Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Black Bean Harvest in El Horno

When we arrived in El Horno to visit coffee co-op member, Don Salvador, we were greeted by a flurry of activity in his front yard. Family members were bringing in piles of dried bean plants and these were being hand-threshed right in front of us. It was great to be there for this process, and I explained to Don Salvador that we had done a lot of bean threshing ourselves this past fall. I was pleased that they more or less followed the same process.

The black bean plants have been pulled and piled upside down to dry in the field.

Then the piles of plants are gathered and brought to the yard of Don Salvador's house.
Piles of dried plants in front of Don Salvador's house.

Piles of dried plants.

Then the piled plants are threshed with a stout stick to shatter the dry husks and remove the beans.

The resulting beans and chaff accumulate on a piece of plastic netting, to be later winnowed. and eaten. Yum.

Photos from the Visit to El Sute and El Horno

Preparing Hector's Truck to head up to El Sute involved loading the wind machine that Luis and Adalid had made and hoped to install while we were there.
Ripe Coffee in the community of El Tamarindo on the way up to El Sute.

The road to El Sute passes through the village of Concepcion del Horno (Known everywhere as El Horno). Both areas are part of the watershed above the El Coyolar dam, which we can see in the distance.

My friend Melvin was not able to go camping with us this year, as he needed to tend his new store in El Horno. So it was nice to see him as we pulled up to the soccer field in El Horno.

Just past El Horno, the community of El Sute begins. Don Chico's house is the first place on the right as you enter the area of El Sute.

A view from the hill above Don Chico's homestead.

Upon Arrival, Don Chico immediately showed me his new drying shed , that he has pledged to only fill with organic coffee .

Some of Don Chico's organic beans. Notice his depulper has been breaking some of the beans - Adalid was able to help with that.

This is his other drying shed, which he made into a cabin for us to sleep by setting foam mattresses on top of the drying tables.

This is the wind turbine, installed on the hill above Don Chico's house. We spent a long time watching Luis, Hector and Adalid monkey with this to try to make it work. It is repurposed steel drum on an axle, with a bicycle rim attached. A belt goes from the rim to a used car alternator, which charges a car battery, in theory.

Here is the wind turbine, functioning as it was intended. However, we eventually had to remove it and bring it back to Comayagua for modifications.

Don Chico's coffee by his house. The home plot, which he is transitioning to organic.

Don Chico in the home plot.

Banana tree in Don Chico's home coffee plot.

We walked back to El Horno to visit Don Chico's brother-in-law, Don Salvador. This was our view.
On the way to El Horno, we stopped to assess the flow of the creek below Don Chico's house. Hector thinks we can install hydroelectric mini-turbines on this creek. Three in succession. 

At Don Salva's place, checking out the photos on my camera.
They were making tortillas when we arrived. This is the first step in grinding the corn.

The next step is use a stone to grind it finer and then form the tortillas and cook them on a wood-fired griddle.

There is the griddle for the toritllas - it is multi-purpose. For heating up coffee, boiling beans, and warming the cat.

Don Salvador has a drying shed too. His is full of coffee. Ready to go for Farmer to Farmer.
Don Salvador's little solar charger. Useful for cell phone batteries and a little electric lamp for their kitchen.

Then had breakfast.
On the way to Don Chico's organic plot, we stopped to shake our heads at his neighbor's destruction of a forest of sweetgum trees - probably to plant coffee. Don Chico's plot is the dark green in the background.

Don Chico's organic plot. The coffee looks good.

A proud farmer.

Don Chico had some yellow coffee berries. Much like apples, some coffee varieties ripen to yellow.
Organic coffee. Ready to pick.

Federico, Don Chico's grandson, wanted a photo with the toy car I had brought him.

Don Chico's coffee

A man. Outstanding in his field.

Before the last 20 years, there was very little coffee grown in El Sute. The land was a patchwork of corn and bean fields and pasture for animals. This is photo of a new coffee plantation planted on an old corn field. The shade trees (if there are any) are still as small as the coffee. They have obviously removed all the weeds (herbicide) so the land is open to erosion. A stark contrast to the shady coffee of Don Chico's organic plot. 
The El Sute Soccer field.

