Posted by Jane Magida
This past weekend we visited the Finca La Florida. A finca is a large farm/plantation in Guatemala. Finca La Florida is different in that it is a cooperative run by the 50 families who live there. On many fincas, the people who actually do the work make very little money while the owners make money off of their labor. The families who started Finca La Florida wanted to have a place where the people would be in charge of their own land and work. The community is run by and for the families who live there, and each member of the community has his own job. People work on all kinds of different projects in the finca, including growing the coffee, bananas, plantains, and many other plants; educating the children; building and maintaining the finca’s many buildings; and ecotourism. It is a really interesting place. This Youtube video explains everything.
The finca is in the department of Quetzaltenango, as is Xela, so we left on Saturday morning. We took a microbus from Xela to Colomba, the city closest to the finca. A microbus is a van that, in this case, had seats for 15 people. With 2 drivers and the 15 of us, we were pretty packed in as we left Xela, but that did not stop the microbus from picking up as many people as possible along the way. At the high point, we had 28 people in the van, including 2 on the roof and several hanging out the open door. When we got to Colomba, we saw that some people were riding in the back of pick-up trucks that had metal bars coming up to about waist height. We were very thankful that we had been able to ride inside an actual van until we learned that one of those trucks was our ride to the finca from Colomba. We all stood in the truck bed, and it was actually really fun (except for the bumps of the mostly cobblestone and dirt streets) and gave us a really great view of the beautiful landscape around the finca.
When we arrived, we found that we were staying in a hostel run by the ecotourism division of the finca. We ate lunch with different families and then “helped out” by separating out good coffee beans from bad ones. I’m not sure that we helped all that much because no one was very good at consistently deciding which were bad, and we started to get tired pretty quickly. However, we only worked for 2 hours, and the people who do this job on the finca work 8-hour days. We then explored the beautiful woods and river before going to a different family’s house for dinner. We had to bring our flashlights to dinner though because the finca only has electricity through a hydropower plant and thus only has lights on during the rainy season (May-October). We did a little stargazing after dinner (I showed everyone Orion and Cassiopeia) and headed up to our room for some candlelit chatting.
The next morning we were given a tour of how coffee is grown in the finca. The coffee trees are spread throughout the woods, not all in a field, because they need shade. We were also shown which medicinal plants are grown in and used by the finca. The closest health clinic is in Colomba (1-2 hours away), and the closest hospital is 4 hours away, so they use the plants they have on the finca as much as possible. We also got to see the first through sixth grade school that the children attend.
After lunch, we climbed back into the pick-up truck for the ride back to Colomba. I got to stand in the front, so I got some really great views on the way. When we got to Colomba, however, there weren’t any microbuses running between Colomba and Xela because of a big fair in Colomba for the inauguration of a new mayor. We would have had to wait 2 hours for the next chicken bus, so Diana, our coordinator, found another pick-up truck for us with the help of some police, who apparently threatened the driver that they would find him if he didn’t get us to Xela safely. The second truck ride was a little more difficult because it was much longer, so we all had to sit in the bed of the truck. We were incredibly cramped, but that helped a little when we started going up into the extremely cold mountains. We even went up through some clouds and were nearly entirely frozen when we got back to Xela. Our finca adventure, however, was incredibly interesting and really fun!