Mariposa Community Environmental Education and Camping Centre

Las Conchitas (3)

The orange line encloses the new land (called Las Conchitas) just purchased by La  Mariposa. It is very close (as the crow flies anyway!!) to the existing Mariposa….just follow a straight line to the bottom of the above photo and you will be here (though in practice of course we have to go round by the road as our neighbours would on no account let us walk through their orange plantations!). you can see how incredibly close we are to the Masaya Volcano National Park. I have written previous posts (and on facebook too) about problems with this park (and indeed with other reserves too, such as Bosawas) including the impact of  a massive fire which destroyed about 25% of the forest (the damage is still visible one year later) and the ongoing impact of illegal logging of precious woods, taking firewood out of the park, hunting animals within the park…etc etc. Our hope is that having this land can help in some small way to conserve and improve the environment locally…maybe to offer a sanctuary to some of the beleaguered park wildlife and to act as a resource for concerned local people who are seriously worried and affected by global climate change as well as what is happening on their doorstep. The communities that are currently working with us are those that go out on the right hand side of the photo.

 

So below are some of our ideas so far…….we would love to get comments and suggestions….and help!!

Overall objective of Las Conchitas

  • To establish an environmental education centre for both local people and visitors to the Mariposa (both Nicaraguans and extranjeros)
  • To build an extension of some aspects of the current Mariposa (Spanish classes, accommodation….especially camping) in the hope of bringing in some income to support the first objective
  • Entrance to the new environmental education centre (to be!) and Mariposa camping

    Entrance to the new environmental education centre (to be!) and Mariposa camping

Progress so far

  • Reforestation (about 700 fruit and forest trees planted. PS the fruit is for wildlife!)
  • Live fencing planted around bottom edge of land
  • Mapping for potential camping areas, this was carried out by Bettina and Chad a couple of Mariposa volunteers. Map complete and some costing work begun. There is the possibility of using wood from 2 fallen trees to construct camping platforms.
  • Constructing bat boxes, a volunteer family is working on this now.
  • There is an existing house on the land with 2 rooms (one large), a patio, latrine. Needs renovating but could be either the nucleus of the EE centre (favoured option) or communal eating area for campers….
  • Meeting held on the patio of the house on 5/6/14 (see below)
  • Hard at work planting trees

    Hard at work planting trees

Meeting with community representatives

  • Present were several Mariposa workers (including teachers, maintenance staff, gardeners, project managers) and people from Las Sabanas, Arenal, Camillo Ortega, Venetia (poor rural communities close to the Masaya Volcano National Park) and several problems were identified. These included – contamination of drinking water from use of, amongst other things, flushing toilets – shortages of drinking water – lack of rain especially this year affecting the bean crop – logging of precious trees including in the national park – taking out firewood – loss of local biodiversity – poisoning of soil from use of pesticides – disappearance of pollinating insects esp bees.
  • Some tentative ideas were suggested for addressing some of these problems but with the necessary caveat that many of them have global origins. It was stressed that the over exploitation of the land and natural resources has gone hand in hand with the exploitation of the poor. In the case of Nicaragua, this started with the Spanish 500 years ago and still effectively goes on today under CAFTA.
  • La Mariposa will take on paying for the help of 5/6 community activists to help us work  directly with the local communities.
  • One of the issues we talked about...use of pesticdes and the disappearance of bees (yes, here too)

    One of the issues we talked about…use of pesticdes and the disappearance of bees (yes, here too)

FUTURE PLANS

  • Develop the land primarily as a nature reserve (with possibility of camping etc) – to include (1) water feature (pond, moving water) for frogs dragonflies etc (2) a butterfly and hummingbird centre (mariposera) (3) planting of fruit trees and flowers to help with nesting/feeding places for bats, birds and iguana, also install feeding places and nesting boxes (4) investigate how we might help larger mammals eg deer (almost extinct here due to hunting), guatusas, ?????? (5) plant rare and native trees, shrubs, flowers as much as possible to increase biodiversity as well as caring for the trees and plants that are currently growing there……this work will include building a retaining wall to contain the roots of two large cenizero trees and removing a rubbish tip from the edge of the land.
  • One of the beautiful cenizero trees, covered with orchids and bromeliads

    One of the beautiful cenizero trees, covered with orchids and bromeliads

  • Work with the local communities through the paid reps to identify where we can combine help with environmental education and improvements. For example, Franklin has identified 8 families, living in the poorest area close to the national park, who have no electricity and take firewood from the park. One possible solution is to offer them solar panels and eco cookers in return for their help in protecting the national park.
  • EE centre – to include (1) wildlife observation and information (2) permanent exhibition on what is happening to the environment both locally and globally with historical and geo political explanations (3) workshops, seminars, practical demonstrations from local people and others on what we might actively do in our own lives such as implementing worm projects (save on pesticide use and expenditure), build eco cookers, use eco friendly building materials etc. (4) trails and walks offering info on plants and wildlife and the links between this and current environmental issues (5) a small library where people can access info on eco building, organic farming etc (6) meeting spaces for large and small groups
  • With the local communities and the reps, establish links and dialogue with (1) members of other communities around the national park who might be interested in this initiative eg Nindiri AND relevant authorities including (1) the local town hall and their environmental team (2) the national park authorities and MARENA (3) the EU, currently funding a tourist initiative in the national park (4) the national press
  • Establish an NGO with the above objectives
  • And of course it would not be La mariposa without a rescued dog or two....this is Linda doing her best to help out! Thank you Chad for the photos!!!

