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Even the most enlightened people have stereotypes, especially about things we’re unfamiliar with. It may not always be fair, but our prejudices color our perceptions. When you hear terrible things about a particular country, culture or group of people, it can be difficult to not let that influence your opinion -even if you have no first-hand knowledge of the topic in question.


My wife and I met stereotypes like this head-on when we first decided to include Colombia on our roundthe-world trip. Friends and family were worried for our safety, and told us so repeatedly. Who among us hasn’t heard awful stories on the news coming out of Colombia? These stories fueled the assumption that Colombia was home to nothing but drug-dealing, machete-wielding, machine-gun-carrying, kidnapping, violent people - and it was in the news, so it had to be true, right?

By Adam Seper / Photos by Megan and Adam Seper

I was, I admit, a little apprehensive about our decision before we got to Colombia, but I’m thrilled that I chose to listen more closely to people who had actually been to the country instead of just media reports. In retrospect, I laugh at how crazy it was to think that traveling in Colombia was going to be a bad idea.



Skipping Colombia because of these three barriers means you’re missing out on a beautiful country full of some of the most delightful people I’ve ever met. So it’s time to leave your prejudices about Colombia at the door, because I’m going to tell you why you should ignore everything you’ve probably heard about Colombia and go anyway.

They went on to talk about how younger generations of Colombians are motivated by education. They are intent on shedding this unfair label their country has had since the 80s and 90s when Colombia was ruled by Pablo Escobar and the drug cartels. They want foreigners to come see that their country, and their population, is the complete opposite of what most perceive. This conversation happened on our second night in Colombia. It was refreshing to see a group of young men and women so patriotic and passionate about correcting the misperceptions about their country. I was impressed, and even though I had spent less than 48 hours there, I had already noticed a remarkable degree of friendliness, kindness, and happiness amongst the Colombian people - none of which was coupled with the use of narcotics. The remainder of our month in Colombia only reinforced those first impressions.

MISCONCEPTION 1: Colombia is full of cocaine users. I’m not going to lie and say that I didn’t also have this misperception of Colombians. According to BBC America, Colombia produces 62% of the world’s cocaine. The majority comes to America, constituting about 90% of the cocaine used in the States, according to PBS.But times are changing. The Colombian government has taken real steps over the last decade to slow cocaine production. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime claims that production in 2008 was the lowest in a decade, falling 28% just since the previous year.

The irony in all this is that the vast majority of the cocaine Colombia produces is exported and Colombians are eager to point that out. In one of the most interesting evenings of our entire yearlong trip, I spent hours discussing this phenomenon with a group of Colombian college students at our hostel in Bogota. They were quite insistent about pointing out that they aren’t the ones using, we are. They hate that the rest of the world has this perception of them as a bunch of drug addicts, when in reality it’s the western countries’ drug problems that fuel cocaine production in a country like Colombia.

MISCONCEPTION 2: Colombia is dangerous. Colombia has had its share of violence in the last 30 years; there’s no way around that. It was a very dangerous place, even as recently a decade ago. And there still are some dangerous areas in Colombia. But as I mentioned above, times are changing. The Colombian people are embracing that change, and they are doing everything in their power to expedite it. At no point in our month in Colombia did we ever feel as though we were in any kind of danger. In fact, the local people went out of their way to steer tourists clear of any places that may be dangerous. It all started when we got off the plane and started asking the usual questions: “Where’s an ATM?”

“Where can we change money?” “Where’s the best place to get a cab?” We asked those questions more times than I can count over the course of the trip. Normally we got icy responses and pointing, nothing close to a smile. It makes sense, really - just like at home, asking these kinds of questions in airports and bus stations isn’t met with friendly enthusiasm, but rather a serviceable and curt answer. In Colombia, however, all our questions were met with enthusiasm, friendliness, and a huge smile. After arriving at our hostel and finding out that there was a problem with the room we reserved, we moved. While we were initially frustrated, we quickly changed our tune as the woman working there worked so hard and fast to find us a new place, all the while apologizing over and over and even walking us to our new place. The people at the new hostel could not have been more helpful and friendly. One of the workers had a house in the beach town of Taganga, and when he found out we were planning to go there, he invited us to his place - not just to hang out, but to stay. Anything we needed, they helped with, and they always did it with a smile.

And it continued in that way. Cab drivers, servers, bartenders, everyone who worked at our hostel, people we met in the streets, police officers, guards - literally everyone - was open and warm. It was almost surreal to see this kind of friendliness. Everyone was patient with our Spanish. Everyone was willing to help. After learning more about Colombians and their culture, I think they are just embracing the chance to be happy. After living under so much violence, after their country was torn apart over the last several decades by drug cartels and paramilitary groups, they are rejoicing. While sometimes as a tourist and traveler I have felt not wanted and as though I was a burden to the local people, it was the complete opposite in Colombia. We were welcomed with open arms, and not just because we had money to spend. They were genuinely happy to see us visiting their country. And we felt the pride evident in that group of college students everywhere we went. Colombians love their country, and they want the rest of the world to feel the same. Colombians always seemed to be smiling. It was contagious. How can one not be happy in a place like this?

MISCONCEPTION 3: There’s nothing much to see in Colombia. Hopefully by now you’re convinced that Colombia is a perfectly safe place to travel. But since many people have never even considered a trip there, you probably have no idea what’s awaiting you. While the people are what puts Colombia over the top as a tourist destination, not acknowledging the country’s vibrant cities and natural beauty would be a huge oversight. There are bustling metropolises like Bogota and Medellin that have everything large, urban cities in other countries have to offer, but without the attitude that usually comes with them. Tinto (sweet, black coffee) vendors are everywhere offering 25¢ cups of coffee. Beautiful, unique tourist attractions like the Gold Museum and Police Museum offer something that most other museums don’t - like free admission and personalized tours by Colombian police officers, all with the goal of improving their English.

There are stunning beach cities like Cartagena that offer not only white sand beaches, but also gorgeous architecture and wonderful food. A short jaunt up the Caribbean coast and you find fishing villages like Taganga, where literally everyone we met stayed longer than planned. Fresh seafood vendors, masseuses, and jewelry touts slowly sauntered down the beach in an extremely laid-back manner, even being so polite as asking permission before showing you their goods. Then there’s Tayrona National Park, certainly one of the most beautiful, serene, and empty tropical locales in the world. Sleep in a hammock on the beach, enjoy hiking through lush jungle from deserted beach to deserted beach, and take advantage of the solitude and lack of development that a place with this much beauty very rarely affords. Tayrona is a place where days can be spent just enjoying nature, swimming in crystal clear waters, lounging on what seems like your own personal beach, and watching a coconut slowly being taken out to sea and being brought back to the beach. It truly is Heaven on Earth. Big cities and beach oases aren’t all that

Colombia offers, though. Trek through the jungle like Indiana Jones to La Ciudad Perdida (the Lost City). Spend time on a finca (coffee farm) lounging around the pool, sipping coffee, and touring the coffee plantations, all the while being treated as though you’re part of the family. Go salsa dancing in Cali, visit a cathedral carved out of a rock salt mine in Zipaquira, go rafting, kayaking, or paragliding in San Gil. Colombia really does have it all. One of the additional benefits of a trip to Colombia is an opportunity to have your eyes opened in a way many other destinations can’t match. Like me, you can someday look back on your reluctance to visit Colombia and laugh, once you decide that traveling to see for yourself is often far better than relying on news reports and stereotypes. These days, I want to draw my own conclusions about a country and its people based on my own experiences - and while other places I visited were helping me realize that bit by bit, Colombia hit me with that realization squarely between the eyes. I urge you to let Colombia do the same thing for you.


Over the past 10 years, Colombia has enjoyed a huge change in fortunes. The economy is humming, drugrelated violence is down and security forces have corralled the rebel FARC guerillas. From infrastructure to corruption, however, some serious problems persist.



BOGOTA - What a difference a decade makes. Ten years ago, Colombia was the Greece of Latin America in the eyes of investors. Young people were desperate to emigrate. The well-off, afraid they’d be kidnapped, avoided traveling between Bogota and Medellin. When they did, it was best to travel the 240 kilometers that separate the two cities in a convoy, escorted by armed guards. And, oh yes: Colombia’s murder rate was the highest on the planet: 76 per 100,000 inhabitants.

mind would dare venture into the ultra-violent neighborhood. Now, people walk around freely. It was there, in the city’s hillside barrios, that Colombian authorities first began trying to reestablish the rule of law. In October 2002, soon after President Alvaro Uribe’s arrival to power, some 3,000 soldiers – backed by tanks and helicopters – seized control of Communa 13 after five days of combat. “It’s like we took back our own country,” says one Colombian man.

But that was before the turnaround. This country of 45 million residents, thanks to its booming annual GDP growth of 5.5%, has recently passed Chile to boast South America’s third largest economy – after Brazil and Argentina. No one would compare it with Greece now. Colombian bonds have recently been upgraded to “investment-grade.” A decade ago they were classified as “junk.” Another positive sign is the free trade agreement (FTA) Colombia has finally managed to seal with the United States. The U.S. Congress approved the FTA a month ago, after five years of deliberations.

A majority of Colombians credit Mr. Uribe for the turnaround. In 2006, the popular conservative was reelected. He was succeeded four years later by his defense minister, Juan Manuel Santos, who is remembered in France for receiving French-Colombian hostage and former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt on the military tarmac after the 2008 commando raid that freed her from her guerilla captors, the FARC.

Colombia’s rapid growth has had positive social effects as well. Ten years ago, 50% of the country lived on less than $2 per day. Today it’s down to 37%, and unemployment, which once affected a fifth of the population, has been halved. Colombia’s infamous murder rate, furthermore, is now a third of what it was, and kidnappings are down by a factor of 12. Perhaps nowhere is the transformation more evident than in Medellin’s Communa 13 neighborhood. A decade ago, no police officer in his right

Today, the much-diminished guerrilla army is down to about 8,000 soldiers – a fifth of what it boasted a decade ago. Earlier this month, the FARC’s top commander, Alfonso Cano, was killed. The FARC has succumbed to a Colombia army that is now much more professional thanks to the $6 billion funneled its way from the United States to fund the Plan Colombia program.

All in favor of free markets In the meantime, Colombia – long known as a “narco-state” – has succeeded in greatly reducing its cocaine commerce. Based on satellite images, authorities estimate that coca production has been cut by nearly two-thirds since 2001, from

163,000 to 59,000 hectares. Instead of cocaine, Colombia’s star exports are now exotic fruits, flowers, nickel, coffee, textiles and chemical products, according to Maria Claudia Lacouture, president of Proexport, Colombia’s investment and tourism promotion agency. What’s the secret to Colombia’s success? According to Standard & Poor’s, the country has benefited greatly from a general consensus that’s developed between the population and its leaders about the importance of unbridled private investment. To that, Gonzalo Restrepo, head of the local subsidiary of the Casino super market chain, adds: “the return of security, an openness to foreigners, a legal framework and fiscal stability, and guarantees provided by an independent judiciary.” Demographics play a role as well. Roughly half the population is less than 30 years old, and they’re not only eager to leave the dark years behind, but willing to work hard to make sure that happens. Many of them are part of a new middle class that is largely driven by a desire for consumer goods. According to Restrepo, the market for products such as electronics and autos is growing by as much as 40% annually. Indeed, over the past decade, Colombia’s per capita GDP has grown from $2,000 to $6,500, allowing the country to apply for membership in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. More so than its South American neighbors, Colombia is very much in tune with the United States and has few qualms about embracing a free-market economic system. Here there are no unemployment benefits. Health insurance and

pensions are obligatory, but privately run. And except for certain agricultural sectors, Colombia does little to protect its local industries, opting instead for fair trade deals. Besides its recently approved trade agreement with the United States, it also has one pending with the European Union. “Colombia plays the economic integration card,” says Edima Pereira Romero of the newspaper Dineiro.

In need of a few good highways Colombia is failing, however, when it comes to equally distributing its newfound earnings. Evidence of that are the “recyclers” – people who eke out a living by scavenging in garbage cans, and the “red light” workers – street peddlers who sell to commuters held up by stoplights. On the other end of the spectrum are the 15% of Colombians who are considered rich or super-rich. And violence, while it has greatly diminished, is still a problem. Foreigners who live here are encouraged to check the crime “forecast” before venturing into certain areas. They’re also encouraged to avoid certain neighborhoods in Bogota, which is nevertheless a safer city than Washington D.C. Infrastructure is a problem as well. Colombia has neither expressways nor trains, and its only Pacific port, Buonaventura, lies in an almost lawless zone. It costs more to transport a container between Bogota and Cartagena, on the Atlantic coast, than to ship it to China or France.


Canada was right to sign a free-trade agreement with Colombia. The South American country has made dramatic strides in recent years in improving security and the economy, and has emerged as a successful regional leader. Foreign capital is pouring in, and the economy is growing by 4 per cent. Old clichĂŠs about being home only to drug barons and coca fields no longer apply.




President Juan Manuel Santos has committed to tackle the human rights crisis, but despite a number of welcome successes in high-profile cases, Amnesty International has yet to see real improvements in bringing to justice those responsible for human rights abuses. REUTERS

The guerrilla fighters known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have effectively been incapacitated, their force cut in half. Kidnappings have been reduced by 88 per cent in the last six years. President Juan Manuel Santos, who took office last year, deserves credit for carrying on the fight against the FARC – and for addressing the impunity and corruption that plagued the former government, even as it successfully fought the rebels. The country’s spy agency has been under investigation for wiretapping judges and opposition politicians, and for its links to paramilitary groups. The President has passed an anti-corruption law and a land restitution law and has amplified a program to protect human rights defenders. He has also mended fences with Venezuela’s mercurial President Hugo Chavez. “Since assuming the presidency, the President has changed the direction and tone of Colombia, and tackled many of its underlying economic and social problems,” said Ken Frankel, chair of the Canadian Council for the Americas. Mr. Santos is flying into Toronto on Thursday to receive the CCA’s statesman-ofthe-year award.

Of course, reforms don’t come without a political price. Mr. Santos has lost the support of the enormously popular man who helped him get elected: former president Alvaro Uribe, a selfdescribed street fighter who disagrees with him on Twitter and in public. Analysts say this shows a healthy independence. “Colombia’s capacity to generate internal reforms is impressive,” notes Prof. Max Cameron of the University of British Columbia. Mr. Santos still faces many challenges, including criminal gangs, internally displaced people and FARC’s hit-and-run attacks on government patrol units. But as he charts a new course for Colombia, the President has shown that his government is dedicated not just to security and economic growth, but to respecting the human rights of all.


Recién cumplido su primer año de mandato, el presidente ha normalizado la relación entre los tres poderes del Estado y está reformando el sistema judicial, amén de haber aprobado la Ley de Víctimas y de Restitución de Tierras.


EN COLOMBIA Emilio Melendez del Valle


¿Es la integración de América Latina un espejismo? Dos o tres conjuntos y algunos casos singulares escenifican el proceso. Mercosur (Brasil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay) -con quien la Unión Europea no ha logrado aún crear un Acuerdo de Asociación- es el más coherente. La cohesión centroamericana gana puntos. Las mayores dificultades se dan en la Comunidad Andina de Naciones (Bolivia, Ecuador, Perú, Colombia), bloqueada por serias dificultades internas, ideológicas y técnicas.

Deng Xiaoping, un presidente clave en la evolución china, sorprendió en 1988 con este vaticinio: “Se dice a menudo que el siglo XXI será el siglo del Pacífico, pero yo creo que podría ser también el siglo de América Latina”. Más de 20 años después, las relaciones comerciales y de inversión entre China y Latinoamérica han crecido espectacularmente, pero ¿está América Latina -una América ni genuina ni plenamente integrada- en condiciones de protagonizar el siglo XXI?

