"This is where we'll be going", Andrés points to a forest area that is nestled into green hills above a massive bare rock wall. As some of us in the car glance at the steep wall for a moment of disbelief, it already disappears from sight as we enter the forest next to Rio Cravo Sur, crossing the torrential river that makes its way from the Colombian highlands to the lowlands, eventually reaching the Orinoco.
A few days ago at the farmers' market we met a local family of coffee farmers we've known for some time and learnt that two family members are hospitalized in Bogota. Doña Maritza, a shirt-sleeved and autarkic farmer in her late forties, has left her coffee business behind during harvesting time to be with her family in Bogota. One of her nine sisters is in charge of the harvest now and short of labourers. For us this was the perfect excuse to go bean-picking.
"The smell of monkeys penetrates the forest, colorful butterflies are fluttering around and a small makeshift shrine does homage to the Virgin Mary."
We reach the rolling hills at the top and now only have the forest area before the farm to cross, no more steep climbs, and time for a moment to catch our breath and take it all in.
"In traditional coffee cultivation the crops are integral to the forest and grow together with other tree species and plants, making them less prone to pests."
Once we all have more or less filled our buckets, we go over to the rustic wooden farm house to wash the berries. I want to know if the crops are ever sprayed with insecticides. "No no", assures Carmensa. "We are too small. We don't use any chemicals." She explains that there is no need to spray the crops. Indeed, in traditional coffee cultivation the crops are integral to the forest and grow together with other tree species and plants, making them less prone to pests. On a previous visit - when not coffee picking but only visiting - Doña Martiza had proudly shown us her native woodlands and forests. "I keep the forest wild over there", she had said and pointed at acres of dense woodlands, "it's where the monkeys live and I like it this way." Her coffee crops alternate with banana plants, plantains, cassava, guava trees and a whole range of wild trees and bush.
"We don't have any problems with insects here. Perhaps it's too cold for them", Carmensa giggles. The temperature on about 800 meters above sea level is refreshingly moderate when one arrives from the mercilessly hot plains that surround Casanare's capital Yopal. A constant breeze sweeps the lush mountain ranges and brings regular showers. When we sit down to rest after the harvest and a hearty lunch in the shade of a large banana plant, cross-legged and quiet, watching the clouds roll over the mountain tops, a rainbow spans from "El Arco", a massive arch-like formed mountain, across the river valley.
Coffee harvest is in September and October. But even outside of harvesting time it's worthwhile to visit the crops, do the hike and marvel at the scenery and, of course, meet jolly Doña Maritza and Doña Carmensa.
About the tour
The starting point of the hike is located about 30-40 minutes from Yopal, Casanare. The tour supports the farmer family. It's one of our community oriented tours that benefit both locals and visitors, as they provide authentic glimpses into local life. >Learn more about the tour
About the coffee
Doña Maritza's coffee brand is called "Café de la Peña", a dark-roast blend, it's organic and naturally free from additives. (It's also served at Villa Pepita!)
Peña is the area's name, known for the "Virgin de la Peña", literally the "virgin of the rock", who allegedly has been reported to appear on a rock above Rio Cravo Sur.
Whether you would like to do this tour, have any comments or questions or would like to purchase a wonderfully aromatic package of local coffee from Doña Maritza, please do not hesitate to contact us.