If you are going to take a morning tour, make it a coffee plantation one. Carlos was waiting for us at 8:50 am making us the first to get seats in the van. We had to shuffle a couple of times as the van exploded with 10 other tourists, but then we were on our way.
The tour lasts a little longer than 3 hours. It start with one of the farms the family owns. They have 12 farms, but each is branded differently to distinguish the beans from each. A coffee plantation has much more than coffee. This one has banana and orange trees intermingled with the coffee trees. Not only does the variety of trees keep the soil filled with nutrients, but it also distracts bugs and birds from the coffee beans. Because coffee has to be handpicked, the trees get pruned about every 5 years to keep them at a manageable height.
Carlos was a wealth of information that needed to be recorded, not just listened to. The beans go through 11 processes before they are even close to being roasted. Afterward, there are another 5 steps to go through before being bagged for sale. We went to 3 different locations: the farm, the plant where beans are processed, and finally a café for tasting.We learned that the stronger the roast of coffee, the weaker in caffeine the coffee is. French roast and Italian roast have less caffeine than Medium roast. The longer roasting times, take the caffeine out of the bean as the beans burn to make the two latter roasts. Also, they recommend 48 beans per cup of coffee when grinding it yourself.
Nescafe and other companies buy the poorer beans with shells and twigs, grind them up and produce ‘instant coffee’ out of all of it.
During each part of the drive, Carlos showed us the areas that are now ex-pat gated communities. We had to drive through one to pick up guests from a hotel within it. He told us that during the rainy season, the land erosion caused from clearing the land in order to build this community, led to flooding. Much of the community was under water. He shared that this is happening more often. Developers come in to buy land in extensive quantities and then strip the trees. Without the roots of the trees, there is nothing to hold the earth in place.
We asked what the natives thought about the ex-pat community. He said it all started with International Living magazine, which promoted Boquete as an inexpensive place to live. Now that people are coming in droves, the cost of real estate has been skyrocketing. He repeated what Chichi, our guide yesterday had said. Neither they nor other locals can understand why people need to build ultra-luxury homes when there are so few of them living in them. He has an American acquaintance who has a 6 bedroom/ 6 bathroom house, but lives alone and doesn’t entertain. A Dutch couple built a home that looks like a castle at a cost of one million dollars, but is now trying to sell it for two million.
Locals cannot afford to buy property any longer. Farmers are giving in to proposals for tremendous amounts of cash for their property, so they are selling out. The ex-pat community is trying to create a law where all the stores on the central street have to paint their stores beige with red roofs. The local government is paying for the first painting. Within the gated communities, there are strict rules to follow. You cannot paint your house any color than the authorized color of the community. Only one dog is allowed and only certain breeds. Guests have to register before using the pool, but even then only with community owners.
With the wealth from outside filtering in, the prices of everything are rising. Locals who do not own property are having to move away from Boquete in order to survive. If they can prove they have absolutely nothing, the government will give them money for a little box house. It was an enlightening tour. The things that come from this that I find so incredible is that these people are leaving their homes to find a cheaper place to live, yet they spend as much or more to recreate what they had back home. This is also the ugly side to immigration.
Well it is Christmas Eve, which within the town is not apparent at all. Unlike the towns and cities in Ecuador last year, it is not very festive here. We walked to the church to check on mass times, but with doors wide open when we went to check, there were no signs, postings, or other hints of information about any masses at all, not even Christmas. Ron questioned a number of people in local stores about Christmas Eve mass with multiple responses reporting it was at 10:30 pm.
By the time we reached the church at 10:15 pm, it was obvious that the mass was over and everyone was leaving in peace. People were pouring out of the aisles, down the stairs and into their cars. Not a soul was heading into the church other than the two of us. Being a non-religious person, I was only there for Ron. He took it in stride, but I could tell there was disappointment there. We went back to the hostel and watched Christmas movies instead.