The Roasterie’s Travels: Destination Panama – Part 1

Day 1
Well, the first day was slightly nondescript. Left Kansas city at 7 am and arrived in Laredo, TX (2 miles) from the border at 10 pm. 916 miles down, 2500 to go…woohoo! Tomorrow we will cross the Mexican border and drive to Jalapa, Mexico. We will be meeting Grace Mena from Natures Best Coffee and Dr. Eduardo Assad Azuara the President of Cafe de Vera Cruz. We’ll then drive to Vera Cruz with Grace and she will be accompanying us on the rest of our journey.

Day 3
I can say that it has already been a crazy and funny adventure. We left Laredo, TX yesterday at around 7:00am and thought we would make it to Vera Cruz by 5:00pm to meet with Grace Mana and Dr Eduardo Assad Azuara. But, much to our surprise (and not- so-great navigational skills) we ended up getting lost on the way and not meeting up with Grace until 11:00pm. The drive was beautiful…albeit slightly crazy. The Mexicans are in love with speed bumps and they have perfected the art of camouflaging them to blend in with the road. So, we would be driving at 65-70mph and then come up on a speed bump that would send the car flying. We also believe that the people in this town think of speed bumps like someone coming from a small town thinks of stoplights: the more you have, the cooler your town. There would be small little towns that would ordinarily take 2 minutes to go through, but would have 12 speed bumps within 1 kilometer. So, our drive took us through Monterrey to Ciudad Victoria, then over to Tampico and then South to Vera Cruz. After after that debacle, and some confusion as to where we were actually going to meet up with Grace, we finally found her at 11:00pm. Then, since Danny and I hadn’t eaten we decided to stop and have some of the local specialties, which I think were pretty good, but very very spicy. We finally made it to our hotel after 2 days of driving, covering more than 1500 miles…only to find that they had given us a room with one small bed. After some slight complaining we were given a room with 2 beds and finally got some sleep.

The next day we had breakfast with Dr Azuara, whom we missed dinner with the day before. He was a pretty smart guy; a surgeon who left his practice and bought a coffee farm, and is now the President of the Consejo Regulador del Cafe de Vera Cruz, which is basically an organization similar to what Champagne France has to protect the name “Champagne.” It also requires that anything coming out of the region must meet some sort of quality qualifications. We had a nice breakfast discussing all things coffee, then were taken to their offices and given a presentation on exactly what they are trying to do as an organization. This includes increasing the public knowledge about the coffees of Vera Cruz as well as making sure that all of the producers are producing a quality products that meets the expectations of a clean cup as well as other variables.

Once the presentation was finished, we were invited to cup some of the coffees that had been certified from the previous year. After that, we were taken to one of the first farms that had their coffee certified by this organization. The farm was beautiful, the trees were holding lots of green cherries and were all in perfect little rows. After a quick tour we were then taken to the drying and holding facility. There we got to see how their size-sorter worked, as well as got to taste some of their coffees. We even got to take some samples with us so we can cup them when we get back. After the visit to the farm was over, we began what was supposed to be a 3.5 hour drive to the next town of Tuxtla. Well, as we have come to know so well, the signs that give you the distances seem to lie. We would see one sign saying that we only had 200km left, then after an hour of doing 110 k/hr we would see another that would say that we had 180km left, then again after 5 min we would see one that would say 320km to our destination. So what was supposedly a 3.5 hour drive took us 5.5 hours!

During this time we were stopped by armed military personnel and police officers 2 times where they checked the car for drugs and guns. Then at one gas station we pulled into, the attendant started to pump the gas just like they have done throughout this trip, but once he was done pumping he informed us that they don’t take credit cards or dollars and it’s our luck that we are all out of Mexican pesos. After a 10 minute argument on what we could do –either pay in dollars or call the police– we come to an agreement that we would drive the attendant to an ATM so that we could take pesos out and then pay for our gas. During all of this his two buddies were following us in some little car. He took us to this ATM where there are no street lights and during this whole time I was a little nervous thinking we’re in some tiny little town in Mexico and there are these 2 guys in a little car and I can see that they are drinking and Danny is inside this phone booth ATM. Meanwhile he was taking his time in there figuring everything out, while I was trying to tell him to hurry because I thought we were about to get mugged! But, finally everything worked out well and we made it to the hotel safely.

Tomorrow we are off to Chiapas to visit another farm meet some more great people and learn some more about coffee. Stay tuned…