Today was the day that Dan, Patty, and I had hoped to meet Jesus. Jesus Martin, that is.
There is no reason you should know his name. But he is a Colombian with a mission. A coffee mission. A mission he calls "the coffee dream project."
Those of us who live outside of Colombia, the world's third largest coffee producer, and have enjoyed its coffee, may not be aware that like many countries famed for their agricultural products, Colombia historically has not kept its best coffee for national consumption.
Jesus Martin wanted to change that. His coffee farm is just outside of the small town of Salento, where we visited today. We wanted to talk with him about his project of offering high quality coffee to Colombians.
I will spoil the story by telling you we didn't get to see him. But, we will come back to that in a moment. (If you would like to know a little more about him, take a look at this BBC article.)
What we did was to head off to the valley of the Cocora River for a little country hike.
I should have learned from my hike with Ray in Melaque (city slickers duding it up) where my imagined stroll was turned into a rock wall-climbing reality. This time I should have figured it out.
We have been staying in a country where the Andes begin. A Chilean would probably say "where they end." Whichever, this is not a region of rolling hills. We are in the mountains.
The trail head's altitude is about 8000 feet. And the ascent is not a gradual grade. But, we were promised treasure at the end of our climb.
Maybe some animals. Certainly some birds and interesting plants. And, best of all, a wax palm forest.
The wax palm is one of the indigenous palms of the new world and grows in the western Andes of Colombia. What makes them spectacular is that they are the tallest palms in the world. Up to 200 feet.
And slow-growing. It takes ten years for a wax palm to grow a ring.
It is also the national tree of Colombia.
Who could turn down such an offer? Even when our destination loomed high in the fog forest of the Andes.
I will admit that the distant peaks gave me a momentary Bilbo Baggins pause. But, just like Bilbo, I felt a stir. "Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick."
So, we struck out. You have already met the cast. Dan. Patty. Me. Paula, our guide. Alejandra, the UN observer.
Paula kept her promise about animals. But they mainly fell into the domesticated category. Dogs. Beautifully-coiffured horses. And herds of some rather oblivious dairy cows.
But there was plenty of wildlife. Mainly birds. Vultures. A turkey-like paua caucora, which is rarely seen in these parts. Several shy songbirds. And a true prize.
We had seen a couple of adult carkakays perching in the wax palms along our walk. When Dan came up over a rise, one was perched on a fence post at the top of the hill. It immediately flew off.
The reason it was there was apparent. A juvenile was just on the other side of the fence. While we caught our breath, we shot away with our cameras.
The juvenile merely walked up the hill until we got too close for comfort. It then glided to safety down the steep of the hill.
The bird, often known as the caracara elsewhere, is a falcon that lives throughout the Americas. That rather prosaic description takes nothing away from its majesty.
Paula gave us a running commentary of the plants as we continued our ascent. Ferns as ancient as dinosaurs. Medicinal plants. Flowering plants.
But one of the most interesting group was the bromiliads -- parasitical plants that offer their hosts no benefits, but provide home, food, and shelter for amphibians and insects.
They may not be helpful to the host plants, but the bromilads on this mountain were eccentrically beautiful.
Almost 1000 feet higher, we reached our goal. The wax palms in the fog forest. That should have been the title of a Somerset Maugham novel.
We took great pleasure in conquering the mountain. But that was not our only reward. Looking back at the way we came, we could see other mountains framing the valley with its dairy and horse farms.
But there was still far more adventure for the day. We had two more towns to investigate.
The first was Salerno -- known for its coffee. That is where we had hoped to meet up with Jesus Martin.
He has a coffee shop in town that is part of his "coffee dream project" to bring the best coffee to the mouths of Colombians.
Even though we did not get to meet the man himself, we decided to taste his wares. The coffee was good, but we all agreed the specialty coffee we tasted the day before was probably better.
Having said that, we were pleased with the brew. And it was certainly a long step up from the coffee that is often served at Colombian tables.
Salerno itself is a quaint town that reflects the colors of Colombian coffee country. Unfortunately, the buildings are shielded from view by the tarps of temporary stalls lining the plaza.
It is a town that caters to coffee tourists. This mobile coffee shop may or may not be a good example. I am still not certain.
I have seen several coffee vendors with similar setups in Pereira. What makes them local is not just the coffee makers. It is the jeeps. The jeeps are a staple of the local coffee farms -- transporting both coffee and workers to town.
But I found the people in Salerno far more interesting than the town itself. Whether it was tourists (mainly Colombians) stopping for chats and snacks.
Or locals watching what the tourists have wrought.
We were then off to Filandia. For those of you who are now humming Sibelius's tone poem, please note there is no "n" between the "i" and the "l." It is Filandia. A town much larger than Salento -- and perhaps with more charm. That may be because its mental hospital.
Dan, Patty, and, I agreed this is one of the most interesting provincial towns we have visited. That was partly due to the obvious care and love that was put into maintaining its buildings.
So, what is today's hook? I suppose it has something to do with the recurring discovery that not getting something you want often opens up an opportunity to be enthralled by a different experience.
If that is it, today was a practically perfect day.