One of numerous Estili street murals, almost a block long

We loved Nicaragua, plain and simple. Loved the folks we met and the places we visited. One strong sentiment we heard about, especially among younger students, was a sense of egalitarianism and equality. The revolution seemed to impart the notion that nicas are all in it together, that none should benefit more than another. Older students we met were pursuing business administration, teaching, social work, and medical degrees. Older nicas who remember the revolution seem ready to move on, though their support for president Daniel Ortega is faithful, perhaps for lack of a better choice. As a taxi driver/student said, younger generations are waiting for the old guard to get out of the way. Organic farming, homeopathic medecine, and sustainability were often mentioned. Tourism also is a growing industry. Crime is almost non-existent outside of Managua and popular gringo spots. This alone is a bragging right given the current crime rates in the neighboring countries including the revered “eco-gringo” destination of choice (Read’s words) – Costa Rica (click here for statistics).

Carlos Fonseca - revolutionary leader

School wall mural denouncing violence against children

We arrived in Nicaragua to the northern highlands of Estili, a bustling city, home to half a dozen top brand cigars (which we didn’t try), and the most murals of any town its size.

street art - one snapshot of a block length mural

Nearby, in the rural cooperative of Miraflor, farmers produce highly prized shade-grown coffee (best we’ve ever had), and host curious gringos like ourselves in rustic accomodations ($20 a night buys you lodging in an “Avatar-like” tree-house plus three meals). Our stay in Miraflor with a multi-generational Sandanista, Dona Corina, was a treat as we learned about local natural medicines, how to identify a good coffee bean, and how the pervasive cloud-forest moisture can kill a computer keyboard.

our tree-house lodging for two

coffee tour with local expert teaching us about beans

Host family in Miraflors

Nicaraguan cloud-forest scorpion

Read swimming against the current as usual

Arden hiking in highlands with local herbal medicine shaman, note cloud sitting on peak in background where the sun hardly came out.

Tree sap that lathers up with friction, then applied to infected wounds

Off the grid: human powered well pump

We headed from Esteli to the hills above the coffee production capital of Matagalpa which houses the “uber-sustainable” coffee finca (plantation) of Salva Negra. The finca family spent decades developing operations to produce top-quality coffee using a holistic approach. This includes growing rainforest-alliance certified coffee, composting, producing methane gas from farm byproducts and using it as an energy source, growing organic produce and raising organic livestock for the restaurant. They have a line of incredible cheeses; Read stashed a stinky “camenbert” in his backpack for later on munching. Furthur, three generations of workers live and work at the finca which provides free housing, food, medical care, and primary school education. There is even sufficient water and vertical drop to produce electrical power meeting half of the needs of the entire operation. The family controls the entire coffee process from seed to table as they have family members in the states who roast and distribute coffee. They’ve won multiple “cupping contests” in Latin America which basically means they produce damn good coffee. We happily got wired on it every morning and plan to buy it via Whole Foods or “Java Vino” their bean distribution company. The preserved virgin rainforest that covers the peak above the finca is full of howler monkeys living free in the multi-layered canopy. Much to Read’s surprise, meter-long coral snakes also thrive in the wet understory, but only to scare the pants off middle-aged tourists dragging along to keep up with their hiking-hungry wives.

Matapalo - viney tree parts are a parasitic tree that kill its host (barked tree seen behind )

Salva Negra brand sustainable shade-grown coffee plants

Finally, we spent six days on Ometepe, a two-coned volcanic island in the middle of a giant lake that is a tropical playland. While Arden hiked the smaller of the two volcanos (and slid down the muddy trail on her tush), Read enjoyed sea kayaking to a wetlands in search of birds, caymen and turtles, in between hammock surfing sessions. A tandem kayak sunset tour to Monkey Islands was a daily ritual to view two large Spider Monkeys and eight White-faced Monkeys. The Spider Monkeys were formerly pets, chained up in someone’s yard before being sprung to semi-freedom on their tiny island. Unfortunately, while we were there, two tourists kayaked too close to the island; the Spider Monkeys swung down on them in search of food and attacked them. Back at the hotel, Read rendered first aid on some very serious claw and bite wounds before the two were whisked away via speedboat to the mainland hospital. While private clinics in Nicaragua provide first-world standard care, the public system according to one victim was “scarier than the monkey attack”.

