Don Fabio’s Farm: Pitalito

“I discovered to my joy, that it is life, not death, that has no limits.” –Gabriel García Márquez


Fast forward three weeks...

The mountains were hazy. Coated with impermeable fog from the morning’s rain, they blended together like a foamy green sea. I was seated on the left in Don Fabio’s 2001 Chevy Corsica, rolling from side to side as we dodged potholes filled with brown water, rocks, and earthworms.  

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We had been off the main asphalt road for fifteen minutes now. We drove through a thin and well-used dirt trail. Every once in a while, Don Fabio had to gun the engine to get us through rainwater filled gaps in the dirt. In my head, I was thinking, “You know… I don’t think Chevy had this in mind when they designed the Corsica.”

The trees draped our sides with leaves that sagged from high branches like curtains, or a woman’s hair. My Virmax companion, Victor, said that it was going to rain all day. He could smell it. “That’s the kind of nose I need for cupping.” 

After ten more minutes of tooth jarring turbulence, the rain paused, and we arrived at Don Fabio’s home. Victor passed me a pair of sturdy rain boots, and we walked down some narrow stairs. It’s difficult to describe in words how picturesque the view was. Fabio’s home was very cozy and simple, but the view, that was worth all the money in the world.


Fabio immediately began showing us around his parchment drying room -connected to his house. Victor and I took our shoes off and walked inside. It seemed almost like a giant tee-pee. Measuring about 75ft by 25ft, and put together with elegant bamboo framing and sheet plastic. I was surprised by the heat. I asked Fabio how he maintained the temperature, and he just pointed towards the sun and smiled. I hadn’t noticed it before, but his face reminded me of my grandmother’s. He had an infinite number of small wrinkles around his cheeks and under his eyes. I could tell he was a man who had endured many hardships, but his wrinkles proved that he was a man who had spent his life smiling. 

He asked us to kneel down and smell the parchment. I had a sudden flashback to a Sunday long ago where my mother asked me to kneel in church. It’s funny how our brains work sometimes. But I could tell that for Fabio, this was not necessarily religious, but ceremonial. Victor told me to be vigilant for signs of phenol or musty odors that would signal improper drying. All I could smell was sweet panela, and brown sugar.


Fabio then led us outside. After being in the drying room, the cool air felt like a treat. His wife and children greeted us with a tray that carried three graceful china mugs, each filled to the brim with coffee that he had grown. As I held the mug in my hands with the green mountains before my eyes, I was overwhelmed with a true appreciation for the cyclical nature of things. There we sat. The only noise was the occasional slurp, a pitter patter of leftover rain, or his wife bustling around the kitchen. The world seemed full enough. There was no need for words.

After what seemed like no time at all, we were ankle deep in dirt, and trudging along, surrounded by his coffee plants. “This one is caturra. This one is bourbon. You see that it is bourbon, yes? See how it is bigger? See how it has long spider branches? This one is castillo. This one is…”  


I fell in the mud twice. Crafty Fabio, who knew every grain of dirt, never missed a step. For someone who walked with a slight limp outside of the farm, in here, he was the king of his own jungle.

His plants covered every centimeter of earth up to the path that we were walking on. They were at our sides, our front, our rear, and even on the cliffs above us. After walking for a stretch, we came across a portion of his farm where the previous night’s rain had loosened the earth beneath two of his coffee trees. They had fallen, and the cherries that they once carried were crushed. He touched their roots. For a minute, his face held a grief that would seem as though he had lost two of his children. On a farm of over 20,000 trees, the loss of two still seemed like too much to him. But he steeled his demeanor, and softly murmured, “The earth giveth and the earth taketh away.” 


Before long, it was time to head back to the Virmax Bodega. I reflected on the things that I had learned. Tree types, annual yields, peak seasons, fermentation processes, defects, but most importantly; I caught a glimpse of what it means to grow quality coffee. To live in conjunction with and depend on the Earth. If you treat her well, maybe, if she feels like it, she’ll be kind to you too.

As we drove back over the rocky path toward the buying station, I couldn’t help but notice the rock formations that made up the cliffs to my left. I had taken a geology class in college. Colombia’s red clay and metamorphic configuration had existed before science, and while my left brain wanted to analyze what I saw, my right brain reassured me that there was no need for explanation.

Maybe it was time for me to take a leaf out of Don Fabio’s book and just embrace the silence. Sometimes the world is full enough.