4 01 San Miguel Escobar
I wake to shadows. Faint light seeps through curtains. It is early. I turn over.
I wake to light. The shower is hot. I shimmer. Ceramic is slippery. I wake.
Coffee comes before coma. Jenny eats French toast. She feel worse than yesterday. She had a peripatetic night.
A taxi is at the gate. It is 8:30. The driver eases slowly over cobbles. He snuffles. He coughs.
We sit in patience. Scenery unfurls. We are in San Miguel Escobar. The episode ends. Splutter takes 50Q.
We re-initialize. It is the Placa Centrale.
Alison waits in shade. She greets us. She introduces us to Timoteo. He is honoured to meet her father. Her father is honoured to meet him. Timoteo is a coffee farmer. He wears a hat.
Timoteo introduces us to San Miguel Escobar. He speaks clear Spanish. Alison interprets. The town was the second capital of Guatemala. Tecpán Guatemala was the first capital. Tecpán is now known as Iximché. The Spanish called it Ciudad de Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala. The savages were too savage. The Spaniards normally killed savage savages. These savages were too savage. The Conquistadores could not suppress their uprisings. They were Kakchikel. The Spaniards despaired of teaching them the true religion. They left them to uprise all on their own. This was 1527.
They built a new capital in San Miguel Escobar. They built it on the fertile flanks of Hunahpú. They called the new town Ciudad de Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala. A great wave swept down Hunahpú. It destroyed the town. It killed Beatriz de la Cueva. He was the governor. This was 1541.
Ruins of the old town are under the ground. They extend for over a kilometre outside the current town limits. The locals call one district of the town Pompeii. Farmers find stuff in fields. They unearthed a woman running with two running children. They disinterred a man on horseback. This does not sound like a wave. It sounds like a lahar.
A lahar is hot liquid cement. Some lahars move at 100kph. Some are tens of metres deep. They solidify when they stop.
After that, the Spaniards called Hunahpú the Volcán de Agua.
The Conquistadores rebuilt San Miguel Escobar. The cathedral is the oldest church in Central America. They rebuilt the town but looked askance at the Volcán de Agua. They did not want to deal with another big wave. They moved their capital to Ciudad de Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala. An earthquake destroyed the new capital. This was 1771.
The Spaniards moved their capital to Ciudad de Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala. They rebuilt the ruins of the old Ciudad de Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala. They called it Antigua Guatemala. Everyone in Guatemala calls the fourth Ciudad de Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala “the city”. People who live outside Guatemala call it Guatemala City.
Timoteo tells the tale of the cooperative.
A gringo came to San Miguel Escobar. He told tales of great riches. Farmers should federate. They should cultivate Cucurbita. They should sell direct to the gringo. He will sell to the shops. The farmers will sell direct to retailers in the US and Canada. They will not pay intermediaries. The gringo guarantees gain. He guarantees the price he will pay the farmers. They take his seeds. They clear fields. They plant zucchini. They work hard. They water their crop. They fight insects. They harvest their zucchini. The gringo comes. The quality is poor. He cannot sell such zucchini. He leaves.
A gringo came to San Miguel Escobar. He told tales of great riches. Farmers should federate. They should cultivate coffee. They should shell and dry and roast their coffee. They will sell direct to retailers in the US and Canada. They will not pay intermediaries. The gringo guarantees gain. He will not buy their coffee. He will not guarantee a price. He will help farmers to cooperate. He will help them learn to grow coffee.
San Miguel Escobar farmers are poor. They are not stupid. They ask the gringo his name. He tells them Franklin. They say, Franklin, you have to be joking.
One farmer looks at Franklin. He trusts him. He joins the cooperative. The cooperative has one farmer.
He is a coffee farmer. He already has coffee in his fields. He harvests his coffee beans. He strips the pulp and dries the parchment. He roasts and packages them. Franklin helps him to ship them to a warehouse in the US. He sells coffee direct. He does not pay a finca to pulp and dry and roast his beans. He makes a little money.
He clears fields. He grows seedlings in his house. When they are tall the rain comes. He digs holes in the dirt in his fields. He digs 100 holes a day. He carries his seedlings up from his house. He has a strap around his forehead and a big box on his back. He can carry 15 seedlings at a time. He plants them in his holes. He walks up and down the volcano, carrying seedlings. He works hard.
His friends watch.
His friends join the cooperative. Seven farmers clear fields and plant and harvest and sell direct.
