central coffee tea and spiceWhile I did not do my laundry today, I have spent many, many hours sitting at Central Coffee Tea and Spice waiting for my clothes to dry. In fact, the last time I did my laundry next door to Central Coffee I came back to find that my laundry detergent had been smashed on the floor by some anonymous person. I now pay to have someone do my laundry for me.

There are a lot of things to like about Central Coffee, including:

  • The bagels: the whole wheat bagel with peanut butter is my favorite.
  • The coffee: in the morning they serve medium and dark roast versions ($1.80). I, of course, prefer the dark.
  • The crowd: Central Coffee is a local spot and you see a lot of the same people there. I actually end up seeing people around the city and realize I know them from Central Coffee.
  • The proximity to my house. It’s a short 5-minute walk here, although it feels like forever when I’m carrying my laundry basket. I keep promising myself I’m going to get a basket with wheels.
  • It’s close to the 21 bus line, which is a straight-shot downtown.

What’s not so great:

  • The internet: it’s usually kind of slow, and has been known to go down.
  • Space is limited: if you don’t get there early, you might not find a spot. Or, you might get the awkward table that’s jammed in the corner.

Tips for freelancers:

  • Weekdays are a great time to work and do your laundry. One of the perks of working freelance is being able to do your laundry when everyone else is working.

Cafe du Soleil

I started Day 2 of #thecoffeeproject at Cafe du Soleil, cafe of the sun, in the Lower Haight. Less than half a mile from yesterday’s cafe, yet worlds apart in terms of atmosphere and scents.

Things I liked:

  • The coffee, they serve a nice deep, dark roast ($2.00)
  • Nutella: they actually have a large container of the chocolate-hazelnut spread that they trustingly leave on the coffee bar. They also have spoons there. It took quite a bit of self control not to put some on a spoon and take it back to my table.
  • The music: an instrumental blend of horns, piano, etc. It made me feel like I was sitting in a cafe in Paris. They have hipsters in Paris, right?
  • The smells. It smells like butter. Enough said.

Things that weren’t so great:

  • The bathroom: not Cafe du Soleil’s fault, but someone thought it would be an amazing idea to flush excessive amounts of toilet paper, clogging the toilet for the rest of us who drank too much coffee and water.
  • The place is busy, which means the espresso machine is going all morning long. If you prefer a quieter atmosphere, Cafe du Soleil might not be the cafe for you.

Tips for freelancers:

  • Great place for a meeting — good coffee and yummy looking pastries. If it’s nice, you can even sit outside.
  • The WiFi was quick and reliable.
  • Not the best spot if you plan to take calls. You’ll be saying “what was that?”, a lot.

 

Coffee to the People

I decided to kick off the first day of The Coffee Project with a local spot. Despite having lived in the Upper Haight neighborhood for close to a year now, today was my first visit to local cafe Coffee to the People.

Here’s what I liked about Coffee to the People:

  • It was empty when I got there. Plenty of places to sit, and outlets, there were even outlets. Warning: it does become a high school hangout for about 20 minutes around 9:30 a.m.
  • Good WiFi: not lightening fast, but fast enough for me to be checking Gmail, Facebook, Eventbrite, and a handful of other sites simultaneously.
  • The dreamcatchers: only in the Haight would there be a dreamcatcher art exhibit on the wall. And while they weren’t tie-dyed, they were very colorful.
  • My fellow patron who looked after my things while I used the restroom

Things that weren’t as great:

  • The smell of patchouli and marijuana. It was my fault for expecting any different in the Haight, but it was before ten in the morning.
  • The woman who had made Coffee to the People her office and spent the morning on phone calls.
  • The coffee, unfortunately. But I like a dark roast and Coffee to the People’s wasn’t.

Tips for freelancers:

  • Arrive early and you’ll have your choice of seats.
  • Work at CtP and then go across the street to Magnolia for lunch (they make a great burger and a kale salad). If you want something quick, grab a sandwich from Haight Street Market. Their sandwiches are taaasty…

Address: 1206 Masonic Ave., SF 94117 (corner of Haight and Masonic)

I decided on The Coffee Project to change up my daily work routine. After two years of working from home (aka my dining room), I needed to mix things up a bit. As much as I’ve enjoyed the freedom and flexibility of working from home, it has gotten isolating and feels like everyday is the same.

