A las Cafétales
Their homes look so beautiful, but they’re made of mud, stone and dirt — painted the colors of orchids at the base of volcanic shaped peaks and fertile valleys. It doesn’t smell like of city here in Pueblo Nuevo, a small village north of Estelí. It smells of perfumes from the flowers and trees. The occasional truck may spew black fumes, but it reminds you of what we do to the air. It’s quite different around here.
This morning we went to PRODECOOP to tour their facilities, and we got a little more than we expected. Two employees, Dennis and Maya, drove us north to the cooperative the president of PRODECOOP lives and grows coffee. It took two hours of winding highways, cobble streets and dirt roads — full of roadblocks like slow drivers, cattle and feral dogs.
Their car horns are a dialect of their own. They beep if you’re in their way, to say hello or to say fuck you — and it’s spoken in the same tone — a light beep beep — only two.
When we made it to Mario Torres Torres’ cooperative, we were met by shy children and women. I myself was shy and nervous. My only words were my camera, as well as “mucho gusto,” and “mucho gracias” — depending on if I was meeting them or leaving. Hannah went into a mud-brick room with Mario and conducted a short interview, as I popped in and out taking portraits of Mario or of a young girl named Jaqilin, who was shy of me but at the same time she was posing. Kids are the best, because they’re allowed to look into the lens.
After a few minutes, Hannah and Mario left and Hannah called me over. I assumed correctly that we were going to the plantation. Hannah continued to ask questions and take notes, and I followed a few paces behind, getting distracted by mountains, coffee beans and banana leaves. Every so often Hannah would turn around and murmur some secret like “banana leaves are used to shade the coffee, and they also feed the families” or “these leaves are falling off because they got too much rain this year and too little last year.” It gave me something to focus on, because I sure as hell could not follow their conversation.
I was glad the two of us are certified hikers, because Mario started out slow, but quickly picked up his pace in his business clothes and dress shoes and took us on a bushwhack up the hill to see the dying plants. It also got us high enough to get above the trees to see the valley bottom. The hills remind me of Missoula and their waves and tides, but here they’re formed by lava and their lines are vertical, not horizontal.
We finished the tour back at Mario’s, and he asked me to take a photo of him and his wife. I was excited because inside they were cooking, and it proved I wasn’t a bother. A small fire brewed and baked the stone stove, warming pots and pans, and a young boy came in. Mario insisted I take his photo too, but he hid behind his mothers legs and ran outside, before finally settling with an excited smile.
We gave our salutations and left Mario’s. Dennis and Maya joked among themselves, as Hannah and I rested our heads and minds against the window. Maya would look back every so often to speak with Hannah. They talked about Nacatamales, a local delicacy, Nicaragua and Montana. I think I was brought up once or twice, but I was only addressed when Maya said, “Here women rule” with a laugh. It was true, and it was a good laugh.
The truck stopped at a random gate. Both Hannah and I were unaware that inside we were going to get another tour — this time it was of the drying pads, sorting and shipping facilities. There Reino, an excited and passionate employee, took us through every step of the coffee procedure — from where they differentiate conventional and organic to where they use lasers to read the beans color. Black and white beans are bad, and green is good.
We ended the tour with a cup of coffee that tasted oddly like Craven’s Nicaragua Segovia blend without the high-tech roasters of course. It was easily the best cup of coffee we’ve had in Nicaragua. We’re pretty spoiled in Missoula. Hannah also said that Nicaraguans usually drink “Café Nicaragüense” — ground with dirt, rice and rocks.
It’s only day three, but it’s already been eye opening. We’ve seen places that are only depicted in movies or on the news, but it still hasn’t hit. We’re both too jumbled up trying to keep up with the all the hustle and bustle.
Tomorrow we’re off to play tourist with a friend from Alaska (who also went to Montana State — it’s a small damn world) to go to Miraflor and spend the night at a home-stay. We’ll be back up where we were today, but our reporter caps will be off. It’ll be nice to relax and enjoy rural Nicaragua.