Spanish school….choosing the best

WANT TO CHOOSE A GOOD SPANISH SCHOOL???

It can be hard but applying the following criteria might just help….

  1. Quality of the teaching ….the most intensive learning comes from one on one classes. The teacher can follow your agenda and go at your pace. At La Mariposa, if you would like to spend your conversation class watching monkeys or walking through the village, just tell your teacher. We offer 2 hours per day of grammar and 2 of Spanish, but again you can change that because the agenda is YOURS! Tripadvisor is a good place to check what previous students have thought of the level of teaching. Check that the school invests in teacher training in both grammar and conversation. A good clue as to the overall quality of the school is length of time the teachers stay …..Schools with  a quick turn over are unlikely to deliver good Spanish classes. Another important factor is flexibility. Can the school respond to your particular needs? Does it provide specially designed classes for kids?1381576_699962506699412_225681156_n
  2. What else do you want to do? ….some schools are near the beach, others in a city. La Mariposa is in very pretty countryside, good for activities such as hiking, horse riding (we have several rescued horses) and bird watching. We offer a full afternoon and weekend activity program which has a unique combination of trips out (you can visit the highlights of Nicaragua with us including Leon, Granada, Laguna de Apoyo, Masaya Volcano, Pacific beaches) and activities designed to help you know more about Nicaragua, its history, culture and politics.1010159_695410627154600_360760650_n
  3. What else helps to learn Spanish?….does the school have good resources available, such as exercise books and dictionaries? At La Mariposa we have developed our own grammar book reflecting the uniqueness of Nicaraguan Spanish. What are the classrooms like? It is much easier to learn in pleasant surroundings, with natural daylight than in a tiny, windowless room. As some students have found the wildlife around the Mariposa distracting, we can also offer purpose built indoor classrooms! Climate is important; it can be hard studying in high muggy temperatures. La Mariposa is 500 meters above sea level, nearly always benefiting from a cooling breeze. Even in April (the hottest month) the temperature is pleasant.1619075_761108263918169_1666743701_n
  4. Where will you stay?…. most schools offer a homestay option  and you can always make your own arrangements in a local hotel or boarding house. A few schools have their own accommodation on site….but no one offers the eco hotel facilities of La Mariposa. Situated in green, lush gardens, surrounded by native trees and flowers, it provides an ideal spot to chill out after class or study in hammocks and outdoor ranchos. Solar power, solar heated showers, recycled grey water, our own organic vegetable garden…..1596090_607896185913825_634265896_o
  5. Is it value for money?….when looking at the price be sure to see what is included. The school fees may look cheap but if you end up paying a hotel, food and extracurricular activities on top it can work out much more expensive. This is why we offer a package price of $400 per week ($450 in the high season) which includes 20 hours of Spanish, accommodation in the hotel, 3 meals per day and all programmed activities. We are such good value that we won a Tripadvisor award in 2014….
  6. How safe is the school?….safety is obviously an important issue for everyone. Nicaragua still has something of a negative reputation in this respect, largely due to the bad publicity in the 1980s. In complete contrast, however, Nicaragua is now the safest country in Central America. There is certainly a level of crime and we advise all our guests on certain basic rules to follow especially in relation to taking care of possessions and money. All rooms, including homestays, have a place to lock away valuables.
  7. Does the school help the local economy and/or community? ….is it providing LOCAL employment and shopping in the community to help the local economy? You can get a pretty good idea of this from the website. But be aware that some websites are very vague about this aspect of their work. The more detail there is about what a Spanish School is actually doing to help, the more likely it is to be happening on the ground. And you can always ask to see the projects once you have arrived. And later be sure to write up your views on Tripadvisor so future students have the benefit of your experience.
  8. And if you wish to volunteer/intern? ….the combination of studying Spanish in a classroom and then practicing it in a volunteer setting and with a homestay family ensures the most rapid progress!! Check the range of volunteer placements available (you may want to change once you are there) and be sure that volunteers/interns are not being used to put local people out of their jobs. Because La Mariposa funds over a dozen different projects in the community, we can offer a range of placements. The money volunteers pay us goes directly into keeping these projects going. Most students opt to combine volunteering with homestays……check that the homestay families are well known to the school and there is a training scheme in place for them.1463600_737739699588359_1408528771_n

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Bird Watching in Nicaragua at La Mariposa

A personal account by Paulette

As someone  completely new to the art of recognising which bird is which and understanding their “lifestyles”, I have just had the stunning realisation that this is a great time of year to simply sit on the balcony on the Mariposa and watch what flies past or, better still, hangs out for a while in the bunch of trees we have planted here. It is after all the migration season when, on top of all of the beautiful resident birds we have here all year, we can see those birds flying south for the (northern) winter. A few stay here but most just drop by to feed and rest and then on they go. In the past few days I have spotted the blue grey tanagers, the grey-headed tanager (there are over 200 different types of tanager), very pretty medium sized birds with an amazing variation of colour between them. I am very fond of the blue greys who nest here and are constant companions. Their subtle colour stands out against the lush greens of the vegetation. The photo you see below (taken by Ann Tagawa, as are they all) shows how they love to eat the bananas that we put out to help all the Mariposa wildlife survive the dry season.