While I’m a big fan of coworking spaces, and have one I frequent fairly often, even that has begun to feel the same (sorry NextSpace, it’s not you, it’s me).

The project is simple really. Over the next 30 work days I plan to work in 30 different coffee shops. My goal is to enjoy being out in San Francisco, and not in my living room. It helps that I’m obsessed with coffee and always on the hunt for the next best cup.

The Coffee Project was inspired by The Happiness of Pursuit, a book by Chris Guillebeau that shares his experience of traveling to every country in the world before he turned 35. While I’m not thinking that trying 30 coffee shops is going to be anything like traveling the world, I do hope it will inspire a new approach to my work. In any case, it’s San Francisco, so I’m sure to meet some interesting characters and discover some really good coffee.

As a marketer, copywriter, and social media consultant, I figured it made sense for me to do what I do on behalf of clients all day long, and share about the experience online.

It’s hard to believe that I’m enjoying my last full day in Nicaragua. Tomorrow, I will pack up the bug spray and the sunscreen (I might actually put some on for the drive to the airport) and say adios to Nicaragua. With that in mind I put together this list of highlights. It includes some of the amazing people I’ve met, places I’ve seen, and a few other random things…

The ladies and men of Cooperative Nica Hope: The chance to work with this inspirational group of men and women working to “salir adelante” by creating handmade artisan jewelry was definitely a highlight. Thank you to Mallory Erickson and Eliza Brennan for the opportunity to be part of this project.

Luis Muñoz, his daughter Fabiola, and the staff at Casa de Los Abuelos: Luis, Fabby and the staff at Casa de los Abuelos, a hostel in the center of Managua, made my experience in this sprawling and at times overwhelming capital city, warm and inviting. Thank you to Luis for teaching me the ins-and-outs of the market and for taking me to eat the best quesillos in Managua.

Arne and Claire: my Dutch friends who took time out of researching and writing their Master’s theses on women’s rights and community housing projects in Nicaragua, to join me at the beach. Thanks especially to Arne for transporting me around Leon on the back of his bike (don’t worry mom, it was a bicycle and not a motorcycle).

Doña Rafaela and her sons: thank you for keeping well fed with gallo pinto, barbequed chicken and fried plantains. Thanks to Doña for always microwaving my instant cup of coffee until it was practically boiling!

Adventures on the school bus: riding the local bus here in Nica means reliving your elementary school days. The local buses are converted school buses adorned with bright colors and the name of where they are headed. I’ll miss pretending I’m on a field trip while exploring Nicaragua.

The markets: Nicaragua has some of the most lively markets I have ever seen. I will miss exploring the markets for exotic fruit, eating lunch at the plastic tables and chairs and trying to explain to the woman who owns the cosmetics kiosk that I’m looking for face wash.

Marina, Felipe and Kelly: my gracious hosts on one of the most beautiful places I have ever been — the Island of Ometepe. Thanks to Marina for keeping me well fed with her delicious cooking and to Felipe for traipsing me to the top of Volcan Maderas.

The Effingers: Thank you to Julie and Doug for allowing me to be a part of their work in the community of Jinotepe. For introducing me to the students that they are helping to attend the university, touring me through the library they are building, taking me to one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever been to, and allowing me to join them in delivering school supplies to some of the cutest school kids I have ever seen.

Luis and Andrea: mis amigos from Costa Rica. Thank you for coming to Nicaragua and for a fabulous last few days exploring Granada, San Juan del Sur and Laguna de Apoyo. Can’t wait to see you again, and I can’t wait to have you over to my place at the Laguna.

Maritza, Omar and Inti: Gracias por la oportunidad a conocer la comunidad de Las Lagunas y los proyectos suyos. Hasta la proxima vez.

Nestor: thank you for introducing me to Eduard and for the opportunity to stay at Finca Neblina del Bosque. It was one of the most amazing adventures I had in Nicaragua.

