Coffee trees, mud, and a tuk tuk

When I started working for Starbucks in 1999 I didn’t even like coffee. But, now all these years later I love drinking it, and have always wanted to see how it grows up close.

But not at 9:00am!

Although I didn’t want it enough to sign up for an early morning tour. Let’s not be crazy. Instead we called around the many nearby farms until one agreed to do a last minute tour at a reasonable hour.

Fanny and Mario own Finca Milena where they grow coffee, bananas and run a hotel.

Fanny arranged a tuk tuk to take us to their farm.

Take this up a mountain on an unpaved road? Um…ok.

It was a bit scary to be riding up a mountain in what was basically a golf cart.

At least this is the scariest part.

Unfortunately the tuk tuk couldn’t make it up the last steep part of the road to the farm. And, well, neither could I. Mario, the farm owner met us and watched as Jeff pulled me up the road

Good thing that walk to the house is over. That was the hardest part.

Once I caught my breath and unclenched my hand from Jeff’s arm, I was able to take in the beauty of the mountains and see the town of Jardin below.

They gave us hats which I think is for the sun or just for photos since it was cloudy.

This isn’t really my color do you have any hats is gray?

When they passed out knee high rain boots I got a bit nervous but thought this must also be for photos.

Five month old coffee baby tree.

Mario explained that coffee trees take two years before producing coffee, then are good for five years, then need to be replaced with new trees.

Jeff asked a bunch of questions. We looked out at the valley saw some coffee trees in the distance and I thought great excellent tour. Now let’s sit down and drink coffee.

Dude, why do many questions?

But no, we started out on a very steep, muddy hike. I have no photos of the hike since it took all three of them to get me up to the trees.

The coffee plants were interspersed with banana trees. Mario explained that growing bananas took less labor to harvest.

The bags around the fruit are to keep insects off. The blue color is just because that’s how they come.

I should have wrapped myself in a blue bag. I got really bitten up.

Mario showed us a plant that still had a coffee flower and some green unripe cherries.

Since it was still three months to harvest time (October through December) there weren’t any red coffee cherries to pick.

Oh well, good tour lets go drink coffee.

Turns out there weren’t any here. But, up the mountain and across a bridge made up of a piece of wood there were some.

Oh crap

Jeff and Mario pulled me up each step and then Jeff walked backwards on the wooden plank brigde while holding my hands. And finally there were plants with ripe beans. We got to work.

This tastes like an unripe coffee cherry.
I like unripe coffee cherries.
I’m so good at this. I’ve already picked one.
If I hide behind this tree I won’t have to help Sheryl down the mountain.
Sheryl: Look at all the cherries I picked.
Mario: She picked three. I picked the rest.

I have no idea how they got me back down but I miraculous arrived back at the farm intact.

Guess these weren’t just for fashion.
This either sorted or washed the berry part from the bean.

Mario showed us how they processed the beans from sorting, to washing, to fermenting.

I made it back in one piece.

And then we got to taste coffee. This was coffee the had come from their farm and roasted in town.

Sheryl: That was fun.
Jeff: My arms hurt from pulling her up a mountain.
Mario: We should have charged more for the tour
Jeff: Sheryl needs more photos for her blog. Can we go back up there? Mario: I’m out of here.

When the tuk tuk came to take us back to town Fanny helped me back down the steep road.

Hiking up to the trees was hard and scary but so worth it. I am so glad I got to see first hand what goes into making the coffee I drink each morning. Mario, Jeff, Fanny and our guide (I forgot his name) made it possible for me to experience it. Without them I wouldn’t have even made it up the road to the farm.

Jardin: Hats, horses, doors and a cable car

Jardin is known as the most beautiful town in Colombia and the town lives up to its marketing.

The mountains were stunning, the people were nice and all the men wore hats which I loved seeing.

And then there were the doors. I could have taken 1,000 photos of doors. I tried to restrain myself since these were houses. I tried to only photograph businesses or at least homes with no open curtains or doors.

Anybody home? I’m not casing your house, just like your door.

Our Air BNB was beautiful but a bit loud. They seemed to be training horses to River Dance on our street.

Again but this time stompier.

This priest rang his bell a bunch.

Hey guys, in case you didn’t hear the church bells, it’s time to pray.

And of course the fruit vendor.

Wake up! It’s 6am time to buy bananas.

Jadin is close to the equator but at 5,000 feet much cooler than Panama City.

What’s wrong with the air? Oh right this is what under 89 degrees feels like.

Everything was so colorful from the doors to the buses to the chairs on the square.