Blue-gray Tanager

The blue greys are resident here but the bright red summer tanager and the lovely grey-headed seem to be just passing through though I wish I could find a way of enticing them to stay!

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And it is a very exciting day when the family of 3 collared arircaris drop by!! They too go for the bananas though they also like to perch in our tallest tree, a guachipilin (a variety of tree becoming very rare in this area. The aricaris have bills shaped very much like those of toucans (though less brightly coloured) and, having seen them use these bills to eat, it is not at all clear why Mother Nature endowed them with such extravagancies! To eat a banana, they kind of have to bend almost the entire body sideways and it is quite tricky, even with the saw edge, for them to cut off a manageable portion of fruit. Nonetheless most of the theories I have read explain these beaks in terms of eating value!!

collared-aracari

Other newcomers have included a Swainsons thrush which has unbelievably travelled all the way here from the northern USA which I watched for several hours jumping up and down on the same branch, I guess catching small insects.  And of course the amazingly vibrant coloured Boston Oriole, known here as a chichiltote (an indigenous Nahuatl name).  I am also very proud of being able to identify a pair of rose breasted grosbeaks…particularly proud of the identification of the female as she does not have   a rose breast. She does, however, have the large thick bill!

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Baltimore Oriole

Also enlivening my afternoons is a group of half a dozen or so euphonias. The males of this species are small, bright yellow and dark blue. Just gorgeous and becoming quite rare because of persecution for the trade in caged birds. So it is really incredible to see them feeding from the trees we have planted, they are especially fond of the seeds of the capulin tree. I just need someone to help me identify which of several euphonias these are ( thick billed, spotted crowned….I think they have yellow throats so that would, I imagine, make them yellow throated euphomnias???? but not sure….oh, help!!!) and to get some good photos. The names of some of the birds are extraordinary……..how did such a little fellow get such a pretentious name as euphonia? I am sure someone must know the answer….

And a couple more of our stalwarts…the guardabarranco (the Nicaraguan national bird) and the woodpeckers.  I should mention the doves, of which we have 4 different varieties sharing the chicken food and avoiding themselves becoming cat food! . And even the vultures…so important in helping to keep the place clean. And how could I almost forget to mention our 3 varieties of hummingbird?? I have learned a few things about these birds too….for example, the cinnamon one is the largest of the three and quite surprisingly aggressive, chasing off any other species. They also use threads of spider web to bind together their nests!!!

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Ruby-throated Hummingbird

So if you want to see some birdlife whilst learning Spanish, La Mariposa is your place!!

PS We also have, thanks to Dr Hilary Ernler, a guide to butterflies at the Mariposa.

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Another even more devastating fire in the masaya volcano national park

By Paulette

The most recent fire/s started on the 10th April and burned for nearly 3 weeks. To begin with it affected the area around the Santiago crater which is the most famous part for tourists with its reputation, given to it by Spanish conquistadores, as the gates of hell. This area is mostly grassland. Though sad that in itself would not have been a tragedy since this grows back in a year or two.

The really sad bit was when the fires started in the woodland areas. By day 5 there were several fires and some of them were in places very difficult to access so it was nearly impossible to fight them. This woodland is Pacific dry tropical forest, of which only 2% of the original remains world wide. It is (hopefully still is!!!) home to a group of white faced monkeys (we were actually considering releasing the 4 mariposa monkeys there before this happened!), a family of coyotes, several species of small wild cat, many different birds including the famous parakeet that nests within the live very smoky crater, also popular with tourists. About 125 species of butterfly have been documented,  with  a dozen or so unknown anywhere else. There are also hundreds of bats living in caves,a very popular tourist spot!

Fires breaking out all over the woods

We don’t yet know the final extent of the damage but some park guards have unofficially estimated 25% of the woodland burnt out. It is an incredible disaster……

We also don’t know for sure how the fire started but it was certainly aggravated by the drier rainy seasons we have been having and the higher then usual temperatures (climate change of course). Plus Nicaragua’s resources for fighting such disasters are severely limited.No planes for example and only very short hosepipes!

