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It is a hot December morning. The group begins the descent at nine o'clock in the morning towards one of the many rivers that bathe the Colombian Coffee Cultural Landscape -PCC. Upon arriving at the shore, in spite of a long walk, there is not a single participant who wishes to sit down and rest. They are surrounded by a unique landscape and a tranquility that is not felt in the city. Just past the river it is easy to find the Piedras Marcadas, cultural and archaeological heritage of Risaralda.
After touring the place and taking the respective photos with the different shades of green that the landscape offers, more than one sits down to enjoy a well-deserved snack. In the thermoses they bring the best Colombian coffee and, while they enjoy it, they realize that they have not seen a single person different from those who came down with them. From one moment to the next, a braying sound is heard in the distance and after five minutes they see a farmer pass by in his work clothes with his faithful friend, the donkey, loaded with two bundles, probably of the softest coffee beans.
The image of this peasant turned muleteer is what takes one of the spectators back in time, to more than 100 years ago, when the muleteers of Antioquia took the risk of setting out in search of new territories to build a better future and a good life for their families. Along royal roads and tracks that were clogged with mud and swamp, at the point of 'zurriago', these men arrived to what we know today as the coffee growing region and began their new lives.
In the steep mountains of the country's multicolored landscapes, coffee began to consolidate as an icon of the Colombian economy. Little by little, a large part of western Colombia was unified and communication routes were improved in order to be able to export the coffee bean, which would bring wealth and prosperity to the country in a short period of time.
Thus, as colonization advanced, ranches began to be built and improvements were made in the lands near the roads. Later, inns began to appear that supplied the nearby farms with basic necessities, and thus, many of the towns were born around these roadside inns, places that provided rest, food and coffee to the muleteers during those periods of time in which they dedicated themselves to broadening their horizons.
A smell of anise permeates the whole atmosphere, the sounds of the tiple spread as the place fills up. Laughter, conversations and poems make the place an ideal space. Music is the protagonist every night and, between glasses of aguardiente and rum, stories are told like an old song.
In a corner of Pereira, in the coffee region, a house surprises everyone who has the opportunity to enter. Full of music and culture, it comes to life while the moon is at its maximum splendor, until the sunlight ends the magic of what was a perfect night.
Upon entering you can see the wooden bar and green walls, three rooms and a kitchen, plus three tables in a central courtyard in the style of the old Antioquian mansions. As the spectator walks among the tables, one sees Luis Carlos Gonzales and Eleázar Orrego smiling gracefully to the sound of one of those bambuco tunes that you don't hear anymore.
The territory in which colonization took place and which concerns us now, has certain traditions, habits and customs that give meaning to what we know as the Coffee Cultural Landscape. This region, a coffee growing region since its creation at the beginning of the XIX century, has been shaping an identity where the paisas that colonized these municipalities took on the challenge of coffee and became a culture and civilization based on what they perceived and had to live in those times. When they saw that the land was good, the peasant's way of being quickly adapted to the needs of coffee growing in order to survive and coffee became a fundamental factor in the development of the department.
Taking into account that not only Antioquians arrived, but also inhabitants from the Cundinamarca-Boyacá highlands and the Santander region, different ways of life converged in this region and a population emerged that is the result of many crossroads. Although the dominant culture came from the Antioquians, with their hard-working and friendly personality, relationships were built among all and valuable mixtures were generated so that certain cultural manifestations appeared that today we know as typical of the PCC.
The music and dance of the macheteros have accompanied the inhabitants of the region throughout the ages. The bambuco, although still preserved to this day, has had to adapt to the new circumstances. The dance, on the other hand, has become an element taken advantage of by the tourist sector but is rarely practiced in the villages.
Almost eighty years ago, the first bambuco with lyrics by maestro Luis Carlos González was set to music in Pereira, in one of the most representative places of the city because of the load of history it had and for what it meant, not only for the city but also for the growth of this genre at national and international level.
We are talking about 'El Paramo', located on a corner of the old Pereira, exactly in the seventh race with fifteenth street, where a house full of music and culture, welcomed all passersby passing by with a drink of alcohol and a warm embrace. Right there was the beginning of what would become a great city. It was in that place where what we know today as Pereira was born, a city known today for offering visitors a high quality coffee.
The work consists of getting up before four o'clock in the morning, having a brief breakfast that fills them with energy and start working to collect a good amount of coffee. It is not known for certain how this bean arrived in the country, but what is certain is that the mules, the muleteers and the coffee architecture made Colombia the country that it is today.
The coffee growers had to endure long roads, variable climates and irregular slopes to reach the high Colombian mountain ranges in order to produce excellent harvests and sell the coffee at good prices. Beginning in 1880 and with the arrival of coffee cultivation, the value of the land increased and the Colombian economy was transformed.
Since the introduction of coffee cultivation, the new towns of Antioquia changed their mining orientation towards a small agricultural scale. The tradition of a peasant class that worked on its own was accommodated to the coffee growing economy. Many of the small growers continued to provide part of their farms for their own subsistence, sometimes providing the production of bananas, corn and orchard fruits, which they transported to the neighboring market.
It is precisely the plantain plantations that are considered excellent for providing shade for the coffee trees. The merits of this shading technique in the cultivation of coffee are variable, but at the time of colonization, the Antioquians distrusted that without such a requirement a true plantation could exist. Corn, yucca, orange, grapefruit, avocado and mango plantations became shade trees and also a food reserve for the growers.
In spite of the fact that women are not mentioned in this story, it is known that the bambuco in its origins and even today, is linked to the women who worked in the fields, not only for their daily efforts but also for being the muse of inspiration for the coffee growers and inhabitants of the territory.
In the case of the coffee region they were known as 'chapoleras' and few young people today know the meaning of this word. Nevertheless, these hard working women were always at the side of the workers of the coffee crops and they were the ones in charge of bringing to the region the meals that filled with strength those who dedicated their entire days to harvesting this highly productive bean.
For some reason, the older people of this era are accustomed to getting up early. Most of these farmers had to wake up early to start work at four o'clock in the morning and for this reason, the local cuisine was not guided by gastronomic criteria or pleasure, but it was something practical to fulfill the obligations of feeding the workers early, giving them at five o'clock the 'drinks' and at five o'clock in the afternoon, when they ate, feeding them with products that would leave them satisfied.
Around the kitchens, values such as generosity and solidarity among people were promoted, in addition to uniting families through feelings of identity and belonging. Taking into account that the objective was to feed the workers with products that would keep them active in their day, the meals had a powerful vegetable protein and at the time of serving, there were all kinds of options for the workers to consume what the land produced, harvested in the same farm and that gave them energy to work in the respective schedules of the field work.
At that time, the dining room was not only for food consumption. The moment of sitting at the table also became a time to share joys, experiences, stories and exchanges that gradually wove our cultural identity, so we can call the traditional cuisine as a cultural fact, a living tradition that is transmitted between generations and that, with the passage of time, is what makes us what we are.
Therefore, those roots from which we come from, the stories and interventions that make us what we are, have resulted in a mixture between various types of cultures that generate a mountain life, full of adaptations, mixtures and local remnants.
By: Ángela Morales Chica