A letter to a friendly stranger.

August 10, 2008

Not long ago we would have someone that would express interest in visiting FVH on their own every few years, now it seems to happen more often.  And if you know me, you know how much I enjoy hosting people and that I don’t spend most of the year at FVH.  So I’m going to post email response here now to the latest inquiry, so if in the future I don’t expect to be at FVH, I’ll be sending you a link to this post as well!  This letter is to a girl who works for an old friend Terry Z.  She emails me from Guatemala and below is my wordy response:


 

Dear Aimee and Tim,

It would be a privilege to have you visit. I wish I was there now to welcome you. However, I am quite torn about a potential visit because we don’t have things set up for people to easily visit if we are not there. We just shipped our coffees out of Guatemala so I’m now committed in the U.S. to receive these and forward them on to customers. Maybe some day we will be able to welcome people at FVH anytime of year.

Diego who is currently the General Manager has alot on his plate and with out us there he would feel responsible to make sure you had a comfortable stay, should you visit. However he will not be able to come and pick you up.

We have 3 pick-ups and they’re probably all older than you are. This is the time of year when we take them in to be tuned up so the only one not in the shop is being used. These trucks we have are not fuel efficient and would easily burn $100 to go pick you up in Quetzaltenango. They’re built to carry heavy loads on very bad roads and are not comfortable commuters.

It sounds like you’re somewhat adventuresome. So…. If you wish, you can get there on your own and someday if you have few hours to kill you can actually back track and see ALL the roads on google earth on pics taken anytime but rainy season.

From Quetzaltenango catch a bus that goes towards Mexico. You would have to get off at “El Boqueron”. There is no sign. There are a number of “El Boqueron’s” so you would have to specify “para San Pedro Necta” which means towards San Pedro Necta. No one will recognize this unless it is a local driver near making runs in the area where you need to get off, so you have to switch buses about 45 minutes after passing the entrance to the city of Huehuetenango going towards Mexico and hop on a bus that is making shorter local runs. You can identify these as they are generally already full of more people that you think should fit on it. For example a 15 passenger van with 24 people in it still has plenty of space for both you and Tim.

While there is a formal stop that is a solid structure with a bench in it, most aren’t quite sure what it is for and it is generally disregarded as everyone knows that a bus will stop where ever you’re standing. So try not to pull over a bus in the middle of a bridge, or a sharp blind corner, because as you know by now, it WILL stop!

Most people in northwest Guatemala speak some spanish as their second language and communicating can be a challenge assuming your spanish is perfect. Once at El Boqueron you catch a ride with a pick up or micro bus. From here on out the road alternates from a rough dirt road, some of which could be washed out this time of year to a paved road that has potholes making it a surprisingly rougher ride. There is no such thing as hitch hiking, but if you just wave you’re hand in the air (not helplessly… but with a serious look on your face making eye contact with the driver as he approaches), they very likely will stop. Please be careful and remember that pedestrians DO NOT have the right away despite the fact that for some reason its common for pedestrians to walk or stand IN the road watching cars go by.

You can use this same approach for previous buses, but not a chartered bus. The chartered bus will have plenty of extra space on it with plush spacious seating nicer than most airlines and the driver will smile as he passes you by. They’ve also never heard of El Boqueron. Chances are others are going the same way you are, so at El Boqueron you may get away with others flagging and identifying viable transportation, then you can just follow along and hop on.

Don’t try to pay or tell the driver where you’re going unless you want them to think you’re really lost, which is fine. I’m just looking after your pride and sense of independence. The destination discussion never really happens, or at least not any sooner than it absolutely needs to happen. Any communication should be directly with the driver who is used to making change for folks who are carrying less money than you are, so exact change would be ideal.

Generally you smack the side of the truck with you’re hand when you want to get off and then after jumping out you walk up to the driver and ask how much you owe him, “Cuanto es?”. It will be anywhere from 2-20 Quetzales, whatever they think you’re willing to pay that is still with in reason. There is no reason or logic to it that makes sense to you, and while negotiating is common in markets this isn’t a time to negotiate. They take you on good faith that you pay whatever they ask when you get off, and what they ask is always reasonable… if that makes sense. It may not sound like an arrangement you would choose to take part in, but that is how its done. Many people there know each other, so it’s not likely they’re taking advantage of people otherwise they would have a bad rap and no one would use them as a taxi service. It’s a great sense of community and you can quickly learn to enjoy it so long as you’re open minded to see that things unfamiliar aren’t necessarily wrong, just different.

Once you’re sharing a wheel well as a seat with a few kids, their mother and some chickens, you’ll notice everyone is staring at you. They will not think they’re being rude, this is normal and acceptable. But if you stare back they may think you’re rude as you’re the one that smells like bug spray and is wearing the goofy shorts. They know you’ve come along way and of all the places in the world they don’t get why you chose to be there. Don’t get me wrong, they are very proud of their land, it is just that they don’t have the means to even make it to the town you just spent the last few days in more than a few times in their life if ever.

At this point, you may find yourself wondering and hoping you’re going the right way. I know you live in or near Olympia or Lacey, Washington, so be at peace knowing that you’ve been on I-5 all along up until the turn off at El Boqueron, and had you stayed straight, eventually you’d be home. But for now you’ll know you’re on the right track if in the first 5 minutes you find a 1,000 foot cliff on your left side.