Woodland around the animal drinking hole

The mariposa helped as much as we possibly could. Right from day one we sent out brigades of up to 20 men and women. We also bought a lot of  fire fighting equipment, hired trucks, sent in tankers of water and even bought boots for the fire fighters as their shoes melted in the heat.

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We even sent out watermelons, as well as drinking water every day to try and avoid dehydration. We have posted a lot of pics of this on facebook https://www.facebook.com/pages/La-Mariposa-Escuela-de-Espa%C3%B1ol/226752447353756

mariposa watermelon delivery service!

I cannot tell you how sad it was to be there (I spent day after day at the fire). But now I feel strongly that I want to be as positive as possible. So I am in communication with the park authorities about using the trees we have been growing in our nursery (obviously those appropriate) and looking for volunteer who would like to experience of helping us with this.

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New beginnings!! Above some of the tree seedlings in our nursery which we are hoping to plant out in the burnt forest. So if anyone is intersted to volunteer for this (it will be hot sweaty work) then please get in touch with us.

 

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Earth Day at La Mariposa by Wylie (intern)

 

Piles of children hang onto the back of La Mariposa pickup truck.  A jabbering gang of fifth graders from the Barrio Panama primary school have just helped me flip a large blue barrel full of water onto its side in the bed of the truck.  The water pours from the barrel, over the grinning, yelling children, onto a dried out sandlot in the hills of Barrio Panama.  Clouds of dust billow into the hot air as the truck drives in circles around the small brown rectangle of land we’ve chosen to commandeer for our Earth Day soccer tournament.  The small hilly outcropping above the field is lined with children.  They cheer on the progress of the truck, in eager anticipation for the moment when the field is completely watered and La Mariposa interns finally relinquish control of the soccer ball to let the tournament begin.

Wetting down the pitch

                The black pickup, adorned with side by side decals of Mazda and Che Guevara, progresses across the small field in jolting zigzags and tight circles before the flow of water tapers off.  Students flood onto the field as the truck leaves, only to be corralled back to the edges by a small group of shouting, sweaty teachers.  With surprising efficiency two teams occupy opposing sides of the makeshift soccer field.  I raise the ball above my head as I step into the center of the slightly damp, but newly dust repellant, soccer pitch.  My explanation of the rules, delivered in stilted, improvisational Spanish, is widely ignored and as the ball is released the entire field erupts into frenzied, kicking activity.

The soccer tournament in full swing

                The soccer tournament was just one part of La Mariposa organized Earth Day activities at Escuela Panama and Ruben Dario.  In order to both raise awareness of the environment, and to physically improve the litter situation surrounding both schools, La Mariposa interns organized a day long trash cleanup project, which was completed successfully last Wednesday. 

Collecting trash

                At Escuela Panama, the students were divided into six different teams, distinguished by different colored masking tape stuck to their shirts, and given recycled rice sacks to collect trash as they walked down the street towards the makeshift soccer field.  They brandished posters with phrases such as “Feliz Dia de la Tiera” and “Mi Comunidad es Bonita Porque yo no Boto la Basura en la Calle” to passing motorists.  Upon arrival at the soccer field the group paused for a midmorning snack of fresh fruit and juice, and then continued with the grand, exciting, Earth Day soccer tournament.  La Mariposa’s dirt covered interns ate a hurried lunch back at the Spanish school and headed out again to repeat the process at Escuela Ruben Dario that afternoon.

Not even the presence of Mariposa volunteers could stop a rowdy group of older Ruben Dario students from secretly mixing their team labels and plunging the afternoon soccer tournament into an anarchic free for all.  After three games I was forced to give up on the tournament bracket in order to refocus efforts on including the younger teams. 

“Who here is on the Black team,” I shout to a group of over forty giddy Ruben Dario students.  All hands are raised. Children who just played in the Blue vs Red match push their way to the front of the crowd to assure me of their allegiance to the Black team. One would be footballer tries to pull the ball from under my elbow.  I raise the ball above my head, pick out five kids who had been standing in the Black team’s general area at snack time, and watch as the entire group fights their way towards the soccer two PVC pipe goals.    

As the “tournament” crashed along at this disorganized pace, and I began to recognize the repeat offenders sneaking into every game, the more competitive soccer players lost interest and drifted back in the direction of public transportation and their homes. The day concluded with an ecstatic group of girls kicking the soccer ball down the street as the dirt covered Mariposa interns trucked bags of collected garbage back home for later sorting. 

A resounding success.      