Kayaking on Ometepe lake, volcano in clouds, Monkey Island on left

Waterfall on volcano

Local street gang members

Fisherman and their dug-out canoe

Street vendor's daughter studying while mom works fruit stand

Nicaragua on the ground is far from what our media-melded perceptions had us anticipating. Poverty is without a doubt the biggest issue. Yet economic development can’t happen with Nicaragua being held in isolation from much-needed foreign capital. The Sandanista Revolution did achieve its primary goal, the one that most Nicaraguans supported – ridding their country of the U.S. puppet strongman, emblematic of a long history of interference from the north.

We always felt safe in Nicaragua. We never felt animosity towards us, as Americans, despite our entagled histories. We look forward to future visits, and would gladly spend time in Nicaragua, using what few skills and work experiences we have to support Nicas in pursuing their future.


10 thoughts on “Nicaragua

  1. Hi, Arden and Read – I finally caught up with your blogs – and love that you have really experienced Nicaragua. I was in Nicaragua many moons ago – actually at the time that the US voted to no longer send money to the Contras. What a joy it is to hear of some of the progress the people have pulled together. I, too, felt a specialness among the Nicaraguans. I was with a Habitat for Humanity group – and we visited some of the places you mentioned. Their murals are amazing – and so colorful. I would love to share some of my pics from 22 years ago. Stay well – and thanks for keeping us posted.

  2. Living through you vicariously! You are such an incredible writer Arden! Sounds like Nicaragua is shouting out to you, no???? Don’t forget to listen! It is ok to stop and stay, in the place you adore!!! Always thinking of you and Reed, and your adventures! Keep the tales coming! xoxox

    • Hey lovely! You head to Scott & Angela’s soon for “la navidad” I take it. Give our best to them! I have a funny story about friends of ours moving to El Salvador last year with their five-year-old son. He is blonde like India and initially had a hard time ~ started acting out in school etc. Now he has adjusted and speaks perfect Spanish with a pitch-perfect accent. He does wish he had dark hair to fit in with his friends and wears a baseball cap to cover his blonde hair. We are all so jealous listening to him!

      Read is actually writing and taking pictures for much of the blog. I have to giggle as he was so against doing the blog and now has taken the lead… 🙂 I’m editing (of course).

      We loved Nicaragua and also loved El Salvador. My Spanish is getting worse as Read and I speak English; I will get another round of it soon in four weeks.

      We just did a 26-hour bus ride through Costa Rica straight to Panama City and flew out. We’re now in Cartegena Colombia and headed to Parque Tayrona on the coast today.

      I hope things with Zack’s transition go smoothly which I’m sure they will. You all must be excited for more vacation. Hope things in Salida are well!

      Much love to you all amiga!

      xoxo Arden

      • NO WAY!!!! Colombia!?!?!? WOW! Stop speaking English with Read. Please, starting now! What does your South America tour look like? I have friends through out, and would love to set you up with some very fun people! Let me know! Read, very nice job on the photos and writing! I am pro blog…..I look forward to it, so keep it coming! All is cold in Salida….and well! Sending love your way! Safe travels! Robin

  3. Thanks so much for keeping us up to date. Having a nice winter storm as I write this. Went up to the cabin and got our tree yesterday. It was fun to get to trudge through the snow to select the most Charlie Brown tree I think we’ve ever had. Bowled three games with the Vallevona’s under black lights last night. We toasted you and Dammans over a couple corona’s. Abrazos!

  4. Awesome pictures and awesome post!

    The tree house looks absolutely incredible. I saw the tree-houses at the Earth Lodge here outside Antigua, and I can’t get the idea of living in a tree house out of my head now! Very cool!

  5. another entertaining, humorous post, Read and Arden…
    another post like that, and Heather, I and lil’ Oliver will have to rent out our house here, quit working, and move in to a tree-house somewhere in Central America…

    keep ’em coming …


  6. I found you!!!! (12/6/11) What a great blog and fabulous pictures. Now if I could figure out if I have missed some blogs and how to save them for rereading. PLEASE keep them coming. They should be published. The pictures and insights are wonderful. Love to you both, Pepper (Mom to Read)

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