Hidden in a cloud forest deep in Nicaragua's Northern hillsides is a coffee plantation and resort dedicated to self-sustaining green living. Selva Negra, meaning Black Forest, is a producer of single-origin coffee that is currently sold in Whole Foods stores here in the U.S. I didn't know that when I visited. The only thing I knew is that they grew coffee, and I might see a panther while I was there. (They are also known for the wildlife that can sometimes be seen on the grounds.) On our honeymoon trip to Nicaragua, my husband and I bought tickets to catch the bus at the Mayoreo Station in Managua bound for Jinotega. Once we arrived from our three hour journey, we grabbed a taxi to take us to Selva Negra, about twenty minutes up a curvy, hilly two-lane road to a gravel path that led to our destination. Our taxi driver was nice enough to drop us at the main entrance, and after checking for a vacancy, we lugged our bags to a room in the "dorm". Twelve-foot walls of cement lined the room, and tile on the floor. It was cool outside, and I knew we'd be in for a chilly night. Add to that the ever-lacking hot water. "Ahhh, how I've missed you, Nicaragua," I thought. That night, we snagged the blanket off the extra bed.
The next morning, we awoke to conga monkeys grunting and rumbling in the nearby hills. Ron, my husband, was still wowed by them as we ate our breakfast of gallo pinto (rice and red beans) and the resort's homemade coffee. It was cool out; the first time I actually felt cold in Nicaragua, having lived on the Pacific coast for a year previously. After breakfast, we signed up for the plantation tour, and while we waited, checked out the small museum of artifacts found on the grounds. I say small museum; it was more like one case with an old sword, a hand shovel, a mold for shaping gold, and a few old letters tacked to the nearby wall, among other things. It was meager, but don't get me wrong: perusing those things reminded me of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's book 100 Years of Solitude. I imagined characters with rich family histories in those people pictured on the walls...
The tour began and 6 of us boarded the mini van with our tour guide, Marco. After a short trip down the gravel road, our first stop came suddenly around a bend where about 60 men, women and children could be seen picking and sorting coffee "cherries".
Most of these workers are employed seasonally by Selva Negra, and are paid 27-29 Cordoba per basket of usable cherries. That's about $1.40 per bucket. And a person can fill 5-6 a day. They are also provided any medical care, as well as schooling for all their children. On days when they are not harvesting, they prune plants using their handy machetes. Coffee cherries come in about three colors: red, yellow and green. The green ones are not mature enough to use for coffee, so they are seeded for future coffee plants. The mature cherries, then, are dumped into pools to wash. They are then left to ferment (the gas created as they ferment is actually used as BIOGAS to use for kitchen cooking!) for 12-18 hours. The skins are then separated from the beans and thrown into a pile, along with manure from the cow pasture and chicken pens, where thousands of worms wait to convert the natural waste into compost. Where does that compost go? You guessed it! Onto the coffee plants! One more thing: also grown in Selva Negra are Elephant Lemons. Here's a clue as to why: