Saturday, July 9, 2011

Coffee farm & volcanic lagoon

Thursday, 7-7-11

Today I went with the delegation to visit a coffee farm. Coffee farms here are called fincas. The finca is about 45 minutes away from Berlín in the municipality of Santiago de María. We got into the truck and made the drive there this afternoon. The coffee grown at this finca, and the kind sold by the Des Moines Presbytery, is called Don Justo – Coffee with Dignity. It is called that because it is fairly traded coffee. Though we are not officially fair trade (very expensive) we follow internationally recognized fair trade standards to ensure the workers at the finca are paid a just wage. Almost all the money we collect from coffee sales goes back to El Salvador.

The general caretaker of the finca, Arquimides, was there to explain all about coffee to the delegation. The first thing we saw was a small nursery to grow baby coffee plants. This was very new; it wasn’t there a month ago when my family visited. Inside, several people were working to fill bags with dirt. After they finish that process they’ll put one coffee cherry (seed) from an existing tree into the bag. It takes about 1 year for the coffee to be ready to plant in the ground. After that you plant them in the ground and 2 years later they begin to produce coffee cherries.

Arquimides then told the group all about coffee. I’ve already written about the process twice this year so I won’t repeat myself. To read about the entire coffee process from tree to cup see my blog entry: “School, Coffee, Alegría” from May 31, 2011. I talk about the whole process: cultivation, harvesting, cleaning, drying, storage, second cleaning, crop maintenance, seasonal responsibilities, taste differences, and toasting the coffee.

The new nursery at the finca

They'll put one coffee seed in each bag

Filling up bags with dirt

Listening to Arquimides

Mom & Daughter

Mary & Billie

Mike looks deep in thought

Arquimides in the pila used to wash the beans

A coffee finca spider!!

Laura holding the basket used to collect coffee.
I think she's getting bitten by little ants in this picture

Kathy is translating for the group

Beautiful hibiscus

Not quite ripe jocotes

Eating a mango

When he’d finished explaining about the cultivation, harvest, cleaning, and maintenance he took us to the area where the coffee is dried to tell us about the drying process. I went over to look at the jocote tree to take some pictures. When I returned I looked over at an area and saw some beautiful, red flowers that I wanted to take a picture of. I started walking over and Blanca told me that there were ants. No big deal. Regular ants don’t bother me and I wasn’t too worried about the little ants that bite.

I got close to the flowers when I saw a sea of ants crawling all over the ground. They were bigger so I figured I was safe. Then…bite, bite, bite! I got bit several times by the ants. Yikes! I quickly brushed them off my feet and moved out of the way. I hollered for people to come see the ants. It was amazing! I’ve never seen so many ants. They covered a huge area and were coming quickly toward us. Mike also got bit by the ants as he was looking at them. Kathy joked that his feet were going to swell up. Well, the spot where the ants bit him and me did swell. There was a definite bump and the area turned red. It burned at first followed by itchiness.

Not wanting to be bit, everyone moved back toward the truck. Arquimides put down some powdered poison but it didn’t seem to do much to deter them. Plus there were too many of them to keep them out of our way. They started moving closer and closer to the truck. I joked that the ants were going to take somebody away. Soon they were closing in on the truck. Billie climbed inside the truck then Mary, Will, and I climbed up onto the truck, not wanting to be on the ground when the ants came. Laura and Elizabeth quickly followed us into the truck.

By this time the truck was almost surrounded and we decided it was probably a good time to leave. Jim, Mike, and Kathy watched as the ants began to crawl up the side of the house. We thanked Arquimides for his time and the rest of the group climbed into the truck. During the ride we joked about the ants, saying that we should warn others ahead of us that they were coming. We wondered what people who lived in the cantons did when the swarm of ants came. Mary suggested they burn the house down and move. We all laughed, but it does make you think about life in the cantons. It seems there’s always some hazard you have to be aware of.

Here come the ants!

It stings when they bite

They kept getting closer and closer

Putting down poison

Will pretends to be frightened

Elizabeth is clearing a path to the truck

Climbing in

Billie watches as the ants surround the truck

They're going up the side of the house!

Alegría lagoon
After our ordeal with the ants at the finca we drove to Alegría to visit the lagoon. The Alegría Lagoon is located 3 kilometers from the city in the crater of the dormant Tecapa volcano. It is one of the most visited sites in the department of Usulután, not only because of its beauty, but by the mystery that exists about its water. This lagoon was formerly known as “Tecapa,” the same name as the volcano, but its name was changed because it is near to Alegría.

There is a legend about the lagoon in Alegría. People say there’s a mermaid that lives at the bottom of the lagoon who likes handsome, young men. If a man is bathing or swimming in the lagoon and the mermaid likes him she will catch him and take him to the bottom of the lagoon to be with her. After a few days she lets him go, floating to the surface without life.

We arrived at the lagoon and set out to find the fumaroles and hot spots in the water. The water looked especially green today as we walked around the lagoon. It’s such a beautiful area and I always enjoy going there. Soon we came to place in the lagoon where bubbles were escaping from underneath the earth into the water. Usually the water is hot in these places but today it felt cool. We continued walked along, chatting and enjoying our surroundings.

Then we came upon the area that has a lot of sulfur deposits and has a very strong smell. You could see that several of the rocks had yellow sulfur on them. Mike and I went searching for one of the fumaroles. We found a small one and everyone got to stick their hands inside the hole to feel how hot it was. Then we climbed to the top of a rock formation to look out over the lagoon. It certainly was an amazing sight.

Kathy drove up with the pickup and we all piled in. She drove us the rest of the way around the lagoon and back down to the city of Alegría. There we walked around the city for a little while and checked out a couple of the “tourist” stores. I didn’t buy anything but I like to look around. No one else was in a shopping mood so everyone was ready to go after about a half hour. As we headed back to Berlín we looked out over the valley below and to the mountains in the distance. All appeared serene. It was a nice way to end the day.

Clouds moving in over the mountain

Our first glimpse of the lagoon

Wandering around

That's where we're headed


Very green

Here come the tourists

Sulfur deposits

Beautiful scenery

Ahhh! It's too hot!

More sulfur

Overlooking the lagoon

Headed back to the truck

Here come Jim and Laura

Mike released the sulfur deposits
back to their natural habitat



Amanda Kendle said...

Lovely photos and the story about the ants made my legs start itching! I got attacked by similar-looking ants in Germany, of all places, and had bites all over my legs for weeks.

Matt said...

I'm glad you got to talk to Arquimides again. It was really interesting learning about the coffee process from him. Those ants sound pretty scary!