Coffee addiction is made easy in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. The region boasts over 51,000 hectares of coffee farming with over 13,000 producers. One of those producers has a farm named “La Victoria” which is where the hostel we are working at is located. Tucked among the rows of coffee plants, Casas Viejas hostel is a sequestered paradise. La Victoria like almost all the other farms in the area practices sustainable agriculture, keeping in mind that much of the cities along the Caribbean rely on the Sierra Nevadas as a precious water source.
Taking a bus (actually a speeding four-wheel vehicle) to Minca is a quick rise of 650m into the mountains. From Minca, moto-taxis (motorcycles) offer rides for 20,000 COP (approx. $6) to Casas Viejas. The ride is perilous but exhilarating. Because October is the rainiest month of the year, the roads tend to be half mud, half broken up cement. When we arrived at the hostel, we got the walk-through from Rebecca (owner) and met the attending staff and co-owner Charlene. The kitchen is the hub of this polished hostel.
Luis is the head chef and prepares fantastic meals (and sweets) out of an open air kitchen looking out over the mountains and the city of Santa Marta. A few beers on tap from the local brewery are an added plus to an incredible location. They boast a local pilsner, pale, and red ale.
The other day we went for a hike with Rebecca where we learned a wealth of information. We wanted to share some of this local insight about these beautiful mountains.
The 500 hectare farm we are on is owned by a man named Mickey. 200 hectares consist of coffee plants, which is harvested approximately between October and December. Mickey hires 80 seasonal workers to pick the beans. If you saw how many plants there are, you would understand why this seems like an outrageously low amount of people. All of the beans are picked and collected in large buckets, once a bucket is full, it’s brought to the closest dump station. Large vats at the dump stations lead into a large maze of pipes. These pipes eventually connect and end in the factory where the beans are roasted, fermented, etc. The equipment they use in the factory is originally from 1892 when an English couple bought and imported all of the equipment.
The farm owner has planted tons of fruit trees everywhere in order to attract birds so they don’t eat the coffee plants. There are banana, mango, avocado, and papaya trees everywhere. Although banana trees are not native to the area, they’re use comes from sprouting fruit year around. As soon as a bunch is cut from a tree, they immediately begin growing anew. There are several nurseries in the area that consist purely of coffee plants. They replant 20,000 plants every year.
While we aren’t working or hanging out with the staff, exploring the surrounding area really opens your eyes to the beauty of the landscape. Clouds consistently move in and out of the trees thrusting you into twilight zones that eventually break into brilliant views of the mountains and Caribbean below. Hiking is a daily activity, along with avoiding grumpy dogs and eating delicious food. The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta offers a sense of tranquility and adventure around every bend.