    And of course it would not be La mariposa without a rescued dog or two….this is Linda doing her best to help out! Thank you Chad for the photos!!!

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The Consumption of the Bosawas Reserve and the Attack on Indigenous Peoples

Bosawas is an enormous, incredible nature reserve in Northern Nicaragua and home to many indigenous communities. They are all being destroyed, destroyed very fast. You need to know about this even if you have never been to Nicaragua. Their death will affect us all. But you may well not even heard of Bosawas, nor of its inhabitants. I have lived in Nicaragua for nearly 10 years (and been visiting regularly since 1988) and it has only recently entered my consciousness in any real way. Just as it is disappearing! Estimates vary as to how long it can survive but no one puts it above 20 years.

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But this reserve is of vital importance to us all. It is no exaggeration to say that it is of life-giving importance to every other living creature in the world. Together with the worlds other forests, it basically provides the air that we breathe, the water that we drink and the soil we need to give us food. It also happens to be a place of indescribable beauty and home to an incredible array of biodiversity. Does all (or any) of that make it worth saving?

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You would think so…….A few basic facts… it is the second largest rainforest outside the Amazon (largest in Central America), roughly the size of El Salvador (around 14% of Nicaragua’s territory). There is a nucleus and what is called a buffer zone – together they add up to 21,000 sq kms for those looking for more exact figures! Because of its international importance, Bosawas was declared a UNESCO Biosphere reserve in 1997.

For generations, Bosawas has been home to the Miskito and Mayangna (Suma) indigenous peoples. Ironically, they were more content to live under the British protectorate as subjugated but nonetheless independent nations than to be incorporated into the Nicaraguan state (a process which began in the early 20th century). Many indigenous still perceive the Nicaraguan state (under whatever government) to be a colonizing force.

King and Queen of Miskitia (british style!)

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During a delegation (organized by Nicaragua Network) in March 2014, we spoke to several indigenous leaders and visited a number of communities. There is no doubt that their forest is perceived in a very different way from how we Westerners might perceive it. Actually, to say it is perceived is not right…..the forest is not, for the indigenous, an environment to be looked at, considered or even protected (much less exploited) it is, simply, home and all that implies. The forest provides not just the necessities of life – shelter, food, medicines, but – as a good home does – an all pervading identity. To destroy the forest is to destroy its people. And, as one of the leaders told us, “people from Managua” (read outsiders!) “see the forest as an enemy, only any good once it is chopped down”. Below is one of the leaders we spoke to.

A Mayanagna Leader

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Both the forest and its peoples are under a number of different but interwoven threats. It is, of course, the desire to make fast money (lots of it) that forms the most obvious motivation behind the destruction but the cattle and the gold would not make anyone money without consumers. The Mayangna Sauni As received legal title to their land in 2006, much of which is deep inside the Bosawas reserve. The Sauni As create different “zones” which they put to a variety of uses – conservation, hunting, agriculture, water use, sacred areas, artisanal mining. Houses are small, built around a communal area of grass where a few cows and pigs may be grazing. There are no large herds. In fact, the activities are all on a small, subsistence scale, done with the objective of causing as little damage as possible. It is no paradise but it is sustainable.

In 2006, the Nicaraguan government began to grant titles to the land where the Mayangna haved actually lived for thousands of years. But legal title is one thing. Protecting your land from illegal invasions is another.  Since 2007, colonizers have been arriving in ever increasing numbers from parts of Nicaragua where the ability to farm productively has been wiped out, often by drought (Boaco, Chontales for example). They move in, cut and burn the forest, build houses. Mostly the cleared land is used for cattle ranching. But the soil that is left behind after burning the trees is usually very thin and lacking in nutrients. So the grass that grows is poor and cannot support the numbers of cattle brought in for more than a year or so. So the farmers have to move on and start again….burning and cutting trees. Often the cut wood is not even utilized, just left around to rot! We were told of farmers who had cleared over 50 hectares of original forest in just a month! The area photographed below was pristine forest just a year ago.

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To quote Emiliano Comejo Dixon, president of the Mayangna Young Environmentalists, “If the government institutions do not act firmly, soon the Bosawas Nature Reserve will be one big cattle ranch.”

