Benedicto:

May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your rivers flow without end, meandering through pastoral valleys tinkling with bells, past temples and castles and poets’ towers into a dark primeval forest where tigers belch and monkey’s howl, through miasmal and mysterious swamps and down into a desert of red rock, blue mesas, domes and pinnacles and grottos of endless stone, and down again into a deep vast ancient unknown chasm where bars of sunlight blaze on profiled cliffs, where deer walk across the white sand beaches where storms come and go as lightening clangs upon the high crags, where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you---beyond that next turning of the canyon walls. ---Edward Abbey (thanks Trudy Hall)

Friday, March 2, 2012

Nicaragua: Land of Coffee and Beisbol

video

February 20-21—We found our hotel with a very typical address; get this: "From the Military Hospital, 4 blocks toward the lake (north), 2.5 blocks down (west), on the left." 
 I wonder how people here get their mail!  We walked a few blocks in the dark, wondering if we were safe, and went to dinner at a place called “La Curva,” where there was a very drunk quartet of people, a woman was complaining and yelling, and her husband grabbed her cheeks and shook her.  …a little scary.   
 
 
We walked up to a lookout where there is a silhouette of the man (the common man of Nicaragua, a cowboy) who started a revolution and tried to get Nicaragua out of the corrupt grasp of the United States, Augusto Sandino.   
era of torture

Next to it is an exhibition about him and a section about the era of torture that occurred at that site.  It sounded brutal.  A woman who sold books there gave us some background.  I wish my Spanish was better and I could have understood her passionate delivery so much more.  

 The view of the city was beautiful from there.  You could see all the sides, including the old town by the lake that was ruined by the earthquake.  Down and across from the iconic pyramid-inspired Crown Plaza we went to a food court that had lechon asada (roast pork) so we stopped to eat a big meal.
 


Then we went to the baseball stadium.  It looked dilapidated, with garbage around and a group of boys gathered at one door. (It turned out to be a boxing ring and training center.)  We snuck in after one of the local dogs, and took a photo of the field before we were kicked out.  No one bothered.  The team was gathering in the dugout when we asked a man who looked like he belonged about the schedule of games.  …nothing until Friday.  Danilo???? Then he invited us to watch the training AND he gave Les a team shirt!  Go Boers!!  Les looks great in it.  We watched the champions train while Les coached them (to himself) from afar.
We walked down to the old center of town that was destroyed by the ’72 earthquake and never rebuilt.   
There were police everywhere, and we came to find out that there was a celebration of the 74th year of the death of Sandino.  Even the president was there!  We went by the national theater to see the offerings, and then on to a bar to quench our thirst.  


 
 It was right on the lake, and had some cement supports that looked like they had gone through the earthquake too, but what a nice view of the lake and the volcanoes across the way!  We took a cab back to Villa Angelo and engaged the cabbie with political talk.  He thinks Ortega is terribly corrupt and that he stole the last election.
February 22—After the typical breakfast that came with our hotel: rice and beans, deep fried egg, fried banana and salty cheese (sort of like a hunk of solid feta), we were off to the bus station.  We found the painted up school bus that was going to Matagalpa and affixed our bags to the inside rack.  When we talked with one of the passengers about timing, he mentioned the express bus was faster.  We decided to get off and take that bus.  We didn’t get our cameras out, because we weren’t sure about thieves, and didn’t want to end up targets.  I did buy two bowls of fruit for $.40 each for the 2-hour ride.   Once there, we walked into town and looked at 3 hotels to settle on one.

The artist barista

We walked to a place that sold nice coffee drinks, then bought some cheese and bread at the store, went to the “other” park where we ate on the stairs of the gazebo, fending off a few beggars.  We gave our leftovers to a woman sitting in the street begging, and went back to the hotel to research tomorrow’s activities.  Dinner was at a little buffet with maracuya juice, roasted chicken, taro, and more.  Ice cream (guanabana and rum-raison) finished off the night.

February 23—I couldn’t sleep.  Arms fell asleep on the too-soft and springs-popping bed.  People in the next room leaving before dawn, roosters and dogs all night, church bells early this morn. Smudges on the wall I had turned into evidence of bed bugs in my imagination.  UGH.  
Crowded bus

 We left our big packs and took a taxi to a bus station to take a 30-minute (15K) ride to San Ramon. There were lots of folks selling stuff.  One woman had two live ducklings, another had drugs to take care of your parasites and lectured us about how important it was to get rid of them, and other touts had cream and food galore. We found UCA, a business that links coffee cooperatives with tourists.  Luckily they had a site for us and we caught another bus to “La Reina.”  It was also time for school kids to go home and it was so crowded that many of the boys got on the roof of the bus.  Needless to say it was slow and bumpy.  By the time the guy you pay for the ticket got to us in the back, we had just passed La Reina, so we walked down the hill to meet our guide Armando. 
Typical Meal

Lunch Kitchen
He brought us to a place to have lunch (eggs, hunk of cheese, beans and rice and watery juice).  They said it costs 11.  So we gave her 11 cordobas.  But that was about $.50.  She wanted US Dollars, Oops.  Soon we were on our way to the home stay, but they had no water.  We ended up at a nice place up the hill where Valeria and Reynaldo and family live.  They are parents of Nilda who works at UCA.  The beds were nice with mosquito nets and a table in the room.

