Most of you here already know that I am in South America, and have been for a while. I arrived here in July 2011, and have been to four cities already and am enjoying my stay. However, what brought me here in the first place? How did this crazy, ever-lasting trip start out?
My love for organic gardening is what brought me here originally. Well, it wasn’t the love for the actual act of gardening, since I didn’t know anything about it yet, but the desire to learn. Through talking with people, searching online and, add to that the dream of discovering South America since I was a teenager, I discovered WWOOFing. No, I’m not suddenly starting to bark. WWOOFers are people who travel through WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) by volunteering their time in exchange for food and shelter.
So, in 2009, after a fairly tough fight with my parents (yes, as an adult, I still argue tons with them – but let’s not dwell on that, shall we?) I decided I needed some breathing space. I quit my job with the Liberal Party of Canada – a dead-end, reception job that was dull and boring and would have led me away from my dreams anyways – and got a plane to Toronto (I was living in Ottawa at the time). From there, I sat down and started planning my trip. I contacted farmers in different countries in South America and got a multitude of responses. The one who caught my attention, however, was a Colombian aboriginal woman who had travelled to France for 6 years and was married with a Colombian of German descent. They had two sons and lived on a farm on the outskirts of Manizales, Caldas, a few hours West of Medellin (the city made famous by Pablo Escobar).
This city is in what they call the ‘Coffee Axis’, the area that is known as the best place on Earth to grow coffee. And my, how many coffee farms there were! The farm is located on a mountain side in the heart of this zone and the landscape is incredible. For anyone looking to visit Colombia or any other area in the Andes, I highly recommend at least one night in such a landscape. It will take your breath away.
Cecilia, the woman I was to spend the next few months with, owns a farm that grows not only coffee, but bananas, papaya, plantain, oranges, limes, quinoa, corn, amaranth, and a very large variety of both decorative and medicinal flowers and herbs. She also has a small vegetable garden to feed her family, and although she still ate chicken and eggs and, at times, cream cheese, she welcomed my veganism and offered to eat mostly vegan along with me since she was happy on a plant-based diet as well. I guess we could call her a flexitarian since she ate some animal by-products out of sheer habit, and also because her husband and sons didn’t want to fully convert to veganism.
This farm’s focus was biodiversity, as you may have guessed due to the wide variety of plants. But, this diversity is not only to ensure that species that are endangered keep flourishing – which was one of Cecilia’s priorities – but also because certain plants need others in order to thrive. For example, coffee trees need shade, and banana plants are perfect since they grow so high and very quickly, too. The other advantage of being close to this sort of plant is the difference in coffee flavor. Have you ever tried coffee that has different notes – fruity, spicy, or nutty? It comes from having grown amongst other varieties of trees and plants, and for some reason, coffee is sensitive to the aromas around it. So, Cecilia’s coffee had a slight fruity kick to it.
Although during my stay I learned quite a lot about the different plants, I wished I could have learned more about gardening per se. I did do quite a bit of planting and pulling weeds, but that was where my gardening tasks ended. We also helped with the local farmer’s market on weekends and picking coffee beans (which is quite a task, let me tell you) and un-shelling quinoa grains (ugh! Thank those that do this, because it is a pain in the butt! No joke: three hours to fill the smallest size of mason jars that exists!)
A video was made while I was there. It has been uploaded in three parts and this link is the one that leads to the second part, where you will see me (in the blue t-shirt) talking about biodiversity and environmental protection… in Spanish. Sorry folks, no English translation exists as of yet. And, the part where it is a vehicle driving the camera – that was me on the back of one of the filmmakers’ motorcycle, driving towards the farm (he put the camera on my helmet). The two boys who filmed the entire video quickly became my weekend buddies and I had a blast in the city with them, getting to know the Colombian culture and meeting local people while dancing the night away.
Overall, this is an experience that is beneficial on many levels. I recommend it to all who wish to travel on a budget, but who also want to learn new cultures and organic farming.
Do you like this article? Don't forget to vote! You can also receive a notification every time I post a new article by clicking on my username, SnakeWitch, then "Follow".
Feel free to pin, share and tweet!