Where the Trail Leads
Story and Photos by Rory Boyle, Adventurer
Skirting the Northern edge of the Caribbean Sea, the island of Puerto Rico has a rich coffee history. As a Spanish colony, all coffee grown on the island was consumed locally, or shipped to the royal court in Spain. After a downturn in production, the coffee culture thrives once again; small cafes outnumber any chain venues, coffee & chocolate conventions occur annually, and a dedicated coffee belt in the mountains has more plantations popping up every year.
During one of my trips to the center of the island, with the destination of Jayuya (the native “capital”), I had an accidental coffee experience. Leaving San Juan, I drove into the mountains and jungles on switchback roads for hours. Cell service became spottier as I moved inland, until finally – blissfully – there was none – No Google Maps, no one from work trying to get a hold of me, no radio worth listening to. It was perfect. Needing directions, I stopped three times in and around one tiny pueblo. This was tricky since I barely speak Spanish, and Puerto Ricans speak notoriously fast Spanglish. I drove out of the town, and 30 minutes later I spied a kindly-looking old man sitting on the porch of his modest home. He laid out the route in perfect English and then asked “Hey, do you like coffee?” I said of course! And he told me, “Here, let me move my car. Park in my driveway.”
I thought how awesome this is that someone would offer a total stranger some coffee and a conversation! I parked my car and walked back to him, but he pointed to a trail across the street from his house and said “What you’re gonna do is go up that trail about a quarter mile. You’ll see a building being built. Go inside and ask for Javier, tell him Angel Rivera sent you and to give you some free coffee!” I laughed and headed up the trail. I was parked and committed now; no turning back.
After the first bend, the trail was lined with coffee plants! Soon, I found the building, with an attached viewing platform, and when I walked up, luckily Javier was the first person I met. I relayed what Angel had told me (minus the free part) and Javier laughed. He told me Angel was his business partner and they owned the coffee field, plantation, roastery, and café I now occupied.
For a few hours Javier and I sat and talked. It turned out that the café part of the business wasn’t fully operational, but he counted me as their first customer. He gave the full tour of the operation and explained that he was retiring in two years. This was to be his retirement gig. Before I left he gave me a pound of coffee and some homemade local juice for the road.
When I reached Angel’s house his whole family was there and they were just as warm and kind as he was. They offered home-cooked food and freshly picked fruits. I carried on, and Angel’s perfect directions led me to my original destination. I’ll remember that as one of the best days I’d had living in Puerto Rico.
So thank you to the fine gentlemen Javier and Angel, proprietors of Cafe Nativo.