A corto plazo no parece fácil, pero tal vez pueda afirmarse que el camino se ha iniciado. México, Colombia, Perú y Chile trabajan en esa dirección a través de una asociación informal denominada Arco del Pacífico. Más de 200 millones de personas, más del 35% del PIB latinoamericano y más del 55% de las exportaciones de esa región al resto del mundo son sus credenciales. Por su lado, Brasil y Argentina tienen una ingente relación comercial e inversora con China. Tanto que en un lustro -salvo que Mercosur y la Unión Europea culminen el Acuerdo de Asociación, hoy en litigio- Pekín nos habrá suplantado. Si un bloque como Mercosur y los cuatro Estados del Arco del Pacífico se coordinaran en su acción exterior, comercial y de inversiones, el presagio de Deng podría ser un hecho a medio plazo. En mi opinión, de esos países mencionados, la clave está en Colombia. Por población, territorio y recursos naturales, Brasil y México constituyen la avanzadilla, pero el tejido institucional mexicano está severamente dañado por la corrupción, la violencia y la ineficacia y no parece hallarse en vías de reforma. Un país o grupo de países que aspire a ser relevante en este siglo no solo debe poseer una sobresaliente presencia exterior, sino también sólidas y confiables instituciones internas, sin las cuales la vertiente externa acaba diluyéndose. Quizás a algunos les resulte paradójico u osado, pero estoy persuadido de que Colombia está camino de convertirse en el socio ideal de Brasil para liderar el proceso. Tras un largo conflicto armado (aún no concluido) con guerrillas supuestamente izquierdistas y la masiva actuación criminal de bandas paramilitares auspiciadas por terratenientes, con la complicidad de sectores del Ejército durante la anterior presidencia de Álvaro Uribe, Colombia está comenzando a salir del abismo.

¿Está América Latina en condiciones de protagonizar el siglo XXI?

La nueva Administración del presidente Santos (un centroderechista inteligente, convertido en reformador radical que goza de muy alta popularidad y que ha sabido integrar en su beneficio -y en el del paísa todas las fuerzas políticas existentes, con excepción de la izquierda, hoy desintegrada y cuya reconstitución es importante, también en beneficio del país) está llevando a cabo una revolución tranquila. La prensa local denomina el asombroso fenómeno “la metamorfosis” del presidente Santos.

Recién cumplido su primer año de mandato, el presidente ha normalizado la relación entre los tres poderes del Estado (el enfrentamiento entre Uribe y el Tribunal Supremo era constante) y está reformando el sistema judicial, amén de haber aprobado la Ley de Víctimas y de Restitución de Tierras (con el fin de hacer justicia a los miles de campesinos extorsionados o/y asesinados en los años anteriores). Además, significativos escándalos (megafraude en la sanidad pública, sistema crediticio, parapolítica-paramilitares, escuchas ilegales, narcotráfico, minería ilegal, corrupción carcelaria, exportaciones ficticias, subsidios agrícolas, entre otros) han sido denunciados y encausados, individual o conjuntamente, por el Gobierno, la Fiscalía y el Tribunal Supremo. Como escribía en estas páginas el mexicano Jorge Volpi, “en Colombia, los jueces enfrentaron a narcotraficantes, guerrilleros, paramilitares y políticos -a veces con el costo de sus vidas- hasta tejer un sistema judicial verdaderamente autónomo y eficaz”. (EL PAÍS, 11 de agosto de 2011). Y en política exterior, Bogotá ha normalizado las relaciones con Ecuador y Venezuela, puesto fin al incondicionalismo con Estados Unidos y potenciado Unasur, amén de actuar brillantemente, como miembro no permanente del Consejo de Seguridad onusiano, en el ejercicio de la responsabilidad de proteger en el caso libio.

Dado el trágico panorama de Colombia durante décadas (asesinatos de sindicalistas, periodistas y activistas pro derechos humanos, entre otros, crímenes que aún tienen lugar aunque en mucha menor medida, y ahora se persiguen y condenan), es lógico que haya sectores de opinión escépticos que estimen que poco ha cambiado de Álvaro Uribe a Juan Manuel Santos. A ellos se les puede decir que, ciertamente, no todo ha cambiado por completo todavía, pero que legal, jurídica e institucionalmente, se ha modificado todo lo necesario para hacer posible el gran cambio definitivo: la consolidación de Colombia como Estado de derecho y sociedad moderna y normalizada. Una sociedad, desde luego con memoria histórica, pero reconciliada consigo misma y con el Estado, desde ahora un ente confiable y no temible. En definitiva, una Colombia que contribuya, en cooperación con sus hermanos latinoamericanos, a convertir en real el buen augurio de Deng Xiaoping. actualidad/1317582984_012076.html


Saludos from Colombia city-lovers! Today we check in with Florida native Matt Dickhaus who has been living and working in Medellín for the past two years. Here he shares his insider tips to his South American city.

Medellín is My City


Photo - Matt Dickhaus


The first place I take a visitor from out of town is Lleras Park to one of the dozens of great open air restaurants, cafes, and bars. When I crave fresh mango juice I always go to La Jugosa. Don’t like mango? Try freshly squeezed strawberry, raspberry, watermelon, maracuja, lulo, or orange juices. To escape from the city I head to Los Salados just 45 minutes outside of town. Here, set beside a large lake, you’ll find numerous picnic tables covered with natural thatched roofs where you can grill your freshly caught fish. For complete quiet, I can hide away at the city’s Jardín Botánico or Botanical Gardens surrounded by grassy fields, tropical flowers, and a variety of trees. If you come to my city, get your picture taken with one of the many Botero sculptures downtown. If you have to order one thing off the menu from Ay Caramba in Lleras Park it has to be the nachos which are slathered with cheesy toppings and big enough for two to share. La Machete is my one-stop shop for fresh, crispy empanadas with homemade salsa and a ripe, local orange on the side to squeeze the juice on top. These empanadas always hit the spot. Marco Aurelio / My Shot

Locals know to skip Santa Elena and check out Pueblito Paisa, a replica of a traditional Colombian town from colonial times. Located on the top of a small hill, this city square has great views of the city. For a huge splurge I go to Milagros, traditional Mexican restaurant located in El Poblado. Photo ops in my city include Botero sculptures, the Metrocable, and Arvi Park. The best vantage points are from the look out points in Las Palmas. The most random thing about my city is you can find chickens and horses sharing the street with Porsches. In my city, an active day outdoors involves mountain biking along local trails, a game of soccer, or kayaking in one of the lakes outside the city. My city’s best museum is the Modern Art Museum. You can tell a lot about my city from walking down a city street in the evening. On every corner you’ll find a small store or tienda where people go after work for a coffee, a cold beer, or simply to chat with the neighbors. You can tell if someone is from my city if they are sporting a green Nacional jersey. The local soccer team is very popular and displaying fan loyalty occurs daily.

A hidden gem in my city is Ciudad del Rio, a small park hidden behind an apartment building. On the weekends you can have a picnic or simply relax in the shade. Don’t miss the Medellín Flower Fair in April, a week long celebration that includes a parade of over 10,000 people dressed in the traditional garb. Just outside my city, you can visit Guatapé where you can climb 600 steps to the top of a giant rock to get an amazing view of the thousands of islands and lakes that surround the area. If my city were a pet it would be a horse because although the city is quite modern, you’ll often see horse-drawn carts– carrying fresh fruit, vegetables, or construction materials– sharing the streets with cars. If I didn’t live in a city, I’d live in a hammock in Montañita, Ecuador. My city should be featured on your cover or website because it has beautiful weather all year round, the friendliest people I’ve ever met, and a bad reputation people should know isn’t true.

One of Medellín’s many Botero sculptures. Photo / Matt Dickhaus


AFTER BRICS, CIVETS? By John Greenwood


Ten years after Brazil, Russia, India and China were dubbed the BRICs, any early mover advantage for investing in those economies has long gone. But lovers of acronyms will be relieved to learn the latest investment theme claiming to steal a march on emerging markets also has a catchy name: CIVETS. The so-called CIVETS group of countries—Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey and South Africa— are being touted as the next generation of tiger economies, even if they are named after a more shy and retiring feline mammal.

