In the last five years I have traveled to coffee origin countries about 30 times, to the best of my recollection.
On all but one of those trips, I have taken the same pair of shoes.
Not the same brand, no… the exact same pair of shoes.
The one time I didn’t bring these shoes, it was purely by accident. It was my first trip to the Philippines, and I was apparently so excited by the prospect of white sand beaches that I forgot to pack sensible coffee farm shoes. Ironic because some of the roughest terrain I’ve encountered in my coffee travels was on that trip, in the tribal lands of Mindanao. I had to hike the whole slippery mess in thin-soled tennis shoes. My friends showed me infinite patience as I fumbled around helplessly in the muck and mire. (Hi Zee!)
Anyway, I come from Seattle originally, where people wear mountain-climbing gear to formal events. It’s actually become a point of pride for me to wear snazzy city shoes whenever possible, just to stand out from the NorthFace and New Balance. But when you’re hiking a real, functioning coffee farm at the peak of harvest, style somehow takes a back seat.
The shoes I have are from ECCO.
I think they might have discontinued the exact model I have. They’re somewhat similar to these, but low top and less space-age looking. I like the ones I have because if you dust them off and spit-shine ’em, they don’t look too bad in a city setting. But the main reason I like them is because they are as tough as nails, but very comfortable. I’ve abused the ever-living hell out of these shoes and never once replaced the laces or even thought about them. I just toss them in my bag when I’m headed to origin and then inflict the pain.
Here’s a mash-up video of my most recent trip to Ethiopia and a trip I made to Honduras in 2011. In the first part (grainy, sorry) I am stepping on a rural road between two farms, on my way up to the waterfall at Wondo Genet in Sidamo. I started filming because I was amazed at the thin crust that overlaid the two inches of powder-thin red dust that made up the road. It felt like walking on the moon, except it was about 100 degrees and the sun was BRUTAL. In the second part, as you can tell from the angle of my legs, I’m stumbling down a very steep, very muddy and slippery hillside in Honduras. Same shoes, two years and half a world apart.
So anyway, I don’t work for ECCO and they aren’t giving me any money. But if you are heading to a coffee farm soon (and if you’re not.. why not???), maybe check out some of these shoes.
Here’s my pair in all their dusty glory after I got back from my most recent trip last week: