Sunday, April 16, 2006

Isla Ometepe

Easter is called Semana Santa in Latin America, and the entire week before Easter is a huge celebration. It is almost impossible to travel during this time because every bus is packed-full of relatives visiting relatives, and buses stop running thursday-monday. In the mad rush to find a boat to the island I had to convince some Nicaraguan soldiers that I was on the list of chosen people to enter the boat they guarded behind chain link fences. The entire beachfront of San Jorge that sits on the western shore of Lago Nicaragua was packed with beer, big speakers, parades, and food vendors. Magically we made it on the boat.

The island is the largest lake island in the world, and the lake has some of the most unique biodiversity. Since it is so close to the sea, many fish swam upriver including bull sharks. Over the years they have adapted to the fresh water, agua dulce, and have become unique species. The sharks have sadly almost disappeared now due to overfishing. The island is home to two volcanoes, Volcan Concepcion (still active) and Volcan Madera (not active).

My friend Josh and I came with Yelena and Joey from CAN (Community Agroecology Network in Aguabuena). We came to visit the Bainbridge-Ometepe Sister Islands Association. The org. is dedicated to aiding the island through various programs including buying and marketing the coffe from the cooperative to consumers in Washington, bringing internet services to the island, and creating an "escuela libre" for students of all ages. Thanks to the hospitatlity of its project managers, Peter and Devon, we had an amazing visit.

The coffe cooperative was hit hard by the difficult political climate of Nicaragua and world coffee market. Like the story of so many coffee towns, it used to be a thriving community but through political corruption and lowering coffee prices, it became a ghost town, now begining to be "revived" by tourism. After the 1990 elections that brought Nicaragua back to the path of neoliberal economics (if you dont know the story of the Iran-Contra affair, I suggest learning about it), the coffee cooperative was forced/coerced by the government (or the United States, World Bank, and/or IMF....) to take big loans that nearly threw them into abyssmal debt. You can check out the cooperative and buy coffee from them through

It is very interesting to see the differences between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Climatically, Lago Nicaragua is drier than Coto Brus, the home of our finca, and much hotter. Culturally, Nicaraguans seem to have more pride, more of a sense of nationality probably due to their more turbulant history of revolutions and civil wars. And economically Nicaragua is a much poorer country.

We are heading up to Matagalpa to visit the coffee cooperative up there. Matagalpa is a sister community of Coopabuena as CAN (Community Agroecology Network) works with both communities. We are going to meet up with Julietta and Walter from Coope Pueblos. It should be interesting. I will keep yall posted.

Paz y amor

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