Central America & CaribbeanFood & Drink

Exploring Nicaragua: From Honey to Rum

Sweet-as-can-be fresh honeycomb in the afternoon Photo courtesy of Finn Moss White-Thompson.

When the post-holiday winter blues settle in, I start daydreaming of warmer climes, typically with a soft and sunny “California Dreamin'” loop playing in my head. The shivery depths of a polar vortex is a great time to start planning your next budget-friendly adventure to the tropics, or wherever else your heart feels called to warm itself.

Might I suggest exploring Nicaragua? Last month, I took you to work with me up and down Nicaragua’s volcanoes. But my time off the clock is when I truly indulged my appreciation for the culture of the country and otherworldly (to me) natural environment of my temporary home.

What’s the buzz? Follow the honey near Leon.

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Photo courtesy of Fabricio Mendoza.

Fabricio Mendoza and his family know their bees. But more importantly to my sweet tooth, they know how to raise healthy bees that produce mouth-watering honey.

As a national leader in the practice of beekeeping, Fabricio has a profound and passionate knowledge base of what works and what doesn’t — for both his business and Nicaragua’s natural resources. He works to educate up-and-coming beekeepers around the country, and specifically Nicaragua’s Telica Volcano, so that the next generation of beekeepers sustain the practice without depleting precious aspects of the environment.

The family lives on a small farm (a portion of which they’ve converted to be bio-intensive organic) along with all of their hives, livestock, and several generations of relatives. Fabricio’s wife, Sonia, is one of only three people in the entire country who makes the beekeeping suits, and his father, a retired carpenter, handcrafts all of the smokers and most of the necessary tools.

Fabricio’s passion for his family and his bees is contagious, and the toil pays off in the form of high-quality liquid gold. He says he won’t sell his ‘Miel Ambrosía’ honey in La Union, a Latin American Walmart, because the honey always ends up on the bottom shelf beneath the soda. And nor should he! Honey tastes sweeter when you’ve seen the bees buzzing happily.

Roll through the Flor de Cana rum factory, Chichigalpa.

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The best-scented warehouse — spicy and sweet. Photo by Paige Trubatch.

Flor de Cana rum is a national treasure/water substitute in Nicaragua, and I’m fortunate enough to have a friend who has worked as a tour guide at the historic factory.  The site is located not too far from Nicaragua’s tallest volcano, San Cristobal, and the sweet, spicy aroma of aging barrels of rum drifts with the breeze as you are driven around in tropical golf-cart glory.

The most interesting factoid that I picked up on the tour is that the rum is aged and stored in recycled American Oak whiskey barrels, which contribute to the flavor of the not-too-sweet rum. Flor de Cana is genuinely aged, meaning that no additional sugars are added while they rest in this most decadent warehouse before bottling.

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Happy birthday to me! Where else to celebrate but a barrel-shaped rum museum? Photo by Paige Trubatch.

There’s even a small firehouse on the premises (should a rum-fueled catastrophe strike) and a few select barrels reserved for birthday celebrations of Pellas family and close friends. However, there’s plenty to go around, as well as a barrel-shaped museum with lots of old distilling technology and photographs to geek out over before purchasing a bottle.

Watch the wheels go round and round, near Granada.

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Pedal power for traditional pottery. Photo by Paige Trubatch.

Near the colonial city of Granada, in the hilly town of San Juan de Oriente, Fanor Lopez and his family keep tradition alive in their work as potters and artists. Watching Fanor spin, spin, spin his workbench wheel is dizzying, but also mesmerizing. With this steady pace and swift hands, a vase, a bowl, a water pitcher appear before him.

Another traditional aspect of crafting pottery that makes Fanor’s family enterprise so unique is the simple, yet exhausting first step of stomping out air bubbles in the clay using his heels and body weight. This step is critical, and it’s exactly how his predecessors created the beautiful artifacts we may unearth today.

His wife and son complete the pieces with their artistic talents and eye for design, as his son has an interest in architecture as well. It’s these touches that make the finished products feel so warm and personal, and many of the designs reflect a love of the geometric and native wildlife. I’ve since given pieces of their work as wedding and housewarming gifts. It’s a fantastic feeling to know where your purchase comes from and who put their energy into it.

Be a mermaid from the blue lagoon, Laguna de Apoyo.

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Photo courtesy of Michael Cipoletti.

Near Fanor’s home is Laguna de Apoyo, a volcanic crater lake that’s now a lush, cool oasis and one of my favorite places. Upon arrival, you might spot some howler monkeys swinging overhead before you come upon the timeless beauty of the lake.

It’s here that I like to jump in, swim out the center as far as I can, and simply be. I float on my back to drown out the human world and soak in the magic. I meditate in the water and appreciate, “I am here, and isn’t nature lovely?”

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…and this is where I bid you farewell. Photo by Paige Trubatch.

Paige Trubatch
Blogger
Paige is a DIY and Renaissance Faire enthusiast with a keen interest in sustainable travel practices. Now that she’s got wheels of her own, she plans to explore more of her homeland with the windows down and radio up. She’s lived and worked in a few strange places, including a Dutch castle, a Colorado jail, and atop Nicaragua’s most active volcanoes.

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