Susan Dix Lyons, Rafael Morales, Alba Castillo: I have followed the progress of Clinica Verde, a sustainable community health clinic in the Boaco region of Nicaragua, and the opportunity to see it live was one I’ll never forget. Thank you for the opportunity.

The Sunflower Cooperative: Thank you to Noelle, Kim and Maria for introducing me to this group of women working together to create sustainable employment opportunities through sewing. I can’t wait to see the prototype of the laptop bag you created for me. I think it will be a hit in SF!

The Canadians: a amazing group solo women travelers who I met in Matagalpa. I loved our conversations about life and travel and thanks to them I now have a third grade level of Canadian geography.

Anabel: one of the most adorable, strong and funny little girls I have ever met. Also the best tour guide I could have asked for.

El Castillo Chocolate: thank you for showing me what chocolate is actually supposed to taste like. If only I had more room in my suitcase for more of you.

Bug spray: I knew it was going to come in handy, but I had no idea the extent. It seemed that every time I forgot to put it on, I would be swarmed and eaten alive by packs of mosquitoes.

Instant coffee: thank you to instant coffee for making me realize how much I miss good coffee. I will not miss drinking you in the morning.

The Nica Breakfast: I have come to love the traditional breakfast of eggs, gallo pinto, cheese, fried plantains and chili. I’m going to miss this combo when I’m gone. I guess it wouldn’t be that hard to make.

Technology: I was nervous at the prospect of trying to work online from Nicaragua. Would I have internet…would it work? While it’s at times been an adventure — like the time I was trying to access the internet in the cloud forest, under the light of my headlamp, I’ve found that WiFi is just about everywhere. Who knew?

Ok, I’m off to enjoy my last evening here in Nicaragua….

I’m typically not a huge fan of the organized tour. I’m too independent and too much of a control freak, to enjoy being told where I’m going and how long I’ll be allowed to stay there.

But every once in awhile, I have no idea where I’m going, and appreciate the help of a guide. That was how I met Anabel. If you ever end up trying to explore La Poza la Pila, a series of crystal clear natural pools, fed by a small waterfall in the nature reserve Miraflor, I strongly suggest you meet her too.

When I finally made it to the entrance of Poza la Pila, I could hear the sounds of the waterfall, but couldn’t figure out how to get down to the pools. I saw a small house near the entrance and figured whoever lived there could tell me the way. As I approached the house, I was met by one of the cutest little girls I had ever seen. Having obviously dressed herself, she wore a tie dye shirt underneath a brightly colored dress — her outfit was made complete by a pair of Dora the Explorer tennis shoes.

Her name was Anabel and I was told that she would lead me to the waterfall. I asked if she knew the way, not sure if this was a joke, and she nodded and smiled. On our walk to the waterfall, I would learn that Anabel was two, possibly three years old. As promised, she knew exactly how to get us to the waterfall, including crossing a stream and leading me up and down the small dirt trails that led to the pools.

With Anabel, I would learn that the “gringos” — white people like me, had built a bridge to get across the river in the rainy season. Anabel would introduce me to Maria who I would pay my 10 cordoba ($0.50) entrance fee, and then lead me down the rocky steps to the pool. At one point I would actually have to hold to Anabel’s hand to help her down the steep steps.

When we finally made it to the pool, Anabel and I would sit together and she would tell me that while she liked the water, she didn’t like to go in very deep. Some time later, Anabel would tell me that I needed to pay her for leading me to the waterfall. We would agree on a price, and soon after paying her, she would leave me to swim — crossing back across the creek, through the barbed wire fence and back to her home.

As I sat enjoying the tranquility of Poza la Pila, I was struck by the stark difference between the life of a two year old in the United States and the life of someone like Anabel here in Nicaragua. I’ve met many kids like Anabel here. Sometimes they’re selling handmade goods in a park in Granada, or the bus station in Managua, and sometimes they’re leading gringos like me to waterfalls. The financial situation of their family means that every member must contribute in small way.

My wish for Anabel is that she has the opportunity to go to school one day. That her family situation improves and she doesn’t have to work. I’m grateful to know that people like Eduard and Isabel are helping kids like Anabel study even when their families cannot afford it.

