For those of you who have traveled with me, know how jam-packed our itineraries can be. It’s normally two nights here, one night here, and go, go, go. It’s because I feel a need to cram EVERYTHING in to the small amount of time we have. Often, I physically cannot even sleep because I am so excited about all the amazing things to see and do.
Oh, I have tried to be more relaxed and abandon my precious trip plan spreadsheet before. It has never worked. When we went to Eastern Europe, we had 28 of our 30 nights booked before we ever left The States. Even this last December, when we went to Nicaragua, we said, “Let’s just play it by ear and not book anything,” but ended up going with every single night already booked.
Now, there are inherent benefits to this system. I always know where we’re going and how to get there. We always get to stay in our first choice of hostel/hotel. I know exactly what to see and do at each stop and we see a lot in a relatively short amount of time.
But there is one blaring flaw: we usually don’t have the flexibility to change plans when a new opportunity presents itself.
Fortunately for this trip, we have such a large block of traveling time that plans can now easily change at a moment’s notice. And that’s how we ended up at “The Farm.”
While at the 3 Cordilleras Brewery with Tatiana and Dave, they continued to ask if we wanted to join them at Tatiana’s Grandma’s farm for the weekend. We had turned down this offer a few times previously because we didn’t want to intrude. But after showing us some pictures of the farm and insisting we were welcome, we finally consented. And we are so glad that we did.
The farm was located a little over an hour outside of Medellin. It took two buses and a half hour uphill walk to get there. Thankfully, we were with Tatiana and Dave because we would have never found it on our own.
The property and views were amazing! Calling this place a farm doesn’t really do it justice. It is more like a quiet weekend house in the country with a horse that wanders around.
Just sitting around and taking it all in was a great use of time. We spent a good deal of time just hanging outside and playing games. It was perfect.
After we arrived and settled in, we hiked uphill to a great little swimming hole. It was pretty cold, but it felt refreshing after the hot and sweaty hike.
Feeling recharged, we continued marching uphill to one of the Panela factories. Panela is a sweetener made from sugar cane. It basically looks like a loaf of hardened brown sugar and Colombians use it to sweeten their coffee and other items.
When we got to the first “factory” (it looked just like someone’s house), we were disappointed to find out that their oven was broken. They directed us uphill (noticing a trend?) to another factory that was making panela that day.
We knew we had arrived when we found a house that looked like a giant steaming tea kettle and the air smelled strangely sweet.
We were graciously invited in by a sweet lady who was ecstatic to show foreigners around her factory. She took us around and explained how the whole process worked. We understood the general idea, and Dave and Tatiana filled us in on the details.
First, a huge waterwheel powered by the river, squeezes the juice from the sugar cane.
Then the juice (called “guarapo”) is filtered for some time. They insisted we try the fresh juice. While it didn’t look visually appealing, it actually tasted pretty good.
The juice is then boiled for hours at an insanely high temperature and slowly thickens up as it is transferred from pot to pot.
The whole process is very efficient because they used the dried cane to power the fire. They even offered to let us feed some dried cane to the burning hot incinerator, but we politely declined. Best to leave that to the professionals.
Once it has thickened up enough, it is transferred to a large vat where it is stirred and cooled. When it had cooled to a carmelly/taffy stage, they gave us some to try. It was delish and tasted not quite like anything we’d ever had before.
Once cooled enough, it is placed into different size molds to finish hardening and become the final product sold in stores.
We stood around in the boiling room for a while, trying not to get in the way, and we were so impressed by the whole process. We were lucky to find a factory that was actually producing because later we found out that they only produce panela every 14th day. Our “tour” was very authentic and much better than anything we were anticipating.
We tried to buy some panela from them before we left, but they gave it to us and wouldn’t accept payment for it. They invited us back anytime, and we started the trek downhill (yea!) in a sugar stupor.
Everyone was unbelievably welcoming at the factory and it was an experience we would have never had if we hadn’t changed our plans and gone to the farm.
The rest of the farm experience was super relaxed. Tatiana made sure we were well fed, and then when her family showed up, they REALLY made sure we were well fed. I’m sure we’ve gained back any weight we’ve lost on this trip during that one weekend.
Tatiana’s family was very gracious and we got the opportunity to further practice our Spanish with them. When Sunday came, we hated to go, but we knew that Jardin was calling. With heavy hearts (and stomachs), we expressed our gratitude and said our goodbyes. We hope to one day return the favor and show Tatiana and Dave around Colorado sometime!
As I continue to learn the benefits of traveling wherever the wind takes you (I am getting my spreadsheet fix through keeping track our finances), we both are looking forward to future unforeseen adventures throughout South America.