After looking around the town we needed to see the town from above so took a funicular.

I’ll just do the hooky pokey before getting in.
Sheryl: This is totally safe right? Jeff: Um, just sit very still.
Translation: please don’t make abrupt movements or sway.

We made it to the top and the view was amazing. We walked around a bit, had some beer and rode back down.

Forget it. If I can’t sway in the cable car I’ll just walk down.

Medellin, for about ten minutes.

We spent our first night in a hotel and went out for a great dinner. I have no photos because I got over hungry and was hangry.

The view from our hotel the next morning was stunning. Our included breakfast included some Colombian specialties.

Hot chocolate for breakfast. Yum.
Bunuelos are good but not quite a doughtnut. More like cornbread.

After breakfast we did a quick walk before packing up and leaving town.

We rushed to catch a bus to Jardin the small town we were spending mid week in since it gets crowded in the weekends.

Sheryl: I just love leaving my hair curly. So quick and easy. Jeff: We can take a later bus if you need time to work on your hair.

Our bus trip was three hours on a tourist bus. We were a bit frazzled from the traveling the day before. But no problem we’ve done bus rides before.

Sheryl: We are cool! Jeff: We are adventurous.

The bus ride was fine. But by hour three we were feeling our age.

Jeff: My back hurts.
Sheryl: My self esteem hurts.

The stop for the bathroom was 3 1/2 hours into the ride probably the longest I’ve gone without peeing in a decade. It cost 500 pesos which is the equivalent of eleven US cents.

Best 500 pesos I’ve ever spent.

Jeff was delaying getting back on the bus.

There’s got to be an airport around here somewhere.

But then 4 1/2 hours later at arrived in Jardin and it was worth the trip.

Colombia

Jeff and I are still hanging out in Panama. But now we are finally doing some exploring.

We rushed to get this book sent from the US. I still haven’t opened it, hopefully Jeff has.

First trip is to Colombia. We are taking a two week vacation to a country we’ve wanted to see for decades.

Sheryl: We are 22 yrs old and just started dating, but want to go to Colombia?
Jeff: Sure but let’s wait 23 years until we are old and a bus ride will hurt our backs.

It’s been so long since I’ve packed for a vacation I forgot how.

Most important is Sven, my stuffed support sloth.

We flew on an airline called Wingo. The name sounds a bit too silly for an airline.

Jeff suggested I start blogging again.

Thirty photos later he wasn’t so psyched for me to blog

I hate the internet.

Our flight was great we got to Medellin and got an Uber. Well one of us got the Uber. The other one was busy “taking selfies for the blog.”

Birdwatching in Panama

We still haven’t been able to get the vaccine yet, so for my birthday we decided to go away for the weekend to the town of Gamoa and Pipeline Road for some birdwatching.

We know nothing about birdwatching

The town of Gamboa is under an hour away and near Pipeline Rd, a world famous birdwatching area. We aren’t birdwatchers, but here’s what Frommer’s said:

Even non-birders can’t help getting caught up in the action with so many colorful show birds fluttering about, such as motmots, trogons, toucans, antbirds, colorful tanagers, and flycatchers.”

Here’s what Lonley Planet says:

“Pipeline Rd is considered to be one of the world’s premier birdwatching. More than 400 different species of birds have been spotted on the trail, and it’s fairly likely you will spot everything from toucans to trogons.”

But first, birthday cake

My actual birthday was on a Thursday and was lovely. I woke up to a rainbow.

Our friends Rolf and Samuel brought me a birthday cake and lent us their binaculars.

Rolf and Samuel: we baked you this cake to share on your birdwatching Sheryl: I’m not sharing this cake. Jeff can have the grapes.

Jeff brought me flowers which were so pretty I spent an hour taking photos.

Jeff: We have dinner reservations at 8:00.
Sheryl: I only need 400 more photos.

Gamboa is close to Panama City

In the 1930’s the US moved the canal’s dredging division to Gamboa and took it over and basically built an entire town that all had the same home model. It’s small, town with all the buildings looking the same, but painted different colors.

Our Air BnB had this really interesting door and cut out windows. When I realized a lot of houses had the same door and window I forgot all about birdwatching and went straight to door watching.

I could have taken so many more pictures of identical doors but Jeff thought someone might think I was casing the neighborhood.

The next morning, we woke up early to the sounds of the rainforest and me complaining.

No Birds, but we did see a rodent

On our walk out of town we saw an agouti. (It’s that weird rodent on the right hand side of the photo below. Some people (me) think they are cute. Some people (Jeff) think they look like giant rats.

