The first day trip we took from Santa Marta was a tour of Minca, Colombia. It is about an hour drive from Santa Marta into the mountains. We toured a coffee hacienda, La Victoria, and went swimming in the local waterfall. It had rained significantly the day before, so the roads were quite muddy. On our drive up the mountain, a large truck ahead of us got stuck in the rain. I’ve never seen anything like it before – townspeople came with their shovels and dug the truck out within half an hour, and then stayed to dig each subsequent truck and car after until all were successfully up the mountain.
As we were waiting, everyone got out of their cars and began talking amongst each other. We met fellow American travelers from Texas, who were on a bird watching expedition. We then met the owners of Hacienda La Victoria, our first destination! They were an older German couple, and they welcomed us warmly on the side of the road. When we finally arrived to the Hacienda La Victoria, we were ready to try their coffee. They grow Arabica beans. There are over 400 types of coffee, the two major ones are Arabica and Robusta. Arabica is widely grown in Latin America and has a caffeine content of 1%. Robusta is typically sold to Europeans who like strong coffee and has a caffeine content of ~4%.
We were lucky enough to continue our conversation with Micky, one of the owners. He told us the complete history of the farm, which was spectacular. In 1892, the British decided to begin a coffee farm in Colombia. The transported an immense amount of supplies across the ocean, and then ultimately through mules, up the mountain in Minca. They set up the farm next to a river. The entire operation uses the river for energy, and is not dependent at all on electricity. The original machines from 1892 are still in use at La Victoria.
In 1950, Micky’s parents, a German couple, purchased the farm from the Brits. They lived there for years and continued to cultivate coffee. Unfortunately, Colombia entered a period of time called La Violencia, the Violence, due to the increasing drug trade and an increase of guerrillas in the rural areas. Micky’s parents were forced to abandon the farm for their own safety.
For years, the guerrillas lived on the expansive land and kept it as a headquarters. In 2002, Micky was living in Mexico. He was determined to get his land back and begin working the land as a coffee farm again. He decided to travel to Minca and negotiate with the guerrillas. Micky told us he knew this journey would end in one of two ways. He would either receive his land, or he would be killed. But he felt he had nothing to lose, and off he went to the jungle.
He arrived and was greeted by 70 men armed with machine guns. As he entered his own land, he proceeded to sit down with the men and began by cracking a few jokes to lighten the mood. Quite the mood it must have been.
Micky explained to them that the land they were occupying was, in fact, owned by his parents. He wanted to take the land and make it productive. He wanted to bring jobs, wealth, and most of all, peace, to the area. He asked them that they give the land back to him so he could begin his quest. And they agreed, at a price of course.
They would visit him weekly to check up on his operation. They wanted to be paid. Here, however, Micky held firm. He told them that he would pay them if they kept him safe, but he needed a guarantee first. Six months of safety and payments would begin.
The interesting point about the guerrillas is that most of them were local townspeople. They were impoverished, most were uneducated, but they were fighting against perceived injustice. When Micky came, he was exactly the type of person they should have wanted to protect. He was trying to bring jobs to their town. To bring money to their town. And ultimately, to bring peace. He set up an arrangement with the local school for children to be educated. He gave the more prestigious tour guide jobs to local students and farming jobs to local men and women. Micky seeked to build something that was integrated into the lifeblood and wellbeing of Minca, and in that, he succeeded. Thank you to Micky for sharing his story, and for being an example of the true beauty Colombia achieves. At the conclusion of our tour, we traveled 20 minutes to the Minca waterfalls. Luckily it was a hot day, because they falls were ice cold. We parked and changed, and then hiked about one kilometer to the falls. It was a beautiful hike, with small but refreshing falls.