Day 6: Acclimatisation trek, Mombacho

Today was going to be our first test of walking in the heat; a four hour walk on the top of Mombacho and after a few days chilling we were ready for a challenge. Unfortunately, some crossed wires and mis-communication between World Challenge, El Cafe de las Flores and us meant that we only did the short walk.  A little disappointing but it was a beautiful walk nonetheless, with fantastic views of the lake which is almost like a sea.  It is definitely much bigger than Taupo but I wonder how close it is in size to Lac Leman (Lake Geneva)?  Having seen both I think that possibly the French one is bigger but would have to check.  Our guide was very informative and told us all about the different orchids that we could see along the path.  Delicate little white ones in the forest and larger bright ornage and pink out in the open areas.  The pink flowers only last a day but are large and showy.  I think we were too late in the day to see the sloths that apparently hang out on the trees but we were excited to see the vultures (zopilotes) that circled overhead.
To make up for our disappointment at not being able to do the longer walk, when we got back down to the cafe, we were offered the opportunity to have a coffee tour.  We jumped at the chance and having learned about cacao, we now learned about coffee. Unlike the cacao bean the coffee bean is ripe when it is red and if you pinch the bean between your fingers the bean pops out easily from the skin.  It is covered in white flesh that is sweet to suck. the taste reminded me of  pomegranate and it was nice sucking the sweet juiciness.  We were shown the whole process of harvest, cleaning, shelling but the beans from Mombacho are all sent to be roasted in Managua.  Some are combinbed with beans from other plantations others are kept apart so they can sell them as Mombacho coffee.
The water used for washing the beans is brought down from the top of the mountain, it is diverted from a waterfall that falls into the crater that we looked into on our walk. The plantation on M ombacho has been organic since 2006 and the water and the coffee is all recycled and eventually goes back into the soil as fertilisation and irrigation.  The discarded husks are composted and used to fertilise the soil and the water runs through irrigation beds to clean it once it has cleaned the beans and then is used to water the crops. It seems that the only pests to the coffee tree are a small beetle and the coffee rust fungus.  Trees can grow as tall as 12 metres but they are kept short so that the hand picking of the beans is easier.  The harvesters wear baskets around their waists so that as they pick the beans drop straight into the baskets. Apparently instant coffee is made from the inferior beans before the last two layers of husk are removed – I have always been a coffee snob and now I know why I prefer “real” coffee!  Interestingly espresso coffee beans have less caffeine in them than medium and light roast.
Tomorrow – on to Ometepe to climb a volcano.

10th December: Part Two

Still Day 2! LA to Miami, Miami to Managua, Managua to Granada. Dinner in LA, breakfast in Miami, lunch in Granada. Sunset in LA, sunrise in Miami….. my poetic creativity has abandoned me! More planes, more airports, more waiting, finally a bus ride and we are here and can sleep in a real bed again after what seems like a very long time! First impressions of Nicaragua – after the flat lands of LA and the swamps of Miami which were barely indistinguishable from the ocean (viewed from the window oif a plane, anyway) it was a welcome sight to see the green, lush vegetation of forests, and the undulations of mountains and valleys as we flew in to Managua. I was lucky enough to get a window seat and so had a great view.  I love that first glimpse of a country from above as you dip beneath the clouds and can see the shape of the land. Managua airport is a similar size to Hamilton although hotter and stickier and definitely has that developing world feel about it.  Security is far stricter though and we all had our temperatures taken as we arrived which bemused the girls.  I guess it is a capital city.
Ebert was waiting outside with a makeshift sign that said ” Waikato Team 1″ and a welcoming smile and we were soon on our way. The girls were particularly bemused by the way the luggage was loaded into the back seats through the open window but this is something I am now used to after being in Fiji,  Cambodia and Vietnam. The similarities continued as we drove; shanty houses with tin roofs,  bright pink bougainvillea climbing and straggling across anything it could,  stalls at the side of the road selling all sorts of things from petrol for scooters to fruit to spare tyres,  tuktuks braved the two lanes laden with happy,  chatty,  shouty people of all ages,  scooters zipped in and out carrying more people and goods than seems feasibly safe, workers harvesting cross in the fields,  emaciated cattle grazing the grass verges and horns hooting as cars, buses, and trucks zoomed along overtaking, undertaking and generally vying for road space.  Differences too; there are babana plantations but we saw predominantly wheat growing; the bright carefully tended gardens of Cambodia and Fiji are not so evident athough there are plenty of smallholdings; there are horses everywhere – pulling carts but also being ridden and lots in the fields and grass verges grazing; the roads and infrastructure seem better maintained and churches and signs and slogans about God`s wonder abound.
Of course, this is but a very brief snapshot on a one hour journey from Managaua to Granada and so is unlikely to be representative of the country as a whole.  I am sure we will see more as we travel.  We have only had a brief foray into Granada as yet but I love the brightly coloured houses.  They are painted in all different coulours – pink, blue, green, yellow, purple and they add a certain carm to the streets and the Spanishy bcolonial style houses.  They look straight onto the street but if you peer through the open doors you can see cool courtyards with plants within. The huge yellow and white cathedral dominates el Parque Central and the pretty square is dotted with street stalls selling hotdogs, quesadilas, tourist gifts and trinkets and is over hung by large trees that provide shade.  They also provide roosts for the noisy Zatane birds which only really makje themselves heard as dusk falls when their raucous calls fil the air and they swoop and dive between perdches in the trees.  They are like children at a playground who can`t decide which thing to play on so they dart from one to the other!  We clearly chose not only a bad place to eat but also a bad time as we struggled to make ourselves heard and we also had to dodge the missiles they blaunched at us!  We all left with white splodges in our hair or on our tee-shirts!  The noise of the birds competed, and possibly just about won, with the ringing of the cathedral bells every quarter hour but as night fell the cacophony ended as suddenly as it had begun and peace reigned once again.  Despite the chalenge of noise our dinner was delicious.  We opted for a traditional meal and we all had beans and rice with either chicken or pork.  It was served with a deliciously spicy slaw. We were also adventurous when it came to drinks and went for one of the unusual names of juices – chia, chichi, grama, which all turned out to be delicious althyough I think Grama was the favourite.
But back to the hostel to dip our feet and plan for tomorrow.