Guide To Nicaragua / by lee tilghman

eating all of the local mangoes. 

eating all of the local mangoes. 

My trip to Nicaragua was a beautiful one, that came and went all too soon. I want to thank Maderas Village for hosting me and for allowing me to bring my smoothie bowl skills down to their hotel for the summer solstice. Nicaragua is a beautiful area of the world, and I definitely suggest it to any type of traveler. You can surf, hike, and explore the coast - all in one day.

Maderas Village

Maderas Village has a full service kitchen that serves its hotel guests breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. On my first morning at Maderas, I ordered the granola dish, pictured above. I was so impressed with their portions - only a little bit of granola, and a 'lotta bit' of freshly cut fruit! The fruit bowl above contains bananas, papaya, watermelon, white pineapple, and cantaloupe- all native to Nicaragua. The fruit was INSANELY fresh. I also added a banana passionfruit smoothie to my breakfast - I was amazed by how cheap the passionfruit (or calala) is in Nicaragua, compared to where I live in Los Angeles (sometimes, upwards of $6.00!)

Surf boards at Playa Maderas. 

Surf boards at Playa Maderas. 

Maderas hosts a plentiful list of activities for its guests each day. They also have yoga classes, massage therapy, horseback riding, boating, and rides to town. I spent a lot of time by the beach, at yoga classes, and of course, in the kitchen, concocting smoothie bowls for the guests.

On my second day at Maderas, I made vegan peanut butter mousse bowls for the folks at Maderas. I topped it with more fresh granola and freshly cut banana. I can't tell you how delicious the bananas were in Nicaragua. I eat so many bananas here in the states that I am so used to their banana flavor. When I tried my first banana in Nicaragua- I was stunned by their floral, delightful, fruity taste. Now, bananas here in the US just taste like bananas to me again. I sure miss those Nicaraguan bananas!

Finca Las Nubes

Whenever I visit a new place, I can't help but want to learn everything about the natural habitat and food systems. I was really excited to check out local farms in Nicaragua. And lucky me, I was able to check out two! When I was offered a moto ride to Finca Las Nubes in San Juan, I couldn't say no!

On my third day, I headed to Finca Las Nubes, an organic farm in San Juan Del Sur. It is called "farm in the clouds" because they grow their veggies 1,500 feet above sea level, only 2 miles from the ocean. We bought pounds of fresh basil, mustard greens, arugula, dill, and peppers to bring back to Maderas Village. They also have hundreds of chickens that are truly 'free range'. The chickens are able to roam freely around the farm, eating all sorts of food, and retreating back to the cages at night.

Project Bona Fide

The true highlight of my trip was visiting Project Bona Fide on the island of Ometepe. Ometepe Island is a true gem. I definitely suggest visiting the island for a few days if you are traveling down to Nicaragua or Costa Rica. It is an island in the middle of Nicaragua Lake. Ometepe contains 2 live volcanos. As soon as you get off the ferry, you are surrounded by lush, tropical trees, brightly colored houses, stone roads, and a very 'tranquilo' way of life. 

Bona Fide is a non for profit research center and permaculture farm located on Ometepe Island. It was started in 2001 by Michael Judd as an international non for profit agro-ecology research center. Project Bona Fide's long term goal is to better their local community with their pilot farmland. On their pilot farmland, they experiment growing different types of fruits and vegetables with different organic techniques.  The farm's long term goals are creating sustainable economics that steward the health and diversity of the community and environment.

From the project's website,

"Project Bona Fide promotes food security and sustainable living systems on Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua through permaculture design, agroforestry, research & education, and community collaboration. We educate and expose people locally and worldwide to the possibilities of multi-strata food production through demonstrative agriculture on our 26-acre model farm...

[their]  vision is to provide people with the necessary knowledge and skills to empower them to produce their own food in a more sustainable manner and live more intentionally in their own environments."

Their approach has three key aspects.

  1. Demonstrate the possible. Using permaculture and agroforestry research and design principles, we conduct plant trials on site and demonstrate successful models to the public.
  2. Learn from and educate the interested. We teach sustainable lifestyle principles to volunteers, interns, student groups, and local community members.
  3. Collaborate with the community. We support community projects through financial support, knowledge, and technical skills.