These nations all have large, young populations with an average age of 27. This, or so the theory goes, means these countries will benefit from fast-rising domestic consumption. They also are all fast-growing, relatively diverse economies, meaning they shouldn’t be as heavily dependent on external demand as the BRICs. HSBC Global Asset Management launched the first fund specifically targeting these countries, the HSBC GIF CIVETS fund, in May. HSBC points to rising levels of foreign direct investment across the grouping, low levels of public debt— except for Turkey—and sovereign credit ratings moving toward investment grade. Critics say CIVETS countries have nothing in common beyond their youthful populations. Furthermore, they say, liquidity and corporate governance are patchy and political risk remains a factor, particularly in Egypt. “This sounds like a gimmick to me,” says Darius McDermott, managing director at Chelsea Financial Services. “What does Egypt have in common with Vietnam? At least the BRIC countries were the four biggest emerging economies, so there was some rationale for grouping them together. A general emerging-markets fund would be a less risky way to get similar exposure.” Still, early numbers suggest that CIVETS investors could prosper. The S&P CIVETS 60 index, established in 2007, is ahead of two other emerging-markets indexes—the S&P BRIC 40 and S&P Emerging BMI—over one and three years.

Colombia: Colombia is emerging as an attractive destination for investors. Improved security measures have led to a 90% decline in kidnappings and a 46% drop in the murder rate over the past decade, which has helped per-capita gross domestic product double since 2002. Colombia’s sovereign debt was promoted to investment grade by all three ratings agencies this year. Colombia has substantial oil, coal and naturalgas deposits. Foreign direct investment totaled $6.8 billion in 2010, with the U.S. its principal partner. HSBC Global Asset Management likes Bancolombia SA, the country’s largest private bank, which has posted a return on equity of more than 19% for each of the last eight years. Indonesia: The world’s fourth-most populous nation, Indonesia weathered the global financial crisis better than most, helped by its massive domestic consumption market. After growing 4.5% in 2009, it rebounded above the 6% mark last year and is predicted to stay there for the next few years. Its sovereign debt rating has risen to one notch below investment grade in the last year. Although Indonesia has the lowest unit labor costs in the Asia-Pacific region and a government ambitious to make the nation a manufacturing hub, corruption is a problem. Some fund managers see exposure best achieved through local subsidiaries of multinationals. Andy Brown, investment manager at Aberdeen Asset Management, holds PT Astra International, an auto conglomerate that is majority-owned by Jardine Matheson Group.

Vietnam: Vietnam has been one of the fastestgrowing economies in the world for the past 20 years, with the World Bank projecting 6% growth this year rising to 7.2% in 2013. Its proximity to China has led some analysts to describe it as a potential new manufacturing hub. But communist Vietnam only became a member of the World Trade Organization in 2007. “The reality is that investing in Vietnam is still a very laborious process,” Mr. Brown says. Cynics suggest Vietnam is included within the CIVETS to make the acronym work. The HSBC fund has only a 1.5% target allocation to the country. Egypt: Revolution may have put the brakes on the Egyptian economy—the World Bank is predicting growth of just 1% this year, compared with 5.2% last year—but analysts expect it to regain its growth trajectory when political stability returns. Egypt’s many assets include fast-growing ports on the Mediterranean and Red Sea linked by the Suez Canal and its vast untapped natural-gas resources. Egypt has a big, young population—82 million strong and with a median age of 25. Aberdeen says National Société Générale Bank (NSGB), a subsidiary of Société Générale SA, is well-positioned to take advantage of Egypt’s underdeveloped domestic consumption.

Turkey: Located between Europe and major energy producers in the Middle East, Caspian Sea and Russia, Turkey has major natural-gas pipeline projects that make it an important energy corridor between Europe and Central Asia. “Turkey is a dynamic economy that has trading links with the European Union but without the constraints of the euro-zone or EU membership,” says Phil Poole of HSBC Global Asset Management. The World Bank is predicting growth of 6.1% this year, falling back to 5.3% in 2013. Mr. Poole rates national air carrier Türk Hava Yollari as a good investment, while Mr. Brown prefers fast-growing retailer BIM Birlesik Magazalar A.S. and Anadolu Group, which owns brewer Efes Beer Group. South Africa: Rising commodity prices, renewed demand in its automotive and chemical industries and spending on the World Cup have helped South Africa—a diversified economy rich in resources such as gold and platinum—resume growth after it slipped into recession during the global economic downturn. Many see the nation as a gateway to investment into the rest of Africa. HSBC sees long-term growth potential in mining, energy and chemical firm Sasol Ltd. 576546632573895382.html


With approval ratings at over 75% and a solid majority in congress, Mr. Santos has secured a package of groundbreaking laws, including one to return nearly 16 million acres of land-equal to West Virginia-taken from peasants during the war. In a wide-ranging interview in English, Mr. Santos said that the reform, linked to a plan to give up to about $20,000 in financial restitution to victims of the war, is the top challenge for his administration and a decisive step in dealing with issues surrounding land ownership, a root cause of Colombia’s violence.





President Santos Moves to Build on Security Gains of His Predecessor to Address Root Cause of Conflict: Land Ownership. BOGOTÁ—President Juan Manuel Santos has surprised friends and foes alike during his first year in office by distancing himself from his onetime boss, former President Álvaro Uribe, and setting an ambitious agenda to try to repair the damages from a long-running civil war.

Dismantling the country’s high levels of land concentration in few hands has been one of the most persistent demands by leftist guerrillas since they took up arms in the 1960s. Land that was stolen by paramilitary death squads and powerful regional bosses who threatened and sometimes massacred entire rural communities to force them off their farms over the past two decades only worsened matters. “We have been a country in conflict for so many years, so many decades, centuries even, that it’s time for us to heal our wounds,” said Mr. Santos, the 59-year-old scion of one of the nation’s most influential families, which once had the power to make and unmake presidents through control of El Tiempo, the country’s leading newspaper. The family no longer owns the paper.

The focus on healing the country took many here by surprise coming from Mr. Santos, who was defense minister in the administration of Mr. Uribe. The former two-term president transformed the country through a no-holds barred offensive against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or the FARC, a decades’ old leftist insurgency turned drug trafficking group that has been pushed deep into the country’s jungles. But Mr. Santos said his focus on healing Colombia is “building on top” of Mr. Uribe’s security achievements. “Once you start to regain control of the territory, you need to eliminate the objective factors of violence and this is one of them,” said the president, a former journalist who studied at the University of Kansas and Harvard Kennedy School. The president has also kept up pressure on the FARC. In September, forces killed Victor Suárez, also known as Mono Jojoy, the FARC’s second-incommand. Since then, however, there have few high-profile strikes. Recent polls also suggest that Colombians sense that the country’s security situation is worsening, giving ammunition to Uribe loyalists who say that Mr. Santos is lowering his guard. “In some areas it is true” that violence is up, Mr. Santos said. The president, however, maintains that renewed attacks by FARC are the result of the guerrillas being forced out of their traditional havens. Mr. Santos has changed the tenor of foreign policy in addition to domestic policy. He has

moved quickly to reset relations with Ecuador and Venezuela, with whom Mr. Uribe had a fraught relationship. Recently calling the now-ailing Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez “his new best friend,” Mr. Santos has gotten Mr. Chávez to pay back at least $600 million in money owed by Venezuela to Colombian businessmen, and arrest and extradite some members of the communist guerrillas who use Venezuela as a refuge. Mr. Santos has also re-established relations with Ecuador, which broke off diplomatic relations with Bogotá after the Colombian military attacked a rebel camp in Ecuadorian territory killing one of the FARC’s top commanders. The shift is part of a broader move to diversify Colombia from its dependence on the U.S. Mr. Santos has been courting Chinese investments more actively than his predecessor and is exploring the possibility of a joint Colombian-Chinese railroad connecting the country’s Pacific coast to the Caribbean as an alternative to the Panama Canal. During the Uribe administration, Bogotá was widely seen as the U.S.’s most dependable ally in the region. But ties have been strained due to the inability of the White House to deliver on a longpromised free-trade deal. While Mr. Santos said he was confident the U.S. trade deal could be approved soon, he warned that if the bill didn’t pass this year “it would be a major setback” because political enthusiasm for it could wane in the U.S. “It would be a lose-lose situation,” he said.




