Ross and I visited two places that sounded vaguely comparable from what I’d read online. They were in fact extremely different.
I met a French woman called Cecile in Antigua, Guatemala. She recommended I visit BioSfera and gave me the details of where I could find it. I tracked them down online here. We arrived around three in the afternoon and there was nobody home. I figured, these are hippies, let’s make ourselves comfortable and hang out. So that’s what we did. After two hours and still no sign of anyone, I was starting to question what was going on. We called a few of the numbers on the board, and one of them answered. In broken Spanish we figured out a guy would be over in half an hour or so.
By this point it was going to be dark in half an hour. Finding somewhere to stay after dark is a lot harder. We had to decide if we were going to commit to this place or haul ass out of there. Despite the slightly odd start, we decided to stay. The fella turned up (I’ve forgotten his name now) and was super friendly. He explained that Julie was on holiday and Susie had been arrested over some disput with a neighbour and was in jail! Ouch.
That meant there was no food because there was nobody to cook. By this time it was dark, and there’s no power at BioSfera, so only gas lamps for light. Luckily there’s a restaurant 50m next door, the same neighbour that Susie had the dispute with! So her being in jail created business for the restaurant as Ross and I ate there with little other option.
Then our host left us to our own devices and we spent the evening watching the stars by the fireside, drinking cups of roibos tea in hammock chairs. It was a slightly eery but very pleasant evening. I’d like to get back and meet Susie and Julie at some point, they sound like interesting characters.
The next day we dropped by Selva Negra on our way back to Matagalpa. Wow, what a contrast. A 1.5km driveway from the road, then a security guard at the gate who takes your money before you enter. 100 cordobas ($5 USD) buys you entrance plus 100 cordobas in the restaurant, or 50 cordobas buys you just entrance. Paved and tarred roads, manicured gardens, expensive cakes and white table clothes. This place was about as far from BioSfera as one could be. It was essentially an upscale Nicaraguan resort which I had thought was a national park.
Turns out national parks or nature reserves in this part of the world are not quite the same as at home. My impression of a national park or nature reserve is some government operated, charity orientated type of affair. Down here, they’re usually commercial businesses that have been given some type of certificate by the government.
BioSfera is a pretty small place. One open air dormitory with 6 beds, 2 private rooms (probably for the hosts) and a field behind. It says something about cloud forest on the web site but I saw virtually no forest at all. The view was ok across the valley, but it’s all farmland. Not the most inspiring scenery in my opinion. The picture on the site somewhat belied the reality as we experienced it.
I wouldn’t hurry back to Selva Negra but I’d be happy to stop at BioSfera again. Mostly, I’d be interestd to meet the girls behind it and learn a bit more about their project. There might well be hidden depths to the place that we missed by passing up the tour in Spanish we were offered!