A Week’s Venture in Northern Nicaragua

By Nathan Page

A little over a month ago, Brett and I spent a week exploring the more mountainous regions of Northern Nicaragua.  Our first destination was the breezy, caffeine-fueled city of Matagalpa.

A map of the three Major cities we visited on our trip!

A map of the three major cities we visited on our trip!

Matagalpa:

We took the bus up early in the morning, hoping to get up to Matagalpa by nightfall.  The bus schedule showed no direct buses and we figured it would be a complicated ordeal.  Mysteriously, when we arrived at the bus stop there was a bus going directly to Matagalpa that no one had heard of…  It was dubbed, “the miracle bus.”

The bus ride was full of mountainous terrain with low-lying clouds fighting to escape from the valleys containing them.  We arrived at Matagalpa before noon and set out to find a literal and proverbial place to hang our hats.  We were immediately struck by the kindness of the locals asking if they could help us find something or offer us directions.

The mountians surrounding Matagalpa

The mountains surrounding Matagalpa

Matagalpa is a region known for its temperate climate (by Nicaraguan standards) and its ideal coffee-growing conditions.  There are several large farms as well as small cooperatives that produce some of the finest organic and conventional coffee in the world.   Brett and I had a chance to visit one of these plantations known as Selva Negra.  They produce and import coffee directly to the United States to a small vendor you may recognize… “Trader Joe’s,” I believe?   In addition to coffee, they also have a world-class Eco-Lodge with several miles of hiking trails and beautifully maintained gardens.

Living gazebo at Selva Negra Coffee Plantation

Living gazebo at Selva Negra Coffee Plantation

The gorgious, orchid adorned church in at Selva Negra Coffee Plantation.

The gorgeous, orchid adorned church at Selva Negra Coffee Plantation.

Brett doing, "the goose" at Selva Negra Coffee Plantation

Brett doing “the goose” at Selva Negra Coffee Plantation.

Brett gazing at a map of Northern Nicaragua

Brett trying to untangle the many roads and trails winding through Northern Nicaragua.

Lookin good in the bottom left...

Lookin good in the bottom left…

I loved the hostel bunny in Matagalpa

I loved the hostel bunny in Matagalpa

Jinotega:

After our 2-night stint in Matagalpa, we ventured even farther north to the town of Jinotega.  Jinotega is a long and slender town, steadily expanding from the valley floor, encroaching on steep slopes on either side.   We stayed at a permaculture-inspired farm known as “Biosferia” and enjoyed a gorgeous sunset & fine company. We then ventured out to an agricultural trade school that also had a eco-lodge as a part of its diversified revenue sources.  The lodge was a bit difficult to get to and involved a 5km walk up a dirt road; eventually we reached the center and boy, was it a view.  The light was especially brilliant reflected off of Brett’s radiant face.

Brett walking down the magical road towards Jinotega

Brett walking down the magical road towards Jinotega

The jungle of Northern Jinotega from the Agricultural School's Eco-Lodge

The jungle of northern Jinotega seen from the agricultural school’s eco-lodge.

Brett glowing in Jinotega

Brett glowing in Jinotega

Reflecting at the Eco-Lodge in Jinotega

Reflecting at the Eco-Lodge in Jinotega

HUGE boulder and cave full of fruit bats at Biosfera

HUGE boulder and cave full of fruit bats at Biosfera

Enjoying coffee on the front porch of Biosfera

Enjoying coffee on the front porch of Biosfera

Travel Tip:

All buses in Nicaragua have seats for approximately 40 people. A bus is not considered “full” until the isle is full of people, the headspace is full of people and there are three layers of kids sitting on top each other giggling. Nicas laugh at a bus’s supposed “full capacity” and pack at least 50 people into all that “wasted” space.  We experienced this situation for a total of about 20 hours during this trip.  All you can do is laugh and take shallow breaths. 🙂 

Sunset over looking Jinotega

Sunset over looking Jinotega

Esteli:

Our last stop was in a beautiful cowboy-inspired town of Esteli.  The town of Esteli is known for its “world class tobacco” that supposedly rivals Cuban tobacco in quality.  However, valuing our lungs and Diane’s approval, we abstained from trying this local commodity.   We had some delicious meals from a local organic café and walked through the various leather-working shops that make Esteli famous.

Provocative murals in Esteli

Provocative murals in Esteli

An interesting sidewalk in Esteli. With one side heavily contrasted by the other.

An interesting sidewalk in Esteli with one side heavily contrasted by the other.

On our way back to Granada we had the opportunity to meet up with a group of students and faculty from our Alma Mater!  We met a group of Pacific Lutheran University students and Dr. Mulder in the capital city, Managua. They were on their way back from a truly amazing project helping a small village in Nicaragua receive reliable drinking water.   They had fantastic stories to tell and we loved hearing their enthusiasm for Nicaragua and their positive experience.  Proud to be Lutes!

