After a busy morning with the local children, we were ready to sit, eat and share stories of our busy, busy morning. Again, the FEV cooking staff did not disappoint.
The afternoon ahead included coffee picking. (My June 12 post will address my Nicaragua coffee experience). Our hostess discovered a red eyed tree frog near the dining room. I didn’t kiss it (no prince needed at this time), but I did hold it. So colorful and amazing!
The grounds of Finca Esperanza Verde have beautiful flowers everywhere. This day a large white orchid was blooming, for one day only, and graced our table in the dining room.
After the coffee hike, it was time to eat again…oh shoot! (I jest). Even in the small, efficient kitchen of FEV, the cooking staff got creative. I love, in the photo below, the presentation of the sliced squash with melted cheese to resemble a cooked egg. Makes me smile to look at it again!
Tomorrow morning we will say good-bye to the wonderful staff of Finca Esperanza Verde and continue our adventure in San Ramon with local hosts.
Day four at Finca Esperanza Verde (FEV) began with a wonderful, local breakfast, presented beautifully. The traditional gallo pinto, along with fried plantains, ham salad rolled in a sliced of ham and a slice of local cheese. With a glass of fresh Jamaican flower juice, hot cup of FEV coffee and fruit, we were fueled for a full morning of activities with local children coming to FEV.
The children were to arrive at 9 a.m. but the skies were dark and it was raining. Nothing. My travel companions from ERUUF were prepared to do paper crafts, games, and musical activities. Would the children even go out in these conditions. Oh ye of little faith!
These children, and their parents, are strong. They are used to the rain, the muddy conditions and walking miles (truly uphill) to reach their destinations.
Before long, more children arrived on foot, many wearing their much-needed rubber boots, others in street shoes. After almost two hours, a truck full of children arrived, hitching a ride from a local driver. We hustled around to assure that we had activities for the 85+ children that were our guests. Activities included multiple paper crafts, games, music (bells, musical chairs) and more. The children were anxious to participate in all of the activities as were their parents.
– The children gather for good-byes at FEV
The FEV staff prepared sandwiches and drinks for each guest that joined us for their long walk home. For the final 35 or so, a local pickup provided transportation back down the long road. This would never happen in the States. We watched in amazement as the parents, and perhaps teachers, jammed about 35 children in the back of the pickup to return home.
Reflecting on the morning, I admired the children for their respectful and patient behavior. Their parents were kind and supportive. Would our children in the States spend their summer holiday walking miles to visit strangers to partake in a morning of crafts and art? These families have so little in material things, yet are so rich in community and family. Perhaps the greatest souvenir from this trip will be gratefulness and admiration of the Nicaraguan people of Managua.
Returning from our picnic and hike, free time awaited and it was time to hit the hammock and soak in the amazing beauty of Finca Esperanza Verde (FEV). Truly a slice of paradise.
Every time I looked at the horizon from FEV’s dining area, it looked different. It was a magical experience. Again, this evening there was a wonderful sunset and shadows not to be missed.
A wonderful day, with wonderful people, in a wonderful place. The air was cool and the vegetable soup for dinner hit the spot. It reminded me that vegetable soup is a world staple, using local vegetables, spices and traditions. Comfort food for the soul.
As the sun set, so did our eyelids, tired but satisfied with another wonderful day in the beauty of Nicaragua. Tomorrow we would host local school children, on holiday, for a morning of music, art and fellowship.
Note: The stories of Nicaragua continue for the next several Tuesday postings.
Our tummies were full from breakfast and we were off to another local coffee farm, followed by a wonderful picnic lunch at a local river.
Our local transportation was either by foot or in the back of a pickup. I love the open air experience, reminding me of riding in the back of my Dad’s 1958 Chevy Pickup around the Iowa farm.
The final leg of our picnic excursion was by foot, across a pasture and down to the local river for swimming, bird-watching, and howler monkey scouting. The weather was sunny and gorgeous. Local cattle watched the gringos pass through their green pastures with a curious eye.
The final hike down to the river bed was shaded by a canopy of beautiful trees, bubbling waters and water falls.
