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Melissa & Dave - Adventures at Sea

Argovia - Coffee, Flowers, and Infrastructure

March 13, 2014

Yesterday, we packed up for a visit to Argovia – a local coffee plantation that now also supports a boutique hotel.  We were super excited about this because it will be our first trip into a jungle.  It’s been on the “must do” list to see the jungle, and we expect to do more of it when we reach El Salvador and Costa Rica.

The hotel was an hour and a half bus ride from the marina.  When we arrived, they immediately brought us iced coffee with a dollop of ice cream – though not too sweet – on top.  Yum! 

We were assigned a cabin with a private deck right in the jungle.  The sound is just like in the movies – lots of crickets going constantly, with what we thought were monkeys but are actually the geckos intermixed.   There are also cicadas which is a type of bug that can make a noise that can reach 120 DB (loud enough to cause hearing damage), though fortunately none are close enough to cause any harm.  But it sounds almost like an alarm going off when one of them sets off.  They make a racket in the hottest hours of the afternoon.  And you can hear creatures rustling around in the undergrowth.  Dave says the only thing he wishes for are lion roars mixed in.  Melissa is happy with the sounds as is.

It’s hot and humid, but not so hot as to be miserable, though maybe we’ve just gotten used to the heat now.  It would be impossible to be here without bug spray.  We apply it multiple times per day.  We spent a fair bit of time sitting on our private deck just listening to the sounds.  And the last night it poured rain and we sat and just watched and listened to the rain pour in the jungle.  We've been wondering whether we would like it in the hot regions during the rainy summer months.  If this trip was any indication we are going to love it.

Went for a tours of the greenhouses, coffee plantation, and hydroelectric plant.

Flower Production

The property has numerous greenhouses that are well tended.  Because this is the jungle and humidity is high, many tropical type flowers flourish here.

This is a miniature pineapple plant that isn’t good to eat, but is beautiful as a cut flower:

They grow Alpinia Purpurata and Anthurium in multiple colors:

They also grow Wagneriana which is often mistaken for a bird-of-paradise:

 

They even have a furry variety:

 

This is a torch flower:

 

Coffee Production

Argovia is known for super high quality coffee – albeit in very small production runs.  The coffee plants are all over the property – surrounding all the hotel buildings and off into the jungle.  The highest quality coffee is grown in the shade of the jungle.  Mass production coffee plantations will grow the coffee in the full sun because it will ripen more quickly.  But a slower ripening process allows more oils to be absorbed into the coffee beans.

Not yet ripe coffee beans, and the coffee plants growing under the jungle canopy all around the property:

 

Once the ripe fruits are harvested, the first step in the production process is for this machine to remove the outer layer of pulp:

Then the beans are put in water baths that look like swimming pools where they add yeast to allow the beans to ferment for a day:

 

Then the beans are washed:

 

And finally they are laid out to dry.  Once they are almost dry, they are put into a dryer that can finish getting them all the way dry to precisely 12% humidity.  This machine rotates – driven by water flowing down the river, and is heated from a fire made from the coffee husks:

 

At this point the beans can be stored for long periods of time in bags:

 

To get the beans ready for shipment, the husks are removed, and this machine sorts them by size by passing them over screens with different sized holes:

 

Then they are placed in this machine which using a warm air blower separates them by weight.  The heavier the bean – the more oil it contains and the better the coffee:

 

The final step is a manual process of visually examining all the beans.  In Europe and the US the consumers insist on visually perfect beans.  So any that look odd are removed and used for ground or instant coffee.

Whew, what a lot of work!

Other Crops Grown at Argovia

Argovia is experimenting with several other crops…

This plant grows vanilla.  Vanilla is particularly difficult to grow because there is only one specific variety of bee that will pollinate it.  Once removed from its native land in Mexico, the only known way to pollinate it is by manual labor:

 

This Achiote plant has red seeds inside a pod that are used as a red food dye.  The red foods you find in Mexico that seem artificial (Pork Al Pastor jumps to mind) are colored with this seed.  Its actually supposed to be quite healthy with known antioxidants:

 

And finally this Bactris Gasipaes plant.  It bores an orange fruit similar in size and pit to a cherry.  The pit inside contains a cocoa like substance that can be substituted or mixed with chocolate .  It also appears to have other health benefits that are currently being researched.  Be careful though because the trunk of the tree has spines that would make any cactus proud.  The spines prick you with a poison and inject you with an anesthetic at the same time.

 

 

Infrastructure & Property Care

Argovia is a 100% organic plantation.  As a result they have to find sustainable ways to care for the land and crops.  Along the edges of the streams they plant vegetation with deep roots that can help stabilize the soil and help protect from flooding during the rainy season.

 

A lot of water from the streams is used in the coffee production process.  The beans are moved through the various stages by floating in water along the way.  All this water, along with all the waste water from the hotel flows into their water treatment plant.  Natural biologicals are used to purify the water before its used to irrigate the crops.

 

The solid waste extracted from the waste water is then composted using a specific type of worm that lives up to 16 years and can chew through multiples times it’s body weight per day.  Once the compost is ready, its used as soil for the green houses and fields:

The liquid that comes out of the composting beds is mostly worm waste.  This is collected and used as fertilizer as it is super concentrated:

The workers for the plantation are given housing on the property.  There is even a school for the kids.

We also asked for a special tour of the hydroelectric plant.  MacGyver couldn't resist seeing how everything worked.  They installed the generator 100 years ago in 1914 and it still powers the facility today.  First we walked up to the top of the plantation where there is a water diversion system that diverts river water into a pipe that flows into the plantation systems.

The water that flows into the generator flows through a 15 inch pipe down a TBD foot high cliff.

Unfortunately when we got to the generator building, the tour guide discovered it was locked and didn't have the key.  Typically it is open.  So we had to make due with peering through the windows at the 100 old generator.  The generator was brought from Germany to a port on the Atlantic side of Mexico because this was before the Panama Canal was built. There were no roads, so the generator was dragged all the way across the mountains to the plantation.  Men surely died in this venture.

This old generator breaks down a fair bit, so the facility has backup power from the town of Tapachula.  However, purchasing the power they need costs $3,000 to $6,000 US Dollars per month so keeping the generator running is well worth the trouble.  The entire plantation facility doesn't consume but a small percentage of the generator's potential output.

Since the electrical feed from Tapachula is also somewhat unreliable, the plantation also has a backup generator.  Its an old Rolls Royce unit - we estimate from maybe 1950 or so.

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