As I began my research on Bolivia, I started to realize that this journey was going to be a study in contrasts. The geography and climate itself serves as an illustration of the extremes we would encounter on my inaugural trip to origin. In the Yungas Valley, between Caranavi and Coroico we visited our Direct Trade partner farms. Even at the beginning of July, in the dead of the Bolivian winter, the weather was moderate and I could see why it is such an ideal region for growing coffee. During the day, the sun is strong, the air is not too dry, and the temperature is pleasant in the lower 80′s. At night, the humidity rises and temperature falls into the lower 60′s, perfect.
As we left the tropics of Coroico to travel up the Old Yungas Road to La Paz, the weather changed dramatically with every passing mile. I could see why the old “El Camino de la Muerta” was such an attraction to bicycling tourists. As we road towards the capital, we pulled over numerous times to let groups of gravity-assisted mountain bikers pass by as they coasted the descent of over 11,000 ft. Less than four hours later, we came to the end of the road at the La Cumbre Pass, just outside of La Paz. There, we stopped to experience the gathering at the statue of Christ and watch the cholitas bury potatoes to freeze at the small, shallow lake. In a matter of a few hours, we went from a rainforest, to a mountain lake in freezing temperatures. This was also my first, and only experience of altitude sickness. At home, I live right at sea level, and although I had already been in Bolivia for a week, I was not prepared for the rarefied air of 15,000 ft. (that’s 3x the height of Denver), especially since we were coming directly from Coroico, which is only at 3900 ft.
Once we were in La Paz, it was time to take in the experience of the Bolivian city. Just as anywhere else in the world, the rural and urban lifestyles are quite different from each other. Still, deep in the heart of the city, there was still a touch of the land around it. We walked through the largest open market I’ve ever seen, where cholitas and other farmers, ranchers, and artisans brought their goods to sell. After all, this is the country that rejected McDonald’s.
The city was also a place where it was easy to see the economic and cultural divides that seem to trouble Bolivia. With a majority population of indigenous recently electing the first indigenous president of Bolivia, there is still a struggle to gain representation. As we walked through one of the main plazas, we passed by a permanent tent city where protesters would camp after making the 580 km march to save the TIPNIS, an ancestral home to many of the indigenous, from the construction of a large highway.
This demonstration of strength was echoed as we traveled up to El Alto to see the fighting cholitas with one of our Direct Trade partners, René Viadez of Finca Senda Salvaje. Here, women fight alongside men in a display of equality and self-confidence, all while wearing their traditional garb. We had the opportunity to talk to the Champion Belt holder, Jenifer Dos Caras. She, like the rest of the women fighters, is a true indigenous cholita. During the week, she supports her family as a nurse at one of the local hospitals. On Sundays, she delights and riles the consistently sold out crowds as one of the Titans of the Ring’s favorite characters. At all times, she is a proud mother.
Dos Caras, of course, means Two-Faced, and Jenifer told us that she enjoys the flexibility of being able to play both “Good” and “Evil” characters in the ring, and that she often hears from fans about how they are uplifted and inspired to see her be so powerful in the fights. We adopted the name Dos Caras for our Bolivian coffee in honor of Jenifer and what the cholitas of Boliva represent. This name also reflects how this coffee is produced many farmers of Bolivia. During this trip, we were delighted by how many coffees scored well on our cupping table and, while we couldn’t buy a large amount from all of them, we wanted to bring back as many of them as we could. To make this possible, we decided to create Dos Caras as a way to offer each farmer’s coffee, with each one getting their turn in our roaster. Dos Caras is not a blend, it is a single origin thats “face” will change throughout its season as we feature each farm.