PHPG works in two different areas, in Granada (where I’m working) and in Matagalpa. I decided to make a trip up to Matagalpa to visit the three other volunteers. From Granada to Masaya, Masaya to Tipitapa, and Tipitapa to Matagalpa, I bus hopped on Wednesday and made the return trip back to Granada on Saturday.
Located in the mountainous region of northern Nicaragua, Matagalpa is located in a valley with arid farmland, known for its coffee and favorable climate. Most of Nicaragua’s coffee production comes from this region as fincas de café (coffee farms) dot the countryside. Compared to the hot and more humid climate of Granda, Matagalpa is relatively cool and a nice vacation from the heat from the lowlands of Nicaragua. The sun is strong in Matagalpa, but the dry air makes sitting in the shade perfect and gives the night a great temperature. Walking around Matagalpa at night was the first time I had felt a bit chilly for about two months. And my body actually held water, as I didn’t sweat during the day like I normally do in Granada.
Matagalpa as a city has a unique look. The land area of the city is not flat by any means. Walking around the city, you’ll be working your way up and down hills, many with grades of 20% or more. To get an idea of what that means, just think of a hill that is so steep that walking is actually difficult because it feels like slipping would be easy. Riding a bike up these would be nearly impossible, and riding down would be nothing less than frightening. These hills mean that houses rise up with the hills, creating a unique look of the city. At night, house lights shine up on the hills, looking more like Christmas lights than habitats in the distance. It reminds me on a smaller scale of La Paz, Bolivia, where lights twinkle in the distance as the land rises up to El Alto.
In Matagalpa, I met up with Eric, Chris, and Chloe, the other three volunteers with PHPG. We talked about current projects and talked about new ideas. They have a great team there with a lot of experience in development. I have a very different background with my education and experience in finance, so I learn a ton from those who studied international development and have worked in the sector before.
On Thursday, we headed out to a community about 2 hours from Matagalpa called Muy Muy. There, we met up with an organization called Odesar, a farming cooperative who have an interest in our microloans. The farming cooperative provides a piece of land and resources for local farmers to expand their production and learn new processes. At the moment, they cultivate cacao, coffee, and many other crops as well as the production of honey. After speaking with the group of 10 co-op leaders, we think we have a great opportunity for a partnership. Their members are intelligent, motivated, and have many great ideas. We’ll hopefully have more developments with them in the near future!
On Friday, I took the day to explore the city and the surroundings. With the abundance of mountains, I had to get out and hike a bit. I decided to go for the popular Cerro Apante, a natural reserve with a small mountain located just outside the city. Easily accessible, I walked out to the entrance, paid the $1.20 entrance fee, and climbed up to the mirador (lookout). Between the steep climb and my horrible condition, I struggled up. Luckily with shade and nice climate meant that sweating up a storm wasn’t a problem. Finally, I got up to the lookout which hosted a magnificent view of the city and the surroundings. From there, you can get an idea of how mountainous the area really is; from there, Matagalpa seems like a small city just tucked away in a valley.
I took a different path on the way back down and saw a nice waterfall and had to cross a river a few times. At one point, I had to cross the river where there was an old rickety bridge present. Obviously not safe, I jumped across the rocks to get across. I hope no one tries that bridge anytime in the future!
Back in Matagalpa, I walked around the city, stopped by the Carlos Fonseca museum (the founder of the FSLN revolutionary group), and visited a small chocolate factory. Unfortunately, there were no tours on Friday, but I was able to taste some of their delicious chocolate made only with 50% cacao and 50% sugar. Somewhat bitter, but delicious with a strong chocolate taste. I bought a bar to take with me.
I had a great time getting out of Granada and exploring Matagalpa. As always, the long bus rides get my mind churning and give me the time to think about work, about future travels, and about life in general. It really rejuvenates me and gives me new energy as I return to Granada!