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Journal | Adventures in Nicaragua & Costa Rica - Travel Virgins

Sea Salt By The Sea Shore

by Anne Watcher on Friday February 6th, 2015 at 7:13am

Large evaporation ponds in Puerto Sandino, Nicaragua

We use it every day, we - well those in the northern world - wash it off our cars all winter and some of us even brush our teeth with it. Yes salt, in what ever form, is a product we consume daily.

Ever wondered where sea salt comes from? The sea or ocean of course. But until I saw the evaporation ponds in Puerto Sandino, Nicaragua I never really thought of sea salt that way. Don't know why because it is right in the name.

In countries where salt water is easily available evaporation ponds can be seen dotted along the shoreline. These large specially lined ponds are built in succession so the brine can be moved along from one to another as the brine evaporates. This, along with proper maintenance of the brine assures maximum quality and quantity of the salt reclaimed.

End of the evaporation pond where salt is left to dry.
Salt Workers Tool

Careful extraction of the salt is crucial. This must be done by hand using the wooden paddle-like tool pictured above. Salt that forms on the bottom of the pond is very consistent and compact. As it is harvested it is piled up at the end of the crystallizers to dry in the sun.

On exceptionally hot days with a moderate breeze a thin layer of salt known as the "flower of salt" will form along the surface. This "flower" is very fragile and must be carefully harvested before it sinks. It also is collected and left to dry in the sun, however it is put into containers first.

Here in Nicaragua this procedure is done during the dry season, typically from November to April. With the heat from the sun the process takes between 3 to 5 days.

Interestingly after the salt and flower of salt is harvested, washing and artificial drying is not permitted. As a consequence, the other salts associated with NaCl are also maintained.

Although not a large salt producer on the world scene, Nicaragua generates 30,000 metric tons of sea salt each year. This provides much needed seasonal work to many.

After the salt has been removed from the brine, many minerals such as magnesium, potassium, bromine and other sodium compounds remain. This process requires additional flooding and can take up to 5 years to complete.

Salt ponds with drying salt piled at the ends.

Recycle Mania in Nicaragua

by Rob Watcher on Thursday January 29th, 2015 at 7:34am

A first for us - Recycle Bins in Nicaragua

In Nicaragua, everyone simply tosses their garbage onto the streets or out the car or bus windows. That is the tradition and it even irks the very people who are taking part in it. In the last year there has been attempt to clean up the cities, towns and countysides and make Nicas conscious of throwing their trash into bins instead.

And so we have noticed metal cans on stands being installed sporadically on main streets, for that purpose. There is no doubt that some locals and most tourists are trying to be responsible and make use of them.

Many of the ventilated metal containers that we have seen, for some reason have the bottom cut out of them or the bottom is rusted out - making them useless. Although some people are obviously trying to develop their clean habit by conscientiously making use of them and just allowing their trash to drop through onto the ground below. At least it is all in one place right!

It's difficult to change habits though. As an example, a few weeks ago we are sitting at a public park where an older lady who sells products there, walks over to one of the metal garbage containers and leans on it while she takes a break and eats some food. Once done, she turns to go back to work and simply drops the plastic bags and food leftovers on the ground right next to the empty bin. At least it's all in one place right!

SO - now to the pic I have posted above. This was the first time Anne or I have seen a set of labeled recycle bins in Nicaragua....

You will notice that one is for Organic materials. There is no bin. Maybe it disintegrated from the compost process. Remains of food products - chicken and fish bones, fruit skins, sticks and plant matter - - - along with animal excrement - are scattered everywhere. But they like the metal recycle bin for organic material, soon disappear.

Next is for Plastic. They use a ton of plastic bottles and bags here. In fact the joke is that the National Flower for Nicaragua, is the plastic bag. Almost all food and product is delivered and eaten from clear and more often colourful plastics bags. But what is this bin filled with? Cardboard, tin cans, and the same stuff that is in the other bins.

Then we have Glass. Quite simply, Nicaraguans don't use glass for anything they'd be walking around with. For a fact there are tons of glass Soda Pop bottles containing cheap pop, in circulation. But you'd never get your hands on them.

The vendor pours the liquid into a plastic bag for drinking and returns the bottle to the manufacturer. You can request a straw be inserted into the knotted bulsa (bag), but most just bite a small hole in the end and suck the liquid out --- then throw the bag on the ground. But what is this bin filled with? It has some plastics and a lot that resembles what is in the other containers.

Lastly is the bin for Cardboard and Paper products. Like glass, we don't see a lot of product distributed in paper or cardboard. Mostly it would be furniture or a tv that would be packaged in such materials.

However - it wouldn't be thrown out. Cardboard and paper would be used over and over again --- or would find its way to the home of the thousands who live in plastic shacks and line the inside walls with flattened cardboard boxes. Noticeable everywhere are vendors selling pizza or other food products out of old well used pizza boxes.

Well surprisingly...

... in this scene, there is cardboard that was still unclaimed in the Plastics bin

And unsurprisingly...

... in this scene, the Paper bin has the least garbage in it. What it does have is the remains of a typical Nicaraguan meal - chicken, rice, salad, and a tortilla --- all Organic Materials, as would have been purchased, scooped onto a styrofoam plate and then packed in a colourful plastic bag. The full meal obviously included a bottle of juice as well.

We know - give it time and such a garbage and recycle program will have success. But for now, this scene couldn't have illustrated the current situation any better.


