Posted by: Alex MacGregor | July 14, 2012

A Night in the Biosphere (Con Mucho Café)

We thoroughly enjoyed the cool mountain temperatures and small-scale tourism in San Jose de los Remates, so we decided to back it up with…more time enjoying small-scale tourism in the mountains. Yes, the DR, Haiti, and the place which shall not be named  for another week were that hot.

Although taking the back roads for our onward journey was possible, in Nica that’s rarely the easiest option. To get to Matagalpa–the transport hub in the highlands–from San Jose the easiest route is simply to take chicken buses back to the country’s main highway, then wait for a bus heading out of Managua. Probably some absurd percentage of Nica’s transport is either going to or from the capital.

Here is Caroline waiting at the aforementioned side of the highway. Not a place of beauty, where two of Nica’s main highways intersect. Fortunately you’re hanging out with a bunch of people who sell food on the buses, and they know the routes and schedules like the backs of their hands. A great source of information.

After a bit of waiting, we were on a bus to Matagalpa.

There isn’t a heck of a lot to see in Matagalpa. The obligatory cathedral in the center of town is impressive, and the scenery is nice. We mainly used it as a place to take it easy for a night, since we’d barely had a chance to catch our breath since the plane landed.

One great thing we learned while in Matagalpa: Nicaraguans are finally getting into good coffee. On our past trips, you had to search far and wide to find anything besides Presto, the local instant coffee. Nowadays, you regularly run across gourmet coffee shops run by Nicas and mainly for Nicas.

Archrivals Toto and Tito apparently square off in a daily competition for the parkside fast food business.

As we headed back out into the countryside from Matagalpa, we couldn’t help but notice some quintessential Nica-isms.

Are you out there, Kendra Randle from Kansas (or possibly Kennesaw, Georgia)? Did you become Miss KSU?

Gotta lova the out of place character development placards on repurposed American school buses.

45 minutes north of Matagalpa lies our destination: La Biosfera.

Lots of places fancy themselves eco-tourism resorts these days. Throw some tourists in a bamboo tree house with compact florescent light bulbs and you’re eco-lodging. But La Biosfera, located just south of Jinotega and run by an American woman named Suzanne, fits the bill in every way possible.

The first rule: no trash, or waste of any form that needs to be taken offsite. Garbage is compacted into plastic bottles and used as a building material. All forms of organic waste are composted.

In fact, the resort really ought to absorb trash rather than generate it, right? Instead of using mattresses, bedframes are fixed with strips of old truck tires. Surprisingly comfortable.

Of course, many of the foods on your plate come from right within the property. All sorts of herbs and crops are grown, along with plenty of coffee.

The cozy accommodations, in a building that was built into the side of the mountain out of dirt-filled bags and clay.

And another thing that’s just a matter of personal opinion: there’s no fleet of staff 4WDs sitting out front, just a single motorcycle. The use of public transport to get there is not only possible, it’s practically obligatory. That’s doing an eco-lodge right, in my opinion.

Fantastic mountain views from La Biosfera. With altitudes approaching a mile above sea level, it’s deliciously chilly at night.

La Biosfera has about 20 acres of forest under preservation.

The area is open to hiking–rubber boots recommended (and thankfully included).

If the lodge doesn’t have you feeling quite close enough with nature, you can opt for an even more earthy accommodation, well out in the jungle (curtains and bedspreads are added, should you choose to stay there).

The original idea for the land was as a source for bottled spring water–it’s easy to see why. A small reservoir and network of pipes generates potable water for the whole facility.

At the end of the hike, a giant boulder sits eerily suspended above the ravine.

The boulder forms a substantial cave–a pretty spooky and fun place to hang out!

Not only does this take the cake for being our lowest carbon-footprint day, well, probably of our whole lives (although I think Mulanje, without electricity, can compare). The home-cooked dinner was, without a doubt, the best food we have had on the whole trip–chicken with thyme, a perfectly seasoned au gratin, and a cabbage salad with homemade passion fruit dressing. These simple yet incredible dishes are made from local ingredients as well as crops straight from the property. Suzanne’s motto is that she never makes the same dish twice.

Bon appetite!

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