Experience the natural abundance of the island’s green interior, from coffee straight from the source to walks among fruit fields and butterflies
Only after the first coffee of the day has been drunk does the factory floor of Monte Alto Organic Coffee spark to life. Workers empty hemp sacks of cherry-red beans; operators fill machines with the beans; youths sweep aside roasted nibs from the evening before.
Keeping watch on the scene is José Ramón Rodríguez, one of many brothers, sons and grandsons behind the family business. The key to quality coffee, he says, turning the beans over in his palm, is perseverance. Once picked, the beans are dried, before being shelled, then roasted – a magic trick that sees them change from candy red to dark chocolate. ‘Coffee is the only drink for us Dominicans,’ says José, pouring out his fifth shot of the morning. ‘Just not on a Saturday. Then our mistress is rum.’
Coffee is just one of many fruits that have made Jarabacoa synonymous with organic farming. On the winding road to Monte Alto’s finca (estate) on the outskirts of town, the hills are scattered with fruit trees and fertile gardens are stocked with bananas, passion fruit, papayas and avocados as big as rugby balls. The valley lies in the rain shadow of Pico Duarte, the highest peak in the Caribbean, and the cooler 500m altitude helps things along. At night, bats feast in the canopies, pollinating crops of mango, cocoa and guava; during the day the forests fill with butterflies continuing the good work.
One woman who can recognise most of these species is Karen Jiménez, a guide at Rancho Baiguate’s butterfly garden. ‘This is a Hispaniolan emperor,’ she says, letting one land on her pinky finger, its wings a mosaic of damson and powder-orange. ‘We have breeds that exist here that you can’t find anywhere else. Some as tiny as a button, others that fly higher than 1,800m.’
As she wanders through the floral garden, she introduces some of the Caribbean’s rarest butterflies. The forests are home to more than 270 species including the mariposa zebra, a long-winged, graceful flier with pinstripes; a chequered yellow invader known as the lime swallowtail; and a flame-orange sprite that darts around as though being constantly chased. This is the fabulously named Julia heliconian. ‘It’s always in a rush,’ adds Karen, tracking one as it flits through the sun-dappled dell.
Rancho Baiguate is home to creatures small and great, providing horses for bridlepath rides to the 25m-high Baiguate waterfall, which flows into a wooded hollow. Cola Blanca and Cana Negra, two fudge-coloured ranch stallions, maintain a brisk trot to the cascades despite the late afternoon heat. Led by a couple of teenage ranch hands, they stop at the crest of the trail ridge as the terrain becomes harsher, pausing to bray and twitch. Below them, rough-hewn steps plunge down towards a glistening pool bordered with trees, a melodic brook and a sand bank for rolling out a beach towel. By dusk, the cicadas are in full song and the watering hole echoes with the joyful hoots of people splashing and playing – from schoolchildren to farm hands, all have come to wash away the day.