dry for 24-36 hours. Next, the papery outer shell gets removed, and the green coffee bean inside is exposed. Freddy's wife showed us how these beans are then sorted, roasted, ground and consumed!
The reward at the end of the day's learning experience was fresh coffee from the beans we had sorted, roasted and ground themselves. I don't think there was a single person who didn't enjoy a refill! Everyone then chose a pound of Freddy's coffee to take home, and many people bought or ordered additional bags of this excellent coffee to share to their friends and family. (Or perhaps keep all for themselves. I wouldn't blame them.)
With some downtime after the day of coffee education, the group was able to take care of some errands in Antigua - stopping at banks and ATMs for Quetzals (the Guatemalan currency), shopping for snacks and drinks at the La Bodegona supermarket, and then relaxing on the rooftop of the hotel in the late afternoon sun. A pre-dinner stop at local bakery La Cenicienta, for slices of cakes and pies, was followed by some conversation at the hotel. The long day was wrapped up with a festive and delicious meal of savory crepes at Luna de Miel ("honeymoon"). Did a few people have a second dessert? Yes. Did some of the people who'd had a first dessert, and didn't order a second one, enjoy sharing the second desserts of their friends? You bet!
This is a great, energetic and fun group to have with us, and we can't wait for another exciting day tomorrow! Check out the video below to see and hear more from our day.