05 July 2012

Coffee, Volcano, & Where Almonds Come From

26 June 2012
Idk, roughly 10pm - Casa del Agua, Granada

Today I wore the SPF shirt Mom got me for the trip.  I present the following ultra-dweeby picture of me as evidence (not dweeby because of the shirt, just to be clear.  The shirt actually ended up being pretty sweet):
Shorts and sneakers are a good look for no one.
Our plan for the day was to tour a volcano.  We had two options, but weren't quite sure which one yet: Mombacho had been quiet since 1570, but hadn't yet been declared dormant.  It also had a coffee plantation halfway up and the zipline option on the way down.  Volcan Masaya, on the other hand, had just had a minor expulsion at the end of the April and therefore was still quite active.

However, nothing could be finalized until Tierra Tours opened at 8am, so we went to breakfast at the nearby Garden Cafe.  This cafe had been started by a Californian and a Nicaraguan in 2007 and had a pretty little garden courtyard (as one might guess) where we sat for breakfast.  I ordered an apple, strawberry, and banana smoothie that tasted predominantly of bananas.  I casually remarked that I'd had more fruit in the past two days that I usually do in a week (a mild exaggeration) and was promptly made fun of.
The garden at the... Garden Cafe

We found our way back to the tour office and eventually decided on a tour to Volcan Mombacho that included a stop at the coffee plantation (imagine my joy) and ziplining.  The tour 4x4 picked us up from the hostel & we joined a Managuan woman and her two sons.  She'd been living in California for the past 20 years and this was her first trip back to her home - for her high school reunion!

Our tour guide, David, was this energetic, excitable, humorous, knowledgable guy who, as promised, took excellent care of us on our trip.  He may have been more excited to zipline than we were - he was certainly more fearless.  He offered to capture the experience on film (because who doesn't look attractive in a harness?) and used Courtney's FlipCam & Sara's camera to really make sure every moment was saved for all posterity.  All wry remarks aside, he did a really great job of that!
If you ever go to Granada, find the Tierra Tours office and ask David to give you a tour.  He will show you mini orchids (above), go ziplining with you, and try very  hard to find you a sloth.

Located halfway up the volcano, Cafe Las Flores, the coffee plantation, was small and had recently been certified by the Rainforest Alliance.. All their coffee is fair trade; I believe David said the fair trade certification should be coming through soon.  They're very eco friendly there and even repurify the water before returning it to the soil (that's my best understanding of a very complicated-sounding procedure).  We got free cups of coffee while we were there and sipped them as we looked out across Nicaragua.  There was a hawk (or other large bird) soaring around as we did so, making the whole panorama very majestic.  Definitely a suitable location for enjoying one's coffee.
See?  Majesty.
I tried both the Espresso and Medium roast (the perks of being friends with someone who doesn't drink coffee means I get theirs too) and surprisingly, ended up enjoying the medium roast more.  The espresso roast was good, but it was very standard.  The medium, on the other hand, had all these intense, earthy flavors.  At first I thought it tasted like dirt, or like noshing on some bark (not that I'd know what that tastes like), but as the taste grew, it became surprisingly enjoyable.  It was so interesting, as a matter of fact, that I brought some home.  (If you, too, are interested in Nicaraguan coffee, here's the link: http://www.cafelasflores.com/)  At the small shop on the plantation, I also bought some Nicaraguan chocolate (dark, 50% cacao).  It was unlike any other chocolate I've ever had - the consistency was rougher, the flavor far richer (it took me 4 days to finish the bar I brought home with me),  it didn't melt in the hot, humid climate - and I fell in love instantly.  It's called El Castillo de Cacao http://www.elcastillodelcacao.com/index.html) and I plan on going to Matagalpa when I return to Nicaragua because, well, duh.
One of these two does not enjoy coffee.
Additionally, I saw an almond tree!  For all the almonds I consume, I never really thought about where they come from before.  I shall now share my knowledge with you:  there is a flower:

 then a pod, also referred to by some as the "fruit."
 David bit the fruit in half for us to point out where the almond could be found.  Very cool.
Following the coffee plantation, we continued up the extremely steep hill.  When I say "extremely steep," I mean there were moments where I had concerns about the car flipping backward and I spent the entire ride clinging to my seat (they were parallel to the sides of the car, perpendicular to the driver) to prevent myself from sliding backwards onto the doors.  I didn't have a lot of faith in the doors supporting my weight if I were to fall on them and rolling uncontrollably down the volcano would put a serious wrench in my plans for the day.

The volcano was not entirely what I expected.  It had the shape and size of a volcano, but was completely overgrown - even the craters were hard to see due to the trees and brush that had grown in them.  I guess that's what happens when a volcano takes a few centuries off.  We got to walk through a cloud forest, where the temperature dropped dramatically, almost causing chills, as well as through a dwarf forest, where everything is tiny because of the hard rock (caused by previous eruptions) under the soil (I believe that's an accurate description).  We were able to see and feel why the volcano is not considered dormant:  there are holes along the path where steam escapes, which indicates that the volcano still has an active center.
Steam coming from the ground - if you stick your hand in there, it's hot.  Don't stick your hand in there.

 On the other end of the path, we were able to look across to Granada and see the wide expanse of Lake Nicaragua.  It was beautiful.  I turned around at this point and realized the arrangement of volcano and hills strongly resembled the island on LOST.

I'm not crazy.
I leave you with this picture of a sloth skeleton (unfortunately the only sloth we saw).  Apparently, it'd been hanging out there rotting for a while and so, according to David, "it smelled pretty bad" when he brought tours by.  I suspect that'd be cleaned up pretty fast in America, but there, they allowed it to remain a part of the ecosystem.

He's looking at you.

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