Travel Diary: Sustainability in Nicaragua / by Sarah Park

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Lake Nicaragua, NI

Take a peek into what sustainability looks like in Nicaragua and how the locals find a balance between their lives and what nature provides.

Traveling to Nicaragua with my talented friend and chef Jenny Dorsey and her husband Matt is easily one of the most memorable trips of my life. I tagged along the adventure to document their experience, learning about the sustainability efforts happening in small corners of the country. I’ve discovered so much about Nicaragua through the food, people, and local markets!

This entire trip was sponsored by Cayuga Collection and Coffee Abroad to support Jenny Dorsey’s VR project merging culinary art with emerging technology. They were filming 3D footage to pair with a multi-course food and drink exprience for guests back in NYC, with a little sneak peek for guests staying at the Jicaro Island Eco-Lodge.

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Throughout our trip, we were led by our wonderful host Marciela from Jicaro Island. She arranged all of our day trips and introductions with the locals at a remote coffee farm, markets, and a fishing village by Casares Beach. She was so knowledgeable and passionate about sharing the stories of the people and culture.

Jicaro Island Eco-Lodge is situated on one of the 365 islands in Lake Nicaragua, one of the biggest freshwater lakes in the Americas. The intimate collection of wooden lodges are surrounded by lush greenery, stoney paths, and a stunning view of the lake. It’s a project built by Cayuga Collections with the vision of creating a symbiosis of luxury and sustainability. Jicaro Island makes every effort to reduce the carbon footprint and negative impacts to the earth, starting with banning the use of plastic bottles and installing a septic system without harsh chemicals allowing the recycled water to hydrate the plants on the island.

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The first on our itenerary was an overnight trip to Selva Negra, a coffee farm and tourist resort founded by German immigrants. It’s tucked away in the mountains of Matagalpa and the latest owner, Eddy Kühl, has devoted himself to preserving the nature and history of the region. A peaceful walk around the property will quickly remind you of a whimsical fairyland as the grounds are full of beautiful flowers, rich clusters of leafy plants, and photogenic spots by a gazebo, waterwell, and cobble stone buildings.

Tourists staying here are offered lots of outdoor activities such as hiking, birdwatching, and horseback riding. However, the most famous thing to do here is to learn about coffee farming, harvesting, and processing. We were led by a tour guide who grew up in the community of workers at Selva Negra through the entire process from picking cherries to how the grounds are packaged.

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We were lucky enough to witness the seasonal and permanent workers living onsite harvesting the berries through the hills of Selva Negra. We followed them as they weighed their harvest of the day and loaded their collective efforts onto a truck to get the cherries washed and ready for drying. All of the preparation work happens on site with their own equipment and buildings. Once the cherries arrive at the processing plant, they go through an inspection process where only the ripe and healthy cherries pass through to the next level. They are washed and peeled mechanically and sent over to a large open space to be air-dryed. The final step of this is the roasting and then they’re either grounded first or packaged straight into the bags for sale.

In addition to coffee, we visited La Hammonia Farms to learn about the cheese making process and see the farm grown, organic produce that feeds the community at Selva Negra. It was such an eye-opening experience to see how this large community of workers and tourists are able to contribute towards an balanced, sustainable lifestyle.

We also had the opportunity to soak in the culture through visiting a few local markets for both food and artisinal goods in Granada and Masaya. The market in Granada focused more on produce, fish, and meats while Masaya offered handmade goods such as bowls, shoes, and random trinkets. We had the chance to see all sorts of unusual produce like mimbros and limon dulce to tasty street food including vigorón and baho.

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We wrapped up our eventful week with a trip to Casares Beach in the morning to catch the fisherman rolling in their boats on shore after a night of fishing. I was surprised to see that they do this without any special machinery or equipment. With just a simple pair of logs and a cart, they detach the engine (probably shared across multiple boats) and hoist the boat on top of the logs to roll them back to their parking spot. Up by the beach, fish market ladies await their promised share of goods to take to the market for sale. We we’re told that the fisherman and these ladies have on-going business agreements.

The small scale efforts of this fishing village really took me by surprise as in America, I’m so accustomed to seeing the fishing process play out in a massive production system. I suppose this process helps to keep the fish population at a healthy level and provide only what you need to the shoppers without wasting (since we didn’t find any refrigeration system at the markets).

I hope you enjoy the recap videos and found the information helpful to learn about Nicaragua!