We’ve seen agoutis before. But, what really was a rare sight was the post office. This is the first one we’ve seen in Panama. It may not even actually still be open.

We didn’t see any birds but soon we were on the famous Pipeline road.

Now we will see birds.

The road was paved with gravel and the rainforest was truly beautiful.

Can’t imagine why I’m not seeing any birds with my head down.

No birds, but some cyclists and runners

Hey cycling dude, see any birds?

Still no birds, but we saw butterflies

I soon became frustrated at the lack of birds. But Jeff kept his spirits up.

Sheryl: I don’t like bird watching. Jeff: come on, its fun.

While we didn’t see birds on Pipeline Rd, there were some amazing butterflies. Jeff took this photo which he very nicely allowed me to use on the blog.

Photo by Jeff. Permission to use it by Jeff .

The excitement from the butterflies was short lived.

Sheryl: Where are the birds? Jeff: Why no birds?

Perhaps all the birds were waiting to be discovered in the Rainforest Discovery Center. https://pipelineroad.org/en/

The rainforest discovery center has trails and a viewing platform, and a list of all the birds one might see.

Excited to see at least a fraction of these birds, we climbed the stairs. From the top you could see the forest canapy, but still no birds.

Jeff: Still not seeing birds.
Sheryl: Force a smile for the blog. Pretend like you are seeing birds.

No birds, but we saw monkeys

With the help of binoculars and a really nice couple named Pascual and Juana, who were experienced birdwatchers, we saw howler monkeys.

I hope those are monkeys they sound like demons.

I took a ton of photos. Turns out monkey’s hide really well.

Seriously, there are at least 13 monkeys in these trees.

Here’ s a picture from Wikipedia of a Howler Monkey.

Photo from Wikipedia. They looked exactly like this.

Pascual and Juana also pointed out a toucan that we saw through the binoculars so if you only see one bird from the forest canopy, a toucan is a good one to see.

They also explained a lot of birdwatching is luck and patience. They had been here many times and seen birds on other occasions, just not many that day.

More monkeys

On the way back down we saw another tree full of capuchin monkeys. Again, unless they are moving they hide really well. This picture is also from Wikipedia. We could have skipped bird watching altogether and just looked at photos on Wiki.

Capuchin Costa Rica.jpg

After seeing only one bird but a lot of monkeys, we headed to another part of the Rainforest Discovery Center where you could see a lot of humming birds, have a professional guide answer questions, and sit down if bird watching makes you tired.

Carlos was super nice and really wanted to get us excited about the humming birds.
Sheryl: pretend like you’re listening.
Jeff: I’m too tired to even pretend.

As we sat and compteplated how maybe we weren’t birdwatchers, Carlos whispered. “Guys!, Guys!”

The urgency in his voice had me thinking he must have spotted a panther or poisonous snake. As I looked for means of escape, I saw Carlos setting up what looked to be a camera, but turned out to be a bird watching scope

Carlos called us over. “It’s a mot mot.” We took turns looking through the scope, and sure enough there was a bird. It was pretty, but we both realized at this moment, maybe we weren’t cut out for bird watching.

When it started to pour we thought maybe we were done birdwatching for the day. When Pascual and Juana offered us a ride back to our Air BnB , we knew for certain that were done birdwatching.

Not many birds, but we did have cocktails

That afternoon back at our Air BnB I did more bird watching, Zeunert Style from the patio.

No birds but this gin and tonic is refreshing.
No birds but this lounge chair is comfortable.
My butterfly shot didn’t come out as well since I didn’t get off the lounge chair.

The next morning Jeff had to give me a pep talk to get me in the birdwatching mood.

Jeff: Those mot mots aren’t going to watch themselves.

We headed out and saw parrots and another toucan right in town.

We walked over to the Rainforest Lodge which is a beautiful hotel we went to pre-pandemic with my parents. https://gamboareserve.com/

The hotel is closed due to covid. The only visitor is a agouti in the lobby

It was so deserted Jeff said it looked like the Shining in the tropics. Once it’s open again we are going back.

I see a bird oh never mind that’s a branch.

And then we rewarded ourselves with breakfast.

Maybe if I hold this a bird will come to me

So we didn’t see many birds, but if we had come for monkey, butterfly, door and post office watching we saw a ton.

Even though we didn’t see many birds, the rainforest is beautiful, the town of Gamboa is a great get away from the big city and we made some new friends. (Pascual and Juana.)

We will absolutely go back again, especially if we have to mail a letter.

Hanging out in Panama