Reynaldo and Valeria



Armando took us for a walk through the coffee plantation.  The leaves are dark and very shiny.  The fruit is out of season, but there were a few freak trees that had flowers and a few cherries.  The red ones have a thin layer of “honey” between the seed and skin that was sweet.  The black ones have dried on the vine and are more valuable.   The trees are in the shade of other larger trees and the light filters through them as we climb the hill and meet about 5 howler monkeys.  Armando hoots and they return his call.  We learn about the community, the process and the flora and fauna as we walk.


 

 We finished at the place where they separate the seed from the pulp, dry the seeds and collect the pulp to leak into a large digester to make biodiesel fuel.  They use the fuel for the community’s needs.  Les was really impressed!


 

 

We walked back to the home where we had lovely conversations in Spanish with Valeria.  Her kitchen is simple, with water brought in and stored in buckets, a dirt floor, mud walls, a working counter with a crank grinder on it for making tortilla dough and a corner with a fire stove.  Around us run chickens, some shy dogs, including a cute 6-month-old boxer called Boby that they are trying to train to be a guard dog, a pig and a cat named Ruben.  (Reynaldo bought Boby after a drunk came in and stole a couple of bags of coffee.)  A few racks of coffee beans dry in the intermittent sun, and some seeds have been planted in little bags of soil with tree moss covering them to keep them from drying out.  I take a 20-minute nap, and soon after, dinner (eggs, hunk-o-cheese, rice and beans and a watery juice) is on the table.  We clear and wash and head to the room.  A 7’ wall separates us from the living quarters of the family and they were watching TV as we fell asleep, listening to the entire community of dogs and the family’s rooster talk much of the night.
Tortilla on the fire



Rooster higher than the rest


coffee drying on racks at the farm
February 24—I woke at around 5:20 when Les’s alarm went off, and went outside to listen to the morning.  Already there was a fire in the kitchen and one of the girls was mixing dough for tortillas.  The pig started complaining about being tied up, and some member of the family was taking a shower slightly behind a tarp with spring water from the hose.  Soon breakfast (eggs with hotdogs cut into them, hunk-o-cheese, rice and beans and watery juice or coffee) was ready and I woke Les.  He was feeling awful, and ate only part of a tortilla.  Arnando came around 7:30 and ate Les’s breakfast and the hotdogs I put to the side.  We pooled our money to pay the host (ATMs often distribute about $35 each time only) with a question about whether breakfast is included or not.   
Our guide

On the viewpoint
 Then we climbed up a nearby hill to look at the view.  That was it, and we were down waiting for the bus that leaves at 10AM.  At 11, we climbed into the busy bus, eventually getting seats to Matagalpa. 
"Ortega for President" graffiti EVERYwhere!  On every rock.


Coffee drys, gets raked and packed up

 The cool shower felt great, and we went for coffee in our usual Barrista Due—the barista is a real artist with the cappuccinos.  
That night, we walked and asked all the people how to get to Grupo Valencia: a woman’s center that was supposed to show good documentaries on the last Friday of the month.  The showed, “And Then Came Lola,” based on “Run Lola Run,” but was a lesbian fantasy film.  Oh well.  The bed was firm and I slept all right except for the fan and open windows making it cold.
February 25—The ride back to Managua gave us glimpses of coffee distributors.  People were raking the cherries to dry, packaging them in huge plastic sacks and stacking them up.  
Dolly and George


Cacao on the tree


Roasting cacao beans


Grinding beans by hand
Stirring in the additional ingredients
Lables
We finally got a ride to the Castle of Cacao, where we met Dolly and George who are from New Mexico, hoping to find a retirement home here.  We got a tour from one of the women who makes chocolate bars from the cacao beans here.  She told us all about the way that they used the beans for money and ceremonies before the Spanish came, and showed us each stage of the production that they do here: they take out the seeds from the pod, toast them, crush them the old-fashioned way between a cylinder-shaped stone on a base stone (the cacao tastes bitter at this phase) then put them, four times, into a wind machine where the bean nibs fall and the shell flies away (she has to stand on a platform and someone hands her a bucket to pour into the machine four times), then the nibs go in the grinder over and over—each time getting more buttery as they add the amount of sugar necessary for the batch (75% cacao, 25% sugar, 50% cacao 50% sugar, etc), they cool it on a giant cake pan, then if they want to add nuts or coffee to it they heat it enough to go through a mixer, then pour the batch into little molds for bars, then cool, then voila!  There are no other additives, and the chocolate has a very grainy texture.   Afterwards we nibbled chocolate with cashews and sipped coffee, then found a cab for all four of us to go back to town.

 By this time my sore throat is developing into a cold.  After a nap, we head out to the baseball game!  We get there right at the time the druggist told us it would start, and they were in the 8th inning!  Bummer!  Well, we got to see them play a little, and got to see the dance line do their thing with a saucy samba-like ditty—feathers and midriffs and all!


February 26—This time Les got his Boer team shirt on and we climbed into the cab to see the 11:00 game the druggist told us would be happening today, but the taxi driver said today is an AWAY game north of where we were in the coffee farms.  I guess “beisbol” isn’t in our plans for Nicaragua.  Maybe in Mexico?