The route to Hacienda Venecia led us through the city of Pereira, capital of the Department of Risaralda. It is at an altitude of 4,600 feet and its population of almost 600,000 makes it the largest city in the region and the sixth largest city in the country. The Conquistadors arrived here in 1540 but Pereira was not officially established until 1863 when a large landowner, Senor Pereria, died and left his land to a priest stipulating the establishment of a town. During the mid 19th, Colombia experienced internal migration, similar to the Westward Movement in the United States, and Pereira”s location and rich volcanic soil enticed these new settlers. The altitude, the climate and the soil were conducive to growing coffee and soon the area became a center of coffee cultivation as it remains today. Over the years, the city has suffered from recurring earthquakes and has been rebuilt, not with concern for the historic, but guided by various ideas of what it means to be modern. Even though the locals enjoy a good party, the city is not considered a tourist destination. We drove through the outskirts of the city not even stopping to gaze at the unusual nude sculpture of Simon Bolivar, the Liberator of Colombia (as well as Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Panama and Peru).
We drove through the northern portion of the Cauca River Valley. Surrounded by mountain peaks, we followed rivers, crossed small bridges and drove up, on and over ridgelines. We passed through the frontier town of Chinchina. There we smelled the aroma of coffee wafting out of their instant coffee plant and observed groups of local men, who depend on the coffee industry, hanging out on corners, as if waiting for harvest time. We crossed railroad tracks, a reminder of the past when sacks of coffee beans were transported by train, today replaced by trucks. In the distance, the morning sun shone down on the rolling hills and steep slopes, casting a green patina as far as the eye could see. As we drove closer, each individual bush with its shinny leaves revealed itself, our first introduction to the coffee plant. As the road became increasingly circuitous and narrow, an unpleasant odor invaded the car, at once caustic and choking. We had just past fields recently spread with a kind of fertilizer made from the fermented skins of the coffee beans. An hour passed and we were at the gates of Hacienda Venecia.
This finca, coffee plantation, was started in 1910