Archives for category: Travel

I spent the past week in Honduras with Uncommon Grounds visiting the farmers who grow some of our coffees! It was a super exciting opportunity; seeing the growing, processing and exporting systems has been a goal of mine for a while. In addition to it being educational and informative, it was also amazing from a traveler’s perspective. The beautiful mountains, wonderful people, and cultural differences all made it an epic experience. We did so much on this trip I could seriously ramble forever.

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This is the park in La Union Lempira, the town we stayed in for the trip. I loved the pink and sea foam paint in the park.

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Most of the kids in La Union go to school, there are public schools and then a few kids go to the bilingual school. We met a few of the teachers from the bilingual school (one of their teachers hosted us).

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Chickens, roosters, dogs, and cats roam freely around La Union. Most of the chickens and dogs “belong” to someone, but they hang out wherever they please.

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We met with a few different farmers whose coffees we have bought in past years (and we plan to again). The trip was organized by Union Micro Finanza, a micro finance organization that helps farmers improve their crops. Improved handling of crops = better quality coffee = more money for the farmers. Coffee processing has historically been handled in a pretty non-scientific way, so new discoveries are always being made on better ways to process and handle coffees. The picture above is the view from Rigoberto Pas’ farm.

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Some nice looking red and yellow catuai that we picked.

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After the coffee is ripe and picked (a tedious process in itself- good coffees are carefully picked by hand) it is taken to the beneficio. Some farmers have their own beneficio (processing center), depending on how large their farms are. At the processing center, coffee first gets a quick bath. While in the water any leaves or floating cherries are filtered out. Floating cherries usually indicate that the shell is hollow, but also the skin of overripe cherries tends to float. The coffee is sent through a de-pulping machine, which removes the beans from the cherries. Coffees then sit in fermentation tanks with water for a few days, which helps remove the sticky layer around the bean (mucilage). After they are done fermenting, they are rinsed a few times and set in solar dryers (or on patios) to dry. Above you can see a child sorting defects out of a fermentation tank.

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The beneficio we spent our time at is operated by Union Micro Finanza. In addition to their micro loans, they run this beneficio to experiment with coffee processing. They are constantly improving their facility, and are always aiming to do so with minimal materials, so that farmers could then learn about processing from them and apply what they learn to their own production. Above you can see Patrick and Gilberto of UMF talking about how coffee in the solar dryers is regularly flipped for even drying. At this stage coffees also go through another close inspection, where defects (chipped beans, skins, etc.) are all picked out by hand. Keep in mind that different countries, regions and farmers may process coffees differently! This style of processing is usually referred to as fully washed, or wet-processed. In the other 2 “styles” of processing the order in which they dry and de-pulp the coffees is different. After all of this processing coffees are sent to the exporter, who then puts all coffees through more vigorous quality assurance standards (quality when it arrives/desired quality and price determine how many defects they allow and how throughly they sort). The exporter will have a huge warehouse with lots of different sorting equipment, which will sort beans by density and also remove any defects missed in the initial processing. THEN it finally is put into bags and shipped off to the roaster! (WHEW)

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Above is a picture of one of our coffee farmers Bernardo Ponce. He has an infectious laugh and incredible charisma. Even the kids flock to him!

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While we were there we did do a few non-coffee related things. One of the greatest highlights of the trip was our hike to the waterfall at El Naranjo. Here you can see Maggie is enjoying prancing through the mountains.

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The waterfall! The last of the hike was straight down a huge hill. Nestled between the hills was this beautiful spot. We climbed around on the rocks and gawked at the waterfalls magnitude before a delicious lunch which we ate on the river. We had these amazing empanadas prepared by one of our gracious hosts, Alicia. A man and his toddler son were collecting fire wood near us on this patch of incredibly steep land, and he definitely got a kick out of all the gringos frolicking in the water. Charlie offered them a few empanadas which the man readily accepted, and we all ate on the river together. Sitting there was one of the most pleasant parts of the entire trip.

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The wildflowers were also amazing! The soil there is incredibly rich so plants that we work hard to cultivate grow like weeds.

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Somehow I feel like I’ve rambled here but only scratched the surface. I learned so much on this trip! If there is one final subject that I feel is really important to mention it’s Roya, or Coffee Leaf Rust. Seeing how the effects of this disease have decimated crops on so many prolific farms is heartbreaking. Farmers we spoke to said that this year was the worst outbreak of Roya that they have ever seen, due to climate change. A depressing note to end on, but let it serve as your daily reminder of the importance of pushing for sustainability.

Having a long distance relationship can obviously be a bummer some times- this Valentines Day I will be frantically packing for a work trip to Honduras instead of having a romantic date. What I will say though, is that it can be super refreshing to get out of town for the weekend on a regular basis. This weekend was no exception. The cheesy nature of valentines-y things is not exactly my cup of tea, so enjoying a relaxed yet eventful weekend with my guy was the perfect substitute. This weekend literally encapsulated my favorite things:

1. VEGAN BENEDICT : I love eggs benedict (vegan, regular, whatever I can get..) so I was super stoked on this amazing breakfast that Michael made me. We used organic onion bread from Nantucket instead of english muffins and it was so. freaking. good.  I may be posting this just so that I am sure to save the recipe..

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2. LAKE MICHIGAN : Visiting the lake is always amazing. But right now with the snow and waves frozen into heaps it was a totally new experience for me. We ran around on the snow/ice mounds until we were frozen little popsicles.