Look closely. My parting gift from El Sute was that the trail to Don Chico's organic plot was full of a type of tiny tick (smaller than a deer tick). These ticks cluster on the ends of vegetation and land like a bomb on an unsuspecting person's clothing, whereupon they fan out looking for flesh. This photo shows my friend Melvin's shirt immediately after getting tick bombed. He was able to see, and brush off the ticks. I was not so lucky with ones that landed on my not-so-smart wool socks and moved up under my pants. Yikes! One week later, the itching has subsided.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Photos form Camping in the Cloud Forest

Waking up and climbing out of the tent in the old growth cloud forest of the Parque Nacional Montana de Comayagua, I found myself instantly shivering. It was just light out, and we had camped about 100m from the top of one of the high points in the mountains just east of the central Honduran city of Comayagua. We had hiked in t-shirts the previous afternoon, climbing on a ridge from the coffee growing community of Las Moras at 1400 meters above sea level, to the last farmhouse at 1650 meters, to the beginning of the old growth cloud forest at about 1900 meters, to our campsite, just shy of 2300 meters (about 7000 feet). The hike was relatively short (about 4 hours), but strenuous - almost all uphill. As the evening came on, the wind had picked up, and by morning I'd wager that the temperature was somewhere in the 40's or 50's. I put on my two wool shirts and my raincoat and both pairs of pants and started to hop around. I had slept fine in my sleeping bag with my thermarest, but others in my group had not fared so well. Hector had found a root underneath him. Hernan's tent had let rain in. Victor and Disne were chilled.Luis didn't complain. But this was an adventure and no one seemed to have lost any enthusiasm for the trip.

After a warm breakfast of oatmeal, the sun was already much warmer, and Luis, Hector and I left the campsite to try to make the summit. I was surprised how close we were to the top (we had just run out of light the previous evening and had stopped to camp about 15 minutes from the very top). However, I was glad we hadn't camped on the summit, because the winds were much higher up there. When we got there, I was also glad to recognize the place from our trip two years ago, and we spent some time looking for Bayron's missing camera - to no avail. On the way back to the campsite, we briefly missed the path. There was a moment of uncertainty - at the top of the mountain the ridges level out into a relatively flat area, so it was not as easy to find one's way as it was on the ridge that we climbed the day before. But we used landmarks and consensus to decide where to turn and eventually we could holler back and forth to Hernan at the campsite. 

I think there is something magical about a visit to any old growth forest. To be in a place that is essentially untouched by the 10,000 plus years of human habitation in Central America is to be somehow closer to the source. There are massive trees standing. Others fallen, with smaller trees filling the gaps. The trees are covered with plant life - epiphytic plants that create their own ecosystems on top of the branches and on the trunks. There are mosses, bromeliads, orchids, ferns, vines, and more. The soil the forms on the ground and on the tree branches is spongy with organic matter. For me, to visit a cloud forest is like a pilgrimage to a holy place. It is important to know that the rich ecosystem of the cloud forest is also vital to the capture and regulation of precipitation into the water table. Without the vegetation to stop the rain and cause it to sink into the ground, the rainy season would have terrible floods and the dry season would have incredible droughts. Also the massive forest transpires millions of gallons of water into the air and keeps the area around the mountain cool and moist. Without the forest, the climate of the whole mountain and valley system would be hotter and drier. 

Bromeliad right next to my tent.

Victor and Hector - chilled in their tent.

My little REI special. Dry.

Hernan - trying to stave off the cold. 

left to right: Luis, Andres, Victor, Hector, Hernan (Disne took the photo)

Tree fern.

Looking up at a tree near the top of the mountain. 

Tree trunk covered with vines and plants.

Avocado seed from a wild avocado (preferred food of the quetzal)


Breomeliad - much like a pineapple plant.

Wild chicken-like bird feathers that Luis found near the summit.

Massive tree.

Wild avocado - very little meat - mostly seed.


This is my old camping stove, that Hernan kept from 18 years ago. Still works!

Tree fern.

Hector is leaning against a massive fallen tree. I asked him to stand in the photo for perspective.


Looking back at the ridge, it doesn't seem like that far of a hike. We hiked from the extreme left side of the photo up to the point that is about 1/3 of the way from the left hand side. 

Looking down to the Comayagua valley.

Loading the gear.

Victor and Disne
Andy and Hernan

The much appreciated cerveza after returning to Comayagua.