Full Lunar Eclipse 2014

by Anne Watcher on Friday April 18th, 2014 at 8:27am

During the evening of April 14/15, 2014 we enjoyed a full viewing of a total eclipse on the moon. Once the moon was covered by the shadow of the earth, it became a wonderful orange colour (sometimes called Blood Moon). This is Rob's artistic interpretation of the sequence leading up to and including the moon being covered.

The last time that we enjoyed this spectacle, was in 2008 while in La Garita, Costa Rica: Lunar Eclipse As Seen In Costa Rica

Carpentry Workshop

by Anne Watcher on Thursday April 17th, 2014 at 10:26am

At home in Canada if we want new furniture we go shopping to a furniture store or buy online. While that is of course available here in Nicaragua, many just go to a local man who runs a carpentry shop at his home.

We had the opportunity to visit Roger Pineda and his crew at the workshop in his backyard. We were greeted by Roger, his wife Coco and son Melvin (who spoke English and helped with the language).

Roger and Coco on the front porch of their home and workshop.

The day we were there they were busy working on a new bed in the back workshop. Outside on the front porch was Luis, busy staining a new rocking chair.

Using different woods like roble, laurel, pino and pochote they manufacture beds, chairs - rocking and dining, shelves and of course their amazing fold up benches - which we now own four of!

Luis staining a new rocker
Roger, a happy man in his workshop.

The shop may be in their backyard with a large tree in the middle of it but it lacks nothing when it comes to the proper tools to get the job done. Saws, planers, routers, stains, varathane, and templates are abundant.

Orlando planing a piece of wood.
Roger carefully checks for straightness before using the wood in a new piece of furniture.

Although they do employ men to help, this is a family business. Sons, Roger Jr. and Melvin do much of the caning of the traditional rockers they produce. I was told that plastic caning is used in stead of natural products - as it withstands the elements better.

Melvin did admit to me however that they aren't really fast at it and if the chair has to be done quickly, they have a local come in to help. Depending on experience, caning of a chair can be completed in one to three hours time.

Coco, granddaugher Melissa and dog Blackie all help out in some way.
Melvin helps me with some details of their business.

While most of their products are for local use, they do export some to the USA. Many of the rocking chairs, finished beautifully with special carvings on the back, would soon be on their way to Miami.

Traditional rocker ready to go.
From the left: Luis, Juan, Roger and Orlando

Located in Barrio Guadeloupe, Roger and his crew can and will make you almost anything from wood. Special orders are taken and welcomed. It was such a pleasure to see craftsmen at work!

Esquina de los Cafes

by Anne Watcher on Wednesday April 16th, 2014 at 11:53am

Many countries in Central America grow and export coffee and Nicaragua is no exception. Here the north-eastern highlands offer the perfect place for the coffee plants to flourish - cooler temperatures, gentle mountain slopes, adequate water and rich volcanic soils.

Alex and carla owners of Esquina de los Cafes in Matagalpa

While visiting one of the main coffee centers of the area, Matagalpa, we decided to buy some of their famous product to take back to Leon with us. As we walked the streets of the city center we came across Esquina de los Cafes, very aptly named as it sits on a corner.

Here we met the owner, Alejandro Bolanos and his wife Carla. Alex had spent quite a few years in Costa Rica working for Britt Coffee so his love and knowledge of the industry was evident. Upon returning to his native Nicaragua he opened up this store so all could buy their "cup of joe"!

Alex preparing coffee for us

Back home in Canada I work for Tim Horton's coffee so I too am interested in good coffee. Eager to learn the process I listened intently as Alex explained the process for doing the perfect roast and then making the perfect cup of coffee.

Alex had me smell the freshness of beans

Coffee beans should all be roasted each year and not left to be roasted later. As soon as the roasting is complete, the beans should be cooled and packaged to preserve their quality. The optimum time to get the beans cold is 5 minutes.

When making your coffee, water temperature should be at 84 to 86 degrees. Too hot can burn the coffee. While there are endless machines and ways to make your coffee, Alex said he thought a French Press was the best. Of course opinions vary on this subject.

Alex tasting for quality

After handing me a very carefully made cup of coffee, Alex explained what I should be tasting. At first the crispness of the roast could be tasted but as it cools it became smoother, more buttery tasting. This is due to the oils starting to solidify as the temperature drops. I must say I had never noticed this before, but do prefer the flavour as it cools.

Interestingly Alex tries to keep the coffee he sells at a score of 88. Export quality is 84 and higher.

Alex looking after a customer

While we were there we met Carlos Javier Mejia from Esperanza Coffee Group. His family has been the coffee industry for many years and he now acts as a broker between local farmers and the buyers, helping Nicaraguan coffee reach the world market.

He also works in the husbandry part of the process, helping farmers improve their plants. He shows them how to pick the perfect coffee bush to use for seeds for future plants. Improving and preserving soil quality is also another way he helps the farmers in this area.

Carlos Javier Mejia from Esperanza Coffee Group


Our time with Alex and Carla ended with the purchase of their brand of coffee, Tisei, a 100% Arabica bean with a deep dark chocolate after taste, buttery body and fully sweet flavour!

If you ever find yourself in Matagalpa, Exquina de los Cafes can be found at:

de Mas x Menos, 1 cuadra sur or contact by phone at 8902-2194.

EsquinaDeLosCafes Facebook

Journal | Adventures in Nicaragua & Costa Rica - Travel Virgins

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