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3. BEER : We tried Michaels home brew nut brown ale this weekend (I helped him make his first batch last time I was in Grand Rapids) and we also visited New Holland, Grand Rapids Brewing Co, and Stellas. New Holland is a staple, but it was my first time to the new Grand Rapids Brewing Co. It was packed, and the beer was actually super on point. It’s awesome to see how many breweries in Grand Rapids are thriving. Stellas is an awesome vegan friendly restaurant and bar that boasts over 200 whiskeys and GQ’s title of  best burger in America.

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4. COFFEE : There are some great coffee options in Grand Rapids. Rowster and Madcap are the ones to hit up! No one makes a cap quite like Rowster.

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Aaaaaaand of course, I enjoyed some great hockey and spending time with my amazing boyfriend.

// Megan //

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This weekend my boyfriend took me to Columbus, OH to see Cirque Du Soleil! It was his gift to me for our anniversary. We spent the whole day in Columbus, starting with a delicious brunch at a place called “Knead“. We chose this place because it was all freshly made with locally produced ingredients. It was a pretty cute place and the food was delicious! I had gingerbread pancakes — YUM!

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This dress makes me so incredibly happy! The color is so vibrant and the full skirt is so fun to run around in. It kinda makes me feel like I’m wearing a costume, but I don’t care! I love it too much! It’s got to be the best thing I’ve ever found at a thrift shop. AND a bonus was that it was super cheap because the zipper was falling out. Took me all of 10 minutes to fix that!

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dress & Felix pin & shoes//vintage, tights//Target

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After Brunch we walked to COSI!
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It’s a super fun science museum I hadn’t been too since elementary school, and I was way excited to go back! We had tons of hands-on science-y fun. [PS. Brian loves that sweater and wears it everywhere lol :p]

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There was a cool exhibit called “Progress”, and they had a whole 1950s town set up. We decided to take advantage of the 50s scenery since I was wearing a 50s dress, and snagged a few photos!
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OKAY. So. Cirque Du Soleil. First off, let me tell you, it was absolutely one of THE most amazing things I’ve ever seen! Neither of us really knew what to expect, or if it would actually be cool, and it far exceeded both of our expectations! It was beautiful and impressive, the “clowns” were hilarious, and the acrobatic stunts were terrifying and flawless! The overall theme was actually kind of dark and eerie, which we loved, and the music and costumes made it feel like we were watching some little Russian circus in the middle of no where 100 years ago — amazing.

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Basically, we had a great mini weekend get away. :] Sometimes, those are the best kinds of vacations!

// Laura Jude //

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Okay, so this really isn’t much of a “travel” post, seeing as Belle Isle is in Detroit [only 30 minutes from my house], but it is a fun place to go see! I’d never been to Belle Isle before, and it was a really cool place. I honestly didn’t even know what was there. It used to be a full fledged zoo, but like most of Detroit, its beautiful old buildings were abandoned. Most of the island had a real eerie/cool post-apocalyptic feel to it. Recently, however, people have been working to revive this once thriving Detroit landmark. The Belle Isle Aquarium was recently reopened and my boyfriend and I went to see it! Unfortunately, the battery on my real camera was dead [whoops, great planning Laura!], so I just have these iPhone & instax pics. BUT I’m definitely planning to go back so I can better document this awesome place soon!

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There’s also a conservatory on Belle Isle. This was my favorite part! Conservatories are an awesome place to visit when it’s cold outside. It’s great to go see some green trees and feel the warm tropical climate during the winter.

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// Laura Jude //

I find myself often checking out plane tickets online whenever things in my life start feeling stale and boring. People always are telling me they can’t afford to travel, but hey! Neither can I and it’s not stopping me! This is something me and my boyfriend Michael talk about a lot. Saving money is obviously a good idea, but spending your youth being super fiscally responsible and not going on any adventures is a waste of life! And honestly, if you visit travel sites on a regular basis you can get pretty good at finding super cheap tickets.

For the second time this year we decided for go on a little trip to California. We met up with friends out there who commented on how they never have visited a lot of the top vacation-y things around them because anytime they get to take a vacation, their first thought probably isn’t “Hey, lets check out some California attractions!” But why not? If you can’t afford a plane ticket (I usually can’t) then take a mini vacation in your own home city or state!

Here are some pictures of a few of the great things we did on our short but wonderful vacation.

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I am incredibly spoiled to have a pilot-boyfriend who sometimes takes me up in little planes. We took a little trip-within-a-trip from Fresno to Lancaster. Lancaster isn’t really a super hoppin’ town, but the flight down through the mountains was beautiful! Above is a pictures from our plane.

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We spent a day doing a bunch of touristy things in San Francisco, which was super fun. I normally reject the typical tourist spots on principle, but being a tourist can be fun! We got irish coffee from Buena Vista, a bar that supposedly created the “original” irish coffee. Was it really the original? Don’t care. The cranky old waitresses and super swanky bartenders (white suit coats and matching white mustaches) were a nice touch.IMG_1325
The pictures above and below are from Pier 39, arguably one of the most obnoxiously touristy parts of the city. But man! Just look at how cute and stupid-looking these seals are. I loved it. IMG_1324
On our last day in California we drove from Fresno to Sequoia. Even the drive through the mountains was amazing. We didn’t have tons of time, but running around in the forest for a few minutes before heading home was refreshing and beautiful.
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This last picture is from the drive back to Fresno from Sequoia. The hazy mountains had a really etherial glow at dusk. Everything was soft and pink and the air was crisp and cool.
//Megan//
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