Yakup Ayden, the Dutch champion, has 15 minutes to prepare espressos, cappuccinos and his own signature drink for a six-member team of judges.

When positioned at an espresso machine, Rob Kettner says, he pushes the very boundaries of producing a cup of coffee. So as he prepared backstage for what in essence is the Olympics for coffee makers, Kettner tested a triple-decker brew tower. The contraption, complete with a scientific-looking coiling tube, takes eight hours to brew a liter of coffee. But the result is a “flavor manipulation,” as he put it, that just might give him the upper hand in four days of intense competition to determine who in the world makes the best coffee. “This is not making a cup of joe,” said Kettner, 35, the Canadian champion, who is part owner of the Fernwood Coffee Co. in British Columbia. “It’s culinary coffee at its best; it’s real, true coffee; it’s the exploration of coffee and how far we can take it.” He’s not the only one taking it seriously here in Bogota, capital of coffee central — the land of undulating, picturesque coffee farms and the iconic farmer Juan Valdez and his mule, Conchita. In an event sponsored by makers of espresso machines and Colombia’s Coffee Growers Federation, the competitors came last week from Estonia and the Czech Republic, China and Rwanda. Each has his or her own style, technique and signature coffee drink.

But they are all baristas (from the Italian for bartender). And in Bogota’s convention center, 54 of them are competing in the three rounds that make up the 12th annual World Barista Championship. The holy grail comes Sunday, with one barista achieving coffee glory (as well as snagging a Nuova Simonelli espresso machine and a trip to Brazil’s coffee country). That means they take no chances. The American, Pete Licata, 32, barista at the Honolulu Coffee Co., picks the beans from Hawaiian coffee bushes, then processes and roasts them himself. He has also made more cups of coffee than he could possibly count, he said, which helped him beat dozens of America’s best baristas and win a trip to Bogota. “With competitions, you practice making cappuccinos over and over again,” said Licata, who wore a snazzy purple shirt, colorful tie and thick beard. “I would probably say I’ve made over a thousand drinks just in preparation for competition, you know.” Wolfram Sorg, 35, a barista at Backyard Coffee in Frankfurt, Germany, arrived here with an entourage of supporters.

World Barista Championship, Rob Kettner, 35, of Canada, brews a liter of coffee in a triple-decker brewer.

Spending a year to prepare for the competition meant choosing just the right coffee from Ethiopia, taking into account how much rain fell and how many days of sun there were in the growing season. Sorg went so far as to design his own water distillation machine. He enriches that water with aromas from raspberries, but the distiller means no salt, no other taste. “We’ve been taking the long road here,” he said proudly. The real test comes in an arena that is a mix between a TV studio and a boxing ring. The fans (and in Colombia, there are plenty of fans) line the stands. Some bring flags, like those who traveled from as far as Romania or as near as Mexico. Wearing an apron and a ready smile, each barista has 15 minutes to make espressos, cappuccinos and a drink of his or her own invention for four judges, all of whom take copious notes. Two other judges, meanwhile, stand inches away, making sure the techniques used to dose and tamp down the coffee are just so. “You have to have very good technique,” explained Sonia Grant, a technical judge and founder of Kaffismidja, which roasts and makes coffee in Iceland. “You have to know your equipment completely, and know your coffee, and know how to grind the coffee to get a certain flavor.”

Moments after competing, Domas Ivonis, 22, admitted he had been a touch nervous. Maybe it was the cameras, the clapping from the audience, the jaundiced look from a judge. “I spilled milk, the milk was splashing,” Ivonis, who came from Lithuania, said almost apologetically. “I didn’t control it.” Yakup Aydin, 27, from the Netherlands, whooped it up with his supporters after his 15 minutes before the judges. He had added a touch of blueberry to the foam in his coffee and a pinch of tamarind. He could tell the judges liked what he was doing. He was in his zone. “Actually, in my mind, I was back in Holland, doing my routine,” he said, “and the coffee was coming out great, so I was happy.”

The Chinese champion, Gan Shilin, practices by making a cappuccino over and over again before it's his turn to compete in the World Barista Championship.



COFFEE EXPERTS CROWN COLOMBIA’S BEST BEANS By Frederick Kaufman / Photo - Sivan Lewin / Illustrations - Luke Shuman


If it’s springtime in Brazil it must be a Cup of Excellence.

It’s springtime in Colombia, and coffee experts from every part of the globe have convened in Santa Marta, a small city on the Caribbean coast. It is time to award the coffee industry’s most prestigious prize. The taste mavens make ready: Alberto Trujillo is deep into his pre-sip calisthenics, which consist of knee bends and alternating leg shakes. The Tijuanan has to prime his body, nose, and mouth for the so-called cupping that’s about to commence. As any java snob can tell you, to cup is to scrutinize the tastes and aromas of freshly brewed coffee. But Trujillo is no ordinary java snob, and what he’s girding for is no ordinary cupping. He has been certified by the Coffee Quality Institute as a licensed Q Grader, a person who can boast experience in everything from roast identification to sensory triangulation. And he’s about to serve as a judge in the annual Cup of Excellence competition. Alongside Trujillo stands Geoff Watts, vice president of coffee and an unroasted-bean buyer for the Chicago gourmet retailer Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea (winner of Roast magazine’s 2007 Macro-Roaster of the Year award). It’s early morning, the day’s competition will begin in short order, and Watts is sucking deep breaths, recalibrating his olfactory system, waiting for his mouth to reset. “Toothpaste is insidious,” he murmurs. Trujillo, Watts, and 18 other coffee connoisseurs will soon sample the 29 brews that have made it to the semifinals. Ten of these sit in front of each judge, in identical white cups with only a number to identify them, meticulously arranged in 20 straight lines on six broad tables. Each cup holds 11.5 grams of ground beans, measured out to the hundredth of a gram.

The competition began four weeks before, when 513 fincas (farms) from across this coffee-obsessed nation submitted samples of their finest unroasted beans. Now, after marathon tasting sessions with Colombian judges, the contestants have been whittled down to the chosen few displayed on the white tablecloths of this convention center. In the three hour-long cupping trials that will soon commence, a panel of internationally renowned tasters will reject half of the remaining lots. Tomorrow Trujillo, Watts, and their cohorts will rank Colombia’s top coffees and name the champion. The vibe among the judges is more geeky than gastronomical. The majority of them are roasting techs and quality-control wonks decked out in socks and sandals. Now they advance toward the cupping tables, clutching clipboards and calculators. Meanwhile, the heavyset chief judge, Paul Songer, tells me about the future of his noble calling. He earned his tasting bona fides after a two-year program in Applied Sensory and Consumer Science at UC Davis, and he believes that coffee gourmandism has the potential to rival oenophilia’s cultish obsessiveness. Watts notes that while the fruit of the vine incorporates about 200 different taste-bestowing elements, more than 800 distinct flavor- and aroma-imparting compounds have been detected in java. “In 30 years or so,” he says, “our taste in coffee will match our taste in wine.” Of course, this bold future of coffee is already here — it’s just insufficiently blended. The elaborate rituals of, say, a Blue Bottle coffee shop already make a $4 Starbucks latte look like Folgers. But the fetishization of coffee has yet

to extend beyond an elite circle of urban stimulant junkies. It will take all the business acumen and marketing wherewithal of coffee nerds like Songer and Watts to see the rest of us through to the day when the humble bean will become one of the most carefully cultivated crops in the world, when a cup of joe will explode into a stratosphere of price and a near-infinite selection of exotic varietals, each as renowned in its own right as Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon. Everyone in this room is banking on the prospect. The first Cup of Excellence competition was held 12 years ago in Brazil. Any farmer in the nation could submit beans for consideration. A panel of importers, roasters, and expert sippers selected a winner, which was then sold for exorbitant sums in an Internet auction. Susie Spindler, executive director of the Alliance for Coffee Excellence, masterminded the format, which was exported to countries across Latin America and to Rwanda. She now has her eyes set on Burundi, Kenya, and Tanzania. “Cup of Excellence has completely changed the infrastructure of how coffees are sold,” she says. Once upon a time, coffee-growing countries were focused solely on maximizing the volume of beans produced. But the more that bean quality has affected price, the more impassioned coffeeproducing nations have become about divergent strains and varietals. At last year’s Colombian Cup of Excellence, the winning beans, called Finca La Loma, caused a scandal. They garnered a score of 94.92, the highest in the history of the Colombian coffee industry, and judges de-

