Despite the many pleasures of these magical islands, it’s a rare joy to find a truly great cup of coffee. I’ve spent so much time in the world’s great coffee cities that I’m spoiled for world-class brew. And here… well, sometimes even Nescafé is better than the local beans.
On Koh Samui, a small café and bar called The Road Less Travelled finally filled my cup. They roast their own beans, have home-made dark chocolate treats, and know how to pull an espresso with the best. It’s a coffee-lover’s heaven. It’s worth a trip off the beaten path if your travels ever find you in the Gulf of Thailand.
She doesn’t give me a lot of hints. Is she 26? 27? She’s finishing her PhD, a general clue. Throughout the evening we chat about our respective histories, our reasons for coming to Nepal, her research. She most reminds me of my photographer friend Dave Delnea. In looks and ambition they could be siblings. It’s so uncanny that a few times I catch myself staring.
We met because I’m a rookie here. Travelling in Nepal for a few weeks, naturally I wanted a SIM for my phone. After an hour’s walk in dusty diesel fumes, I duly paid the fee and walked away happy at my purchase ($10 for plenty of data *and* voice!). Except I forgot a critical detail: my new phone number.
My mistake worked in my favour. Searching out a decent cappucino, I asked a fellow traveller if she’d be willing to let me call her phone so I could discover my newly-won cell number. The conversation began from there.
She was in the highlands for three months, her fifth such visit. She lives with the locals, in a sacred valley free from any kind of animal sacrifice (which includes meat for consumption). A porter hauls up supplies every few weeks. Each day she charts the dwellings, measures the land and listens to the customs so that in the not-too-far future, if and when this is all wiped out, we’ll be able to measure the damage.
Such is the life of a disaster preparedness researcher.
Indra’s research is in a valley between the Khumbu (home of Mount Everest) and the Langtang trekking regions. This place, like everywhere, is being affected by climate change. The climate signal here is quickly receding glaciers.
When glaciers advance, their crushing weight grinds rock into powder and pushes it out in front, like a tongue licking foam. When the advance stops and the glaciers retreat, a high ridge of gravelly soil is left. These moraines dam massive lakes of meltwater, clean remnants of snow dropped thousands of years ago.
With the rate of meltwater increasing, eventually these dams break. The natural wall of the moraine is only loosely held by gravity. When the force of the meltwater exceeds the weight of the moraine, entire lakes can vanish in an instant. All that water heads straight down the nearest valley.
This is where Indra spends her time. She’s there measuring population, land values and discovering what the locals know and are prepared for in case of disaster. She’s also coming to understand their values—like, for example, their potatoes. This particular valley’s potatoes are the best, so the locals say. In fact they’re so good, not only are they the staple diet, but when locals leave for work in other cities, the comfort food they pine for is the potatoes. On her last trip, in addition to hefting down her own equipment down the valley, Indra carried several sacks of potatoes for locals missing the taste of home.
The valley is far removed from even the bustle of Kathmandu, let alone the sophistication and knowledge of my home in Canada. Yet the choices we’re making in places like Vancouver are changing the lives and livelihoods of these last few remaining micro-cultures in the high Himals.
It’s striking to me that thanks to a Google search for coffee in Thamel I’ve been able to make a new friend, and connect to a place and people that otherwise I would never know.
* I’ve changed some of the names & details for privacy
I like that over the years my experience and enjoyment of coffee has grown with me. It all started late in university, when I started working as a fixer for an IT entrepreneur – an enigmatic and generous fellow named Jake. We would meet each morning at his “office”, a corner booth reserved in an out-of-the-way Starbucks (a relatively new chain at the time).
This post sums up my approach to my work pretty well: Life as Coffee.
Today we visited Bourbon Coffee to shoot some b-roll and interview Amy Karuletwa (Arthur’s wife). Bourbon is a bustling place, with the best lattes I’ve had anywhere (except maybe for JJ Bean in Vancouver… maybe). It’s a first rate coffee shop, smack in the middle of Kigali – and they’ll be opening a second location soon.
The coffee shop is part of their holistic vision, “Naturally Rwandan, from Crop to Cup.” They work with the farmers to maximize quality and pay them a premium for their coffee. They are also helping develop a coffee culture within Rwanda, and exporting Rwandan coffee as a premium product around the world.
Amy’s a firecracker and a lot of fun. Everything I’ve seen of her and Arthur’s work is first-rate quality, and I expect they’ll have a lot of success with their vision of exporting Rwandan coffee as a premium product around the world.
Tomorrow, Lyn, Jesse, Jeff and I head South to a little hideaway on Lake Kivu. We’ll be passing through the Nyungwe Forest, a place full of beauty and history. We’re hoping to get some shots of the lake, the forest and the tea & coffee fields along the way. We’ll be back late Friday; I suspect we’ll have no chance to update until Saturday.
So until then…