Interns organising the football teams

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Dena’s account of the start of our eco tourism project

A Community Venture in Masaya Volcano National Park

When Paulette offered Colin and I the opportunity to join her in visiting the community living within Masaya Volcano National Park, we literally leapt at the opportunity – right into the back of the Mariposa pick-up truck. To bear witness to the birth of a project that mutually benefits the environment and local community, to see all of the potential for future growth, those are the moments that inspire Colin and I to do what we do.

To reach the community, we took a packed-dirt back road through the barrios. Some of these neighborhoods border the park and may also be fruitful partners for future efforts to benefit the park and its local communities. For example, Paulette may discuss with these families whether they have sufficient wood for cooking without relying on the supply within in the park. If they are running short, she can further investigate raising money to purchase more fuel efficient eco-stoves for the families most in need.

The back roads have a different flavor than the towns we have grown accustomed to passing through. The pace of life seems slower without the constant honking of the microbuses and we see few other vehicles. Paulette indicates points of interest: here, a giant ceiba tree with a majestic spread of branches and vines, there, a cemetery where she has seen far too many child-size graves.

As we near the community, we’re treated to a tremendous view of the jungle that is Masaya Volcano National Park and the glint of the lagoon. Gonzolo, our driver, deftly negotiates the last treacherous stretch of road and we arrive at the community and Lake Masaya.

We immediately walk over to the lakeshore to find locals splashing and relaxing. Only a decade ago, this would have been an impossible sight. Until recently, the city of Masaya across the river had emptied their trash into the lake and you could barely see water for all of the garbage floating on the surface. Today, though there are still some remnants of Saint’s Week celebrations, the beach is remarkably cleaner.

As we walk into the community, we’re met by the wife of Carlos, a park ranger that Paulette had planned to chat with today. He happens to be working, but his wife with a toddler in tow leads us into the front yard of a home. Chair after chair of every variety is brought out among the dogs and chickens in anticipation of the meeting.

Soon we are introduced to Mariksa, the head leader of the community. She indicates that Manuel and Nixon, other leaders of the community are now arriving. Greetings and handshakes are exchanged by all and Mariksa begins to tell us more about their community of 13 families living along the lake.

When it comes time for Paulette’s turn to speak, she deftly keeps the discussion open, sharing her ideas and inviting the community to offer their thoughts on what types of projects would be most helpful. She stresses that all decisions should be made by the community and determined by what they believe will be best.

When Paulette mentions the opportunity for sustainable tourism, the community responds enthusiastically. The two men nod vigorously at the prospect of leading guests around on horseback. Carlos’ wife mentions nearby petroglyphs that might be of interest and that several members of the community are familiar with the birds and English, making them prime candidates for birding tours. Paulette offers the possibility that the Mariposa could fundraise and provide a boat for lake tours. Together, they plan out a perfect tourist activity, complete with lunch cooked in the village.

The conversation continues, exploring the possibility of homestays in the community and a reforestation volunteer project. Paulette highlights the opportunity to sell any artisanal products produced in the village and offers some worms from her organic composting project should the community want to start their own.

Early in the conversation, Paulette describes the potential to reduce the need for firewood with more efficient stoves, but they assure us they have enough dry wood to meet their needs and the community does not depend on wood from deeper within the park. Mariksa explains that this land is their life and they have lived here and looked after this natural area for long before it was declared a park. Despite their long standing role as stewards of the land, they have never been engaged in discussions by the director or officers of the park or offered any payment for all of the tourists passing through their backyard.

The meeting wraps up with plans for community members to visit the Mariposa and see if any projects there spark further ideas. An additional meeting with more members of the community is set for next week, to allow everyone in the community the chance to participate in planning. With only 13 families in the community, there is a potential role for every family in the tourism project. One family can lead the horse ride, another the boat tour, another can prepare lunch, another sell artisanal goods, etc.

With the project taking shape before our eyes, we hopped back into the truck. We share the space with foot-long dark brown pods, full of seeds to be started at the Mariposa and grown for the reforestation project. Just like that a Mariposa project is born and we drive into the sunset!

*apologies for any misspellings of names or mistranslations from Spanish

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Colin’s phots of our first Community meeting in Venetia

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Venetia is the only community fully located inside the boudaries of the Masaya national park.It also happens to be in a stunning location on the shores of the Laguna de Masaya. To cut a long story short (and we will put up more details) the community has been totally marginalised in every way. We went to meet with the community leaders (Maritza, Zoila and Nixon) to see how what ideas they have as to how eco tourism might be of benefit to their community. We came up with some great ideas!!!

Community building in el Parque de Masaya

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Colin’s amazing photos of the Masaya fire

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Fire in Massaya

Images for a report on the recent fire in the Parque de Volcan Massaya.

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