clared that the velvety brew was exceptionally sweet and smacked of clover and watermelon. A 2,000-pound microlot sold at auction to a consortium of international buyers for $40.09 a pound, which translated to a staggering street value of $260 a kilo in Japan. All this was good news for the peasant who produced Finca La Loma on his 20-acre coffee patch. But it was also good news for the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia, a nonprofit that represents the country’s half million growers. The organization, known by the nickname Fedecafé, trumpeted the fact that Finca La Loma was Castillo, a newfangled bean varietal bred by its scientific arm. This hybrid had been designed to withstand the dreaded Colombian coffee rust, a fungus that can devastate entire fincas. At Fedecafé’s behest, growers across the country had ripped out heirloom strains like Bourbon, Caturra, and Típica and replaced them with Castillo. But some farmers resisted, largely because they were not convinced that Castillo tasted quite as delicioso as Colombia’s traditional varietals. Soon after Finca La Loma’s victory, dark rumors began to circulate suggesting that the winning bean was in fact a Caturra strain, delicate and vulnerable to coffee rust but renowned for taste. This was no picayune point of contention, for Colombia had recently registered its lowest level of coffee production in more than three decades. Castillo was supposed to save the industry from what The New York Times dubbed “peak coffee.” Now the Fedecafè9’s creation had been besmirched.

Cafecert, an independent coffee auditor, examined the disputed results, and while it could have deployed near-infrared spectrometry to differentiate between the chemical makeup of Caturra and Castillo, the auditors opted instead to visit the finca and count coffee trees. At which point the truth emerged: The Finca La Loma blend was about 30 percent Castillo—not the PR coup Fedecafé was hoping for, but not totally embarrassing either. The international scandal fizzled into a low-grade brew-haha, but it illustrated just how much the Cup of Excellence has come to matter to the growers, buyers, and comandantes who inhabit this new universe of coffee. Caturra and Castillo comprise but two of the 100 or so varietals that crowd the genus Coffea, but genetics is hardly the sole determinant of flavor. While the high-altitude volcanic soils of South America shape the terroir, the quality of a cup depends on a host of other critical factors: A grower must choose the moment of optimum ripeness to harvest his cherries, then select among various methods of washing, drying, pulping, polishing, and sorting. At the end of the line comes roasting, more art than science, a job reserved for masters such as those gathered here in the tropics on this humid morning. As a matter of course, Cup of Excellence competitions begin early, before a judge’s palate can be contaminated by the daily fusillade of pollutants that assault taste buds and nose hairs. So at 8 am, the cuppers are already bent over their cups, executing a truculent series of snorts, as though they are sampling Colombia’s other famed export. It’s a blind tasting: The judges do not know

The Fine Art of Cupping How to evaluate coffee like a licensed grader.


A 5- or 6-ounce cup is recommended. It should be clean with no apparent fragrance.


The roast profile should be light to light-medium. (Ideally, you’d use a colorimeter to measure darkness level.) The sample should be roasted within 24 hours of cupping and then allowed to “rest” for at least 8 hours in airtight containers.


The beans should be ground immediately prior to cupping - no more than 15 minutes before infusion with water. Particle size should be somewhat coarse, with 70 to 75 percent of the particles passing through a US standard size-20 mesh sieve. Before infusion, cuppers should evaluate the dry fragrance by sniffing the grounds.



After steeping, floating grounds will form a “crust” on the surface of the brew. Break it by stirring three times with a special evaluation spoon. The Fragrance / Aroma score is based on the earlier dry evaluation and this wet evaluation.


Generally 8.25 grams of coffee per 150 ml of water, within at least a quarter of a gram.


Water should be clean and odor-free but not distilled or softened. (The ideal level of total dissolved solids is 125 to 175 parts per million.) The water should be 200 degrees Fahrenheit and the brew left to steep undisturbed for three to five minutes.

When the sample has cooled to 160 degrees, the crust can be cleared and coffee can be taken into the mouth, covering as much of the tongue and upper palate as possible. (Expectorate the sample—do not swallow.) Flavor and aftertaste are rated at this point. At around 150 degrees, the acidity and body are graded, as well as the balance. (This is how well the flavor, aftertaste, acidity, and body fit together.) As the brew approaches room temperature, sweetness and uniformity are evaluated. So is “clean cup,” the absence of interfering negative impressions. The points are tallied up, and the overall score is assigned.

the provenance of the beans or who washed and gathered them, so nothing comes between their sensory apparatus and the dry grounds.

four minutes. No one moves. No one speaks. In the still silence, a muddy scum of black grounds accumulates at the top of each cup.

The extreme sniff defines the competition’s first protocol, and results are duly noted on the score sheet, which is a rather complicated document. Categories include aroma, as well as acidity, balance, sweetness, and aftertaste, each graded on a scale from 1 to 8.

The instant the allotted 240 seconds have passed, the judges brandish their spoons, which have been secreted in jacket pockets or tiny holsters. These are no ordinary utensils: They have an uncommonly deep bowl, the better for judging.

COE judging boasts a level of internationalism that rivals the Olympics. In addition to Trujillo and Watts, there is a representative from Solberg & Hansen, which has been providing a fix for Norway’s caffeine addicts since 1879. There is a Brazilian, two kaffee-meisters from Germany, a young Swede with a very thin mustache, and two Japanese (one with Rolex, the other without). As the judges snuffle and honk, a line of pretty young women stand at attention before silver urns of water heated to exactly 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Each sports a snug white T-shirt and skinny jeans, as well as a form-fitting smock and cap that bear the Cup of Excellence logo. These coffee chicas play a minor yet essential role in the event, much like booth babes at car shows or Vanna White on Wheel of Fortune. At some recondite signal, they fill silver pitchers with steaming water from the giant urns and march in hip-swinging unison toward the tables, where they perform a simultaneous pour into each identical white cup. As bean-grind seepage begins, the women retreat a few paces, and the judges set their iPhones and BlackBerrys to count down from

It’s time for the crucial opening gambit, known as the “break.” Slowly, with unimaginable care, the judges push their deep-bowled flatware through the detritus that has risen to the top of each cup and gently perturb the brew. They bow their heads before each cup, inhale the aromatics of crust and subcrust, then grab a second spoon from the table and with a swift two-handed swipe clear every last ground from the top, leaving behind a surprisingly translucent cup of coffee. The highly ritualized pomp and precision of the pour and break might give the mistaken impression that international coffee- tasting competitions are dignified and stately affairs. Such is not the case, as immediately becomes evident when tasting begins. It turns out that to judge coffee really, really well, a cupper must mix each spoonful with as much ambient air as possible, thereby transforming the contents of the spoon into a flavorful spray that coats that interior of the mouth. The finer the spray, the easier it is to register each subtle hint of acidity, each interstitial nuance of sweet and bitter. All of which means that when an expert cupper sips his coffee, the sound produced most closely resembles a long, loud, juicy fart.

After years of competition, each judge has developed a signature frequency, level, and intensity. Trujillo from Tijuana gurgles; Uwe Liebergall, a German roaster, executes a high-speed, high-efficiency suck; one South Korean performs a retrograde mouth sneeze. The cumulative auditory effect is like being at a party of fructose-drunk 5-year-olds supplied with kazoos. Even worse than the slurp is the spit. Immediately following each intake, the judges drool into Styrofoam cups, the contents of which they periodically dump into vomitous black plastic buckets that sit at the end of each table. Lips pursed, faces contorted in aesthetic concentration, the judges gurgle and expectorate, and as the contest advances, a frothy swill of championship spittle accumulates in the buckets. Despite such ugliness, the human percolators continue smooching the brew and scribbling on their score sheets with a steadfast passion. Suck… spit… contemplate… annotate… suck… spit… contemplate… annotate… Watts circles his flared, twitching nostrils around a black-flecked brim. “Try number eight,” he whispers. Thrilled that Watts has spoken to me—I have been forbidden to address him or any of the judges—I approach an apprentice table set up for those still learning the subtleties of the craft. I stare at number eight, then bow before the brew as I have seen the others do; I’m surprised to discover I cannot detect the slightest aroma. I pick up a spoon and give a taste: lukewarm, weak. Number eight is one crappy cup of coffee, and I can’t wait to hear the judges ravage this swill.

