Coffee, hiking, and making friends with locals

Trip Start Apr 21, 2010
Trip End Jun 29, 2010

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Flag of Nicaragua  ,
Friday, May 7, 2010

The northern coffee capital of Nicaragua, Matagalpa, was a refreshing change from Eastern and Central Nicaragua. First of all, it was refreshingly cool and relatively dry, so we weren't constantly drenched in sweat! Secondly, everything was dirt cheap, from our $15/night private room with a bathroom to $3 casados (rice, beans, meat, salad and fried plantains). We tried to go see some live music in a local bar but got scared when the locals ALL turned to look at us as we were looking for a table and started clapping and yelling...

We went for a nice hike in a dry cloud forest on our first day, which took about 2.5 hours round trip. It took us to a beautiful lookout point overlooking Matagalpa, which is nestled in a valley in a very mountainous region. This is apparently a route that the FSLN (revolutionary forces) used during the civil war on their way to and from Leon and Honduras. Matagalpa and the surrounding area was a major FSLN stronghold, partly because the mountainous terrain was ideal for hiding guerilla forces and also because of its central Northern location. Political propaganda is still very prevalent here (and also in Eastern Nica), and the people proudly display their support of the revolution, FSLN, and 'Nicaragua libro!'

I fell in love with Matagalpa's DELICIOUS frappaccinos made with local Nicaraguan coffee, which as it turns out is surprisingly hard to come by. Unless you go to a Starbucks-type (NOT Starbucks, in fact we didn't see ANY North American chains in Eastern and Central Nicaragua and very few in Granada and Leon) trendy coffee shop, you are stuck with cheap, instant, and yucky coffee. Not even the grocery stores carried any local coffee.

We also visited a coffee museum, which was basically a small room with some colored educational posters about coffee. We learned that the process of making good coffee is very finicky, and requires extremely careful bean selection and quick processing. Apparently Nicaragua only produces arabica coffee, which is a higher grade than robust coffee. Robust coffee is what most North Americans drink and it is higher in caffeine content and lower in quality. Unfortunately, although Nicaragua produces some excellent coffee, there is no local market and most of the profit ends up in North American and European hands. Lately fair trade efforts have been making a big positive impact on Nicaraguan coffee farmers and villages and they are making an effort to expand their local market as well.

The next day we visited a coffee plantation called Selva Negra, which is quite developed and touristy. The property encompasses protected virgin wet cloud forests and there are tons of hiking trails. We hiked for about an hour and a half in the monkey spotting areas, and try as we might, we didn't spot a single monkey! We did however stumble on a lot of roots and develop sore necks from looking up for an hour and a half. Oh well. When we came back onto the property, we saw this really cool old open air church that was totally overgrown with plants on the roof and walls. It is still in use and the inside is neat and tidy, but the outside is a living ecosystem! It was really neat. We had some lunch at their expensive restaurant and met another backpacker couple.

Two tables down there was a local family eating lunch and the grandma was getting drunk off the local rum, cana flores. Here, instead of ordering a rum and coke, you order a bottle of rum (mickey or 26) and a bottle of coke for around 4-8 dollars. You get a bucket of ice and as many glasses as you want then you knock yourself out. Also, in local restaurants, beer and liquor is the same price as you would buy it in the liquor stores, sometimes even cheaper...About 65 cents to a dollar a beer...OK sorry for the side tracking, anyways, the grandma was telling her adult daughter how much she worries about crazy backpackers and insisted that her daughter offer us a ride back into town.They were the friendliest people in the world and invited us into their gorgeous house in Matagalpa. Houses are very deceiving here. Basically every block is composed of one long one story brick building with lots of barred doors which you assume lead into individual apartments that are long and skinny. But many of these are joined together so that all of the doors lead into one big apartment. But of course they only use one of the doors. So when you go inside this little door and find this huge richly furnished area it is quite a surprise. Also some of the commercial streets look like most of the shops are closed because many shops have 3 or 4 doors but only use one and board up the rest. I guess you have to see it... Anyways the grandma got all emotional and told us that we were welcome in her home any time and that she would be happy to do our laundry or put us up in her house. Of course we politely declined and ensured her that we were doing just fine and that traveling is pretty safe.

That night we had some beers with the couple we met at another local bar and managed not to run away this time!!

The next morning it was off to Leon.


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