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Bats, Butterflies and Coffee Beans

Our trip to coffee country with Alberto and his family was off to a great start, despite the fifteen hour drive the previous day. The coffee plantation was beautiful. Our hacienda was a large suite of four rooms and a covered porch. There were two well appointed bedrooms, a spacious bathroom, and a room with large glass windows, rocking chairs, and a hammock. It was lovely.

We were too tired to do anything but clean up and get in bed. But, just as we turned out the lights we heard a strange noise. I quickly reached for the light switch. We heard the noise again. It sounded like a bat was in our room.

Maybe I had read too many blogs. During my research preparing for the trip, I learned that bats were a problem in Colombia. The CDC website says that if you wake up with a bat in your room in South America you should get a rabies vaccine.

We logged on to youtube and the noise we heard sounded just like the bat in the video. Ol searched the room but the spaces in our bamboo ceiling were too numerous. Ol made a tent with the bed sheet and I turned on the lights and the tv and joined Ol under the sheets. We would change rooms in the morning,

The next morning, when we opened our shutters, the previous night was forgotten. I was looking out at the Garden of Eden. The weather was perfect and the air was filled with song birds and the scent of ginger, which grows wild on the roadsides. Something vibrant and colorful was growing on every square inch of the fertile ground. The flowers, birds, and foliage were in technicolor. Crops were planted in the fertile mountainsides as far as the eye could see. There were pineapple and banana plantations mixed in with the many coffee plantations for which the region is famous. Family farms with cattle, sheep and horses were dotted among the large plantations.

The area is known as the coffee triangle, a specially designated region in central Colombia. We had the pleasure of staying at the plantation for four days and exploring all of the small villages and attractions of the area. Our hosts, Alberto, Mireya and Valeria, are frequent visitors to the area and made it possible for us to experience the region like the locals.

The large towns of Armenia, Pereira and Manizales are connected by a series of winding roads through the mountains and small villages. Some of the roads are unpaved and with numerous and deep potholes which makes traveling between the cities an adventure.

We joined Alberto and his family for breakfast at the resort. They laughed when I told them about how scared I was of the banditos during our drive late last night and how I hid our valuables in my bra when no one was looking. They laughed harder when I described our night of sleeping in the tent with the bat in our room. Alberto’s laugh is contagious and I soon forgot about any of our inconveniences. His eyes, his smile and his boisterous laughter fill whatever space he occupies.

After breakfast Alberto had already planned for us to tour the plantation via a system of zip lines that criss-cross the property over the canopy of trees and coffee plants. The lines soar over the river and fields from hillside to hillside. This was easily the highlight of our trip.

I laughed continuously because I was apparently the only one who had problems with the Spanish instructions. I kept spinning wildly on the line and using the wrong hand to brake. Thankfully, our guide was really good at catching me before I smashed into the hillside. We laughed at Mireya’s faces as she overcame her fear of heights. She was a trooper.

That afternoon we drove to Los Nevados National Park and visited charming towns and churches along the way. We enjoyed the drive through the fields and hillsides. We stopped and gawked at the sight of the largest palms in the world (more than 50 meters) for which the region is famous. A light rain spoiled our plans for horseback riding, so we enjoyed a nice long lunch of typical Colombian food in a charming mountainside restaurant with incredible views.

During lunch we learned that Alberto is a part time artist. He is a mechanical engineer by trade and owns a manufacturing company. Travel is his passion. When he shared his story over lunch, we learned that he is truly a Renaissance man. However, Alberto may be the unlucky Forrest Gump.

Alberto told us that when he was young he wanted to be a writer. He entered a writing contest and his story was so good that he was disqualified because the judges didn’t think he could have possibly written it.

Later, he started painting and was quite good. However, his father was worried that he would not be able to make a living. His father convinced him to study music instead.

Alberto entered the National University but was told that he couldn’t pursue his passion for the piano. The University suggested that he study the Cello instead. His family scraped up the money to purchase a cello. The University then informed him that they did not have a cello instructor.

At that point Alberto decided to study engineering. Now, Alberto’s runs a manufacturing business that he has built and has time to enjoy his passions. I can only imagine if Alberto had been encouraged to pursue his art, watch out Botero.

The next day Alberto again had a plan for our day. We visited a beautiful botanical garden in Armenia. The garden featured 230 species of palms. We learned that Colombia has the richest diversity in palms in all of the Americas and the second in the world after Malaysia.

The garden had too many species of hummingbirds to count. It’s flowers and butterfly garden are internationally acclaimed. During our walk along the garden trails we saw armies of leaf cutter ants and beautiful and exotic plants. The bamboo forests towered above our heads and were awe inspiring. We ended the day with another late afternoon Colombian lunch.

The next day we decided to enjoy the amenities at the coffee plantation. We went on a coffee tour where we picked our own beans, processed them, dried them, roasted them, and enjoyed fresh brewed coffee that came from right outside our door. Later, we went on an ecological hike and saw species of flowers and plants that are native to the region. The orange trees were filled with ripe fruit and the beautiful birds of paradise were in full bloom.

Unfortunately, our time at the coffee plantation had to come to an end. We had to say goodbye to Alberto, Mireya and Valeria, as our time was running short. We had to make our way to the Pacific coast because we wanted to the see the whales off of the Colombian coast before they left for the season. We also have to be moving on to Ecuador in the next week. We hugged our new friends and tears were shed.

Thank you Alberto, Mireya and Valeria for a wonderful week in the Colombian coffee country. We will always keep these memories of your hospitality and you are always welcome in our home. Mi casa es su casa!

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