We Dream of AfricaApril 16, 2019
If we were going to make coffee, we were going to make the best damn coffee out there. To do so, we had to go deep: to feel it, touch it, breathe it, to even begin to understand it. To start this adventure, we needed to go to the source.
Since I was newly unemployed, my freedom restored, and Steph wrapping a movie, we finally had the time to do some of the things we always wanted to do. We had been meaning to take a trip to East Africa, and as coffee was discovered in the region, it would be a great place to start! I packed my bag and caught the next flight.
When I arrived in Tanzania, I headed north to the town of Moshi near the border with Kenya. I needed to get a lay of the land, and what better place than from the top of Kilimanjaro? As the highest mountain in Africa and tallest freestanding mountain on the planet, you are literally pulled away from the reach of the world: exactly what I needed.
Days 1-3 of the hike are light. You feel excited, anxious, and cant wait to charge up. You have to force yourself to slow down to conserve your energy for what lies ahead. Within hours of your first day, you ascend from the cultivated lands of the Wachagga into a plush rainforest. Ancient trees rise from the forest floor, covered in moss, and guide you through the underbrush. The second day, the rainforest quickly gives way to heather and moorlands. This is also where my boots decided to explode. There I was, not even half way up the mountain, with both soles completely detached from the boot. Definitely not prepared for what happened, all I could think of was, “if you got one, you got none,” and I lashed the soles on with the lanyard of my compass and pressed on.
The next two days are variations of the alpine desert. Fields of volcanic rock remind you that the giant you are climbing on is not always so gentle. The second day in the desert is where the climb begins to pick up, and it is also where the air begins to tell your body to move slow and steady like the tortoise.
Day 5 is the test of your will. After hiking from sun up to sundown, you proceed through the night, one foot in front of the other, lit only by moonlight. The arctic ice provides only narrow paths to navigate as you push on for another 6 hours. Four hours into the night, my guide turned back; malaria had gotten the best of him. Pot committed, I pushed on. Alone in the arctic, with 2 hours to sunrise, I proceeded in the only logical direction: up. When the horizon began to glow, I realized that our pace had been too slow, and I began my race against the sun (exactly what you do not want to do.) Utterly exhausted and gasping for air, I reached the summit an hour later, just as the sun broke the horizon. The light filled my worn out body. It brought light to a land of clouds, a sea of colors… you are ALIVE!
Exhausted and still on a high from the climb, I returned to the Wachagga village to meet with the coffee farmers. The farmers welcomed me like family coming home, smiling from ear to ear, eyes wide in excitement, retelling all the recent stories I had missed… Their passion was contagious. They were excited to share what was as much a part of them as they were to the land. Coffee was not their profession; it was their way of life, and their purpose was to share it with the world!
As we walked the farms, generations of knowledge came pouring out in long elaborate stories. The farmers were happy, full of life, and they took pride in showing us their craft. This was not a lecture. Our hands planted the seed, picked the fruit, processed the harvest, and dried the beans. We roasted the coffee in a clay pot over a fire, ground it with a homemade pestle and mortar, and shared it with the farmers just as humans have been doing for centuries.
I have always felt a connection to coffee, but never like this. They were part of the land, the plant, and the coffee it produced. Coffee shaped their culture, and their culture shaped the coffee. It was pure, authentic, and exactly what we needed.
Before heading home, we headed out to the plains. The Masai were our hosts, our guides, our friends, and our protectors in this adventure. They shared only a small part of their world with us and yet changed our lives forever. Of the many lessons we learned, the most impactful was what it meant to be a tribe. They are of singular purpose: connected, selfless, and completely aligned. Every thought or action being for the survival and well being of the group. They are a people of simple ancient ways and, like the land, they radiate with the sun.
We were not alone with the Masai out in the savanna. The animals of our dreams tagged along with us in our adventure. When we woke in the morning, they grazed around us. When we set out at dawn, they led us to the hunt, and as we went to bed, they scratched at our tent to tell us good night. They are mystical: unique in every way, the perfect combination of form and function like nothing we have ever seen before.
It is said that our cells have a memory, and ours definitely remember Africa. It is difficult to understand how the body can be completely at home in a place that it has never been, or completely at peace while surrounded by danger… but we experienced both. The land, the people, the animals, and the coffee are all one. So, when you taste a hint of lemon grass and sunshine on the back of our casa blend, we hope you dream of Tanzania!