First Published - October 5, 2011 (By Steven – Co-Founder)
In this short post I thought I’d rest on the psychiatrist couch & talk about emotions I experience on every trip and why I try to control the overwhelming desire to do a runner. In a second post I’ll discuss specifically what I’ve discovered from this trip to visit producers in Peru and why I do care passionately about the job.
There is a wonderful romance that is attributed to coffee, from the delight of the exotic countries and distant lands, through to the creativity of coffee roasting. But for me the reality can be harsh. In my pursuit of coffee and developing our Union Direct Trade relationship it means that both Jeremy and I do a lot of long haul travel (mostly separately). This is a fantastic perk of the job, in fact getting deep in the rural areas of Central & South America, East Africa & Indonesia – it has to be the best job in the world. Yet before every trip I experience an anxiety attack. It’s hard to put my finger on what sets me off, it’s not just fear of flying (I write this whilst sitting in Lima airport waiting for my long journey home) but that is one element.
This trip was particularly demanding, involving getting out to evaluate potential new producers down in the south of the country as well as re-visiting to catch up on existing relationships in the North. What was so gruelling this time? Maybe I’m just getting old, but crashing about in the back of a truck or bus perched on a narrow ledge climbing to 13,000ft + and looking out of the side window seeing the sheer drop really freaked me out this time. When the journey goes on for 8 hours, its cold, foggy, torrential rain causing rocks to fall off the mountain onto the road makes it punishing, particularly having to change a flat tyre and then still avoiding the boulders in the road. It doesn’t help that every vehicle coming in the opposite direction means we have to back up, to find a ledge wide enough to pass each other.
I’m not a fan of American 5 star hotels, but accommodation can be primitive in some rural places. Jeremy & I refer to the quality of sleeping facilities as the “Yirgacheffe Scale” – this was one of our early trips more than 10 years ago that we did together. The hostel was so scuzzy that I laid out my towel on top of the filthy mattress and slept fully clothed, with boots on, and hat pulled over my face to try keep the mosquitoes off. At least there was cold water and we had a torch for light.
By now I should be prepared for anything but stupidly this trip I forgot the torch, and I wasn’t so lucky to get water either. Yes, the farm visits and huge mountain vistas are joy to experience. But by the time I returned back to Lima for the second leg of my trip I lost my bottle and couldn’t face a reprise of the experience again, I was close to bolting. I did a quick scrutiny and I could get a flight to Paris and be home the following day. I was desperate. What a wimp, but I could feel the tears but what do you do? I clamp my jaw and grind my teeth and stick to the plan.
I guess the point is, this trip wasn’t that different to any other. There’s always some problem or tricky issue and you have to just get over yourself. Now I’m back at Lima airport again waiting to go home, and of course I loved the complete trip, as I always do. Our relationship with coffee producers is a privilege for me; from the warmth of their hospitality, their deep desire to please and demonstrate to me the extra work that is required for the quality of coffee we demand; it re-programmes me again why we do this.