I have been charged with writing A Plan for this trip, for uni. My supervisors thinks it would be a good idea for me to really give some thought as to what I expect to find out there, and what I intend to do. This Plan may help reassure them, but it has the opposite effect on me. Thinking about what I actually hope to do makes me realise that I have No Idea of that. I just do not know what is going to happen. I’ve never done a trip like this where I actually have to *work* and produce something useful at the end of it. I am a great believer in this magical thing called “the luck of the traveller” and just trust that everything will always works out eventually – and it always has before.
There is added Worry on this trip because I am going via this conference in Ohio. It will be my first big international conference, the first time I’ve ever been to America, and I’m going on Halloween, and four days before the US election, in one of the few states that is still completely undecided in regards to the election. I’ve just looked it up today (15th) and the polls in Ohio put Obama at 48% and McCain at 46%….It could be really interesting, but I can’t trust myself to keep my big gob shut on my opinions!!
After Ohio, I get another two short flights to Nicaragua, which requires more preparation. Planning requires forethought and organisation. And maps. Maps are good, apparently.
This is, obviously, Nicaragua. I am heading towards the North west area, the El Porvenir coffee plantation is somewhere between Leon and Esteli; a “bone-jarring two hour drive uphill”. This is about as good as the directions get, but it certainly doesn’t sound like the sort of place that has paved roads and regular, punctual bus services!! I am flying in to Managua, and arrive at 9.30pm. I am going to have to stay in Managua the first night which I am not looking forward to, because Managua is an ugly, noisy, hot, smelly, often dangerous atrocity. But there we go. I have somewhere booked for the first night – an ecolodge place called Los Felipes, which sounds nice actually (“nice” being a code word for “has air conditioning”).
After that, I am going to head to Granada for a few days, to acclimatise, meet up with Donna, see the kids and the clowns, and try out Cafe Chavalos (a wonderful project where Donna has got former street kids training as chefs and running a restaurant themselves.) Cafe Chavalos uses El Porvenir’s coffee after all, and Donna (I hope) will be able to give me a little more information about the plantation itself. I then have the offer of this internship with the Jubilee House Community, who are the administrators of a great many community and NGO projects, including the El Porvenir plantation. They also export the coffee to Pittsburg (Donna’s ‘Building New Hope’ NGO is based there). JHC are based in Managua, so if I go and work with them, it will mean spending the first month at least in the capital. Whereas I know there are more pleasant places to spend a month, I do think the JHC internship will be very useful indeed. I can interview the people there about coffee exporting – these are the people in charge of judging the ‘quality’ of the coffee, as well as making sure the plantation, and the coffee itself, adheres to the requirements and standards that its organic and fairtrade certifications require. I also hope that they can get me better access to the plantation itself since they work so closely with the El Porvenir community – which will be invaluable in both social and logistic terms! I am not sure exactly who I am going to meet at JHC, I have the name of one contact, and that is all. But I hope to do at least a few in depth, but individual interviews with the people who work there, particularly with regards to ideas of quality and about the certification. Finally, if I can do something useful – as in, practical work in the export office or something, I’d rather do that, try and give something back to the organisation in return, since they are helping me out so much!
After the first month, I am going to head up to El Porvenir on my own – I am hoping that I should know some people there well enough by that time to do my own thing without the JHC. November -February is harvest season, so I expect things to be pretty manic. I don’t know yet how El Porvenir operates: I’m told it’s owned collectively by around 40 families, but I don’t know if anyone has specific roles. If so, I’d need to interview different people involved in different stages of production; coffee pickers, sorters, dryers, etc and also find out how it is de-pulped (as in, getting the cherry flesh off the bean) – is this done by machine? Who operates this? What happens to the leftovers? Is it done this way deliberately to improve the coffee quality? I’ll interview the farm manager if there is one, and I’d also be interested to see if they hire any extra workers during the harvest, and where these come from and so on.
Then it’s gonna be Christmas and my Carl is coming out to visit and we’re going Volcano hiking from the black beaches of Ometepe island…. Yay!!
In January, I’ll head to Costa Rica overland on the lovely Ticabuses to San Jose, where I will attempt to do the same thing again, only at Doka Estate on the side of Volcan Poas, a massive commercial farm that supplies Starbucks – so their ideas of quality will be really important! (If the green coffee from this farm is as good quality as their website will have you believe, the fact that Starbucks coffee tastes so bad MUST be because of their roasters… right? Charbucks!!) Again, this is entirely conjecture at the moment, but I imagine processes in this plantation to be a lot more automated; the sheer volume of coffee produced would seem to require it. Does this produce more waste or less? Perhaps less human labour involved then, so less “human waste” – of effort and skill? Also, I expect that labour to be rather less permanent; Doka Estate is not community owned, it is a private endeavour, so they might well just hire in seasonal workers. Actually, I hope I can join in and pick coffee! Whoever I interview in Nicaragua, I will try to interview the equivalent people in Costa Rica so I can make meaningful comparisons.
Costa Rica is potentially problematic, however, because Doka Estate is located so far out of the nearest town that transport would be difficult and expensive, and possibly not that safe – and I don’t have the equivalent of Jubilee House to pave the way for me in terms of making contacts there. There is a B&B actually on the farm which they suggested I stay at! Woohoo! But: Doka Estate also offer touristy Coffee Tours where a guide explains the workings of the farm to you, and you can then stay at this B&B/ecolodge as part of the ‘experience’. I do not really need to see the Coffee Tour because I am cynical enough to believe that would be a very airbrushed version of events, I want to see the real thing, which could be pretty difficult. Also, the B&B cost $85 a night!!!!
I’ve found a hostel in Alajuela (nearest town) for $15 a night which sounds far more reasonable, except I would then have to negotiate how I am going to get up the volcano every day – at 15km it’s not exactly walkable, and I don;t think there is a bus. So, hitch? Not a great plan. Taxi? Could prove more expensive than staying at the B&B… I have even been toying with the idea of doing my CBT and hiring a little motorbike out there… Given my driving skills though, this could be even more dangerous than hitch-hiking!!
Meh. This part of the plan, I honestly cannot do right now. There is no way of knowing what to do until I get there and see what the situation is. Something will turn up!!
But I do know where to head, at least, and I’ve got a pretty good idea of what I want to do, who to interview, what info I need to collect etc. I just can’t be more specific than that at the moment! I am surrounded by guidebooks and travel insurance policy documents and Teach Yourself Spanish books and boxes of anti-malarial tablets… this is enough preparation for me!! Of course the other part of the plan is working out how to record all this data (I have a notebook with a picture of a cappuccino on it! yay!). I have a 4gb memory card for my uber-phone, and the guidebooks tell me where there are interweb cafes to send it all back to the uni! It will be Fiiiine. Trust me, I might be a Doctor (soon).
Tengo miedo, gente. Por favor, deseame mucho suerte – lo necessito! Adios!