Posted by Cecilia Diaz
If you want to know more about DLG’s field trip to La Suiza and Ija’tz you have come to the right place. These trips to all of our five partner co-ops are scheduled throughout the year in order to say hello to the members, maintain relationships, see improvements and check if there are new goals our partners want to achieve with our support. Since DLG has a new Executive Director, these visits are now more important than ever and Juan is eager to get to know them all.
Unfortunately, since our partner co-ops are located on different regions of Guatemala, we can’t meet as often as we would like, but, we are always pleased to meet with our partners when we can, share new experiences and learn more about their everyday lives. We decided to write about our experience in order to show our partners and clients the path that the coffee has to take before being exported to other countries to finally reach your cup.
So here we go…
On Thursday, May 2nd, four members of the DLG team (Juan - Executive Director, Timo - Technical Assistance Coordinator, Ceci – Marketing and Sales Coordinator and Elisandro – our best driver and member of the Youth Group from San Miguel Escobar co-op) departed from Antigua at 5:45 am in the DLG's good old pick-up truck to visit La Suiza co-op. La Suiza is located in the highlands of Guatemala in San Marcos department (very far away). The main reason for the visit was to show Chet Sadler, a Rotary Club leader from Florida, and his colleague all the improvements that have happened thanks to the support of the Rotary Club; and to find out about future projects of each co-op depending on their needs.
After a few hours on the road, our fantastic driver, Elisandro Gomez noticed that something was not quite right with the pick-up truck so we had to stop at the side of the road to check the engine and make sure that it was safe to keep going. Luckily we stopped right in front of a shop where we could ask for a bucket of water to cool the engine. After 30 minutes, we were good to go again but, we were starving! We all agreed on stopping in Xela, Quetzaltenango to have a nice breakfast and buy water in case we would need to stop to cool the engine again.
After a long drive, we arrived at the town of Pajapita, San Marcos to meet with Chet and his colleague. Oh boy, what a hot day! We introduced ourselves at an old gas station, not the most glamorous place, but we shared our enthusiasm to arrive at La Suiza and learn about the community and their coffee. We were ready to get back to the road and continue to Nuevo Progreso; but the pick-up truck didn’t agree with us. So, we had to stop again at a mechanic’s shop at the side of the road, where we were amazed by a skillful boy who fixed all of our problems.
Finally, we arrived at Nuevo Progreso in San Marcos where we met with Maximo. Maximo is a member of La Suiza co-op and our contact to the community. After a crazy ride along the slopes of the mountains breathing the freshest air, in the back of the pick-up truck (Guatemalan style), we finally arrived at La Suiza at 4:30 pm. We were welcomed by the entire community and immediately had a meeting with all the members of the co-op where we introduced ourselves and communicated the reason for our visit to them; they shared all their new ideas and their enthusiasm to keep up the quality of their coffee and to increase the sales.
We couldn't ask for a better welcome and better yet, our evening ended with a warm dinner and a sweet cup of coffee at Maximo's house prepared by his wife and daughters. We were thrilled to be guests at Maximo’s house, it is so unique with a mix of colorful wood, block walls, dirt floors, a beautiful patio with chicks and ducklings running around.
The day after our arrival at La Suiza, we woke up very early to have a tour at 6:00 am around the coffee fields and to see the old German buildings left. Oh yea! Did you know that the previous owners of the land were Germans?
The history of coffee production in Guatemala begins back in 1800 when the Jesuits originally brought the plant to Guatemala, keeping it at a convent in La Antigua Guatemala. Soon, the plant became popular and started spreading around the country. The Germans first arrived to Guatemala with the vision of buying lands to produce coffee in 1850. The production became really popular after 1860 with the help of the Guatemalan Government supporting the Germans... But, that is a story for another time.
The now owners of the land of La Suiza bought the land after the Civil war in Guatemala (1960-1996) with the idea that it would represent a fresh start away from the chaos that those 36 years represent. Many of the original structures from the German owners are still standing, and that is why we were able to see old wooden buildings and cobblestone streets built by the Germans.
As if that was not amazing enough, Maximo, Erico (president of the co-op) and other members of the co-op took us on a short hike through the humid weather and the thick vegetation of the mountains where after only a few meters we found waterfalls and water channels built by both the previous owners and the community; with the most fresh water you could imagine. The community is extremely serious about taking care of the fresh water sources since that is what keeps their crops alive and also is the water they use for eating and drinking. The tour finally ended at the building where all the machinery for coffee processing is located.
After the tour around the mesmerizing landscapes of coffee fields, old buildings and coffee production machinery; we arrived back to Maximo's house to have lunch and discuss important topics about the development of the co-op. After lunch, we said our goodbyes filled with gratitude and with new ideas, the time came to jump to the pick-up truck once again and we begin our journey to Ija'tz at Lake Atitlan.