Today we visited the highlands around Matagalpa.
As we’ve said in a previous article, the city itself isn’t really that interesting, but the surrounding area with its coffee farms and natural reserves are the main contributors to the region’s charm and rising tourism.
So we did an organized tour with a company that gives part of the benefices to the local communities. It was very nice, especially because we were only 4 people (we went there with Alix and Pierre, our french friends). The guide spoke well english, but we still tried to improve our spanish with him, and also with the other locals we’ve met.
The day started with a visit at one of the many farm plantations around San Ramon. There are several communities of farmers around San Ramon, but even if some of them reach 6000 souls, they mostly look like very tiny villages because the farms are scattered over big areas.
The visit was very interesting, and we learned a lot. Contrarily to the coffee plantation we saw in Colombia near Salento, who were very visible covering several hills, most if not all the coffee produced in Nicaragua grows beneath trees. The trees provide shade and nutrients (through the composting of the fallen leaves) for the coffee bushes. So the plantations look like rich forests with lots of animals (we saw two sloths!), it’s very cool!
Another benefit of this type of plantations is that you can plant “useful” trees if you want. So during the visit we ate cacao beans and oranges, both freshly picked on the trees above the coffee bushes, and also sucked the gelatin around the coffee beans. There are also cypress to form hedges and old eucalyptus trees to make tea or medicine, although they stopped planting those because they tend to grow big roots and steal all the nutrients in the soil!
Another nice aspect of the visit was to see the efforts done to keep a natural cycle of harvest. One of the big problem of coffee production is that the water used to clean and sort the coffee becomes really acid, so it’s not really cool to dump it into the nearby river. So here they form swamps to contain these waters, and wait for the swamp to ferment, which regulates the pH. And they can use the fermented swamp as a liquid fertilizer for the next crops! Same for the coffee flesh, which is dried and then used again to fertilize the soil. So there is a whole cycle where the coffee production waste is used to grow the next crops, and that’s really cool!
We also learned that coffee is sorted into 3 categories:
- Premium quality, mainly exported (the expensive coffee we find in France)
- Second quality, also exported (cheaper coffee) or drunk here in Nicaragua.
- The third quality, considered really shitty, sold to big companies producing instant coffee (Nestlé, Nescafé or even Nespresso!)
In any case, the once the coffee is sorted, it still needs to dry for about a week (which is done with the sun, on black plastic tarps around Matagalpa, where it rains less than in the highlands). Then it needs to be stored for about a month to get really green, and lastly a machine separates the last peel around the bean. Generally, the farmers sell the end product and do all the processing themselves (or with the help of cooperatives). The last essential process, roasting, is donne directly in the consumer countries by the big buyers.
At lunch we ate with an old local women, and it was very good (and yes, it was the standard rice-beans-chicken again!). We really liked the re-usage of waste (plastic bottles, cans, old tires,…) as flowerpots.
After lunch we hiked again (ok, only about 2h and mostly easy walking), so we had nice views of the surroundings. And to see waterfalls (which are always loved by backpackers because often free 😉 ). The first one had a pool underneath deep enough to jump in from the top! The second one, much higher, had a nice big cave with bats behind her.
In the end we went back to our hostel to chill out and also to decide where we’re going next (about time, we’re leaving tomorrow!). But as usual, we’ll tell you in the next post!
P.S : Small video bonus to show off Ben’s Olympic skills :p