After about 20 minutes at the first Y you stay to the right. If the truck goes left, just tap, get off, pay and wait for another vehicle to come by to hop on. If you’re in a small van find a sturdy place to tap, maybe reach your arm out the window and tap on the roof, but watch for trees and rocks, you’ll need that arm later. Then if you see the driver look at you in the rear view mirror, keep your head up, be alert and look ready and anxious to get off by trying to stand up in the van. Some people are naturally good at this sort of non verbal communication, if you’re not you should plan it in so you don’t end up halving to walk more than you need to.

On the next Y you’ll want to stay left, and chances are the truck will go right, so tap, hop off, get on another vehicle.. or walk. From there it is only about 3-4 kilometers. We will be the first driveway on your right that is not completely over grown with plants AFTER you pass a school that is painted teal. At the school they have a sort of sport court/coffee drying patio that is fenced as it’s quite a drop from there to the road. Just across the street there is a government sign by the school that says SAN JUAN – SAN PEDRO NECTA on it that will confirm you’re in the right place.

Welcome to Finca Vista Hermosa!!!

As you go up our driveway, it will split. Go left and straight up, unless you want to sleep with the sheep. If you have few purple bugambilia plants arching over you as you walk up a very very steep driveway you know you’re in the right place. Here’s a link with more details on the above picture.  You’ll see a “PILA” (pronounced pee-lah) on the right which is large concrete free standing 3 bin sink for doing laundry, dishes and bathing small kids. Diego’s home is right behind this on the right. His wife may be peeking through the trees watching you as you come up.

They’ll show you where you can sleep and they’ll make tortillas for you for breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you want anything besides beans, vegetables, fruit and rice to accompany the tortillas you’ll need to bring it with you such as dairy products, meat or anything canned. If you need junk food like chips and soda, Diego will sell it to you. He feels he marks it up quite a bit, but you’ll still think its cheap.

O.K. I just went back and re-read what I typed and you would think I am trying to discourage you from visiting. I’m not, it is just not an easy place to find on your own. If you make it this far on you’re own, the rough accommodations should be a cake walk.

We usually have great electricity during the day, and it goes out half the time in the evening so keep a candle or flashlight handy. We only have the generator hooked up during harvest for late night depulping. Make your self at home and feel free to hike around, but remember you’re over 5,000 feet high in elevation and you may run short of breath quicker than you expect. Cell coverage is great so feel free to borrow Diego’s phone to call if you have any questions. If I don’t answer, leave a message and I’ll get back to you. I don’t always answer my phone because I’m either already on it, or enjoying not being on it.

 

best,

edwin

6 Responses to “A letter to a friendly stranger.”

  1. Terry Z Says:

    Awesome……….

  2. Julie Says:

    Having traveled a bit in Central America, I can attest that this gives people a true sense of place! Thanks for posting this, Edwin, not only for practical reasons, but so folks can really understand where their coffee comes from — literally.

  3. . Says:

    Julie,
    I just saw you’re site http://www.coffeehabitat.com. Did you know that shade blocks the sun? I’m sure you did =). But this also means with less sun the coffee grows a bit slower and results in what I call “simulated elevation”. The bean growing slower is now more dense and more complex, as long as it has substantial periods of dryness the increased acidity should have the potential to be more pronounced and balanced with out loosing other traits. And this means it has the POTENTIAL to get a better price based on quality. If the line from seed to cup is not direct enough the economic benefit alone may not justify these actions, sometimes even with certifications.


  4. The shade certifications don’t require total shade, of course, and it’s my understanding that the optimal amount of shade (in which yield is not substantially lowered) is 40-60% canopy cover. This is also the range that tends to create the type of habitat a wide range of bird species will use. A lot depends on the “structure” of the shade (number of layers, types of trees). I think there are a lot of ways to meet the needs of preserving biodiversity, producing quality coffee, and insuring that farmers make a good living all at the same time. That’s what I’m in favor of!

  5. Bob Says:

    Wow, I thought that the “significant economic benefit” of “direct trade” would improve things for you all at Finca, sorry to hear you don’t even have a new truck yet and living conditions are still rough. Maybe while you are here, you should have a talk with your amigos en la estados unidos who are all spending millions on a new york city invasion, funded by your coffee.

  6. . Says:

    Bob, this is tough to respond to briefly… it takes visiting us, other farms in Guate as well as in other countries to begin to try to put things into perspective. I guess I would start by saying that a “good quality of life” is both relative and it’s definition is subjective.

    I will be the first to say that conditions at FVH can certainly improve and we are and will be continuously working on this. If we’re comparing quality of life with neighbors our size, we can’t complain at all. But if we compare with our end customers there may seem to be a big difference in quality of life. The problem with comparing if one does it enough one always finds the grass is greener on the other side, and we find the grass is green enough on our side and we just want to do what we can to share it. We are happy with how our coffees are moved. The roads have been slowly improving over the years and some day we won’t need Land Cruiser trucks to move coffee around off the farm, maybe only on the farm until of course we pave them as well, which I don’t see happening on my life time as I’m not planning on this. I have mixed feelings about many of the things that we consider forward progress. There is something beautiful about simple living. Our rough conditions can also be seen as comfortable and free of distraction.

    But this is all completely separate from a New York invasion with our coffee?? what is this? Confused.


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