Eventually, we make it to Medellin, a city that no traveler would have considered passing through fifteen years ago. The city was once known as the murder and violence capital of the world. Thanks to a massive effort by the government and a tremendous amount of local pride, Medellin is now considered a safe city and a great place to visit. The streets are clean and lined with scupltures and local artwork.
Later in the day we head into El Eje Cafetero (the coffee region), home of Colombia’s number-one drink and its biggest (legal) export. The area is blessed with magnificent mountain scenery and coffee plants covering nearly every slope. In a country where we have seen many spectacular landscapes, this region provides the most beautiful mountain scenery yet. To add to the pleasure, the smell of coffee is strong in the air. I may not be a coffee fan, but there is no denying that the smell is fabulous.
Our destination for the day is Pereira, the coffee region’s largest city. A chance encounter on our second day in the city leads us to the perfect home-away-from-home. As I stand on the side of the road fielding endless questions from the locals, a beautiful pale yellow Lambretta motor scooter pulls up behind the Ural, and off hops its driver sporting a helmet emblazoned with the Union Jack. I immediately recognize that this is not a typical Colombian. I am about to meet one of the most enthusiastic two and three-wheel motoring enthusiasts we have ever encountered, British expat Alan Gardiner. Our meeting was meant to be. We learn that Alan has a farm near Pereira which commonly serves as a hostel for motorbikers passing through the area. We take Alan up on his offer of accommodation at Villa Toscana. Alan’s home, with its lovely garden and pool, proves to be the perfect place to take a few days’ break from riding. We also thoroughly enjoy Alan’s company as we share passions for music and motoring. Alan is undoubtedly a wealth of knowledge when it comes to British Northern Soul music and Lambretta scooters. He has several Lambrettas in his collection, including one to which he has added a sidecar.
On one of our afternoons, Alan and his friend Luz organize us a visit to Villa Martha, an active coffee finca (farm). As we are in the midst of the main harvest time, we have an opportunity to go into the rows of small evergreen coffee bushes, seeing the coffee berries in various stages of ripeness. Berries are traditionally selectively picked by hand and we learn how to select berries at their peak of ripeness. We pick several berries, peel them open to extract the seeds (commonly known as coffee beans) and then follow the beans through the stages of processing. First, the slimy layer of mucilage is removed from the bean, then it is washed to remove any residue. We watch some previously-picked beans finishing the roasting process and being ground and packaged. When we are offered a cup of sweet coffee at the end of our tour, I can’t refuse. Having just been involved in the entire process, I have to sample the final product.