We put down our packs, marveling at the tremendous work it took for our hosts and staff to coordinate and transport all of the fixings for our gourmet lunch by the river. While our lunch was being prepared, some of our group enjoyed soaking in the river while other settled in on the rock of choice enjoying the splendor of our surroundings.
After relaxing for a bit, lunch was served. (I am yearning a ‘do over’ as I write this.) The grilled kabobs, rice, cabbage salad, Pico de Gallo, homemade tortillas, and juice were delicious. Everything tastes better when enjoyed in the outdoors!
Again, our tummies were full and….what’s that noise. Howler monkeys! This was our first experience hearing and seeing them. My dinky point and shoot camera was up to the challenge to capture a silhouette of these funny creatures.
A rain storm was moving in and we got moving, too! A quick hike back to the truck for our ride back to Finca Esperanza Verde. Free time awaited us…what to do? Hike, siesta, read? Decisions, decisions!
What a delight to get up in the morning, dress and not worry about applying cosmetics or blow-drying my hair. At least that is what I thought until I looked at my pictures when I returned home. YIKES! That is why you are seeing more photos of food and scenery than of me.
I would wander to the dining area in the morning to enjoy a fresh banana (craving one now) and a hot cup of that coffee! I take a moment to soak in the beautiful morning view while my travel buddies wander in, one by one, to convene for breakfast.
This particular morning, we were served wonderful pancakes with fresh jams. My absolute favorite was the banana jam. Again, I wonder how I’ve never tasted banana jam. Genius!
When I returned home, I searched for Banana Jam recipes and found the following recipe in the Jamlady’s cookbook. I made it. I liked it. We served it at daughter Sarah’s bridal shower along with scones and clotted cream. It’s a cherished member of my growing collection of recipes.
The tortillas were made and the coffee roasted. Now we were off to the 600 square foot Butterfly Conservatory on the FEV property.
The Conservatory is magical for visitors and is also used to teach local children about the lifecycle of the butterfly. I thoroughly enjoyed it but my daughters would probably freak out…they aren’t big on any flying insects.
The foliage that surrounds us every waking moment is magical, as if we have arrived in a fantasy world. Everywhere I look there are flowers more beautiful and unusual than the last.
Beehive Ginger (micrófono in Spanish) is a spectacular plant. The plant can grow 6 to 8 foot tall, beginning yellow in color, and turning red as they age, particularly if they are exposed to sunlight.
I was in awe looking at the Hydrangeas, thinking back to the white Hydrangeas that graced the tables at daughter Megan’s wedding.
A busy afternoon and we were ready for dinner. Spaghetti was on the menu, topped with a boiled egg, complimented by a glass of Tribu Merlot from Argentina. I am curious about the egg on top of Spaghetti. My web search has been futile so my theory is an egg adds protein to an otherwise carb-rich meal. I call it Spaghetti Nic Style.
The sun was down, the woodstove burning hot, and my head was ready to rest on my pillow in Tucan Lodge.
As we hiked back up the hill to the dining lodge, I was anxious for fresh fruit juice and a delightful lunch. Today, we enjoyed fresh juice and salad, and chicken/vegetable curry over rice. Notice the gorgeous fresh flowers that graced our tables.
Fresh salad for lunch
Our afternoon activity was right up my alley. We were making corn tortillas with the staff over a wood stove as well as roasting and grinding coffee beans from the farm (coffee grinding to be covered in a future post of my full coffee experience). I will never take corn tortilla making for granted!
Step one for authentic corn tortillas involves Masa, Spanish for dough. Masa is made from field corn which is dried and treated with a lime water solution.
Next, we ground the corn by hand with a grinder. If we Americans did this every day, there would no more flabby upper arms…this is hard work!
After the corn was ground it was time to make the tortillas. Our teacher was a pro but this virgin tortilla maker failed miserably. I’ll spare you a photo of my alien-shaped wonder.
The final step was the taste test. The packaged corn tortillas from the grocery store don’t stand a chance compared to the real thing.
The women of Nicaragua are amazing. Many do not enjoy the modern conveniences that we take for granted, yet are full of joy working hard to serve their families and guests wonderful food and hospitality. I feel so blessed to experience this with our wonderful teacher. I yearn for more!
