It was probably three weeks ago when the email appeared in my inbox, it was from my accountant. Attached to the email was an unwelcome letter from the Inland Revenue. The IR were chasing ‘outstanding payments’ and they wanted them sooner, rather than later. Settling the account would not be good for my bank balance, and ultimately my travel funds!
I had two options at this point, accept it and return to the UK a month early, or look for an alternative outcome. I knew I wanted to visit a coffee farm, so what about combining it with some volunteer work? I started to make some inquiries.
Juan-Pablo, the manager of Hacienda Venecia, was educated in Herefordshire (England) and spoke excellent English. We were sat in a local restaurant discussing my volunteer proposal. The meeting went well and he suggested I should start as soon as possible!
Hacienda Venecia offers excellent accommodation and an incredibly informative coffee tour. Located some 20-minutes from Manizales, and about 3 kilometres from the main highway, it can only be accessed via a steep, narrow, and very winding track. The farm mainly caters for European and North American visitors. Some of these visitors speak very good Spanish, whilst others arrive here without speaking a word. That’s where I come in. I offer my time and in return they provide me with free food and accommodation. I save money, learn about the production of coffee, and meet some great people. If there is nothing for me to do I get to relax by the pool or lie in a hammock and read. Simples!
So what are my duties on a Colombian coffee farm? I’ll answer that question in a moment. Firstly I need to quell a rumour that has started to gather momentum back in the UK. This is a real coffee farm – nothing more, nothing less. For those of you under the delightful illusion that I have joined an elite Colombian drugs cartel, sorry to disappoint, it ain’t happening here! Yes, the production of cocaine still goes on in Colombia but believe me, the government is doing everything it can to destroy the industry. The decadent days of Pablo Escobar, et al, are now firmly set in the past. Colombia is looking for a future in tourism not ‘Snow White’.
So, back to my duties, which appear to be evolving the longer I stay. I am currently involved in a range of activities including, ferrying people to and from from the highway, checking guests in, learning about the coffee tour, and generally helping wherever I can.
In addition, I have also been asked to get involved with the customer interface here; working on the website, interacting with the visitors, and helping with information transfer.
Coffee production is far more complex than I imagined and whilst I am currently taking in as much information as possible, it will be a little while before I can confidently deliver my own coffee tours.
How long will I stay? Who knows.
Next stage: Unknown.