We were immediately greeted by Sabrina, the farm's coordinator. Sabrina welcomed us to dinner with open arms. There were about 12-15 other volunteers on the farm, from all over the world. New Zealand, Dublin, different parts of America. Everyone was so warm and friendly. Everybody introduced ourselves and named their favorite television show to binge watch. Then, we ate dinner. I didn't get a photo of my dinner as it was pitch black, but it was SO good. Project Bona Fide volunteers rotate dinner cooking duty ever week. Everyone is responsible for their complete list of chores, on top of working on the farm. These people are some of the hardest working people you will ever meet. Their work ethic and dedication to the farm is inspiring to me. All of the volunteers came from different parts of the world, but they all had one thing in common: a love of farming, nature, food, and sustainability. I noticed a quote on the whiteboard of chores that read,

Before Enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After Enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.

I asked Sabrina what it meant, and she mentioned it was an old farm tale. To me, it meant, always work, no matter what. Work on a farm is never done, there is always more to do!

We were escorted to our sleeping area (an outdoor mattress, covered by a mosquito net!) and got settled. I was a bit scared of sleeping with no walls, but Sabrina insisted on it being safe. Alex, my partner in crime, also eased my nerves by telling me stories as I fell asleep. Thank you, Alex!

The next morning, I awoke to the sound of frogs mating, birds chirping, and Alex doing his sun salutations in the crisp morning light. We walked down to the farm kitchen, which was outdoors and complete with a tiled sink and countertop, as you can see below. Sabrina told me that it was designed and built by a volunteer from France during his stay on the farm (volunteers stay from anywhere from 1 month to 6 months).

Bona Fide farm kitchen, with Sabrina to the left!

Bona Fide farm kitchen, with Sabrina to the left!

Our beautiful breakfast including: rice, beans, hard boiled eggs, avocado, fruit salad, sorghum puree, and cucumber salad. So fresh and so tasty. A meal to be remembered for sure!

Our beautiful breakfast including: rice, beans, hard boiled eggs, avocado, fruit salad, sorghum puree, and cucumber salad. So fresh and so tasty. A meal to be remembered for sure!

We ate our breakfast with the volunteers and Sabrina and then everyone got to work to their assigned tasks. Sabrina brought Alex and I a canistel fruit. It's also called the egg-yolk fruit because of its distinct similarity to egg yolks. It was super sweet and had the texture similar to that of a custard. It was super exotic tasting.

Canistel fruit.

Canistel fruit.

These surinam cherries, pictured below, were one of the most delicious things I have ever tasted! I had never tried one, and Sabrina handed me one and it was at first, pretty strange. Soon enough, I couldn't stop eating them. They tasted like a mix between a strawberry and a tomato. My kind of fruit! They were growing all over the Bona Fide land. I couldn't stop picking them and noshing on them throughout my visit. They were warm and ripened by the sun, and they burst in your mouth. I miss them already.

Surinam Cherry

Surinam Cherry

Sabrina took us through the jackfruit forest at Bona Fide. She used a machete to harvest one for us to take back to Maderas.

Jackfruit forest. AKA heaven!

Jackfruit forest. AKA heaven!

Farmer hands hard at work planting tomato plants in the edible garden

Farmer hands hard at work planting tomato plants in the edible garden

Alex noshing on mangoes :-)

Alex noshing on mangoes :-)

Bona Fide was a super inspiring place to be. They are truly doing amazing work there, and I can't say enough good things about the people that work there. Bona Fide just launched a Farm-to-Clinic Initiative that will help them produce up to 50% of herbal medicines for the Natural Doctors International clinic that provides free integrative health care on Ometepe. Please take a second to check out their fundraising campaign at http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/farm-to-clinic-ometepe/. Also, feel free to share on your social channels. Any sort of donation or share helps spread the word!

We then headed back to Maderas Village. And I was off and more determined than ever to make a bunch of epic, tasty, healthy bowls filled with all the local goodies from Bona Fide. I made mango smoothie bowls and included the recipe just for you! You can use any mangoes here, of course. 

Project Bona Fide Mango Smoothie Bowl

Recipe makes 4 bowls

  • 8 frozen bananas
  • 5 fresh mangoes 
  • 1 cup coconut water

Blend above ingredients in a food processor or high speed blender until a soft, ice cream like consistency is reached. Pour into bowls.

For toppings, I used:

  • white and black chia seeds
  • cashews
  • fresh basil
  •  slivered almonds
  • banana
  • granolee
  • Justin's almond butter
  • white pineapple chunks