January 31, 2016
I arrived back in Nicaragua on January 9 after spending a very nice and peaceful time in Florida with friends and family. Since then I have been nothing but busy- which is something I certainly appreciate for now. We have had four volunteers. Keiran and Remi from Canada, Babu from Belgium and Elsa from France. Remi and Babu are participating in the coffee experience while Keiran and Elsa are living and helping in the huerta (house farm) and around the house in Mozonte. It has been very fun to get to know them all and I am happy that they are all learning, experiencing and enjoying Nicaragua. I do not have a large degree of separation for people that come for our project- and for that I am able to get to each volunteer pretty well. I have been happy meeting people from around the world and being able to hear their perspectives on life as well as how they react and feel about the way of life in our part of Nueva Segovia.
This next week we look forward to heading to the farm in Dipilto for the week. Tomorrow I will head to the market to secure the things we will need for the week, basically a large amount of different food (with rice, beans and corn being the staples). The final item before getting on the bus is always the toughest, as it is filling up the 5 gallon bottle with water. This becomes particularly difficult when we get off the bus to head up to the farm- a hike directly uphill to top off the journey. The harvest is in full swing right now and there is no shortage of work. Remi and I this past week participated in picking coffee for two days- neither of them producing a whole lot of success in volume. One would refer to the bag we filled as a “gringo bag”. Many workers end up collecting around 5-7 latas per day which would translate to about 150-210 lbs of wet cherry coffee. On top of the sheer weight they are carrying in sacks above their head up and down steep inclines- they are also only selecting ripe coffee cherries which are (depending on the color of the coffee bean) typically turning a bit purple (red cherries) or orange (yellow cherries).
At the end of each day the bags of coffee are turned into the beneficio. The workers will hang around the hacienda until it is time to turn in the coffee for measurement. This is when the lata comes into play. The lata is a standard bucket. The workers will fill the buckets with as much coffee as they picked during the day. Each lata is valued at 40 Cordobas (28 Cordobas/$1). Therefore workers are incentivized to pick as much coffee as they can, but they are not able to pick all coffee, only the mature coffee. This definitely adds to the work of picking coffee as not only are you striving to pick as quickly as you can, but also as accurately as you can.
Following this process the coffee will be sorted in a large water tank where coffee with defects or that was either too mature or picked too soon will float to the surface and mature healthy coffee will sink to the bottom. The coffee will then be separated according to the quality of the cherry. All cherries will fall into one of two depulping machines where the external part of the cherry (cascara) will be removed. After this it will fall into one of the fermenting tanks. Here it will either ferment for 12 hours until it is time to wash or will go directly to the dry mill to begin the drying process. There is one process called the natural process where coffee is simply washed after being picked and brought directly to the dry mill. When we were at the farm we participated in the washing process, packaging process and ultimately the loading of the truck. Some days we brought tortillas to the workers as they were picking. Other days we helped select ideal coffee beans that would be utilized for planting new coffee plants which will be done in March following the harvest.
Every day at the farm offered a new adventure. Each day we woke up at 6:45am to eat breakfast and make our way to the other farm this past week. What I really enjoy about our project is you don’t need to be a coffee enthusiast in order to enjoy our project. People can have different motivations for wanting to come but will still be able to walk away with a very valuable experience. We are given the opportunity to experience an integral part of life in the region of Nueva Segovia- and more specifically Dipilto. We are able to build a more realistic idea of what the coffee industry looks like at its base; without the skewing of information coming from major companies. Here in Ocotal you will not have a luxurious stay or a warm shower, but you will have an experience that you will never forget. I’m happy to have this experience for myself as well as to be able to witness it through others that stay with us.
Namaste y Saludos,