Sunday, August 26, 2012

Esteli, Tisey Reserve, food, Cacao, chocolate factory

We took some day trips from Esteli.  
First we went to Tisey Reserve. First we took the 6:00 bus to Tisey and went and walked around an ecolodge there where you can get breakfast and then hiked up to the top of the hill to see the view.  We then hike out to Garnacha to get buy some homeade cheese and honey as well as to hire horses. The horse are $5 an hour per person to rent.  We then went to the house of the rock sculptor. The sculptor gave us a tour of his grounds for a tip.  He was very friendly and talkative though often repeating himself.  He gave us the most amazing pineapple that he picked from his farm.  It looked green and was really hard so I thought it wasnt ready but it is one of the sweetest pineapples I have had here.  I wish I remember what type of pineapple it was.  It had very sharp thorny leaves and had many baby pineapples coming off the bottom which was growing on a stalk. 
The next day we went to spend the day in Matagalpa.  
Less than two hours from Esteli we arrived at the city in the morning and had time to walk around and get breakfast.  We first went to the chocolate factory which is a short cab ride from the center.  El Castillo Chocolate factory is one of the only producers of chocolate in Nicaragua. They give a free tour in the morning and the cacao they purchase is organic, the problem is finding organic sugar so their product is not completely organic.  They make a non milk chocolate which is great for baking.  They temper their chocolates so its still nice and smooth and not like Mexican chocolate which is often gritty and not smooth.  I highly recommend their chocolate as well as their tour.  The owner who happens to be Dutch was nice enough to give us a lift back into the city. 
We went back to the city center and had a nice lunch and then headed to the bus station to catch the bus to Jinotega to get to the coffee factory, farm and hotel Selva Negra. Its a very beautiful place and the tour was nice though very expensive at $12 a person!  They produce organic coffee.  They only have arabica which is picked once per year whereas robusto is picked 2x a year.  They obtain about half their coffee from their own farm and half they purchase.  They use organic methods and use natural pesticides as neem citronella and eucalyptus.  The guide joked that they like to hire women cause they dont get drink fight and they work faster.  After the beans are picked they are put in water to separate the beans from dirt and other things.  The beans floats and the dirt goes to the bottom.  They then take off the fruit and skin and the let the beans ferment in water for 15 hours.  They use the bean skin after fermenting for biogas. The biogas they use the bacteria from the 4th stomach of teh cow and put in in the tak with teh   The fruit they use in the worm compost.  The worms live around 4 to 5 years and takes about 3 to 4 days to get to the food at the top of the compost when they put a layer of new food on top to attract the worms away from the compost.  They cover the compost in plastic to keep out birds and to keep it moist.   
The beans are shipped to another location that is more sunny to dry in the sun for 2 weeks.
They produce 4,000 sacks and 44kios, 180 tons
They have 250 permanent workers and 600 temporary coffee pickers that live on the farm for 4 months from around November to March. The workers get free housing school and free medical care.  They have an onsite nurse.  The coffee costs about $7/lb in Nicaragua and they sell in bulk to Whole Foods for around $4 or $5/lb.  They plant their coffee trees such as banana pineapple, and avocados,  which the workers are also able to take for free.  
They also have around 60 cows and milk the cows by hand to make cheese.  they produce milk for around 20/25 years. 
While I have found most of the restaurants in Esteli to be disappointing I have at least been able to take advantage of some the fresh products.  Especially all the fresh dairy products.   
Mushrooms on a log in Tidey Reserve

Some pretty flowers in Tisey

Went to look at rock sculptures

Cacao beans as part of the process that is mostly by hand and with very few workers at the chocolate factory in Matagalpa
The view of Matagalpa from Selva Negra coffee farm

Batidos, making a banana eggnog shake with a scoop of ice cream and some spices

Half eggplant and half olive pizza, though my favorite was the two cheese (parm and mozza) pesto pizza with pinapple. 

Warm bananabread with pieces of chocolate we bought at the factory tour, topped with some cream mixed with brown sugar and rum

Esteli, Cigars, Telica, Caterpillers

Here are some random photos since its been a while since I last posted. 
Moth in Esteli
Nicaragua and Esteli are famous for their cigars.  So we went on some cigar factory tours in Esteli.  There are so many factories.  A few of the Cigar factories we went to were American Caribbean Cigars which produces Tomano as well as Santiago and Drew Estates.   All three had good English speaking guides and both American Caribbean Cigars and Santiago sell cigars.  I also recommend the small factories which may not give formal tours and probably not in English but many do sell cigars that are supposed to be top quality. 
Santiago Tobacco Factory (Rocky Patel and Nica libre) Tour Cost: Free (tips accepted)
They harvest tobacco 2 times  year in the winter and summer.  They have two monkeys in a cage one capuchin and spider monkey.  In the process you can see that most of the materials are reused or recycled.  They have their own fields and when they cut the cigars they use the ends to be rolled into lesser quality cigars.  The other scraps are brought back to the fields to be composted.  They make 400 to 500 cigars a day.  Cigar rollers can make .25 to 1 cord per cigar which experienced cigar rollers can make around 300 a day, which would average around $5 to $12 a day.  The guide said 45% of the population here work in some area of tobacco.  They make their own boxes. The factory had around 250 working in the past but due to the economy downturn or other factors they have less demand and now only have around 60 workers and have about 100 in the fields. Recently the US tax on cigars was raised from 5 cents to 45 cents and this may have caused decrease in orders.  They are producing around 5,000 cigars a day now but in the past they have produced around 50,000.  In all of Esteli there are around 80 Tobacco factories. The largest tobacco factories in Esteli have just over a thousand workers.  Everything in all the factories is done by hand even at big or small factories.  You can try the cigars as well as buy them here.  They will even let you try to roll a cigar.  I forgot to ask but I had been told they produce an organic cigar and that they have contracts with Arnold Schwarzanegger and the Playboy mansion.    

Drew Estates (Liga Privada and Acid, Ambrosia, Isla del Sol) Tour cost: Free (Tips for guide accepted)
They are a much larger factory.  They produce around 87-92,000 cigars a day and have around 1200 people working in their factory.  They buy their tobacco from a cooperative.  They also purchase boxes from a maker in Nicaragua.  Wrapping and taking off the center vein of the leaf is a role that only women fill as they believe the women are more detail oriented.  Some of their bigger labels are Liga privada which retails in the US for around $250 and Acid.  Too bad they are part of the Nicaragua free zone where they do not have to pay taxes but also cannot sell within the country so we were not able to buy any cigars there.  The guide here said the there are more than 30 factories and that 30% of the population are employed in the tobacco industry.  These figures are very different than the numbers I received at Santiago but nonethess there are many tobacco factories in Esteli and the tobacco industry certainly supplies a large percentage of the population jobs here.  The guide Mike gave us a few free samples to try at home.          
On the Santiago tour they reuse all parts of the tobacco. 

There were lots of caterpillers on my treks.  

More caterpillers

Telica at night where the camera picks up the red glow from the volcano
 Went on a tour in Miraflores.  The tour in Miraflores was quite disappointing as we were told the guide would be with us for 8 hours and it was only 5 hours the first day and 3 hours the second day and the guide kept saying he didnt want any complaints cause the tour was only 3 hours.  While I wouldnt recommend the guides the homestays were nice.. Both places had great food and the families were very nice.  There wasnt too much to do there but relax and read and it rained alot but we enjoyed it. 
Miraflores reserve outside of Esteli