31 Aug Campos & Coronas
|Antigua in the ominous shadow of Volcan Agua|
Antigua, known to me as Guatemalan Disneyland, was once the country’s capital and remains a colonial jewel nestled between 3 of Guatemala’s most iconic and notorious volcano’s (Agua, Fuego, and Pacaya). After bursting out the doors of OGG’s first Chicken bus, sharing stories about its colours and characters, the group settled into Hostal Holistico, a cute little refuge in the city’s centre, where they would be staying for the next 3 nights.
As the sun set, participants ventured out for the first time sin lideres to take in the sights, smells, and engage in a friendly but fiercely competitive scavenger hunt. A near dead heat was only broken by an epic dramatization involving Maximon/San Simon, a Ceiba tree, a Quetzal, and Picamas by Porschia, Ali, and Japleen. After a dining on tacos the group got to taste Antigua’s vida nocturna. But after a late night the participants had to be forced from there beds early to make the short trip to San Miguel Escobar, a small pueblo extending up the base of Volcan Agua. There our group connected with As Green As It Gets, an NGO & coffee cooperative devoted to innovative and sustainable agriculture. Its big bearded gringo jefe, Franklin, immediately escorted the group up the volcanic slope to a newly owned cuadra of land (25m x 25m) belonging to a 16 year old by the name of Julio. There the group spent the morning digging 250 holes, each destined to play host to a Bourbon Coffee plant for next 20 or so years. Labouring for hours with an asadón (a gigantic hoe) was not without its toils, I was quickly ordained “Nurse Ben” and the med-kit was just as quickly relieved of all its band-aids and med-tape for blister treatments.
|OGG & Camesino Freddy standing in their days labour.|
In the afternoon, the group was allowed to choose between learning to make soaps, lotions, and lip balms with a local cosmetic initiative supported by AGAIG or sowing shoulder bags made out of discarded coffee burlap sacs. The following day the group returned to the coffee fields in the morning before being treated to Franklin’s “healthy” pessimism while discussing coffee-economics and the follies of “fair trade” over tasty T-bones and Guatemalan Churasco. BTW, I’ll gladly take orders for “extra fancy” coffee (tops of the grading scale) straight from Freddy’s fields.
“There is an organization there called As Green As It Gets that helps to promote direct sales of coffee, instead of the regular importing or “fair trade” crap (that DOES NOT EXIST) of it. So with the organization, we learned about the mini businesses that they have set up there, like making soap or lip balm or bags from natural sources. Pretty cool stuff. The girl who makes lip balm is 16 years old and is selling around 1 million things of it. With her income from that last year, she bought concrete walls and toilets for her family. But for the most part, when we were in San Miguel Escobar, we helped out with the coffee fields. The first day we walked up a mountain (literally), and it took just under 3 hours to get to the top to dig holes to plant coffee seeds. The amount of work that they put into their jobs is tremendous and it is so interesting to think that they do it by themselves or with their immediate family. So that field was owned by a 16 year old named Julio, sooooo young. Then the next day we went to a field which was only a 20 minute hike and weeded, which here is basically digging out the coffee trees.”
“Walking what felt like 100 miles up a mountain carrying a huge shovel to a coffee plantation, then spending 2 hours digging holes for coffee trees, was probably the most physically demanding thing I have ever done. At least, that’s what I thought until the volcano ascent! This trip hasn’t just pushed me beyond my physical limits, but it has challenged my mental strength, too, as I struggle to decide what’s more important: people or profits. I’m a business student at the University of British Columbia. I thought my goal in life was to make money, but after meeting a coffee farmer who performs strenuous labor every day just to support his family, a woman who got shot because she wouldn’t forfeit her land to a mining company, and a cynical hippie who explained the follies of fair trade; I’m starting to change my mind.”