Years go by. The farmers sell direct. They make a little money. There are now 30 farmers in the cooperative. Tourists come to see how coffee is grown and roasted. The farmers earn a little money. Timoteo is the accountant. He has 3 years of education. He can count and write.
Bayla joins us. Bayla is not her name. Bayla is 150 cm tall and weighs 35kg. She comes from New York. She lives in Florida. She vibes married to a retired man who golfs. Or fishes. Bayla wears foundation and rouge and lipstick. Her hands are veiny and blemished. She wants to look like Angelina Jolie. She is a botox believer. She pouts. Her breasts are twin gun turrets. The water where she is staying is only lukewarm. She cannot wash her face in lukewarm water. She glances at the oldest cathedral in Central America. White stone saints beam benefice. Bayla is bored.
We follow Timoteo up steep roads. Corrugated iron and cinder-blocks channel us upwards. We leave the iron and cement. We walk upwards past trash and shit. We walk to fields above the town. Dust puffs. We bake.
A man with a dog walks ahead of us. He holds a long machete. He has a burlap bag in his other hand. His leg is stiff. He wears gumboots and draws his leg behind. He walks faster than me. His back is deformed. He uses his machete for support.
Jenny has been looking nervous. She slips away into the fields.
Kids come. They drag a bough down the track. There are 5 or 6 of them. None is older than 10. Dust enshrouds them. They are barefoot. They smile and laugh and haul their grevillia homeward.
We turn into a field. Coffee stands as tall as us. Timoteo tells the story of coffee. Alison interprets. Jenny rejoins. Coffee growing is not a spectator sport.
Timo explains biodiversity. He speaks of shade trees and their uses. He speaks of pest control.
He reports roya. Roya is a fungus. It makes the leaves go rusty. They fall off. The plant cannot photosynthesise without leaves. It grows no fruit. Hemileia vastatrix is East African. It appeared in Guatemala in the 1980s. In the past it lived lower. Timoteo tells us that changing climate has meant warmer weather. Roya climbs the mountains. It is carried by the wind. Spores live in the fallen leaves. Guatemalan coffee is susceptible. Nearby plantations are infected. Many will not fruit this year.
The cooperative fumigates with copper sulphate. It continues to claim bio. The big finca use copper oxychloride. They never claimed bio.
Rust could kill the cooperative. Rust could kill coffee. Rust could kill farmers and families.
We pick coffee. Red fruit tumble into Timoteo’s basket. We walk back down the volcano. We walk to Timotea’s house.
Timoteo shows us his husking machine. It is a bicycle with a cement wheel. The cement wheel is a flywheel. It drives a tumbler. The tumbler is a grater. It grates pulp off the parchment. Bayla boasts bicycles. She tries. She finds it hard.
Timoteo shows us slimy parchment. He shows us dry parchment.
Laurie’s camera card is full.
Timoteo takes husked dried coffee to his wife. She goes inside. We follow. The heat becomes smoke sauna. She pours beans on iron. The iron is a great flat cover for a hole in a woodstove. A fire blasts flames. The iron is shaped like a beer tray. She stirs and stirs. We take turns stirring. The beans blacken. They smoke. They smell char. The room becomes opaque. Smoke blurs vision and chokes lungs. We stop stirring. Ms Timoteo takes over. Smoke billows.
She brings burnt beans outside. She shows a stone. It is a wedding present. It is for grinding coffee. It is not the stone for grinding maize. She rolls a stone roller. Coffee beans snap and crunch. She rolls and rolls. The stone roller rolls in her palms. Her hands are leather. The coffee grinds red-golden.
She throws the grounds in boiling water. She waits. She pours.
We drink rich dark full coffee.
We say goodbye to Timoteo and Ms Timoteo. We leave children and cats. We walk to As Green As It Gets.
Franklin is there. He is behind a beard and beneath a hat. He dreams of refrigerators that use activated charcoal to adsorb and resorb methyl alcohol. When it is adsorbed the pressure decreases and the alcohol boils, sucking heat from the refrigerator.
We walk to the chicken bus stop. A bus is waiting. The bus boy calls to us. He whistles. We are fatigued. We are not pressed for time. There is always another bus. The bus waits. The boy bangs the flank and beckons. We wander down to the stop. We take his chicken bus. The driver has not discovered clutches. We lurch into warp speed with a syncopated beat. We hurtle to Antigua. We bale.
We walk to Alison and Jason’s place.
Luna loops. We walk with her to a garden centre for late lunch.