A colorful ride on a chiva with each sip of Los Andes coffee

Traveling at top speed on paved roads, windows rolled up, the A/C blasting and music blaring, is to go on a race against the clock–and against nature. Enclosed behind glass, the treetops and grasses outside merge into a fuzzy green wall, any life inside the vegetation hidden and forgotten.

If riding in a car like that is like living in a city apartment, climbing aboard a chiva is like camping under the stars.

The Colombian chiva, also known as a “ladder”, is a truck converted into a bus, adapted to road conditions in the rural mountainous area of the paisa coffee-growing region, and the traditional form of public transportation in the Colombian coffee lands of the central Andes range.

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Waiting along the roadside to be picked up by the chiva.

How to distinguish a chiva from the multitude of other forms of public transport? While many buses and trucks in Colombian cities have a spattering of the patriotic red, yellow, and blue, the chiva is a colorful macaw. Whereas the municipal buses limit their paint to somber lines, the chiva is a frenzy of exotic geometric designs. The artist Carlos Pineda traced its similarities to the mandalas of India and published a coloring book (for children and adults alike) to meditate on the mandalas of the chivas converted into black and white. To watch the process and lose yourself in the dizzying video of the designs, watch until the end of “Mandalas del Camino“.

Another essential design element of the ladder bus is a lack of windows along the passenger seats. This allows drivers and their assistants to step directly onto the wooden frame and use the entire vehicle as a ladder to load onto the roof the farmers’ sacks of goods: from jute bags of green coffee to sell in the village to sacks of rice bought on the return trip. It wouldn’t be unusual to see a pig or chicken heaved onto the roof, but one day I would love to see a chiva (in Spanish it means goat) carrying an actual goat!

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Author with her friends riding the chiva.

A breeze sweeps your skin. The slow-moving vehicle itself doesn’t generate much of a breeze, allowing you time to observe in detail nature passing by within arm’s reach on the roadside. It is an opportunity to be in contact with natural life, and with human life. Instead of individual chairs, passengers sit side by side on a single long bench, like attending one of the Catholic churches whose spires tower above every paisa village.

The other passengers are surely peasants, and in the paisa coffee zone of Antioquia, Caldas, Quindío, and Risaralda, they are most likely coffee growers. According to the Tourist Guide of Antioquia, this form of transportation “arrived in Antioquia in 1908”. The Antioquian municipality of Andes, the commercial capital of the southwest and hub of the coffee economy of Antioquia for more than 100 years, declared in 2004 that the chiva was part of their cultural heritage.

Antioquia es un Caramelo chivas Andes
Photography by Daniel Cifuentes

At the Andes transportation terminal, “55 chivas that still provide regular service to the 62 rural villages of the municipality” are stationed. Daniel Augusto Cifuentes Sierra captured this scene in this photograph, published in the 2014 book Vistas de Antioquia by the Viztaz Foundation, dedicated to preserving the area’s cultural memory. According to the paisa photographer who works with coffee growers in the area, “Ladder buses are without a doubt the most colorful jewels of Antioquia and the main means of transport in the rural area.”

The Andean Coffee Growers Cooperative pays homage to the chivas that transport their members with coffee bags to sell, toast, and export to countries like the United States. In a special edition, the packaging of their roasted coffee bags is stamped with colorful chiva designs.

This is the coffee we drink. Coffee enveloped in the peasant tradition. As hot as it gets in the summer in Texas, I try to take a few sips sitting outside, with the breeze playing on my skin, just like when riding a chiva.

Do you dare to roll down the window, stick out your arm, and feel nature? Hop on the chiva to enjoy this coffee produced in the green mountains of the Andes.

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Denton unites at Black Film Festival

The Denton Black Film Festival has begun.

Last evening’s opening reception was centered around a multi-media art exhibit on Fruitvale Station, imagining if the victim’s unjust outcome could have been reversed.

At a time when Americans are wondering what the future holds for a nation divided by racism, let this festival bring us together to contemplate and unite through the seventh art.dbff-poster

Discover Denton is covering the event. Check out my reviews of a few films that will be screened this weekend:

Baseball provides life lessons in “Take Me Out”

“Priyanth” motivates through fear; “Rise Up” shows story of MLK and Malcolm X.

On Friday, January 27th I’ll be covering the conversation with storyteller and film director Ya’Ke Smith* at UNT on the Square. The 75-minute workshop starts at 3:30 pm and admission is free.

Hope to see you at the festival this week!

