A day in a coffee cooperative


“Mi Porsche,” Mauricio said with a laugh, as we bounced along the main road through the coffee cooperative of La Corona.  “1970.”

I could believe the 1970. Unless Porsche made jeep-like vehicles in that year, I had to assume it was something else.  Really something else.  There were no seat belts, and the passenger side door swung open three times, but there was a picture of Jesus where the speedometer used to be, and I didn’t fall out.


We pulled up to the wet mill at the entrance to Mauricio’s coffee farm.  He yanked a frayed yellow cord that was sticking through a hole in the dashboard, and the motor chugged to a stop.


The wet mill is the first step in coffee processing. Here the freshly picked beans are separated from their pulpy covering.  A noisy gas-powered machine sends beans through a pipe to a tub and pulp out the pulpero chute to the pulp pile, where they obviously were well on their way to rotting into compost. The beans are washed through a trough where they’re sorted by size.


The rest of the group hiked into the hills, crossing a concrete weir I didn’t dare try to navigate with one foot trapped in a walking cast. They came back telling me even some of them had found the going tough.  I was content to look at the coffee trees growing in a layer under the canopy of banana trees near the “Porsche.” The season was over, so there were red cherries to photograph. I wondered how the pickers managed to get them from the bushes that hung over the creek.

I sat in the shade of the wet mill with Arturo, Mauricio’s father.  As we sat, two younger men made occasional appearances on the trail, delivering chunks of trees to the clearing and heading back for more.  Then a young woman and a little boy appeared.  She wore a pink dress, and he carried a machete almost as long as his 5-year-old legs. He dropped the machete in a clump of grass, and they came over to sit with me on the edge of the sluice that sorts the coffee beans by size.


We talked the way you do when neither speaks the other’s language.  She said her name was Maura. Her brother is Eduardo.  Eduardo took on a look of delight as he listened to music with my earbuds.  Maura tried to ask how old I was, and I finally understood and wrote 69 on my palm, although I was a couple months short of that at the time.


Just before the rest came back from the jungle, she asked me something, which I didn’t understand, then climbed a tree and picked a large grapefruit. The others arrived in time to share the juicy wedges.


We headed back to my host family’s kitchen for lunch – another group was dining at the large table in the house.  When I told that group I was staying there and asked if they’d like to see my room, I didn’t think they’d take pictures, unmade bed, open suitcase and all.


After lunch we gathered with another host family, made nacatamales – more about that in another post – listened to three men playing stringed instruments, played games with the children and watched three of the daughters dance in red dresses borrowed from their school.


Clarke had left his little 10-stringed Bolivian Charango at the house, and started to walk back to get it.  One of the hosts offered to drive him in the pickup truck.  Before Clarke could accept the offer, the truck’s bed was filled with children, eager to go for a ride.



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