I knew a little bit of Spanish.
Two years in high school as a primer, and living in a heavily Hispanic area in New Jersey helped to at least be familiar with some basic language structure and speech patterns. A half-hearted attempt at language learning software a few years back also helped, but I was still far from conversational. Upon arrival, I was barely beyond the basic necessities.
The language barrier was not too much of a concern for me; I was traveling with Chris from Farm to Roast. Chris can speak Spanish fairly well, and he has made many of these origin trips before. I knew that when we arrived in Peru, we would be joined by Elmer who is a partner of Farm to Roast, and a native to Peru. Elmer is a certified Q-grader, and owner of a café in his home city.
We arrived in Lima late at night after a long flight. While going through Customs, and stumbling over some rudimentary Spanish Q&A from the customs agent, we were turned loose into the city. As Chris gave a cab driver the address to our hotel, I suddenly realized that my firm grasp on English was completely and totally worthless for the next week. This was the first time I had ever been in a country where English was the third language, and most Peruvians don’t speak English at all.
We drove to the hotel, past billboards, advertisements, and street signs. The radio in the cab was on a station talking about the weather forecast for tomorrow. The whole city was abuzz with life much like being in downtown Pittsburgh or Cleveland, and not a word of English could be seen. My eyes must have been wide taking it all in because Chris looked over at me and said, “Yeah man, we’re in it now.”
The primary goal of this trip was to learn as much as I could about the coffee growing and harvesting process. I had read blogs and books, I had seen the pictures and descriptions, but I wanted to see it for myself; to experience it first hand. I wanted to meet the people who were responsible for the care and attention to detail that is required to produce specialty grade coffee, and to get to know the families of the producers so I could bring their stories back to Youngstown. I wanted to form a real connection to the coffee; a truly relational offering.
Another goal was to completely immerse myself in the culture of Peru. As the first time in a Latin American country, I wanted to experience as much of the lifestyle and culture that Peru had to offer. I came with no expectations and I was ready for what may come.
We arrived at the hotel, and checked in to our room. After dropping off our bags, we wandered down to the lobby to grab a beer in the hotel bar before it closed up for the night. Chris and I each had a beer from a local Peruvian brewery, and talked about the plans for our flight to Piura tomorrow. A few minutes later, I asked for the check so we could head up to sleep. I paid the tab in American dollars, and got back change in Peruvian Sol. I’d have to remember to exchange the rest of my USD tomorrow morning.
Chris was right; we were in it now. I couldn’t wait to get to Piura and get my hands into the coffee growing world.