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Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta

Updated: Dec 28, 2022

Our next stop was the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the Heart of the World, located at the northernmost extremity of the country. This mountain range is geologically detached from the Andes, and is the highest coastal massif on the planet. The tallest peaks, measuring more than 5,700 meters, are less than 40 kilometers away from the Caribbean sea. One can stand on the tropical beach and look up at its majestic snowy peaks, towering beyond a dense tropical forest canopy filled with jewel-like butterflies, countless different bird songs, flowers, and solitary leopards. This very special place is home to an indigenous people called the Tayronas. Among them are the Arhuacos, whose capital is Nabusimake, on the southern side of the mountain. We went to Pueblo Bello, which is the gateway to the Arhuaco territories. There we met with a dear friend, spiritual and community leader Mamo Menjabin, who introduced us to Claribeth Navarro Izquierdo, the Director of the Asoseynekun project. Asoseynekun, like other cooperatives in the Cesar region, is devoted to helping indigenous families access the market for coffee, sugar cane and cacao through education, technical assistance and the commercialization of their product. They do so with deep respect for Seynekun, Mother Earth in the Ika language, by encouraging organic practices that keep the soil fertile and the water clean and healthy. Immediately after our meeting, Claribeth organized for us to meet Benis, the coffee technician for tens of families who live on the way to Nabusimake. We walked with him for a half hour uphill, crossing beautiful streams and enjoying the panoramic view leading up to a small, humble homestead. The house was made in bahareque, a traditional building technique where one uses only guadua (an endemic type of bamboo) and soil. The floor was compacted earth, and the kitchen consisted of a wood-fired stove and a few pots and pans. Benis showed us the farm’s register, a stack of documents carefully stored in a plastic envelope noting the land’s extension, location of waterways, livestock and coffee fields, and any recommendations with regards to pest control, organic fertilization, and other duties a coffee farmer must complete for the harvest to be successful. We then walked to the cafetal, a steep slope covered by tall shady trees and small bushes of “Cogollo Morado”, a sub-variety of Caturra Timor which is said to be particularly resistant to the broca, a worm that likes to eat the coffee cherry. Two workers were swinging machetes all around the bushes, to free them of competing weeds. The sounds around us were those of the feeble wind, of the birds, and of the metal hitting the ground, and it felt like being suspended in a novel by Garcia Marquez. Once back at the house, we were promptly offered a cup of tinto (the most traditional coffee drink in Colombia), which Carmen, the Arhuaco wife, mother and keeper of the house, had picked, washed, roasted (using her kitchen pan) and ground herself. We drank Carmen’s tintico, whilst her two-year-old kid played with the dogs, and a small kitten slept surrounded by fluffy yellow baby chickens. Carmen, like most Arhuaco women also makes the traditional mochilas as a way to generate some extra income for the family. In the photo she is proudly showcasing one of those mochilas.

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