COCAFELOL, Honduras: random Fair Trade stop on the road

Breezing into Honduras from El Salvador I fell into the trap, yet again, of confusing provinces and towns. My stay in Nuevo Ocotepeque, my Fair Trade ‘base’, just across the Honduran border, did not turn out as I hoped. I was in the right province, but my intended Fair Trade visits were too far out of reach from the town. Plan B then…Nuevo Ocotepeque had nothing to distract me, despite trying hard – the circus was in town – so I decided to head to Santa Rosa the following day. It turned out to be one of my toughest rides of the trip.

I started with a long climb – a good three hours uphill. I was a wee bit nervous about cycling in Honduras having heard the odd story or two, and knowing the capital, Tegucigalpa, to be a little dodgy. So when a bloke stopped halfway up the hill and offered to give me a lift I wondered whether I’d found a very generous soul or a dodgy geezer. I wasn’t tempted, even though the climb was hard, I wanted to get up that hill all by my own effort. Declining as nicely as I could, I don’t think he understood my motivation. Eventually he moved on but stopped a little further up the road, putting me on edge. I passed him and waved. A few minutes later he did the same, to my huge relief. Looking back, I wasn’t sure whether he was more concerned about my safety or the fact I was crazy for cycling up this long mountain pass.

Weather conditions changed significantly at the top as I was greeted with strong winds, fog and the coldest temperatures I’d experienced in a while, but my long descent gave way to more sun and heat. It was near the bottom of this, in La Labor, whizzing past a sight to my left that made me brake in earnest. I couldn’t pass up this opportunity!

The co-operative has well-adorned walls, showing their Fair Trade credentials

It was the colourful wall display of COCAFELOL, a Fair Trade coffee co-operative. It was too good to miss, so I parked up with Edna, chatted to the security guard, and got myself a chance to look around the facility. I figured an hour here would still give me enough time to complete the ride in good order…

Sipping a welcome cup of coffee, I waited in reception for Renan, a young lad who works on the co-op’s certifications. They have quite a collection – Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance and “UTZ”, and organic. The different certifications cater for the different growers in the co-op and the different buyers of the coffee. Producers have one of the three social/environmental certifications (Fair Trade has the highest number) but organic certification is only with a few producers. Although the co-op encourages organic production, the standards are strict to obtain and many producers are put off by the investment needed.

The co-op has over 300 producers and in total produces more than 2.5m lbs of green coffee. All the ‘premium’ quality is exported to foreign markets; the ‘second’ quality is used for domestic markets. AMPROCAL, a women’s co-operative, is a separate co-op affiliated with COCAFELOL who create the roasted and ground coffee products for the Honduran market.

COCAFELOL is an ambitious co-op, as I could tell just from their wall graphics out front. As well as quite modern processing equipment they have instituted a bio-ethanol operation for powering the equipment and it was the first time I saw the drying ‘greenhouses’. These help produce ‘micro-lot’ coffee that is typically produced in small quantities and can fetch higher prices when sold. In common with many other co-ops, they produce organic compost, including worms, that they sell back to the producers. The producers have access to credit via the co-op.

I got a quick tour and would have liked a little longer. Not only was it lunchtime, but I had a lot of riding still to do that day. I figured I was behind schedule but thought I’d still be ok for time. I trusted my map, I trusted Google Maps…

It all worked out in the end, though I rolled into Santa Rosa at the latest time of day I’d ever arrived, right around dusk. The climbing was particularly tough getting into the town, and the state of the roads and traffic didn’t help. I should have learned some Spanish swear words for that climb…

But there’s a great feeling to finish a day like that and my bonus Fair Trade visit really made my day. Unpredictable in so many ways, it encapsulated the good and bad of bike touring in strange places, and the bizarre things that can happen along the way.

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