Friday, September 9, 2011

Back Home for over a week - September 9

Things got busy during those last few days in Nicaragua. So it was hard to find time to focus on the blog. I've been telling folks for over a week now that we would be putting up more photos and writing more in the blog. Well The time has finally come. Meghan and I spent several hours on Monday going over the photos and creating a PicasaWeb slideshow. I have since gone through and added captions and tweaked a few things. In case you choose not to follow the link and watch the whole slide show, I am including a few of the photos here.

The most important part of our travels that we haven't yet written about is the trip to the "El Porvenir" coffee cooperative, which I consider the highlight of the whole experience. Also little was written before about Saturday's tour of the Masaya volcano,  and our the trip to the market. I will write a bit here about the trip to El Porvenir, but I expect that Josh also has much to say about his experience there related to his interest in coffee. Also, perhaps Becca could write about her experience there, as the medical team offered significant service to that community. Betsey also seemed very interested in the school and education there. During part of the visit, we spent over an hour sitting in a classroom talking with RenĂ©, the current co-op director, about the community, the coffee business, the education of the young people and their hopes for the future. This was far more information than I can write about here. So please, when you see us, feel free to ask any of us about what we learned of this fascinating community and its cooperative coffee business. 

What I personally found most interesting about El Porvenir was its remote location and the fact that most houses in the community are well up on the side of a mountain and its main center is perched high on a ridge. Getting there from the Jubilee House Community in Ciudad Sandino requires a 3 hour drive including nearly an hour on a very rough and narrow dirt road, then an additional 45 minutes or more with everyone packed into a trailer like cattle clinging to the rails as it is towed up a steep rough cobblestone road to the village located 3 km (2 miles) away and 430 meters (1,400 feet) above the valley floor. 

The water supply system for the entire community of about 250 people (44 families) for much of the year is an old rainwater collection system. Of course that only works during the wet season. During the dry season (and I'm told it is very dry from November through May) they have to use some other source. Until about 2 years ago they had to haul water up the hill in a tank on that same trailer we rode in towed by the tractor for those 3 km. This changed about two years ago when a project, apparently inspired by Engineers Without Borders, provided the community with a small pipeline and a pumping system. Now during the dry season a 1-1/4" galvanized steel pipe about 3 km long along with an electric pump and an intermediate storage tank, provides enough flow to keep the large tank filled during the dry season. This is a great benefit to the village, as it frees up both people and machinery to concentrate more on farming activities. What amazed me about this system is that it raises the water nearly 1,400 feet from the valley floor to the community perched high above on a ridge. With all the improvement, though, people still have to limit themselves to about 2 gallons per day per person.

The picture below shows two water tanks on the right - apparently both used for drinking water. There is only that one TV antenna. The only electricity for running the one TV, belonging to René, is provided by charging an extra large vehicle battery on the tractor. There is also a small photo-voltaic system that is used for one small light and for charging cell phones:

The village is located approximately equidistant from two active volcanoes, San Cristobal and Telica, both about 7 miles away. From the deck of the main building, Telica is visible to the southeast. San Cristobal to the east, is not visible from El Porvenir as the view is blocked by the ridge top and another old dormant volcano.  Another active volcano, Momotombo was visible on during the drive north. The large number of active volcanoes in Nicaragua seems to be related to what we learned in the National Museum; that Nicaragua is geologically the youngest part of Central America. This Google Earth simulated air photo shows the community looking toward the Telica Volcano.

Here's the same actual view of Telica:

In struggling to understand the economics of the village and coffee co-op I asked about its annual income from coffee sales. I'm told that the gross income is about $60,000. Some of this goes to purchasing and maintaining equipment and purchasing supplies. So the amount that actually ends up in the hands of the people is considerably less than that. So perhaps the income represents less than about 50 cents per day per person for the 250 people there. It is true that they grow some (perhaps much) of their own food and it may also be that some have jobs or work occasionally out side the village area, but this provides a rough concept of how little people live on in Nicaragua. I'm told that a common wage for workers is about $2/day.

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