Gallo Pinto: The Life Force of Nicaragua

When a Nicaraguan family has 200 pounds of red beans in their house, they have no fear of starvation. Gallo Pinto, literally known as the “speckled rooster”, is the national staple of Nicaragua. A combination of fried rice and red beans is consumed at every meal. Gallo Pinto keeps the wolf from the door, the roof over their stomachs, and blankets them against the economic cold.

Last week Marina commented, “I have no beans in the house. I must climb the volcano and harvest beans.” They have a small community plot of red beans growing on the steep hillside of Vulcan Concepcion. “It is hard work, but my family needs beans,” she lamented.

When the beans are ready to harvest, the women, children, and other family members climb the volcano. She explained that the bean plants are pulled up by their roots and laid in neat rows upside down, like tepees, with their roots exposed to the heavens. Four days later, after the tropical sun dries the plants to a crisp, they ascend the volcano to harvest the beans.

The four-day wait is a critical time. This is the time to pray that the rains hold off. When the little lines of bean plants, neatly stacked in rows of tepees, are drying in the tropical sun, look at the farmers’ faces. They watch the sky with dread, scowling every time a dark cloud sails over their bean plot. For if the beans get wet, the bean piles must be turned over to dry on the other side. If it rains again, the beans must be turned again. The third rain spells disaster because mildew and rot set in and the crop is lost.

Balancing sheets of plastic, beating sticks, and large bags for the beans on their heads, the farmers eagerly climb the volcano in expectations of a good harvest. The rains have not arrived early this year. Their prayers were answered.

Sheets of plastic blanket the dark fields, the tepees of beans are spread over the plastic, and the flailing begins. Salty sweat from brows of parched bean flailers, sprinkles  the crispy beans. Workers pick the beans clean of dry stems, roots, and leaves like leaf cutter ants devour my flowers. Then, the beans are poured into large plastic sacks, and the weary farmers carry the sacks on their backs down the volcano. If they are fortunate enough to have a horse or an ox, the bean sacks ride down the volcano in style.

This morning, I hear the beans pinging from one pan to another. Marina is cleaning the beans and preparing their morning ritual of Gallo Pinto. As the rice and beans sizzle over the open cooking fire, wisps of Gallo Pinto penetrate the moist air. My stomach growls. Soon, sheets of rain drown the sights, sounds, and smell of the Gallo Pinto. It was a good harvest this year, and just in time. With stomachs full, they can rest a while before planting the next crop. Gallo Pinto is the life force of Nicaragua. With 200 pounds of beans in Marina’s house, they have no fear of starvation…until the rains come again.