My first full day in Nicaragua and I was almost bright-eyed and bushy-tailed…but could I use a cup of coffee! Not only was I going to have coffee but I was having organic coffee raised and roasted at Finca Esperanza Verde (FEV), made with certified mountain spring water. You haven’t had coffee like this at your local coffee shop! My coffee adventure was only beginning.
As I walked down the path from our lodge, which I shared with five other wonderful women, I marveled at the views and the foliage, pinching myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.
The covered, open-air, dining room at FEV overlooks a beautiful tropical forest allowing the diners to take in the view yet enjoy the fresh air. Our tables were set, as they were the night before, with our name on a clothes pin attached to the napkin. The staff moved our napkin and clothes pin at each meal, giving us a chance to get to sit with everyone in the group. Genius!
We were served fresh, local fruit from the farm including watermelon, pineapple, papaya in addition to fresh local maracuya (passion fruit) juice.
Next we were served Gallo Pinto, fresh tortillas made by the staff over a wood stove, and scrambled eggs topped with crumbled cuajada cheese and pico de gallo. The farm-fresh eggs are from the FEV chickens! (Reminded me of home and the fresh eggs on our Iowa farm.)
What a wonderful experience to eat local, eat fresh in the splendor of the tropics.
3 cups of cooked rice
2 cups of cooked black beans
1 onion, finely chopped
1 chopped red pepper, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1-2 tablespoons oil
¼ cup chopped cilantro
4 tablespoons Salsa Lizano (or Worcestershire Sauce)
salt and pepper to taste
Fry onion, red pepper, and garlic in the vegetable oil, about 3 minutes.
Pour in the beans and sauce, black pepper and seasoning. Let it cook for a few minutes, but keep it moist.
Pour in the cooked rice and mix with the beans. Sprinkle with crumbled cuajada cheese. Optional: sprinkle with chopped fresh cilantro.
After breakfast, we were scheduled for a nature hike to begin to explore the gorgeous plants and flowers of the tropical forest and our first introduction to how coffee is grown. Our guide took care to highlight local birds and foliage.
Coming from the high desert of Colorado, I was amazed at the plant life. How can so many plants live on one tree? This is the trunk of the Ceiba tree, which was a mystical tree in pre-Columbian cultures. This photo captures the mystical experience of the tropical forest hike.
After a wonderful morning out, it was time to return to the lodge and lunch…what wonderful treat would be awaiting us?
It all started with an email from my sister-in-law, Betty, asking me if I wanted to go to Nicaragua. With a flip ‘sure, when and how much’, she replied with pricing and the news that I would need to be on a red-eye flight THAT NIGHT in order to meet the eco tour group in Managua. Are you kidding me? I’m ‘Ms. Gotta Have a Plan’ and yet I’m considering this? The more I talked to Betty and then to my daughters, it WAS going to happen.
Since the tour was a hands-on experience at Finca Esperanza Verde (FEV) for 4 days and another 3 days in San Ramon with a local family, the attire was very casual so a current passport, T-shirts, jeans, hiking boots, socks, rain gear, and bare personal essentials in a borrowed carry-on from my new son-in-law and I was ready to roll. A quick call to my trusty PA and the Doxycycline was called into the pharmacy. I was on a flight that evening at 11:55 p.m., arriving in Miami at 5:30 a.m. with a connecting flight at 10:29 a.m. and final arrival in Managua at 11:55 a.m. WHEW! I’m exhausted just thinking about it.
The flights were uneventful, the layover long but the views flying into Nicaragua were stunning! My seat mate thought me crazy for taking pictures from the plane, but wouldn’t you take a picture of this, Lake Managua with volcanoes Momotombo and Momotombito.
Keep in mind, the only people I would know on this tour were my sister-in-law Betty, and her husband George. Their flight arrived 2 hours after mine. I was to look for a sign at the door for Finca Esperanza Verde, which I did not see. Am I CRAZY? I’m in a strange country, trying to meet strangers to go a destination I know little about. Somehow, there was no fear (mind you, there was also NO sleep) but rather a sense of great adventure.
After wandering around the exit for about 30 minutes, walking up to strangers asking if they were part of a group going to FEV, I learned there were a lot of groups coming to volunteer, to vacation and to get the heck away from me! Finally, I saw a group of women that were congregating at a bus stop and kindly asked if they were with a group going to FEV. I was so relieved when I found my group and delighted by their immediate acceptance of this one, bedraggled traveler.
