After a 10 hour van ride we reached the gritty little tourist town of Panahachel, Guatemala. Pana, affectionately known as ¨Gringotenango¨, was a welcome site after a day of riding with my knees hugged up against my chest trying to sleep sitting straight up without falling on my neighbor. With my hamstrings screaming I hopped out of the van as soon as the doors opened and marvelled at the returned health of the crew, watching them peel themselves out of the tight confines. We lost a full day in Chiapas trying to recover from stomach sickness, but now all is well and morale is high.
In a little over an hour we will drag ourselves down to the shores of Lake Atitlan to take a boat across to Santiago to meet farmers from CCDA. Atitlan is one of the most beautiful lakes in the world surrounded by three huge volcanoes and gorgeous Mayan villages. Over the years the character of the towns has changed to cater to American and European eco-partiers. While ¨gringos¨ have infiltrated the villages and changed them to a dependence on a tourist economy, this is a step up from the terror felt in these places during the Guatemalan civil war in the seventies, eighties, and nineties. During the war the Atitlan area witnessed battles between the army and guerrilla forces with terrible repression, killings, and disappearances. So while the gringo economy has serious downsides for the local Mayan culture, it beats the intense suffering of the war.
Today we will interview farmers and activists from CCDA– a group that has been active working for campesino rights and land reform since the early eighties. They have suffered reprisals from the government and others for their radical independence over the years, but still grow and thrive. They added coffee to their programs in the past decade and Just Coffee, with our importing co-op Cooperative Coffees, was their first buyer in the US. CCDA is also our first co-op partner to use the Small Producer Symbol– the first farmer-owned fair trade certification. I am looking forward to speaking with their president Leocadio who always has an incredibly insightful critique of fair trade.
Now if you´ll excuse me, I have a boat to catch. See you all on the other side.