There are more than 100 varietals of the genus Coffea.

“Phenol, number seven!” chief judge Songer cries. “Disqualified!” Phenol refers to that chlorinated, iodine-like taste available from sidewalk coffee vendors everywhere. No one knows where the phenol taste comes from, although one theory posits that the defect occurs when a coffee cherry has been exposed to too much ultraviolet light during ripening. But there has been no conclusive study. A great deal of coffee science remains to be done, Songer says.

The greatest minds in the field still struggle to understand the dynamics of bean respiration, fruit load, and countless other agronomic, genetic, and production- related perplexities. A strange mix of parietal polysaccharides and propionic acids define the bean, along with heavy shots of protopectins and peroxidases, alkyl-methoxypyrazines, and hexanals. Coffee labs map transduction pathways and signaling cascades and delve deep into humic matter and loam, not to mention the endless complexities of altitudinal gradient and shade. Meanwhile, the cause of that yucky medicinal phenol flavoring has remained elusive. “The Geekery is working on it,” Songer says, by which he means Texas A&M’s GCQRI, which no cupper ever calls by its full name: the Global Coffee Quality Research Initiative. As each cupping draws to a close, the judges punch their handhelds and stare at the scoring spreadsheets. Some pace the room, brains stunned by Excellence overload, lost in caffeinated lucubrations. Eventually, everyone sits and gazes toward the heavens in the long-standing tradition of poets, scholars, and quants. And as the cuppers await the brew muses to grace their synapses with one final inspiration, the session ends in silence. “It’s a challenge to use a human being as a measuring instrument,” Songer says. “You can’t set them up like a pH meter.” Fortunately, overcoming the limitations of human calibration comprises but a small part of the Cup of Excellence mission. The thrust of the operation is marketing, which means every effort must be made to squeeze the most dollars, euros, and yen out of

the Internet auction that follows the judging. To that end, the contest brass require the cuppers to present postjudging descriptors of every sample so their hyperbole can be publicized Zagat-style on the Cup of Excellence site, whipping up enthusiasm among bidders. After each session of cupping, Songer guides the taste maestros from the tournament floor to a small discussion room, draws the blinds, and leads the international assembly through the samples one by one, soliciting comments. All that the outside world will know of this secret event are the descriptors attached to each coffee. But I can reveal the contours of a typical session. (To safeguard the integrity of Cup of Excellence, Fedecafé, and every Colombian campesino who submitted a bean, some brew details have been changed.) Songer asks what people thought of sample number one. “That was way off,” the Norwegian offers. “Yeah,” says Liebergall, the German. “Green. Grainy. Doughy.” The judges shake their heads. Next up, number two. “Herbal, floral,” says Wendy De Jong, chair of the Specialty Coffee of America Roaster’s Guild. It soon becomes clear that judging coffee is a cerebral game as much as a sensual one. Mythopoeic capacity may matter as well. “Chocolate, licorice, and butterscotch,” the Swede says.

“Cooked bananas, rhubarb, and hibiscus,” the Brazilian adds. “It had power,” Watts says. “Oomph.” Sample three was too aggressive, the judges agree. Four was floaty and clean, with juicy pear and a little honey. Five delivered doses of black currant, mango, passion fruit, plum, and tamarind. Six was elegant but inconsistent. “Metallics,” Trujillo declares. “Red wine. Coconut. Lemongrass.” Seven, as we know, was disqualified for phenol. Then comes number eight, the vile specimen I unfortunately swallowed, and I wait for the judges to condemn the blend to the eternal roasts of coffee hell. “Mango and milk chocolate” are the first descriptors, neither of which sound at all like the solvent I sipped. “Blackberry and plum!” someone offers. Someone detects elderberries. Another discovers notes of breadfruit and lychee. The ecstatic similes pile up: tea rose, white peach, crème brûlée. Cherry Garcia ice cream! Rye bread! Watts raises his hand. “That was — ” he begins, then pauses for a very long time. “That was austere.” The following morning, all judges report to the discussion room an hour before the final cupping session. Soon their sniffs and snarfs will rank

the top 10 remaining blends and leave standing a single champion — Colombia’s quintessential Cup. Songer has prepared them for this moment by continual reinforcement of the tao of taste. “Make the issue between you and the coffee,” he advised the day before. Now he projects a graphical representation of the judges’ sensory propensities. The charts demonstrate how the vagaries of human taste can be mathematized into box-plot diagrams that indicate spread, skew, and outliers. “Scores into the upper 90s will be possible for these samples,” he says as he casts a cold Nietzschean eye on the assembly. “Get beyond right and wrong.” A Colombian TV crew has shown up today, anchored by a local DJ whose efforts to make coffee cupping sound exciting rival a Univision fútbol commentator’s fervid attempt to keep viewers tuned in to a scoreless tie. As he yammers to the cameras, and the judgers slurp and spit and mark their forms, I realize that in my haste to report the proceedings I have neglected my own morning jet fuel. The Colombian day has turned into a scorcher, so I slip off my loafers, open a few buttons on my shirt, and gulp a few cups of the finest coffees on earth. Perhaps it’s the rarefied nature of the brews that have sharpened my sensory acuity, but the more Cups of Excellence I throw back, the more the roasts begin to open up — which, in turn, leads to more cups of coffee and even greater heights of perception. Clean and complex layers of piquancy dance over my tongue, and I catch delicate edges of Merlot, almond, and scorched prune.

Unfortunately, the sensory high soon turns into a full-blown crash. My hands begin to tremble, and I fumble my pen and grope around the floor for it, sweat dripping onto the carpet. I am like a drunk at a wine tasting, and the coffee chicas shake their heads. Yet another gringo has descended into a xanthine-alkaloid-induced mania. “Any problem?” asks Yunson Lee, a judge from South Korea. I shake my head. “Put your shoes on,” Liebergall says. “It may be having a negative effect on the jury.” Bigwigs from Fedecafé have arrived for the gala awards ceremony this evening, along with a cornucopia of government officials and a phalanx of press. But the main attraction is the growers, who have descended from the Cordilleras freshly shaven and permanently sunburned. The scores of entrants wear neatly pressed black slacks, white button-downs, red scarves, and straw hats. One of them is too típico to be true: He sits with tremendous aplomb, poker face shaded by an enormous sombrero and a fabulous handlebar mustache. No doubt his burro stands in the parking lot, piled high with handpicked sacks of bean. Half a century ago, the advertising agency Doyle Dane Bernbach created the Colombian ur-peasant, Juan Valdez, icon of Colombian coffee — and here, at long last, appears the incarnation. After endless speeches from the politicos and an even longer session of cumbia — traditional music of Colombia’s Caribbean coast — it’s time

to announce the Cup of Excellence grand-prize winner. Of course, the winning coffee turns out to have been submitted by the Juan Valdez doppelgänger. His name is Arnulfo Leguizamo, and his beans possess the acidity of passion fruit marked by splendid notes of apricot, lemongrass, jasmine, and tamarind. The liquor has a creamy, lingering, caramel flavor mellowed by hints of wild honey — and brings home a whopping score of 94.05. I manage to push my way through the scrum that immediately encloses the champion grower, who is being pestered by Japanese buyers, European roasters, and scads of photo-op-seeking coffee chicas. But in the great tradition of Hollywood producers who find themselves in possession of an Oscar, Señor Leguizamo’s first priority is his cell phone. Everyone else has to wait. Even the chicas. When I finally get the champ’s attention, I ask what will he do with all that dinero heading his way, and he looks over the teeming crowd, eyes moist with emotion. Perhaps he is recalling how, high in the mountains of Teruel, he harvested his Caturra, washed the cherries with cool spring water, and dried them in the sun, as did his father, as did the ancients. “Thank God and the Virgin Mary,” Leguizamo says. “Now I can pay my debts.” And what about a repeat performance? The peasant has no comment, but a few weeks later word comes that Arnulfo Leguizamo is nurturing a different kind of coffee tree on the finca this year, something special from the techs at Fedecafé: a variety called Castillo.


