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Coffee Farms and Other Magical Places

October 25th, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

Life quickly settled into a nice groove at Vista Mochombo.

I fast became a regular at the Euro Cafe, a place which I dubbed my office for the month.  If World Tour is in any way about celebrating simple joys in many far off places (and it is), then the courtyard of the Euro Cafe is an exemplary bit of the whole premise.  A quaint, round metal table to myself, baristas who knew my name, a varied and tasty menu, and a strong internet connection all made it a delight.  For ambiance a fountain & lush tropical vegetation comprised the view above my laptop, drenched in sunlight pouring in through the open air construction.

Some mornings I would start there with breakfast, or a tropical fruit smoothie, or just the fresca del dia.  Around lunch time I’d walk to the counter at the front, order something off the menu, and have it brought to “my desk” minutes later.  At the end of the day, sometime between 3 and 5pm, I’d pick out a sweet treat to munch on the way home and/or share with Tracy.  This day of camping and grazing in lovely surroundings would cost somewhere around $10US when I settled up on my way out.

After a hard day at the office I would do something that I vividly remember my dad doing when I was a child: go home and jump in the pool with the wife.  Save for the floatation device and scotch on the rocks, I think I emulated his style pretty well.  Dad, I always figured that was cool, and now I totally get the appeal.

Tracy and I would float about, catch up on our day, and generally talk about the state of our life while staring up at gorgeous sunset-time cloud formations and the lush vegetation.  As you might imagine given the surroundings, the regular consensus was that the state of life was quite good.

We got to inject some adventure and variety into this groove mid-month, when serendipity granted us a rare and fantastic opportunity.  My brother-in-law (or is he my second brother-in-law, as the guy who married my wife’s sister?) Jason would be in Nicaragua for a few days, working to design and scope out a philanthro-travel tour with the good people of Project Cure.  Jason owns a coffee roastery and his company does direct trade with a farmer in Nicaragua, and his company is doing a project called CURE Coffee (basically, through a collaboration with Project Cure, profits from the sale of his coffee from this region go towards medical and humanitarian relieve back to the region).

All of this is to say that Jason was kindly enough to allow Tracy and I to tag along with the entourage for the trip.  We got to see the rolling mountainous regions of the Nicaraguan country side, ride in the back of a truck while touring the hilly and beautiful expanse of the Santa Fe coffee farm (straight and monotonous rows of monoculture it ain’t–this was some seriously varied vegetation!), attend a meeting at the mayor’s office of Jinotega, visit the two clinics that would be the soon-beneficiaries of this charitable collaboration, and learn yet more of the process by which coffee goes from red little cherries to the roasted beans we all know and love when we wandered about a coffee dry mill.

The trip was amazing, and a constant delight.  I’ll be brief on the account for the beauty of it more pictorial in nature, so go check out Tracy’s coverage.

While we’re on the subject of magical, beautiful places, another location punctuated our existence of tropical apartment living bliss, and that was Laguna de Apoyo.  Laguna de Apoyo is a circular lake formed by a hollowed out volcano, some 6km across and stunningly pristine.  Lush vegetation abuts its whole circumference and from a distance what few buildings reside near are invisible, crowded over by the green growth.  Our first visit was with landlord Glenn, who was in general a really good sport about showing us around (the sentence “Papa Glenn is taking the kids out for a field trip” captures the essence of his invitations quite well1).  From a high lookout point we took in the view while downing a round of Tona’s, Nica’s local and preeminent beer.  At my beckoning Glenn was sharing stories from his most interesting life.

Glenn’s lived in Nicaragua the last 11 years with his wife, and it turns out did the whole architectural design of the lovely 1o-unit apartment complex in which we are currently residing.  He got his start as a more-than-just-vacationing presence in Central America while on vacation in Jamaica, there with his then girlfriend who told him he was working too much, and needed to take a vacation with her and leave work behind.

It was the 80s, and he was locksmith.

It started with helping a fellow resort guest unlock his fancy luggage (“the maintenance guy with a hammer can do it in 2 seconds or I can do it in 2 minutes, and if you can spare the time you might like the state of your $1000 leather luggage better when I’m done with it than when he is”).  After that a few guys on the maintenance crew invited Glenn to geek out over locksmithing challenges in the onsite shed a few times  (quite the thing to have to sneak away from the girlfriend for), dallying which ultimately culminated in a job for Glenn to rekey the whole property.

One thing led to another, as Glenn recounts it, and before long he was the “international expert” locksmith, designing and implementing new lock systems for resorts all over Jamaica, and his life as a business man outside of the US was well underway (incidentally he eventually broke up with his girlfriend).

In the present day Glenn, among other things, buys property now and then when good opportunities arise, and builds them up nicely as rentals like the one Tracy and I are now enjoying.  He’s also writing a book of stories about what it’s like to build in the third world, which, if his stories told in person are any indication, I look forward to reading (Glenn: sorry if my recounting of Jamaica is a sloppy rendition of one of your earlier chapters, and apologies for any spoilers!).

With views, beers, and stories of an interesting fellow our first visit to Laguna de Apoyo was pleasant enough, but taken in from a great distance.  Our second visit was with our kickin’ trio of neighbors, Katie, Kelly and Chris, and was a more hands on experience.  This time we packed swim suits and made our way to the Monkey Hut, a little resort nestled right by the water.  For six bucks you can get a day pass and enjoy their dock access to the clear and refreshing, bath-like waters of the lake, mill about onsite and order beers & have lunch, and grab a one-man kayak whenever.

While our party kayaked about my favorite activity was to fling myself over the side of my kayak and just swim.  I’m a tall dude, but the deep blue waters of the lake were clear enough that I and any onlooker could clearly see my toes outstretched those 6.5 feet beneath the surface of the water.  Did I mention the water was nice and warm?

As we lounged about off the end of the dock, floating in inner tubes, we saw them filming the closing scene of an episode of House Hunters International (if you’ve ever seen the show, you know the formula: “Well honey, which one should we pick?”  “I like number 2 the best.” “I like that one too–yay, let’s get that one!” Hug, walk off camera holding hands).  So at the risk of ruining the magic for you, the next time you see the end of an episode know that it probably took them a couple of takes to get it, and that someone off camera probably had to remind them “You just picked which house you’re going to buy… this is exciting, get excited!”.

Disillusionment of the process aside, we were happy to keep our voices down and not mess with their shoot.

Throw in a largely unremarkable yet well appreciated lunch and that was our day visit to the Monkey Hut–score a few more points for Laguna de Apoya!

Just another week here in Nicaragua… lordy, is it time to uproot again already?  I’d be bummed if I weren’t so excited about where we’re going next!


  1. Our first weekend I took Glenn up on his invitation to go to the massive market in Managua.  This visit ,amid a few other errands, ran over my expectations by about 4 hours, but at least I got to see cop corruption and bribery in action on the way home.  Our car was pulled over for, apparently, not abiding by the correct lanes through a roundabout.  100 Cordoba, or about $4US, was all it took to settle the matter on the spot.  “Collecting lunch money” was the phrase used to describe the situation.
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