Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Nicaragua - Blog Post 3 - Cultural Visits

Culture Day (Friday, January 6)

Women’s Black Pottery Cooperative

On Friday the Outreach360 team treated us to a day of guided tours.  We began in the morning by visiting a nearby cooperative where craftswomen live and create pottery distinct to the region.  The lead sculptor explained each stage of the pottery-making process.  At the manual (not electric) ceramics wheel she effortlessly made a small vase.  She invited several of us to try the wheel; what we produced looked more like ashtrays or soap dishes.  

This interaction, along with the prior day’s coffee demonstration, was valuable to me because I could listen to the Spanish accent of local adults.  The most distinct feature of Latin and South American Spanish is the use of “vos” as a replacement for the second person singular “tú.”  It applies to addressing people with different degrees of familiarity.  It is strange because I have never been taught “vos” formally, yet I can understand someone who uses it in most cases.  Otherwise, I would describe the accent as more clear than Southern Spain. 

Selva Negra

Our next stop was Selva Negra, a coffee plantation owned and operated by a German family outside of Jinotega.  It was an earthly paradise.  I was thrilled to learn it is an organic, sustainable, bio-diverse farm (similar to Traders Point Creamery).  Here processes are designed so that nature can augment the quality of the products and efficiency of production.  The farm produces coffee, chocolate, fruit, produce, meat, and dairy.  Every element plays a role; and the diversification protects the farm from price fluctuations in any of the products.  Selva Negra sells its premier coffee brand to North America, including some Whole Foods.

We began our visit at the plantation’s restaurant, which is attached to a hotel it has opened as well.  The setting on the porch was picturesque.  Tourists from North America and Europe sat at tables surrounding us.  The feast began with fresh juice and a cheese plate featuring cheese that had been produced from the plantation’s livestock.  The flavors of fresh/aged cow’s milk and goat’s milk cheeses were amazing.  The fruit juice equaled the quality.  I had been encouraged to try the region’s fresh juices, but was also told that they might make me sick.  One taste of my passion fruit juice and later my fruit punch made it worth the risk.  Then our main courses arrived.  I coordinated with two others to share samples of our dishes.  I had ordered a fried pork loin stuffed with ham and cheese (a decadent combination). The two other dishes I tried were chicken with wine sauce and chicken with mushroom/onion/bacon.  Everyone was stuffed by the end of the meal.  Most of our food had been grown/raised on the farm.

Manuel led us on a guided tour.  He was the most educated Nicaraguan we had met.  He was fluent in English, having gone to Managua for a college degree in tourism/communications.  He explained the symbiotic relationships of the farm’s products.  Here is a simplified version of the logic:  Among the coffee plants are tropical fruit trees that provide adequate shade.  The livestock on the farm produce meat and cheese for sale in the restaurant and outside the farm.  The livestock’s manure is used in two ways.  First, it is the basis of the fertilizer for the coffee plants.  Second, the manure’s biogas is captured and transferred to the workers’ kitchens as an energy source.  The produce grown on property feeds the plantation’s workers and guests at the restaurant/hotel.  The beauty of place has made it a prime wedding location as well.  The extraordinary chapel charmed all of us.

The concept of “Agricultural Tourism” is exactly what Traders Point Creamery follows.  For those interested in “going back to farm,” they can stay overnight, eat the farm’s food, and tour the premises.  Later in our tour with Manuel we saw the goats and cows whose cheese we ate at lunch.  To make parallels to Traders Point even more pronounced, Manuel announced that the herd we were admiring was primarily Brown Swiss cattle (same breed).  I was struck by how perfect this visit was. It is as if Outreach360 knew I was coming and planned this visit for me!

The last notable point of interest was the housing for the temporary workers.  Young adult men and women move to the plantation every November and remain there through January (per the coffee harvest schedule).  Even though Selva Negra pays the workers only about seven dollars per day, the fringe benefits are extensive: housing, medical care, food, and others.  Therefore, the workers ultimately save money.  Not all plantations provide nearly the amount of benefits.  

Along the highway that day we also stopped at a lookout point.  The view was more breathtaking than our peak in Jinotega.  Our jaws dropped; and many pictures were taken. 

It had been a “Culture Day” that exceeded all my expectations.  I came to Nicaragua thinking our sightseeing would be limited.  But, Outreach360 truly gave us an insider’s tour. 

For picture from my entire Nicaragua trip, see me "Nicaragua 1-1-2012" web album here: https://picasaweb.google.com/114680159976238180294/Nicaragua112012

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