Tea and Chocolate

Cacao to make chocolate, for a change
Cacao to make chocolate, for a change

Because sometimes you need a break from coffee*

This isn’t about tea or chocolate (although I do kind of love that all adults here drink a bowl of hot chocolate with breakfast). This is about things I wound up doing on the way to or in between doing coffee things.

One Tuesday I found myself sitting on the floor coloring bunny rabbits with a kindergartener, watching Mickey in Spanish and eating slimy anona fruit, marveling that there was actually something that tasted good inside thick skin with green spikes.

One Wednesday I found myself eating Chinese food with a German girl and a Mexican guy, and then an hour later break dancing in the middle of a cypher in a club packed with hundreds of Latin American engineers unwinding after a conference. All in costume. Because it was Halloween.

One Sunday I found myself swimming with horses in a natural pool in a river in the middle of the jungle that starts when the coffee/cow fields end.

One Friday I found myself singing karaoke at a mall (“We Found Love in a Hopeless Place.” Obviously.) after going to zumba.

One Saturday I found myself in a remodeled sugarcane press (trapiche) eating a plate piled high with chicharrones at a 12 year old’s birthday party, making the party balloons into characters (obviously giving them funny voices- made funnier by the fact that I already sound funny when I speak Spanish) to entertain a 4 year old, only to realize that everyone was watching me.

One Wednesday I found myself clumsily attempting to peel green bananas with a kitchen machete, while all the neighborhood women watched and shouted advice, not telling me to watch out for the goo until it was all over my clothes, “oh that’ll never come out!”

One Monday I found BBQing for a German film crew of 20, (wo)manning a meat grill, a veggie grill, and arranging bread and cheese platter (although that ended up being about coffee after all; they were shooting a big docu-mercial for Melitta, a German coffee brand best known for its cone shaped filters (they come in a green and red box)).

One Wednesday I found myself hiking up a volcano at midnight, not even needing my dying headlamp because there was a full moon; fanning a fire with plastic scraps salvaged from the one overflowing garbage can at an abandoned camp site;


watching the sun come up over one ocean while the moon went down over another.

World's coolest sunrise
World’s coolest sunrise

One Thursday I found myself at a mountain lodge in the middle of a thunderstorm, huddled with other backpackers in the dark of the power outage playing Asshole illuminated by my recharged headlamp, sipping rum and cokes made with warm Ron Abuelo and real sugar, high fructose corn syrup-free soda.

One Friday I found myself watching the blood seep through a white sheet as the police took almost 4 hours to collect the body from the middle of the street, and the cars had to drive around the cones and up off the cobblestones and onto the sidewalk to get around it.

One Wednesay I found myself paddle, paddle, paddling! in the Pacific, determined to get my two feet on the surfboard (instead of just my belly).

One Saturday night I found myself drenched in sweat in the middle of a fish market, fighting my way to the ceviche stand and eating the best seafood of my life.

One Thursday I found myself at a working sugarcane mill (trapiche) eating hot globs of sugar fresh out of the wooden “cooling boat.”

So good.
So good.

One Tuesday I found myself cleaning the tilapia pond, draining it to pull out all the flopping “plague fish” (the ones that sneaky vendors sell, which look like babies but really just stay small and reproduce like crazy, yielding no fish to eat and a clogged pond) and feeding them to the cat.

One Wednesday I found myself eating empanadas and watching a failed armed robbery attempt.

Another Wednesday I found myself riding a rail sled to a riverside finca and jumping off bridge pilings with a poet and a 4th grader.

One Thursday I found myself dropped into the middle of a local theater workshop, just in time for the “blind people and guides” game, where I got blindfolded and led around town at night (as part of the “awareness” exercise that “translates to the stage”); but I was wearing all black and the blindfold was black and I was definitely aware when a passing girl told her mom, “look mama, a ninja!”

Sometimes on the way to coffee you have to order sushi off the dinner menu at the VIP movie theater with the big couches, where you’re watching Argo (in English!)

Sometimes you have to make friends with cats and pick the fleas of dogs and feed rotting guavas to the horses and wait for the cows to get out of the way.


Sometimes you have to make popcorn and huddle up under a fleece blanket and jump a mile high at a horror movie.

Sometimes you have to make makeshift instant Thanksgiving dinner, the one and only one time you’ll ever be thankful that Walmart owns the local grocery chain, because canned pumpkin and graham cracker pie crusts were on the same end cap.

Sometimes you have to go white water rafting and eat lots of patacones con queso and swim in the Carribean on Christmas day.

Sometimes you have to wait for the housecleaner ants to invade and un-invade your house and chase out the bats with a dishtowel.

Sometimes you have to dress up as Snow White (complete with bows on your stockings, a big headband, and glittering fake eyelashes) and parade through the local Halloween parties.

Sometimes you have to wash a lot of dishes and hand make a pile of arepas.

And sometimes on the way to coffee you have to climb up the statue of Cristo Rey, not because you’re Catholic, but because how incredible is it that there is a massive Jesus towering over the agrarian countryside and sleepy mountain town? And sometimes you have to sit inside his head and read every single message of thanks that’s been tagged there.


Sometimes you have to listen to the rain fall on the stone head of Christ and look through the nostril holes at the valley below IMG_2475

and sometimes you have to say your own sort of clumsy thank you prayer because how cool is it that you had enough people reach out and help you so that you could make it all the way here, through the isthmus and the airports and the sidewalks and the mud pits to a sleepy mountain town on the other side of the world where you have the Cristo Rey all to yourself?

Cristo Rey in Belalcazar
Cristo Rey in Belalcazar

*The original subtitle for this post was “In looking for coffee I found other things,” but because I wrote the draft on my iPhone and I’m a (notoriously) bad iUser, which autocorrect constantly takes advantage of, it read, “In looking for coffee I found other thugs.” I did find a few thugs.

Not coffee. Definitely a thug.
Not coffee. Definitely a thug.

And I guess coffee is one of them.


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