Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Playa La Flor

This weekend some friends and I went to one of the most magnificent beaches I've ever visited. It is a bay on the Pacific very close to the Costa Rican border (perhaps some 15kms) and it is a wildlife refuge managed by the Nicaraguan ministry of environment and the military. We arrived as the only visitors. Pure solitude.

It was an amazing contrast from the El Remanso, the beach we had visited earlier in the day. El Remanso was full of beginning surfers and pickup trucks. La Flor was alive with birds (pelicans, frigates and more), whereas I don't recall a single bird at the more developed El Remanso.

We stayed to watch the sun recede below the horizon.

The team managing the refuge is running a project to hatch over 1,000 turtles per day. Below is one! Of these 1,000 babies, probably only 10 will become mature enough to reproduce (a mere 1%). Poaching and natural predators account for this staggering statistic.
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Bolognese a la Matagalpa

. Red pepper, diced
. Eggplant, peeled and cubed
. Onion, diced. Garlic, diced
. 1lb ground Matagalpa beef
. 2 cans peeled, canned roma tomatoes
. Fresh mushrooms (imported...)
. Olive oil and butter
. Paprika, dried oregano, basil, parsely, bay leaves, dried chile seeds
. Ground pepper and salt

Sautee red pepper (in bowl) and cubed eggplant (salted, patted down with paper towel, left to sit for 15 mins) in olive oil.
Set aside.

Sautee mushrooms with garlic and butter. Set aside.

Sautee ground beef in butter with onions, garlic, spices and herbs.

Transfer ingredients 1 by 1 to pot...

Add cans of peeled roma tomotoes and simmer with the bay leaves.
Gently mush tomotoes with wooden spoon until you have a chunky, meaty sauce.
Add dried chile seeds to taste, depending on your desire for heat.
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Sunday, July 4, 2010

At the local watering hole

My little apartment is just two doors away from the best bar in town, Cafe Artesanos.

Fun Friday night with the guys.
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Saturday, June 12, 2010

Copan Ruinas

After the day of tree delivery audits, Marvin (Honduras GM) and I found ourselves in the colonial town of Copan Ruinas, just 10km from the Guatemala border. As the name would suggest, the town is known for its nearby Mayan ruins. The ruins are known to be small but beautiful and less trafficked than other large sites in Mesoamerica suck as Tikal. This is all hearsay to me because we arrived 10 minutes after they closed the gates to the ruins and we had an early start the next morning... Some other time I suppose. Nonetheless, the town is beautiful and not to hot because of its altitude near 1000m. Unlike San Pedro Sula or many other Honduran towns where security is a huge concern, one can walk freely in the streets of Copan Ruinas without worry. This in itself was theraputic for me.

Another excellent feature of Copan Ruinas was the availability of good beer. I took advantage of a beer on tap from a local brewery called D&D. They do West Coast micro style ales. Later on I enjoyed a Hoegaarden.

Here is a shot of an approaching storm cloud with women running fritangas in the foreground.

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Delivering fine cocoa trees to producers

Since the rains have come, we can at last begin placing our inventory of fine cocoa grafts in the field with the producers who have joined the Xoco project. Our inventory between the three countries is 780,000 plants, but most of them are still WIP ("works in progress"). About 100,000 are ready for delivery. In truckloads of 2,400-3,200 (depending on the size of the truck), we dispach the trees to the remote locations where our producers are based. In addition to the logistical challenge, we have to be very careful not to damage any plants in the process. In 2009, the delivery process was a disaster as quality assurance was not part of the equation. Many tree deaths were caused by a sloppy delivery process. This year we have turned this on its head. I would say our current delivery process is best-in-class! This week I was in Honduras precisely to accompany and audit the deliveries and ensure that we are on track to meet our obligations to producers.

On a side note, I am thrilled by our advances in nursery production. Our production manager, Josue, has really taken ahold of the production chain. In fact, this week we set a record in Honduras for the most trees grafted in a week in one nursery: 30,000. In 2009, the best week was probably around 10,000.

Here we are in the departamento de Copan on the property of one of our producers. In the background you can see Parque Nacional Cerro Azul. (By the way, this week it only rained twice so the weather was fantastic for deliveries. The temperature was humid and high-80s: cool and comfortable by Northern Honduras standards...)

From left-to-right: Victor (Xoco's Delivery QA Manager), Me, Ruben (Technician from the NGO we are collaborating with in the region), Oscar (Producer), and Juan Carlos (Xoco Field Technician)

Delivering at another site...
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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The crew

Eating burgers at Ferry Building plaza.

Thanks for lending me the hoodie, Jay. It was freezing (around 60 degrees).
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Piña warmed by the sun

Visiting a farm in Izabal, Guatemala, about 30 minutes outside the city of Puerto Barrios...

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Dinner with Stieg

Well, as Lily finds herself in Norteamerica ramping up for grad school, I am left fending for myself!

