SAN JUANDEL SUR – Fifteen minutes south of San Juan del Sur, on a rolling patch of land that combines former cattle pasture with untouched dry tropical forest, Juan Manuel Caldera sits on his horse and gazes wistfully across the landscape and back through time to his childhood.
The farm reminds him of his youth as the son of a wealthy cattle rancher under Anastasio Somoza’s Nicaragua in the 1970s, before the turmoil of the Sandinista revolution.
In 1979, the year the revolution triumphed, Caldera’s father was scheduled to pay off the mortgages on his cattle farms in the rural interior departments of Boaco and Chontales. Instead, the revolutionary Sandinista Front rode into power, turned the economy on it’s head, and temporarily confiscated one of the family farms.
But times have since changed; Caldera’s father, who shares the same name, even ran on the Sandinista ticket as Daniel Ortega’s running mate in his unsuccessful 1996 bid to return to the presidency.
Though Nicaragua’s cattle-raising industry never recovered to its full pre-revolutionary strength, Caldera is now attempting to recreate his past by milking the country’s new “cash cow,” the residential tourism development market.
At Las Fincas de Escamequita and neighboring Haciendas at Las Fincas, Caldera and U.S. business partner Donn Wilson are creating a more rustic development with larger, two- to three-acre hillside lots that overlook the ocean, and even larger rolling hacienda plots that allow investors to buy into a project that is reminiscent of the Nicaraguan finquero tradition.
In addition to being among the largest Pacific coast lots available, Caldera insists that the plots are also among the best priced, averaging $60,000.
Aside from selling lots, the Fincas project is also working to reforest a large swath of tropical dry forest in attempts to conserve and reconstruct the dwindling habitat of the ocelots, parrots, toucans and other wildlife that still roam the area.
The 450-acre private reserve will also play a key role in the biological corridor between Nicaragua and Costa Rica, according to U.S. conservation group Paso Pacifico, which is working closely with the development project to make sure the reforestation efforts are done correctly.
The project’s efforts toward ecofriendly sustainability also extend to their development plan. All future construction will be connected to the project’s own well, and the power will be provided by solar panels installed on each house, keeping the entire project off the government’s utility grid.
Caldera says that the original plan to install solar panels had to do with wanting to be ecofriendly, more than in response to the country’s energy woes.
“When we started this project with the solar panels, the problem with (energy distributor) Unión Fenosa wasn’t so bad, but now we look like geniuses because of the circumstances,” Caldera said with a laugh, referring to the four- to six-hour daily power-rationing blackouts that afflict most of the country.
Caldera says the type of buyers who have bought into the development project are people, mostly from the United States, who are environmentally conscious and outdoorsy, “without being tree Nazis.”
It’s people who might want to drive down to the ocean to go surfing in the morning, but return up the hill to the quiet retreat of their farm in the afternoon, he said.
As for Caldera, who has claimed one of the prime hacienda lots for himself, the Fincas project is about returning to a more traditional way of life, where the horses are put away at dusk as the pink sun sets behind the mountains.
“This is it, man,” he said. “This is the Nicaragua of my childhood.”
For more information about the project, go to www.nicadev.com.