CARTAGENA, Colombia — The history, tropical charm and improved security of this exotic Spanish colonial city, so in vogue with conventioneers and cruise ship passengers, has been luring increasing numbers of foreigners interested in real estate.




Cartagena’s old city in 2008.

As the effects of the global financial crisis have eased, people from Spain, Italy, Venezuela and the United States are buying restored colonial mansions inside the old city as well as modern condos in beach areas, particularly the booming coastline north of this city of 1.4 million. One such buyer was Hector Cabrera, a chocolate importer from Venezuela who last month bought two condo units in Karibana, a new community about eight miles northeast of the city. A Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course is near completion at the 900-unit project and a five-star hotel is planned. “I wouldn’t have considered it five or six years ago, but Uribe gave the country relief from the guerrillas,” said Mr. Cabrera. He was referring to the former president, Álvero Uribe, who used United States military aid to subdue the leftist insurgents who had been challenging the government for decades. The Bogotá-based developer, Megaterra, modeled the project on other golf-oriented residential projects like Cap Cana in the Dominican Republic, Hacienda Pinilla in Costa Rica and Mayakoba in Mexico. It even hired EcoPlan of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the landscape architecture firm that designed Cap Cana. “We’re building the golf course to sell the project, to get people to believe in us,” said Joseph Mildenberg, the young University of Miamieducated scion of the family who owns the development company.

The average sale price at Karibana is about 5.1 million Colombian pesos a square meter, or $264.77 a square foot. Most Colombians say a top-end project like Karibana would not have succeeded in 2002, when Mr. Uribe was inaugurated. At the time, guerrillas controlled one third of Colombia, including much of the rural area south of Cartagena. There were an average of 10 kidnappings a day across the country. But Colombia, and especially Cartagena, has experienced a remarkable turnaround in recent years, morphing from tourism pariah to global hot spot before Mr. Uribe left office last summer. An average of 29 cruise ships a month now stop at the city during the eight-month season, up from just four a month in 2004, said Luis Ernesto Araújo, the city’s tourism director. The ships’ passengers spend their time in Cartagena shopping in places like the Bodegas, a converted slave dungeon, and exploring narrow streets like those in a Gabriel García Márquez novel. The Nobel Prize-winning writer owns a mansion here. “People come here and are enchanted by something that’s hard to define. The national slogan, ‘Colombia Is Passion,’ says it well,” Mr. Araújo said. “People come and realize Cartagena is a colonial relic that hasn’t been seriously touched.”

Tourists’ increased familiarity with the area has turned many foreigners into buyers, said Rafael Abondano, a developer who heads the construction industry association in Cartagena. He said 50 percent of the 11,000 high-end condos sold in the area since 2006 have been bought either by foreigners or by Colombians whose primary residences are abroad. The percentage of foreign buyers was even greater — more than 80 percent — at Terrazas del Mar, Mr. Abondano’s development in the Boca Grande neighborhood of Cartagena. The majority of the buyers were Colombians living in the United States, Spaniards and Venezuelans, with prices averaging 3.5 million pesos a square meter. That is the average price of condos at most high-end tower complexes in the city, he said.

Ms. Rodriguez said one recent sale involved an American who paid a little more than 7 billion pesos, or about $4 million, for a 750-squaremeter mansion. She described the residence as a typical property, rooms with high ceilings on two floors and an altillo, a roof-top area for entertaining and relaxing. The interest today is quite a turnaround from the early 1900s, when many of the old city’s mansions were abandoned and a section of the historic wall torn down to ease traffic, Ms. Rodriguez said. But the area’s lack of parking, high taxes and tourist hordes still push some buyers out to the beach areas and its new developments.

There also is a strong market for restored mansions built 300 or more years ago inside the old city’s 11 kilometers of walls. Wealthy Colombians see the houses as status symbols or as essential business assets in a city that increasingly is considered an important meeting, convention and cultural venue, said Mayra Rodriguez, owner of the Inmobiliaria IBN real estate agency in Cartagena. Cecilia Bustamante, the real estate broker who handled Mr. García Márquez’s purchase in the early 1990s, said prices for restored mansions now average about 10 million pesos a square meter while unrestored properties go for half that amount.


In February of 2009, I made my first visit to Colombia, near the beginning of my overland RTW adventure. This September, I went back for a couple months to see some parts of the country I didn’t see last time through. The difference in tourism could not have been more dramatic. In early 2009, there were hardly any American tourists there, and not too many tourists from anywhere, compared to countries like Costa Rica or Peru. This fall was an entirely different experience -- Americans everywhere, dozens of new hostels and hotels built in the last year or two, and a sense from Colombians that this country is about to take off and be an economic force and a tourist destination. I think they are right.



The time to get to Colombia is right now, before more people discover this fantastic country in our hemisphere and overrun it. The infusion of American tourists seems to have a number of causes. First, the political and safety situations have notably improved. Actually, the situation has been fine for a number of years, but that news is finally getting through to Americans looking to travel. On this note, I do appreciate that the state department needs to be overly cautious with their warnings, but their dire warnings on Colombia are tremendously overblown, even for them. Second, JetBlue and Spirit Airlines are offering cheap airfares to Bogota. I have done a few searches and you can get roundtrip airfare from East Coast cities for under $400 and unlike going to Europe and Asia, the flights are fairly short and you aren’t jet-lagged when you get there.

Lastly, when you get there, Colombia is cheap and there is an amazing amount of variety of things to do and see. Unlike Central America, where the large cities are ugly and truly dangerous, the major Colombian cities are clean, generally safe, and have excellent reasons to visit. You want a beautiful Caribbean coastal town? Try Cartagena, with its with amazing colors to photograph. You want to learn to salsa? The salsa capital of the world is Cali and the annual World Salsa Festival is there every September. Want great food, music in a modern city? Medellin.

As a result of the ramping up of the number of tourists coming to Colombia, the tourist infrastructure is also improving. Although I had perhaps my worst night ever at a hostel in Cartagena, the hostel was brand new (and the problems were not the fault of the hostel at all, but rather really rude guests). It is easy to see the number of new hotels and hostels that have been built in the last two years just by walking around and comparing. There are dozens and dozens of new options in every major city and no shortage of nice, smaller places in the smaller towns mentioned above.

In addition to the things to do and see in the major cities, the area around San Gil (about six hours north by bus from Bogota) is the heart of the adventure activities in the country, with world-class paragliding, white-water rafting and downhill mountain biking. Right around the corner is one of the most picturesque little villages you will ever see, Barichara -- providing some of the best rural photography sites in Colombia. On the coast, Park Tayrona, close to Santa Marta has dozens of almost completely empty beaches and right around the corner, you can take a 4-5 day hike to visit the lost city of Ciudad Perdida, only rediscovered in 1972. The scuba diving in the Park Taryona and Cartagena areas are quite good and underutilized also. The coffee growing regions around Salento are also incredibly scenic and sleepy spots to rest and relax for a few days.

Don’t believe the state department warnings -- bus travel is totally safe and the buses that go between cities are quite modern. The only real danger you face is from the poor Latin American driving and the obsession with keeping the air conditioning on full blast at all times. Internal air flights in Colombia are also quite inexpensive. Lastly and far from least, the people in Colombia may be the friendliest in the world. I have been to fifty-five countries spread over the six occupied continents and the only people that exhibit the same amount of genuine happiness to have you visit their country are the Kiwis. Colombia is a truly amazing place. The days of Pablo Escobar and the FARC and the dangers that most of us think of when we hear “Colombia� are long gone. Do yourself a favor and head on down there when you get a chance. You will be charmed by the place and the people.

Colombia: el secreto mejor guardado (Prensa Internacional)  
Colombia: el secreto mejor guardado (Prensa Internacional)  

Colombia: el secreto mejor guardado (Prensa Internacional)