North to Esteli

Esteli is the home of our friend Janie and her daughters, Zaira and Siena. Janie founded Cafe Luz, Luna International Hostel and the Treehuggers Information Centre, http://www.treehuggers.cafeluzyluna.org , to provide income to support a range of development projects in the surrounding area. A key project is the Library Bus (El bibliobus El Libro Volador) http://www.cafeluzyluna.org/social-projects/ which offers reading opportunities to children at local schools where supplies of books are limited. Currently the book stock is not sufficient to enable loans but there is plenty of time to read when the bus visits. At the same time assistance is now being given to enable the schools to develop organic gardens to increase the supply of fresh vegetables for the pupils.
The first morning we joined in a brainstorming session to discuss future branding in the light of current developments in social media including hashtags (#). We quickly realised that this is a complex subject which none of us fully understand. Then we stumbled around terminology such as ‘social enterprise’ and ‘not for profit’ which are used here to describe this sort of sustainable business model. These terms have different meanings to visitors from different parts of the world which we were helping to homogenise. Janie needs a knowledgeable volunteer to tackle all this however, in their absence, we’ll all do our best to find out more and make suggestions. Marketing is now key to attracting visitors, volunteers and donations to support initiatives to step up a bit within the rapidly growing technology of Nicaragua.
We also had lots of fun!
We went to the protected Tisey reserve La Garnacha for lunch in a rustic comedor and a view of the surrounding volcanoes, all currently active! There are homestays here and the residents also make cheese, keep goats and make compost for sale.
Another friend Maggie Jo, also from U.K. was in and around Esteli. She was visiting friends she made several years ago when she was involved in a project to teach English to adults in the Miraflor protected area. They were setting up homestays in order to encourage tourism in this remote area where organic shade grown coffee is the main crop.
Together we all went out and about around Esteli. One day we were having lunch in a rather splendid resort hotel with swimming pools which also happened to be opposite the entrance to the local prison. We heard sounds like gunfire – an escape? And then realised it was coconuts hitting the hotel roof as they were thrown from the tree by the workers!
At dinner at Janie’s house we played an extended game of dominoes with the children while Janie cooked. Meanwhile fruit bats flew in and out to roost as the house is open to the garden!
It was a great week but we couldn’t stay forever. On Friday Janie drove us to La Bastilla, an eco-lodge near Jinotega. More about that in the next post.

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Esteli

Esteli is a large, busy city with a population of over 100,000. It’s in the North East highlands, so cooler than the places we’ve been visiting, but still warm and sunny during the day. It’s on the Pan-American highway which is said to be the world’s longest road, running the length of North, Central and South America with a short break, the Darien Gap between Panama and Columbia.

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There was heavy fighting in Esteli during the civil war in the 1970s. Although a lot of rebuilding has taken place some buildings retain bullet holes from those times.

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The old street pattern has been retained along with lots of the traditional old buildings but modern development is also taking place.

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The shopping opportunities are endless!  The traditional shops are small and carry a specific range of goods. Notable are the ones selling leather goods including saddles, belts, bridles and  high quality cowboy boots, off the peg or made to measure.

But change is happening!  Esteli now has a branch of Colonia, the Waitrose of Nicaragua. Very convenient and carrying a wide range of goods, the prices may deter some customers but, just like everywhere else, the arrival of supermarkets threatens the future of the small, local shops.

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A wide range of clothing is available. ‘America fashion’ means second hand clothes imported from North America. These are available in big bales from wholesale outlets. Retail outlets range from smart boutique style shops to something more resembling a jumble sale.  So Nicaraguan shoppers provide an important outlet for the excess of, so called, more developed societies. It occurs to me that the disappearance of this trade would greatly reduce the range of styles available – the chances of appearing in identical outfits at events is almost non-existent.

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When we were here a year ago the Parque Central was boarded off, undergoing renovation.  Now it’s reopened as a colourful playground, packed at the weekend. It makes you wonder where all these children went in the past!

The cigar trade is very important here. Tobacco is an important crop and is also imported from at least as far away as Equador. We visited a cigar factory where the working conditions seemed okay although the hours are long. That’s possibly because there are frequent visits from cigar buyers from all over the world. The situation for people who work in the fields and drying sheds looks very different! The cigars and boxes are all  handmade, with great skill on the premises.

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There a lots of murals in Esteli, we particularly liked this mosaic.

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Friends in Esteli

It was still dark when we left Sabalos on the fast boat back to San Carlos. Six and a half hours on the bus to Managua without a loo stop wasn’t our plan but we both survived!

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Back at La Mariposa work was in progress, the bedroom floor had been tiled and Marcos was busy building the kitchen counter.
We stayed long enough to present the gifiti to Paulette and get the laundry done then set off again to visit our friends in Esteli.

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We’ve been here several times and got to know Janie and her daughters very well. We stayed in Hostal Luna and hung out in Cafe Luz – both founded by Janie and run as non-profit enterprises providing employment and supporting the development of projects to benefit the rural communities nearby.

We had lots of fun with the children, visiting the park, baking gingerbread with friends in the cafe kitchen and, once the weekend was over, overseeing the homework.

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We also caught up with Alvaro, a doctor who enjoys talking to English visitors as he is fascinated by the classics and European civilisation. We enjoyed red wine and fresh bread in the Italian courtyard he is creating in his back garden.
Janie was working, but we had dinner together in the evenings and even managed a long afternoon trip out with Janie and Nazarelli who works with her, plus Santos – who came for the ride!
We have written about Miraflor on previous occasions. It’s a remote and beautiful area, ranging from dry forest at the lower levels to cloud forest at the highest point, above 1,400 metres. Miraflor is a protected reserve with an abundance of bird species, wildlife and plants, including orchids.
Life is rustic and tough with agriculture the main occupation. High quality coffee is grown by small scale producers who work cooperatively to process and market the crop. They grow some excellent vegetables too!
Janie’s organisation has supported the development of basic tourist facilities including homestays for those who want to experience life in this beautiful, remote area. These provide additional income for residents. They also run a library bus taking reading opportunities to schoolchildren across the area.

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At San Sebastián de Yali we stopped to meet Nararelli’s partner and grandmother and explored the small town while they conducted some business with a lawyer.

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Then on up the volcano to inspect some land which the couple are purchasing to build a remote and rustic cabin for visitors. Nearby an uncle and other relatives were processing the last of the coffee harvest. Horses carried the sacks up to the dirt road to be taken back to town in the back of the truck.
It was dusk when we left – the chickens were heading up to roost in the trees!

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We’ve fallen behind with blogposts so now we’ll try to catch up. You may hear more from us than you want to over the next few days!