One hundred and twenty days and more than 7,000 km since I left Vancouver, I finally closed in on my goal of my first visit to a Fair Trade producer. My thoughts while riding the 60km from my stopover to Ixtepec were many, but my greatest concern was whether I was pedalling to the right place! I’d not been able to confirm my visit with the co-operative and hoped that I was heading the right way and that they’d be happy to see some random gringo show up on their doorstep.
UCIRI (Union of Indigenous Communities in the Isthmus Region) is a coffee co-operative formally established in 1983. It comprises more than 50 communities located in different regions of Oaxaca that represents more than 2,500 members. It’s origins were formed several years before then led by Dr. Francisco van der Hoff, who went on to use the example of UCIRI to help create the first Fair Trade certifier, Max Havelaar, in the Netherlands in 1988.
As it turns out, it was easy to find. Their front walls are painted a deep red and yellow in the style of their coffee brand. Three-feet high lettering is hard to miss. I pulled my bike through the garage entrance and was warmly welcomed by Celso and Raymundo. It took a few minutes to convey why I was there, but they seemed happy to see me. What followed over the next day or two was where I got to learn a little about how day-to-day life works outside of our time-oriented Western culture.
Riding solo for several months makes it easy to control my time. Now I was at the disposal of UCIRI. I was told that Fransisco would be along later that day and as he spoke English I’d be able to tell him more about my trip and what opportunities would be possible for me with UCIRI. I had arrived around lunchtime, so apart from gesticulations, some good coffee and a spot of my usual lunch, and I waited and looked around the office before Fransisco arrived.
After some discussions with him and his staff, a plan was put together that I’d go up to the main processing and packing area in Lachivista and then hopefully go further up into the mountains to see a coffee farm. Accommodation for that evening was a bit vague – a room somewhere nearby. But first we went back to Fransisco’s house to clean up the garden and mend the chicken shed. Not exactly what I was expecting…
It was 7pm before we headed back into town and where I could get my bags to the room. I’m used to sorting accommodation early, so having to wait this late (for me) was unsettling, but I knew I was in good hands. I just didn’t know what kind of room I’d be getting. My limited Spanish meant I hadn’t realised that some UCIRI employees have rooms at their roasting facility half a mile away. I was shown to a spare room, and with great hospitality given a bed and blanket. By then I was pretty tired from the day’s events and made do with a dinner of granola that I had in my bag, while looking forward to what was to come the following day.