La Poza la Pila

La Poza la Pila

 

An alfombra decorativa in Leon

An alfombra decorativa in Leon

Before I even bought a ticket to Nicaragua, I was told that I absolutely could not miss Semana Santa. Known as Holy Week in English, Semana Santa is a week filled with religious rituals, traditional processions and some serious partying.

Here’s a bit of what I’ve seen so far:

Street art: here in Leon, where I’ve spent the first few days of celebration, you’ll find the streets decorated with “alfombras decorativas” — depictions of Bible passages made from colored sawdust. If you knew how hot it was here (90 some degrees, with 37% humidity), you’d have respect for anyone that withstood a day in the heat, sun reflecting off of the pavement to create one of these.

Street food: you can’t go far without running into someone selling quesillos, fried plantain chips, sliced mangoes, jocotes, or any other variety of local fare. A quesillo and a bag of mangoes will cost you about 15 cordobas (about $0.60). On the topic of street food, I have to mention these adorable ladies that I found here in Leon. As soon as the sun sets this group of 4-5 women start slinging some of the best street food I’ve found in Nicaragua — enchiladas, barbecued steak, chicken, pork, and even goat, all served with gallo pinto and cabbage salad. They refer to everyone that comes there as “amor”, or love, which I find endearing.

Processions: yesterday was the celebration of San Benito, a saint that Marisol, the women who runs the hostel where I’m staying, says is responsible for making miracles happen. In her case, she told me how she had prayed to San Benito asking for recovery from an injury that left her bedridden. When her miracle was granted, and she was again able to get around, she paid thanks to San Benito by dressing in all white. Last night’s procession was filled with people, who like Marisol, had been granted miracles from San Benito.

Fiestas: for some, Semana Santa is more about drinking rum and spending their days off at the beach. I like to compare it to how 4th of July is celebrated in the U.S. For many, 4th of July is less about celebrating the independence of our country, and more about working on our suntans and drinking and barbecuing with friends and families. Here in Nicaragua, Semana Santa means a few days off of work, giving them plenty of time to get to the beach!

I’m looking forward to joining them during my last week here in Nicaragua! Sniff, sniff…..

 

Edward_IsabelThanks to my new friend Nestor, I had the good fortune of meeting Eduard and Isabel. Edward and Isabel are the owners of Finca Neblina del Bosque (Cloud Forest Farm in English) — an eco-hotel located within a farm, located inside the cloud forest of Miraflor. If you think it sounds amazing, it is.

Miraflor, the setting of Finca Neblina, is a nature reserve located in the north of Nicaragua. Within in the reserve you’ll find three different climate zones, hundreds of species of orchids and a vibrant agricultural community where locals make their living growing crops like coffee, potatoes and corn and raising cattle.

When dreaming up Finca Neblina, Eduard and Isabel were committed to creating an eco-friendly space. A space where people could escape and relax in nature. Their space is constructed using bamboo instead of scarcely available wood and solar energy instead of running electrical poles into the cloud forest.

Everything that comes out of the kitchen at Finca Neblina del Bosque – from your steaming cup of coffee to the beans in your gallo pinto, is sourced from their farm or the local community. I’m becoming quite the connoisseur of the typical Nicaraguan breakfast of scrambled eggs, gallo pinto, soft cheese, fried plantains, a freshly made tortilla and a cup of coffee, and Finca Neblina makes a delicious version.

One of things that impressed me just as much as the hotel’s eco-friendliness and the delicious breakfast, was Eduard’s and Isabel’s commitment to giving back to their community. Not only does their hotel provide stable employment for a number of people from the local community, but Eduard and Isabel annually give two scholarships to the best students in the community allowing them to keep studying. You’d be amazed to find out how many students don’t go to school because they can’t afford the supplies, the uniform or the transportation to and from.

Eduard and Isabel live on the property meaning, in my case, that they were happy to draw me a map to hike in the cloud forest and visit the waterfall, to check on me to make sure I was having a good time or let me use the computer to try and check my work email. When I wasn’t hiking or trying to get online, I sat and read my book in their garden overlooking the forest and their crops as butterflies fluttered around me.

