We woke up this morning and for some reason Danny’s phone said that it was 6:45 and we were supposed to meet grace at Deli Café for a 7am meeting. We rushed out of the room to see Mami a little puzzled. When Danny asked her why she hadn’t woken us up at 6:00 as she was supposed to, she looked at her watch and said, “Well, it’s only 5:45. I still have some time.” We were relieved that we were not late and sat down to enjoy a cup of our Organic Sumatra while Mami made us some eggs.
We showered and changed and headed out to meet Grace and Nick at Deli Café. Maria Elena, Danny’s niece, also accompanied us on this part of the trip. We got to Deli Café with time to spare, and as we arrived Don William had some coffee that he had just roasted for us try and gave us some for the rest of our trip. We picked up Grace and followed Nick to the Micro mill that we were visiting in the Fraigles region of Costa Rica. It was about an hour and a half drive from San Jose, but man, was it beautiful! We went through small towns, up and down some mountains, and we finally arrived at 1600 meters. The mill was great, it was the first micro mill that I had seen and it was so cute. Everything was just like the other mills that we had visited, only a lot smaller. They take the ripe cherries and run them though a demucilager, and then they go right onto the drying patio-- no water, no fermentation process, very simple, clean and efficient. They also had prepared some coffee as well as a very large breakfast for us to eat. Everything was great and freshly- prepared. After spending some more time with them discussing our procedures on Micro lots and how we are excited to bring more unique offerings to our customers, we were on our way to the Panamanian border. It was about a 5 hour drive to the border through a road called Cerra Del Muerte, translation: Mountains of death. It is so winding and steep that there have been a lot of accidents on this stretch of road. We went from sea level to about 3000 meters and back down, so our ears were popping the whole way. Once we reached the border we were greeted by Cesar from Natures Best, who helped us get everything we needed in order, but again it was another hassle getting all the right paperwork and signatures. We again went from window to window to window, presenting every document we needed. After about an hour and half we were good to go, and started our drive to Boquete. It was a relatively short drive, about an hour and change, but again we went from sea level up to 1500 meters. Once we turned on the main road to Boquete it was a steady incline all the way up. We arrived and checked into our hotel, which was beautiful and had a great little river running behind it. We only had a few minutes at the hotel before we left to meet Norberto Suarez for dinner. We had decided on a Peruvian restaurant where Danny had been before, and it was a great choice. The food was great and the atmosphere brought on good conversation. We talked about the coffee market, the harvest in Panama as well as Costa Rica and the new procedures that they were working on to continually improve the quality of the coffee. After a long dinner we retired to our rooms for some much needed rest.
We were picked up the next morning by Norberto in his new Ford F550. This thing was huge. He took us to his office and we picked up some freshly made pastries to accompany the coffee that Danny had made in the room earlier that morning. After his office, he took us up to see one of the farms that was by his house. It was crazy: the trees had green and red cherries and the farm was still flowering. After a short drive around, we went to Norberto’s house for a great espresso made from a straight Panama. It was sweet and buttery and good. After a small discussion we were off to meet Grace, Cesar and Maria Elena at Bouquet’s Finest, benefio, where they process the Don Pepe and other recognized coffees of Panama. After a short tour and potty break, we were off to the Volcan region of Panama; just on the other side of the volcano, about 15 miles as the crow flies, but an hour and change drive as there is no road that cuts through the mountain range. Once we arrived we went to visit the Finca de Canteras and met Jackie Mercer , the owner & operator. We toured her beautiful farm and then her wet and dry mills, and had an interesting discussion on how she decided that she wanted to own a coffee farm. After some coffee and freshly made snacks we were on our way to see the neighboring farm, Finca Florentina. The entrance was breathtaking: there was a gigantic canopy of trees that left only a small little pass for us to go though. Once there we got to meet the people who are in charge of making everything happen. We got a small walking tour of the farm-- which I loved-- and got to see the natural spring river where it starts from the ground. We were also given a tour of the dry and wet mills, and like every other farm everything was clean and neat. After our short visit-- which we all wished it could have been longer-- we were on our way to cross the border and have a lunch that we were already 2 hours late for in San Vito: our car hood wouldn’t close properly and we had to fix it with some “Latin intuition.”
It was a little more than an hour and a half to the border, and this time the border crossing was great: 20 minutes! I don’t know if it was the rain that kept all the people away or what, but it was great. Everyone was nice and everything worked out very, very well. After another short drive we were in San Vito and very, very late. However, we were still there and had time for a quick lunch and great discussion about the San Vito coffee region. We had to cut our visit short, as we had a long drive back to San Jose to get our things in order for the shipping of the car and our flight back to the States early that next morning. The drive back seemed really short and we made great time thanks to Danny’s great driving skills. Once back at Mami’s house we unloaded everything from the truck and made sure that we weren’t leaving anything behind. Once we were all packed up, though, we had to put some random things back into the truck hoping that they wouldn’t get stolen during the shipment back. It was late into the night when we finally got to bed and again had an early wake up to get ourselves to the airport.
Then next morning we were both very sad that our adventure had come to an end. We made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare as we assumed that we would have to wait in long lines as we had done every day prior. But, much to our surprise the airport seemed empty. Once we boarded our flight the adventure was officially over and we were on our way back to Kansas City. I would like to end by thanking Grace Mena for helping set up this great trip, as well as for her company. She is a genuine person who is fun has a great attitude and commands everyone’s respect when she walks into any situation, be it on a small farm or in a large beneficio. I would also like to thank all of the people who took time out of their busy schedules to accommodate Danny and I and show us around your beautiful farms and mills.