Last night, I documented my dinner.

(Self-conscious aside: Is this a classic example of a blogpost only of interest to the very blogger who blogged it?)

In fact, it was very tasty and I was pleasantly surprised by how complementary the flavors were. It was quite healthy, too, I believe.

Brazilian black bean soup (a rough Central American adaptation), using the appropriate quantities of the following ingredients:
> Slow-cooked black beans cooked with onion, cilantro and bay leaf
> Seared grass-fed beef tenderloin (helps when you can get top grade local tenderloin for just $3/pound!)
> Garlic, onions and diced fresh jalepenos sauteed in vegetable oil
> Bitter orange and lime juice
> Dried oregano
> Paprika
> Touch of habenero puree
> Touch of salt

For garnish:
> Cubed queso fresco
> Thinly sliced and fried flour tortilla

Plus steamed fresh broccoli, Stieg Larsson's The Girl Who Played with Fire and a glass of water.
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A wet contradiction

How is it that it has now rained roughly 2 inches in the last 48 hours in Matagalpa (praise to the Cocoa Gods and whomever else!) and there is no running water in the apartment right now?

The transition from verano (Summer/Dry season) to invierno (Winter/Wet season) is dramatic. All of a sudden everything is green, as if I had put on green-tinted lenses. Everything is humid. The temperature has dropped by a few degrees Celsius. Dry creek beds have become frothy torrents. Country roads become riskier, as certain bridges are destined to fail and other bridgeless stream-crossings will become impassable during the heavier rains.

Most of all, producers are happy. This dry season was long and hit hard.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Life with a 4 x 4

When Josh and Lily got their Mazda 4x4 in March, the country shrank. Despite a bribe-seeking police force, hectic highways and abysmal backcountry terrain, the access is an incredible advantage. Here is visual proof:

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Images from the campo

Here are a few more angles at life on Juan Carlos' farm


Hide of the cow killed just the day before we arrived. Most of our meals were thanks to her!

Our sleeping quarters

Grain storage
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Relaxing on the farm, cont'd

Naturally, the spear fishing (see previous blog entry below) did not stop at the point of capture. Don Isaiah, prepared a cauldron of boiling pig fat from his farm, in which we sizzled and fried up the catch on the nearest beach. Here is Isaiah offering gourmet deliciousness to the next available lucky taker. Man in innertube featured behind was the star spear fisher. Every 15 minutes or so, he would recharge with a shot of Flor de Cana rum and a sip of Coke to keep his senses sharp.

(3) Cattle herding. Apologies for the disorganization but recall that highlights #1 and #2 were Pinolillo and Fishing/Eating respectively (blog entry below). Here the cattle herding team is pictured. From left to right: Laura, Armando (farm manager), Becca, Juan Carlos and son Jan Carlos (no "u"!), and Josh.

Goal for the day: tour the farm, some 300 acres, and move 65 heads of cattle from a pasture back to the corral for individual inspections.

Note: Laura and Josh did not have what we might call much experience with horses, let alone herding cattle.

Becca, Juan and Jan keeping the big guys in line.

By the end of the day Josh felt quite comfortable on horseback... He decided to go for a little sunset stroll solo here:
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Visiting Juan Carlos' Farm

Over Semana Santa (Holy Week, which culminates in Easter), Josh and his good friends from college Laura and Becca, drove 8 hours east into the northern autonomous region of the Atlantic to the farm of Josh's colleague Juan Carlos. His family was so welcoming to us, and we feel incredibly lucky to have spent 4 days living on remote cattle ranch, positioned on the picturesque Rio Prinzapolka.

Highlights included:

(1) Milking cows directly into our cups for Pinolillo. Pinolillo is a traditional Nicaraguan drink of toasted corn, cacao, sugar and warm milk. Normally, a whisk is used to froth the ingredients together... but that is for the unfortunate people without direct access to a cow. The milk comes out of the teet at the perfect velocity to froth the pinolillo naturally! Here, Becca is milking into her cup (already containing the corn, cacao and sugar).

It is essentially the Nicaraguan equivalent of an Egg Cream. In the corral, Josh feels at home just as he would in any Jewish Deli.

(2) Spear fishing on the river, with dugout canoe as the principal form of transport.

Juan Carlos' neighbor Isaiah shows off a collection of Guapote trout.
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Xoco Photoshoot

In preparation for introducing ourselves to the marketplace, we have been working on a video short to summarize Xoco's business model, product offerings and operations... It should be live within the next 10 days or so, and I will be sure to post the link on the blog. I thought I would post a few somewhat humerous photos of the shooting.

Here I am exhibiting a mature grafted fine cocoa plant in the nursery in Sebaco, Nicaragua, where we currently have roughly a half million live cocoa plants in inventory:

Frank (CEO) is giving a welcome spiel. We trekked out to the remote countryside to an ancient cocoa plantation to get many of our takes.

Here we are setting up shots of the cocoa harvest:
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