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Selva Negra, Nicaragua

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by Sandra Scott

Willkommen to the Black Forest of.... Nicaragua. At the Barvarian-style gatehouse the guard lifts the red and white stripped bar permitting entrance into the unique world of Selva Negra. Here at more than 3,000 feet you will have to pinch yourself to believe that you are still in Nicaragua.

Selva Negra is a sustainable coffee plantation that welcomes tourists. From the food on the table in the lakeside restaurant to the electricity in the quaint half-timbered cabins, everything needed to run this little kingdom is produced at Selva Negra.

Located in the highlands of central Nicaragua, the hills of Selva Negra are draped in green year round and the temperature is always comfortable. Fourteen trails, six of which are designed for horses, make this beautiful and pristine cloud forest easy to explore. It is possible to spend hours wandering the trails, marveling at the twisted strangler fig, pausing to locate a singing bird, or stopping to admire the beauty of a blood red flower against the deep green forest foliage. Some of the higher trails offer an impressive view of the rich green valley below.

The howler monkeys, deer, sloth, quail, and guatusas are just a few of the animals that make the virgin forest their home. Toucans, hummingbirds, and gold finches make the area a bird lover's paradise. The luckiest birdwatchers may even add a quetzal to their inventory. A visiting botanist identified more than 85 orchids.

Hotel Selva Negra, on the grounds of the coffee plantation, has been in operation for twenty years. Eddy and Mausi Kuhl, fourth generation descendants of the original German settlers who established the coffee industry in Nicaragua oversee both businesses.

Each year the hotel celebrates its Germany heritage with Oktoberfest complete with draft beer, clowns, and of course, German music and food. The owners have also introduced the traditional Easter egg hunt. The farm produces a high grade of arabiga coffee that is sold in Europe, and is now making its way into the American market. Herr Kuhl is especially proud of the fact that his coffee is produced in an "ecologically correct" manner. Pollution is avoided by using special machines so that the pulp of the coffee bean can be used as fertilizer. Kuhl claims that the fertilizer, combined with the altitude, makes for an especially bountiful flower and vegetable crop.

Biodigesters process the mucilage into methane gas, which in turn is used by the plantation workers for cooking, eliminating the need for workers to cut the trees for firewood. By employing ecologically sound processing methods the streams have remained crystal clear and the forest intact.

The Kuhls have created a prosperous coffee industry while preserving the natural integrity of the highland forests. Protecting the environment is a main concern. They employ five forest rangers to protect the flora and fauna of the area. Selva Negra has a school for the children of the workers; a water powered generator for making electricity, and a dairy farm. They are able to provide everything for their family, tourists, and the 600 people who live and work on their land. During the harvest and processing seasons guests are given a tour of the coffee plantation. All aspects of the growing and processing are explained with pride, for it was here that the wet process of coffee bean preparation was developed producing the famous Matagalpa arabiga washed coffee. The Selva Negra coffee bean, a gift of the highlands, is considered to be of excellent quality because it is large in size, aromatic, and has the proper acidity and body.

The sustainability of Selva Negra was put to the test during the rains that accompanied Hurricane Mitch. According to Mausi Kuhl, "Selva Negra celebrated Oktoberfest on the weekend of 24-25. It was beautiful Saturday and on Sunday we barely saw the sun. It started raining all that night, the following day, Tuesday, and Wednesday. During the evening hours mudslides occurred on our road to the main highway..." Through the joined efforts of all the workers, communicating by radio, they were able to keep the lost of life to a minimum.

Cut off temporarily by mudslides, they coped better than most. Mausi wrote, "We had enough supplies thanks to the fact that we are a sustainable farm. We produce our own food, milk, butter, cheese, as well as all its sub-products. We have methane gas which we use for cooking, plus meat, vegetables, herbs, chickens, rabbits, coffee, fruits, pigs, etc. Even our lakes are not only decorative, but provide fish. We even have email." (selvanegra@tmx.com.ni)The road between Managua and Selva Negra is open but what was a two-hour before the rains in now a three-hour ride. Eddy, who recently made the trip, said, "It is impressive to see all the destruction on the way."

Selva Negra, in the heart of Nicaragua, is a place where the wonders of nature are just waiting to be enjoyed and appreciated. It is a place that will stay in your memory long after you have said, "Auf Wiederschen."

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