We ventured out of the Buenavista exactly once, to visit Santiago, a local coffee grower with an exotic farm who might be willing to give us a fruit tour. While driving us to the town of Quimbaya to meet him, Lynn gave us a bit of local history.
In the 1990s, a drug lord bought all the land in the area, and immediately burned down the coffee plantations to make way for cattle farming (which is more profitable). This put everyone out of work, but on the plus side, other drug barons vacationed in Quimbaya, so guerrillas tended not to fight around here.
Now that most of the drug barons have been killed or extradited, much of their land has been returned to the people. With 10% of the country displaced, there’s still a huge process going on to identify what land belongs to whom. This is a part of the peace process, for another post in a year or so (fingers crossed). But, the government has had to put together a fund to pay back people for the land they’ve lost. Peace is going to be expensive.
An ice filter and a manual coffee press in the Cafe de Altura
Anyway, in Quimbaya, Santiago’s coffee shop, the Cafe de Altura, was small, hipster and full of fun ways to make coffee. He was a 4th generation coffee grower. His grandfather had bought land in the 60s, then got lucky in the mid-seventies when a bad winter in Brazil reduced the supply of coffee and prices in Colombia sextupled. In one year a coffee farmer could afford to double the size of his land, which is what Santiago’s grandfather did.
With all the extra land, he’d started a project that Santiago was continuing – growing a selection of unprofitable fruit trees. “If they don’t make money,” Santiago told us, “they’ll be forgotten.” So, he was ensuring these fruits survived despite costing more than they’re worth.
He drove us out to his farm and started off talking about the impact of the different fruit trees on the coffee he grows. If you plant a diverse set of trees among your coffee plants you also get more diverse birds, insects and microorganisms, which is better for the soil and better, ultimately, for the coffee. And they’re delicious. He forgot that last bit.
Their coffee farm
What followed was one of the happiest few hours of my life. We strolled from one tree to the next, spotting red squirrels, humming birds, birds of paradise, doves, macaws, parrots and golden orb spiders and always with a different freshly-picked exotic fruit in my mouth.
I’ll let the photos do most of the talking, but here’s some of what Santiago grows on his farm:
Three types of plantains, flower of Jamaica, sweet passion fruit, sour passion fruit, purple passion fruit (gulupa), cherry tomatoes, star fruit (which are both sweet and sour, juicy and dry your mouth out), limon mandarina (a hybrid lemon/mandarine plant), guava, citronella, marjoram, mangos, coconuts, pitanga (which is like an orange crossed with a red pepper), Colombian raspberries, papaya, big avocados, small avocados, the mamey sapote (a giant creamy fruit with orange flesh that tastes like a cross between a sweet potato, pumpkin, cherry and almond), tangarines, limes, kumquats and japones nispero.
Already full and sticky with the juice, we got in the back of his rickety jeep to his other farm. This was the first time he’d brought tourists to it – it was more of a fruit garden than a farm, well tended, tranquil and full of fruits we’d never heard of before.
One of them is a jabuticaba, otherwise known as a “grape tree”, special because it is covered in red grape-like fruit that grows all over the tree’s bark and branches. We also saw mangosteens, purple caima, guanabana, plums, ciruela, nispero costeño (slightly different from nispero japones), guama, Amazonic grapes, lychees, tree tomatoes, belly oranges (they look like they have belly buttons), macadamia nuts, madroños (tree strawberries), flat mandarines, sour guava and ornamental chillies.
Three fruits warrant more description. Caimito morados are insanely cool. They’re a deep, dark red, but once opened they let out a white, sappy cream, like a beetroot bleeding rubber.
Marañons, otherwise known as “cashew apples” are the large, sweet, orange fruits connected to a cashew nut – it’s a two-in-one plant.
And finally, the araza fruit (eugenia stipitata), which is easily the nicest thing I have ever smelled. The araza is to fruit what bacon is to breakfast – both incredibly flavourful and delicious. It’s soft like a peach but has ten times the richness of aroma, both sweet and slightly tart, making it a delicious fruit for smoothies.
This is what a pineapple looks like when it’s growing. I always thought they were a tree fruit.
Sebastian also has a miracle fruit plantation. It’s a fruit that blocks your tongue’s sour receptors. In other words, after you’ve sucked on a miracle fruit for a while, everything else you put in your mouth, no matter how sour it is supposed to be, tastes sweet – thus the “miracle”.
Oh, and one final fruit – the stone granadilla. It’s also a passionfruit, but has such a hard casing that the only way of getting in is to smash it with a rock. Once inside it’s like a normal passion fruit, but a lot sweeter. Yum. We gave him a tip for his tour, and returned to the Hacienda Buenavista with full stomachs.
Breaking open a stone granadilla
On our final day at the Hacienda Buenavista, as the morning fog blanketing the valley was burned away by the equatorial sun, we jumped in our cab. It was the last of our four-day costly treats, a two hour £37 winding slog through the Andes to the city of Manizales, the biggest city in the coffee region, home of the Federation and the place where all the coffee fincas do their business. For tourists, though, it’s famous for sweets and little else.