I had breakfast at my hotel and was pleasantly surprised to find it was ‘on the house’. A walk to the bus terminal I needed saw me land at one of the fanciest in the country. I had time for coffee before I left, them hopped on the bus to Matagalpa. The route between the two towns was spectacular as it ran in between three different reserves which had tiny pueblos nestled on the fringes. As this was coffee country, tiny coffee plantations clung to the side of the hills in varying stages of cultivation. All overshadowed by magnificent cloud forest stretching out for miles.
The bus pulled into the southern bus terminal and I took the opportunity to get information about my planned overland trip to Puerto Cabezas the following day. This trip is not talked up in any way in the guidebook which is probably why hardly anyone takes it, but I was determined. I knew I could catch a bus to remote Siuna and from there another to Puerto Cabezas but needed to check the details. I eventually found a señora who was able to help me out and wrote down some information for me including the name of the terminal I needed to catch the bus from.
I then walked up the hill following the river to the Parque Central from which my chosen hostel was close to. Martina’s Place was an excellent choice – clean, comfy and free breakfast included in the price. I dumped my pack, then walked up to the terminal I needed to go to the following morning to check the information I had been given at the other terminal. A lovely señor at the information office was extremely helpful and I felt confident I would be able to get all the way to Puerto Cabezas as planned in two days.
I had time to visit the Museo de Cafe, so headed to the part of town it was located in. This little museum outlined the steps involved in coffee growing and processing and provided a very interesting history of the town from right back to its indigenous inhabitants to when the first German family arrived in the late 1800s and decided to plant coffee. Other German families followed suit and Matagalpa’s coffee industry was born. It wasn’t easy for these early pioneers though as they originally sent the coffee cherries back to Germany for further processing which resulted a much spoiling on the voyage. Eventually, one of the migrants invented a machine to dehusk the cherries and things went swimmingly thereafter. Matagalpa is now one of Nicaragua’s major coffee producing regions.
It wouldn’t be Nicaragua without some political message proudly inherent in the display and this little Museo had a big one. After the coffee crisis of 1999, many plantations went under and tens of thousands of workers lost their jobs. This led to a widespread diaspora from the region to the bigger cities and many former farmers and their families starved to death. Eventually, the workers formed a union and set up a road block on the Pan America Hwy in protest demanding food, work, education, health and land. The government at the time (not the FSLN) did little to alleviate the problem, however, a truce was eventually made after three years. According to the signage at the Museo, it wasn’t until the FSLN came back into power that thing really started to rectify themselves. A more believable message though, was that the coffee growers are only getting a tiny portion of the income produced by their crops, with global giants such as Nestle taking the giant share.
Armed with my new found determination to buy only free trade coffee when I return home, I continued wandering around town. Matagalpa was where Carlos Fonseca, martyred FSLN commander, was born and his presence is felt throughout the town. A bronze statue depicting his image is proudly and prominently erected in Parque Central and the facing Police Department building bears his name. When one learns that he grew up impoverished in a tiny shack with his mother and four siblings, it is little wonder that his political leanings tended towards revolutionising the people towards a socialist state. I still wonder, however, what he would have thought about the way things have turned out for his country with a significant percentage of the population still desperately poor.
Back at the hostel, I got chatting to a Dutch girl who had spent the previous few months doing an internship in Granada as part of her nursing degree. She was telling me that polio is still prevalent in Nicaragua, although the vaccine is available here. She told me about a 22 year old patient she had who could only move her eyelids and who would eventually die. Of course, no money has gone into developing more effective polio treatments since the vaccine proved so effective 50 years ago, so contracting the disease often remains a death sentence. Her insight into the Nicaraguan health system did not surprise me, but certainly made me grateful to be living in a developed country with access to quality medical care. We ended up going out to dinner together and had a lovely evening swapping stories. I find I always meet interesting people on the road. That’s one of the great benefits of travelling.