*Unfortunately, the Ya’Ke Smith workshop was cancelled at the last minute due to a family emergency. Instead, on Saturday night I captured fragments of flying poetry at the Spoken Word Open Mic, followed by the grand poetry slam. Words to inspire, analyze, and catalyze.

 

 

Putting the green in holiday greenery, with a pop of red

There is a lot of greenery in holiday decorations, but not a lot of green.

  • Our neighbors have left their Christmas lights on all night long since before December.
  • UPS has been bringing a package to the neighbors nearly every day since Black Friday. Inefficient deliveries means online shopping isn’t more environmentally friendly than driving once to the mall. (How about a discount if you opt to lump all your household’s purchases spread out over several weeks into a single monthly delivery?)
  • Single-serve aluminum baking pans and disposable champagne glasses are designed for holiday office parties or hosts who can’t bother to cook and then wash dishes afterwards too.
  • After the flurry of unwrapping, the mounds of paper, ribbons, bows, and probably a little kid’s already lost new toy, are whisked up in a pile for the garbage.
  • Unwanted gifts, notably the ugly-on-purpose white elephants, are given for a chuckle, then tossed.
  • The everyone-must-have-it-and-so-shall-I item is purchased at all cost, only to be relegated to the back of a closet stuffed with last season’s trends. A lady paid $300 for a Hatchimal in an online auction! That much money can buy a whole chicken coop set-up with a flock that will lay edible eggs every day all through next Christmas.

This year, our first living in the United States, we wanted to make at least a two-person dent in America’s Christmas-time consumption. We went for a hike in the forest while everyone was stuffing themselves silly at Thanksgiving, and the next day picked up free pecans straight from the trees while everyone was shopping on Black Friday, purportedly to help bring businesses out of the red. For the greenery, I didn’t need to spend green; I just had to look outside.

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Navidad 2011 in Jardín, Colombia. Photo credit: Carrie Cifuentes

I hadn’t had a proper backyard garden since we lived in Jardín, Colombia, where every vividly painted balcony had a little old lady stooped over with a watering can. It didn’t matter if the pot was an empty pop bottle, as long as you grew pretty flowers in it. And everyone did. Gardening in Jardín was effortless: year-round mild temperatures, fertile soil, abundant water.

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Growing corn on either side of a mandarin orange tree in our backyard in Jardín. Photo credit: Carrie Cifuentes

Texas is a whole different beast. It’s like riding a bronco. I really, really, wanted to see at least one bright red tomato popping out of that tangle of green branches, like Rudolph’s nose if he ran into a pine tree, and so I hung on as big ol’ Texas weather bucked with all it’s got: a drought in June, 100-degree days in July, a rainstorm-a-day that brought fungus in August, aphids in September, daily tickling sessions to help pollinate in October, nightly tucking the plant to sleep under sheets for frost just at fruit-set in early November, and numbly stripping the branches of any tomato bigger than my pinky fingernail before the hard frost in the teens in December.

I missed my Rudolph moment, but green ripened into red in the dark cabinets and exploded with homegrown flavor. After that first juicy bite of lost summer, I made my peace with winter’s closure of the growing season and yanked off the tomato cage. I guess I wasn’t entirely at peace looking at unopened flowers and still had the bronco-buckin’ grip that can snap metal. That broken cage released my creativity, and with a little redneck ingenuity (duct tape) the upturned trellis became an upcycled tree.

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Coffee capsule/tomato cage 2016 Christmas tree. Photo credit: Carrie Cifuentes

Tinto in two forms helped with the rest of the decorations.

1.) Tinto as black coffee: Empty espresso capsules became dangly bells that let out a dainty ring against the sides of the tomato cage. This is our fifth year of hanging the same Nespresso capsules (and hanging the same hand-sewn stockings) on a miniature Christmas tree, which back in Colombia was made out of fresh bamboo branches each year. We rescued the capsules from the trash bin of an office that worked with and drank a lot of Nespresso.

2.) Tinto as red wine: Empty bottles will spell out J-O-Y to my visiting nephews and nieces learning to read (it’s my middle name too). The letters were cut out from the cardboard of a cracker box. The twine had held up pole beans in the backyard. The red marker and gold ribbon were discarded by previous tenants. Three evergreen clippings came from branches that overhung a nearby walking path and were due for a trim. The wine came at a cost, but we’re happy to be still celebrating monthly anniversaries.

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Joy in a bottle. Photo credit: Carrie Cifuentes

Thank you to the coffee and wine growers for contributing to our year-round enjoyment of these beverages and our year-end holiday decoration.

Thank you to the tomato growers who will sustain us until next summer’s crop.

Thank you to those who also choose to find peace and beauty in the simplicity of a more sustainable seasonal celebration.

Thank you to my readers and fellow writers for nourishing my mind with your inspiring ideas and encouraging words.

Now bring on the holiday desserts! (Thank you to the cocoa growers, the vanilla growers, the almond growers…)

Seasonal greetings from Tinto Tinta Translations!

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¡Feliz navidad! Photo credit: Carrie Cifuentes

Mermaids and desert drawings as unauthentic coffee symbols 

It’s fun to watch people make a fool of themselves, live on camera. Fails are as popular as Vines on YouTube. I have empathy for the clumsy, and we all need a good belly laugh.

When it’s a business blunder, though, the entire company cringes. After watching “Mad Men”, we no longer have to wonder about what high-paid ad executives did: drinking on the job makes for mad ads. Flash forward to ultra-sensitive, hyper-connected 2016, and the public will easily get mad at a bad ad.

Marketing is all about images, but thank goodness some of us still read. Even in other languages. Too bad Pepsi didn’t take that into account before launching the campaign slogan “Come Alive With Pepsi!” in China, which was mistranslated in Chinese into “Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead”.

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Next time hire a professional translator.

My beef today is about graphics for another beverage: coffee, of course.

Misleading marketing piece #1

This month the U.S. coffee giant Starbucks opened their first store in Medellín, Colombia, coming full circle to the source of much of their coffee.

Spanish speakers tend to add an E before an English word beginning with a S, and to omit a final consonant in the word, especially a K (e.g. Facebook becomes “face-boo”, which is disconcerting because it sounds as if they think an acquaintance’s countenance is frightening).

Interestingly, then, Starbucks is pronounced “estarbos”, sounding similar to “estorbo”, which means “nuisance” or “hindrance”.

As an English teacher, I encourage students to divide compound words into ones they already know. Starbucks breaks down into “star”= estrella and “bucks”= billetes. Starbucks: donde estrellan (also means “to crash”, like a car accident) tus billetes.

This parody reflects the backlash against the hipster clientele willing to pay their prices.

These are all just unfortunate pronunciations and double-meanings of a name the company can’t change, tied as it is to Melvillean literature. On to the images.

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This lovely mural decorates the new Starbucks in Medellín. The floral flourishes, the verdant foliage, the exotic animals all scream TROPICAL.

Starbucks reported, “the artist Catalina Estrada, known for her bold interpretations of nature and Latin American folklore, created a playful custom mural inspired by Medellin’s nickname.” (emphasis added)

In Colombia, coffee is usually grown at altitude, not like the low-lying fields of Brazil. Certainly not on the seashore, for a coy mermaid to be kissing the coffee cherries wearing a coffee-flower lei (that would be Hawaii). Just a nautical reference to Moby Dick, subtly sneaking in the logo? Or maybe this is part of magical realism?

The muralist gets points for including heliconias, adorning many farms, and a jaguar, still prowling the Antioquia countryside. But the rainforest macaws would better be replaced by a hummingbird, the symbol of Colombia’s magical realism celebrated in last year’s popular nature film “Colombia Magia Salvaje”.

Green rolling mountains, tall fronds of guadua, colorful balconies, and loaded donkeys make up the UNESCO World Heritage coffee cultural landscape that borders the new Starbucks location.

Any of these would have been welcome, realistic symbols to include in an otherwise enticing, albeit a bit too exotic, mural.

Misleading marketing piece #2

If anyone should know about Colombian coffee, it would be the National Federation of Coffee Growers, or FNC. They unwittingly put their stamp of approval on this package without seeing the rest of the decorations.

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100% Colombian coffee is characterized by about 30% Peruvian (llama, Nazca lines) and 30% Central American symbols (chocolate, Mayan pyramid). The rest is generic tropical clip art (toucan, palm tree, lizard).

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Only one is supposedly Colombian, that of the palenqueras, the AfroColombian women bearing tropical fruits on their heads, iconic in Cartagena. Again, coffee doesn’t grow on the beach. Unless they’re trying to represent coffee grown in the nearby mountains of Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta? Why not put an indigenous Arhuaco then, with their characteristic woven mochilas?

Marketers and muralists are entitled to their artistic freedom, but let’s not stray too far into the salty oceans and desert plains when it comes to Colombian coffee.

Looking for aesthetic, authentic inspiration? I leave you with this shot of locals drinking coffee in the plaza in our previous home, Jardín, Antioquia, only a few hours from Medellín.

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Photo courtesy of: http://gomadnomad.com/2015/04/22/five-beautiful-towns-not-to-be-missed-in-colombia/