It was time for lunch so we followed our fearless FEV guides, Gustavo and Everisto, inside to the food court. Now this was not your normal airport food court. We were set to try the local cuisine. I so wish I could tell you what I ate that day, but that brain cell floated away before the last bite was swallowed. It was wonderful…trust me on that.
After the final ecotour travelers arrived we were on our way toward San Ramon, in our mini bus, approximately 99 miles (160 Km) from the Managua airport. As I recall, the bus trip took about 4 hours and was a wonderful introduction to the landscape, the people, the culture.
About halfway through the bus trip, we stopped for a quick break and were delighted to see a local food stand. I snapped a few photos of the wonderful, local produce:
Fresh Carrots in Nicaragua
When we were within about a half mile from FEV, the sun was setting and we were to transfer from the mini bus to a smaller vehicle. It was a beautiful night and many of us decided to stretch our legs and walk to the lodge. The sky was beautiful and the tropical forest serene!
We arrived at FEV in time for dinner in the open-air dining area. It was dark when we arrived, but the wood stove was burning, the beer was cold, and the food was scrumptious. We were greeted by the gracious staff and our hosts (and FEV co-founders), Lonna and Richard Hardraker. I wish I could tell you what I ate that evening, but I cannot. The best I can do is share a picture of Toña, my first Nicaraguan beer. Quite tasty and refreshing!
With a full tummy and an almost non-functional brain, I hiked the short distance to Tucan Lodge to rest my weary Colorado head down for a peaceful slumber in the tropical forest at Finca Esperanza Verde, not knowing what adventures were awaiting me in the morning.
For more information on Finca Esperanza Verde, check out their website:
NOTE: I will be posting about my Nicaraguan adventures on Tuesdays for the next several weeks. Join me as I relive this crazy, wonderful trip. Did you say there was a flight to Nicaragua leaving tonight????
During my trip to Nicaragua, I had the opportunity to stay with a host family in San Ramon. My roommate, Sally, and I had the great pleasure of staying with Neyda and her family. We enjoyed many wonderful meals at Neyda’s home. One evening our ecotour group were treated to an evening of native Nicaraguan food and music. It was wonderful and highlighted by a light shower and a gorgeous rainbow.
The food served that evening included an unusual, sweet yet savory corn cake, baked in an outdoor wood-fired oven. The cake was baking when we arrived and like hungry baby birds, we all flocked to see what was in the oven. Our hostesses were kind enough to share the cake while it was still warm. Heavenly! The three photos below were taken the night of our dinner in San Ramon.
Our Nicaraguan hostess serving corn cake
Nicaraguan Corn Cake
Once returning home, the hunt was on for corn cake. My sister-in-law, Betty, discovered a similar recipe and shared it with our ecotour group. I baked the corn cake to share with my gal pals. By chance, I also brought a bowl of fresh pineapple and found it to be a wonderful side dish to serve with the bread. This recipe is slightly sweeter than the cake in Nicaragua, but delicious. A winner! However, I will continue my search to match the exact experience of our memorable Nicaraguan dinner.
NOTE: During our special evening in San Ramon we were also served the traditional Nicaraguan Nacatamal, a steamed corn cake filled with meat and vegetables, steamed in banana leaves. They, too, were fabulous and will be covered in a separate post at a later date. Stay tuned!
PERERREQUE (CORN CAKE)
1 pound fine white corn meal (I used regular white corn meal and ground again with the food processor)
1 pound crumbly cheese, grated finely (try Monterey Jack or Wensleydale)
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons margarine
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 ½ cups milk
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix the corn meal with the cheese and sugar. Cut/crumble in the margarine. Mix the baking soda into a little of the milk and pour into the dry ingredients. Add the remaining milk until the mixture is well blended.
Place the cake mixture into a greased baking pan. The mixture should be about 1 inch thick.
Bake for 30 to 40 minutes until the cake is golden brown. After this time, remove it from the oven, allow to cool and then cut into small pieces or squares before serving. I found the bread to be at it’s best when served warm, about an hour after baking.