Nicaragua Day 3
Day three has come and gone so quickly! Our time perception warp zone is still strong, and even though it feels as though we have just arrived, it is still hard to remember what we did this morning.
What I do recall is that we awoke in the blissful calm of Roberto’s farmhouse again this morning. After a hearty breakfast (eggs, bacon, rice, beans, fried corn, etc, etc, etc) we hit the road to the city of Jinotega, about an hour north of Matagalpa. Before we left, we made a quick stop at Roberto’s elementary school and daycare that is on the farm and visited the children. There were not too many kids today, but our guide Eduardo, the general manager of El Quetzal, told us that at the peak of harvest there could be up to 90 infants in the daycare at a time.
Once we got our quota of cute little kid smiles, Patrick making his baby face, and Buenos dias! we hit the road. Paul was our driver today, since Roberto needed to head back to Managua. He did an admirable job, although I must say that he had trouble keeping up with the pickup truck with two armored guards carrying our luggage…(Dad, don’t worry, he was the safest driver we’ve had).
We arrived in Jinotega at 9:38, only 8 minutes behind schedule (!!!) and sauntered into Aldea Global to meet up with our next host, Warren. Warren is an ex-Peace Corps volunteer, who has lived in Nicaragua for the past 11 years developing a cooperative coffee growers association. Aldea Global supports small loans for farmers, as well as a host of other social initiatives including supporting education for women as well as water filtration and coffee infrastructure projects. I would love to gush on and on about Aldea Global, but I won’t do it justice, and if you are interested, I suggest that you visit their website.
Next stop was a “quick” bumpy ride to visit the farms of the members of the Aldea Global Coop. I rode in the truck with Warren along with the members of the Board of Directors from Aldea Global, and along the way we discussed the coffee cycle of Nicaragua, the manmade lake that supplies most of the power for Nicaragua, the local and national politics of the country (apparently the President of Nicaragua is both a Socialist and a Communist, but new elections are soon), and the fish salesmen on the side of the road. I know it sounds random, but the conversation was entertaining and I learned a lot of things about Nicaragua that I would not have found out anywhere else.
Once we arrived at the farm, we had a quick meeting with 5 Aldea Global farmers. Two of them were organic farmers, and the rest conventional. The average farm size was 2 manzanas (1 manzana= 1.67 acres). We made long introductions and then Paul asked the farmers how they felt about this year’s harvest. In Central America, this year’s harvest came right at the time that the coffee market was spiking, around late November. The result was that the farmers benefitted from the higher coffee prices this year, well above 2 dollars per pound commoditized. All of the farmers recognized that they had earned more this year, but also noted that all of their other costs were up: the labor department had raised the minimum wage, erratic rain cycles had destroyed most of the bean and corn crop and food prices were through the roof. Fertilizer and coffee supplies were higher because everyone knew that the farmers were going to earn more for their crop this year. Even against these obstacles, the small gain that the farmers made this year were all spent investing in the small farms. Each farmer acknowledged that the most valuable investment that he could make was to invest more money into trees and infrastructure that would give him more returns in the future. One farmer commented that when he first moved to Jinotega he only had a house made of plastic tarps, and now we were sitting in his home, made of all wood. He still has dreams rebuilding his home out of cement, so this year he spent his extra money on buying new coffee trees to plant for the next year.
The day was long, beautiful eventful, informative, and overall delightful. I know this is a cheap cop-out, but I am too tired to describe it. We all learned a lot, and I spent much of the day staring out of the window, reveling in the reality of my job. I also had a severe case of carpolepsy, and missed much of the ride back into town.
For dinner we wandered around the small town of Jinotega, and settled on the best restaurant, which, shockingly, gave us rice, beans, meat, and French fries. Not such a bad way to end the day. Now, we are all sitting around, playing card and dice games, reminiscing about the time we have spent here. Some of the highlights include Patrick speaking his first words in Spanish for the whole trip (shocking everyone) “Mi nombre es Patrick. Yo soy el Presidente!” Paul also introduced himself, “Mi hombre, Paul!”
The night is just wrapping up, and we are all settling into the night, drinking some Toños, rolling dice, betting cordobas, and getting into all sorts of laughing fits.