We made it back to Granada weary, yet thoroughly satisfied, knowing a little more about the beautiful and diverse country we are currently calling home!

 

 

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Grandma joins us in Granada

By Diane

Since we last posted, much has happened.

First, a news flash:  Brett and Nathan were featured in the most recent issue of Pacific Lutheran University’s PLU News. We are very proud of them.  http://www.plu.edu/news/2014/04/centralamerica/home.php

My mother, Edna, joined us in Granada, Nicaragua in early April.  I went back to Portland for the latter part of March to arrange her affairs, move her out of her assisted living, and fly back with her to the capital city of Managua.  Here in Granada our beautiful rental house has plenty of space to move around, we are taking turns preparing delicious nutritious meals, and we have hired two wonderful caretakers to help us with Edna. Dina is from Corn Island in the Carribbean (part of Nicaragua).  She is very stylish, speaks both English and Spanish fluently, AND she makes us whole wheat bread every week.

Caregiver Dina with Edna

Caregiver Dina with Edna

Esmeralda is from Granada and she just graduated from law school; she also works part-time for our friend Carol while waiting for a professional job (unemployment is very high). She is very good for our Spanish, because she patiently listens while we formulate sentences and she corrects our mistakes ever so gently.  She is too shy to speak English with us but I hear her speaking it with Edna; somehow they are communicating.  We are blessed to have them both!

 

Esmeralda

Caregiver Esmeralda

To give you a look at Granada from grandma’s perspective, read below an email she sent to some friends and family (Brett as ghostwriter):

 

Granada has its own personality. It is an old colonial town, colonized by the Spanish in the 1500s. There are impressive government buildings surrounding a central park as well as the big yellow Cathedral often featured as the cover of Central America guide books. It’s sometimes fun to be a tourist and walk 3 blocks from our house to the central park, which in the evening features lights, music, locals selling goods and enjoying themselves and tourists – all adding up to a colorful scene. We should stop here and describe the way in which we make our way around town. Diane and I picked out a transporter chair to take to my new home, and it is proving satisfactory except for one thing – it doesn’t fare well on the bumpy sidewalks and streets. So my rides are textured. We would not be enjoying our evening out without Nathan and Gerard’s efforts to push me around. Nathan leads the parade to clear a way obstructions such as restaurant tables and chairs. He’s followed by Gerard pushing me in the wheel chair. They each grab a hold and hoist me over pot holes and up and down sidewalk edges – I hold my breath and close my eyes, but deep down, I love it!

 

Last night was the second time we’ve gone out in the evening for drinks and nachos, enjoying the tourist scene. The Calzada street feeds out of the city park for several blocks, stretching towards the lake. Both sides of the street are lined with restaurants spilling out onto the sidewalk. Waiters flip their menus, attempting to entice you in and before sunset it is already a bustling scene. Last night I tried a fresh-squeezed limonada while the others got their usual happy hour mojito/ margaritas. Our drinks came with complimentary yucca and plantain chips. Yucca is also known as cassava, manioc, or tapioca root; plantains are relatives of the banana, only bigger and starchier. 

 

We then worked our way down the street. There are other fun things to see like art stores, an occasional hotel, and a chocolate museum. There is also a delicious gelato shop –  I got the Nutella flavor and it was decadent!

 

The Calzada, the main tourist street with restaurants and bars in view of Cathedral

The “Calzada”, the main tourist street with restaurants and bars in view of the big Cathedral

A typical colonial courtyard, we like this one for drinks

A typical colonial courtyard; we like this one for drinks

Tour of Las Isletas, one of the small islands with Volcano Mombacho in background

We took a boat tour of Las Isletas, right in the enormous lake near us. Here is one of the inhabited islands with Volcano Mombacho in the background

There are island for sale.  You can build a home like these people did!

There are islands for sale here. You could build a home like these people did.  It is very enchanting, especially at sunset with colorful birds feeding along the water’s edge.

One of the monkeys, Lucy, from Monkey Island climbed onto our boat

One of the monkeys, Lucy, from Monkey Island climbed onto our boat and onto Nathan

Granada 017

Sunset from our mirador (third story lookout)

As you might as guessed, we like it here in Nicaragua.  We think this may just be the place we were looking for.  Why?  Because Granada is an attractive and culturally rich city with an interesting landscape.  The “Nicas” are friendly, peaceful people living in vibrant communities and they have a tradition of sustainable farming.   The government is stable and interested in renewable energy.

We continue our search for a property to launch our sustainability living/learning center.  Stay tuned.