If you’re thinking that this all sounds crazy expensive, I’m here to tell you that it isn’t. Your own private cabana with all your meals included, and the opportunity to meet Eduard and Isabel will cost you $25 a night. Yes, you read that right — $25 a night.

Thank you to Nestor for introducing me to Eduard and Isabel, and to Eduard and Isabel for being grateful and accommodating hosts. I look forward to my next visit to Finca Neblina.

IMG_0920

If the television show Amazing Race pitted Americans against Nicaraguans, I’m positive Nicaraguans would win. It was Maritza who convinced me of this.

During my time spent with Maritza, I would be amazed by her strength and energy. Maritza is an activist. Part of the Matagalpa Indian tribe inhabiting the northern section of Nicaragua, she is committed to organizing and advocating on behalf of her people.

From Maritza, I would learn of the work she is doing to create income generating opportunities for women in her small community of La Laguna, of the ancient spiritual practices that she keeps alive by sharing them at community events throughout Nicaragua and her work to lobby the government to include legislative protections for indigenous people.

Maritza would lead my new friend Claire and me through the steep hills of her small community. We would visit the campground and spiritual center that her and her partner are building, check on the coffee crop that her and the women of her community are cultivating, and hike up to the simple and beautiful cabana which she will one day call home.

I was absolutely amazed that while I slipped and slid around and envisioned falling down the hillside, Maritza gracefully navigated the steep hills in flip flops with her one year-old son strapped to her back. Gosh she is strong, I thought.

Maritza has big dreams for indigenous women in the community of La Laguna. Her work organizing a group of 35 local women to plant and cultivate 120,000 coffee plants is intended to provide generate income for women who have traditionally lacked stable employment.

I am extremely grateful to Brenda Salgado and Pauli Ojea for connecting me with Maritza. I aspire to have the strength and energy of Maritza and cannot wait to come back to Nicaragua and visit her spiritual center and drink their coffee.

Nestor is on the left (in case you were wondering)

Nestor is on the left (in case you were wondering)

I met Nestor during a blackout in San Juan del Sur — a surfer’s paradise in the southern Pacific Coast of Nicaragua. Both Nestor and I ended up waiting out the darkness in rocking chairs in front of Doña Eleonora’s guest house.

Nestor is a tour guide here in Nicaragua. He makes a living sharing highlights of his beautiful country with tourists like me. Originally from the Island of Ometepe, Nestor now lives in the bustling city of Managua, which puts him closer to tour companies and opportunities.

Nestor is passionate about his job and eager to share the beauty and culture of his country with visitors. He is especially passionate and enthusiastic about a concept called “rural tourism”, which, I found, was right up my alley.

There is no doubt that the best way to see a place is with a local. Yes, you can read a guide book, or search Tripadvisor, but that will never give you the kind of experience that a local person can. That is exactly the way that I prefer to travel, and the principle that “rural tourism” is founded upon.

Rural tourism still allows you to see a country’s hot spots. Instead of staying at a resort, you stay in the home of a local family. With rural tourism, you have the opportunity to live the way they live and experience a day as they experience it. This is the tourism that Nestor is passionate about.

As Nestor put it, rural tourism is a win-win — tourists get an authentic, often eye-opening experience into life as a local, and locals have the opportunity to see into a foreign culture, while earning a little income for providing food and accommodations.

I told Nestor I loved the idea, but I would like to see it go a step further. What about “charitable tourism”? How about if in addition to living with a local family, if your experience included an opportunity to give back to the community by supporting a local initiative. What if you could provide school supplies to a local school, vaccinations at a local clinic, or even make a purchase at a cooperative like Nica Hope or Girasol?

Nestor and I have decided to explore the idea a bit further. During my time in the north, I’ll be checking out some different opportunities for rural and perhaps charitable tourism. I know it’s something that I’d be interested in, and I think there are lots of others like me.

Let me know what you think of the idea of rural or charitable tourism. Also let me know if you have plans to come to Nicaragua and I’ll introduce you to Nestor.

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