Visiting Chajulense Guatemala
February 3rd, 2018
Hoping that the unusual heavy rains will not hamper our ability to reach into some of the more remote coffee farms of Chajulense. This is supposed to be the dry season but the last week has proven otherwise… see the small video clip with a overflowing river.
Regardless I am packed with fast drying gear, boots and rain coat so there’s no stopping me as I ananticipate visiting Guatemala for the first time. Armed with a compact 30x zoom travel camera and a healthy dose of anticipation, and an open mind to seeing things I am certain I’ve never imagined, I am traveling the day before “Super Bowl Sunday” my team of 24 years, the New England Patriots, is in the big game, and I was assured by Bill Fishbein from the Coffee Trust that he has picked out a perfect “patriot” bar for us to watch the game!
I packed some coffee because where we are headed ironically may not have roasted coffee and if so possible its not very good. So I bagged up Sigiri single estate Papua New Guinea AA, and a Ethiopian Sidamo and extra just to give away.
In a moment of introspection, how crazy is it that a roaster from New Mexico, USA (yes we are a state), roasts coffee from two equitorial opposite sides of the planet? Only to bring it to another coffee region that is completely unique from Africa or a Pacific rim country.
February 4th 2018 Antigua Guatemala.
We head straight to Fat Cat Cafe and get some Chemex brewed locally sourced coffee from Tito and Gerson, brothers who have been figuring out how to roast, run a coffee shop and deal with all the same challenges we all face in the coffee business.
Except in Guatemala the only way a small independent shop can source coffee is to try to work direct with farmers, pay them more than the market price and establish good relationships with them. There is no easy or affordable way for them to import coffee either. So they have to get creative finding many varieties of coffee and many ways to brew them. coffee is fairly scarce so they only roast for the shop to brew, no beans are for sale. and forget the idea of wholesale roasting to other shops.
If there is a way to brew coffee in their shop they have the device, all within grasp. The brothers and their staff are focused on the details to extract as many different flavors as they can from the limited supplies they can access. Trust me you’d never realize the challenges they face and they make it look easy. But trust me the effort they put into every cup is truly inspiring to their Coffee roaster / cafe owner.
*Patriots loose ” Sad face inserted here” but what a good game it was for everyone!
February 5 2018 Eight Hour trek to Nebaj.
A Myan Priestess Sebastian invites us into her home to participate in a hour and a half ceremony. I learn later that they do this every day. Pictures are allowed before and after a ceremony but not during. The first picture to the Left is where Sebastiana is preparing the fire pit.
Each day the ceremony is different based on the calendar date of the Myan calendar. During the ceremony we were asked to place upon the fire candles seeds, and wood to remember our past, our ancestors. the earth, memories, family, pain, justice, health and many more concepts that connect us to everything around us.
Everyone is seated around the fire and I am not sure if the warmth and energy I felt could be entirely contributed from the fire or if it also was coming from everyone attending. There is so much to share about this but be need to talk about Coffee and the trip that has still to unfold before us in the upcoming days. Sebastian offers her knowledge of healing both physical and spiritual to anyone who asks. You’d say she is the community leader and healer. Her presence as a healer is obvious when you meet her, at a all of 4 feet of stature. But quickly you see the enormity of her generous and calming nature, with an insight to things I am certain would give you chills if you got to know her. After sharing a lunch of boshbouli “phonetically spelled” rice and beans and a Pork stew. we continued on our journey that put us late on Monday night in Nebaj.
February 6 2018 Chujuelnse “Ixil Triangle”.
Indigenous people surround the villages of Nebaj, Cotzal, and Chajul which makes up the Ixil triangle. But before I can begin to take you on my coffee journey to Chajul and beyond, I am obligated to share a bit of history. This is a a recent history comprised of Civil War and genocide of the Ixil People and it starts in 1960. You may read varying statistics but in this region alone, it is believed that over 200,000 people were killed. Not the Guatemalan military soldiers, nor the Guerillas who supposedly were fighting for improved conditions of the people and farmers. Instead there are countless stories from thousands of people who witnessed first hand the “Scorch the Earth” policies of the military. This meant every human being, animal, plant and building would be killed or destroyed. Our driver Salvador was six years old when he was placed in the middle of a line comprised every every person found in refugee camp of people that left Chajul because they knew the military was looking for them. They were often forced to feed the Guerillas under duress knowing the military would think they were collaborators. These people were caught in between and had to where to go. Our Salvador, believed he was saved by God, and was the only survivor on a bleak Saturday in the early 80s, his life that day was change forever. Starting with helicopters rocketing the camp for hours, then landing and then lining everyone up with six year old Salvador in the middle of the line. One by one each villager was killed. Salvador explained in horrific detail the methods. when the Captain who ordered the killings grabs Salvador by the throat and yanks him out of the line and tosses him to the ground. The day ended with everyone killed including an uncle and sister of Salvador’s. He was then questioned endlessly for a month and a half about his surviving family as he was bound and forced to travel the mountains with his captors as they kept looking for more refugee camps. This is a story I believe I must and should share in another way someday with its conclusion. But I needed to find a way to demonstrate to the reader that all the people who live in this area have this history in their blood, mind and soul. They have survived and they are strong and powerful. In spite of their many disadvantages, they are exactly the kind of people the Coffee Trust has set out to help. In more recent times they suffered 90% loss of coffee to a fungus called Laroya. They suffer through climate change, mudslides and poverty. And yet as I later visit a remote village of Chel 2-3 hours north of Chajul I see all the hard work, and multifaceted skills of survival that I’d challenge anyone I know personally if they have the ability or skills to meet the daily task of survival. Fortunately the war ends in 1996 and the rebuilding process has only just begun. I barely scraped the surface of this Civil War and its history but hope if in only a small way I can bring some context to the next part of this journey. And so now begins the real reason why I accepted the invitation from Bil Fishbein of the Coffee Trust.
February 7 2018.
more to come…