Nicaragua Study Tour: Managua to Matagalpa

James Hayes-Bohanan, Ph.D
Bridgewater State College

Day 4: January 6, 2006
Updated January 24, 2006
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January 3
Overnight Managua
January 4
January 5
January 6
January 7
La Corona
January 8
La Corona
January 9
January 10
January 11
Finca Esperanza Verde
January 12
Finca Esperanza Verde
January 13
After breakfast at Hotel Europeo in Managua, we set off to the coffee heartland of Matagalpa, in the north of the country. It may look like Alex is already back in Massachusetts, but Nica is full of the same convenience stores we have at home! In fact, in the photo at right, taken the next day, it is difficult to find any evidence that the students are in Nicaragua.

Alex on the Run

Throughout Latin America and the rest of the developing world, it is not uncommon to find people catching rides on trucks. On the road to Matagalpa, though, we saw something I had not seen before: a man riding in a dump truck -- sitting in an office chair!

This particular truck is one of many Russian trucks we saw that dates to the Sandinista period.

"Welcome to Latin America!"
These were
my words to the students when we arrived at this crossroads market, about halfway between Managua and Matagalpa. Prior to this, we had of course been in Latin America, but in an urban and suburban setting that resembled home more than the places where we would spend the rest of our journey.
Welcome to Latin America
We later learned that this crossroads -- where a major Nicaraguan highway crosses the Pan-American Highway -- was the site of an important protest by coffee farmers in 2002.

Felicity Butler

Matagalpa is the name of one of Nicaragua's most important coffee-growing states; it is also the name of the state capital. At our first stop in the city, we were greeted by Jose Selorzano, a Vice President of UNAG, which is the Nicaraguan National Farmers and Ranchers Union. Mr. Selorzano described the general patterns of agriculture in Nicaragua, and how coffee fits into the larger picture. He explained that Germans and North Americans introduced coffee to Nicaragua in 1848.

We also met Felicity Butler, a British woman who works as an organizer for the CECOCAFEN co-op and who helped organize our trip. After a brief introduction to the organization, we went to the coffee museum, which houses a number of interesting exhibits about coffee and about the region, including pre-Columbian artifacts, modern and historic equipment, and murals.

At the museum, Mario Roa of CECOCAFEN explained how he saw the connections between coffee and broader geopolitical issues, including the Iraq war.
Coffee Museum - Matagalpa

Mural Throughout the developing world, people are increasingly concerned about the privatization of water. Companies such as Bechtel (contractors best known for supplying the Iraq War and managing Boston's Big Dig) are buying not only the right to sell water in many countries, but also the rights to rainwater and rivers themselves. People throughout the world are fighting back, most famously in Cochabomba, Bolivia.

It is only appropriate that this protest mural is in a coffee museum. (Coffee is 98 percent water, and the slightest impurities can ruin an otherwise perfect cuppa.) The detail at right shows children holding up signs that read, "Water is Life," "Don't Contaminate the Water," and "Pure Water."

Mural detail - water

Selva Negra
For dinner, we went to Selva Negra, a  very interesting coffee farm in the mountains north of the city of Matagalpa. It was founded by the German Ludwig Glater (whose ticket is represented below) 150 years ago. The name means "Black Forest," a reference to the forest of Bavaria. The farm includes a wonderful restaurant, a chapel (built for a recent family wedding), and beautiful grounds. The current owner is shown below, explaining this farm's very interesting approach to sustainable ecological and social development. Selva Negra also includes cabins -- we are hoping to stay at this site on the next tour.

Selva Negra Steerage

Several of us were surprised to see this painting, an amazing replica of a famous National Geographic cover. It depicts a young woman, and was taken during the Afghan war against the Soviet Union in the 1980s. The anonymous woman, incidentally, was found in recent years, and positively identified as Sharbat Gula. She looked much older and very different, except for the penetrating eyes. In fact, an iris scan was needed to confirm her identity, because she did not remember the photo being taken, and had no idea that millions of people around the world had been captivated by her gaze. Apparently, one of those people is associated with Selva Negra.
Afghan woman

Proceed to January 7

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