Bank of the Bonanza river eroded by cattle

 

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Dixon goes on “In 2008, 11 mestizo colonizing families lived within the Mayangnas’ land in the Bosawas. Today there are 103. The colonizers clear protected forest for crops and grazing. While the Sandinista government is responding – two colonizers were recently found guilty of land usurpation – insufficient resources have been allocated to patrol the territory and new colonizers are arriving at a faster pace than the government is removing them”

The problem is exacerbated, as Dixon mentions, by criminal lawyers and people who act as intermediaries but are actually land traffickers, selling Mayangna land to unsuspecting campesinos. In recent years, some of them have been arrested but not enough to prevent the Mayangna taking the law into their own hands and driving settlers out with the use of force.

As well as the land invasions and cattle, the forest is being decimated by logging, both legal and illegal. Over one third was lost to deforestation between 1987 and 2010. For example, exports of granadillo - a precious wood used to make musical instruments and furniture – grew from just over $100,000 to $6 million between 2008 and 2011.Plus Bosawas has been a particular target for illegal timber extraction (worth $100 billion worldwide). This trade is run by “wood mafias” operating with the help of corrupt officials and transporters.  Honduras is the first destination and Honduran armed criminals have actively cashed in on the trade. There are also links between illegal logging and the trafficking of drugs…several of the indigenous groups spoke to us of “our villages being swamped with drugs”.

Below – legal extraction of precious woods

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As if all this is not enough, the area around the reserve has been recently declared one enormous mining concession. The beneficiaries are international companies, mostly based in Canada. Mostly gold, but they are looking to see if there are other exploitable minerals. This is Wikipedia has to say about the impact of industrial scale gold mining“includes erosion, formation of sinkholes, loss of biodiversity, and contamination of soil, groundwater and surface water by chemicals from mining processes. In some cases, additional forest logging is done in the vicinity of mines to increase the available room for the storage of the created debris and soil. Besides creating environmental damage, the contamination resulting from leakage of chemicals also affects the health of the local population”.  You can watch Mayangna children playing in a river just downstream from a gold mining area.

Below – panning for gold in Rosita.

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One of the companies located in the appropriately named town of Bonanza (right on the edge of Bosawas) Is HEMCO. Reading their website you would think all the problems are now solved by technological developments. To quote them “Direct application of cyanide solution in 7 agitator tanks is used as a recovery method. In this stage the reagents dissolve the gold and silver. The gold is later recovered through the Merril Crowe system (precipitation with powdered zinc) and is sent for separation to 6 filter presses. The solid product or precipitate is then diffused to obtain the metal Dore, which contains gold (25%), silver (45%) and impurities (30%). A washing stage against the current in two parallel batteries of 4 thickener tanks ensures maximum recovery of precious metals. The last tanks discharge a waste low in valuable metals and low concentrations of chemical substances into a pond for industrial residues. The solutions are then reused in the ore reduction process making it a closed circuit”.

It all sounds very impressive though the mere mention of cyanide sends a shiver down the spine! The idea of a “closed circuit” precludes any possibility of a leak which is a dangerous assumption anywhere but especially in a country very susceptible to earthquakes.

In any case, several of the indigenous leaders commented to us that these concessions were given without consultation with them. The Humboldt Centre reports that in 2012 and 2013 the number of mining concessions in Nicaragua grew by 24% over 2011 and that currently over 13% of the country is under concession for mineral extraction!

The role of the government and government agencies in all of this is, to say the least, ambivalent. On the one hand, the Mayangna together with other indigenous groups were granted legal title to their land and the Ecological Battalion (the BECO) of the army was formed to help protect Bosawas from invasions, logging and so on.

On the other hand, there is evidence of government involvement in some of the destructive activities. Alba Forestal is partly government owned and is certainly logging in the area. The newspaper La Prensa asked on March 13th 2014 “how many tons of wood is Alba Forestal taking out of Bosawas? Which country is its destination? Why are they taking out mahogany and other precious woods when it is prohibited by law?” La Prensa says it got no answers.

But the major driving force behind the destruction of the world’s last remaining forests (and one could equally apply this to the wrecking of our oceans and other ecosystems) is the increasing consumption levels. We may lament the extinction of another forest animal or the poisoning of our seas but we do not make the link with the beef or the processed foods (which use a great deal of palm oil) we consume or the waste we generate.

No one illustrates this ambivalence better than Dr Paul Oqist. As the Sandinista government’s representative to world climate change forums, he is very concerned about the effect on Nicaragua of climate change. But, as a Sandinista Minister of State, he is also a prime mover behind the drive for more exports. Quoted in an interview with tortillaconsal, he says “Let’s look at an example of access to new markets, the case of beef exports, which has grown by 107% …from $148 million in 2006, to $400 million in 2011. Looking at destinations, the first is Venezuela, both in terms of beef as well as livestock; then there are the traditional markets…United States…. Mexico does not even figure in this list…yet Mexico is investing $100 million here in SuKarne so as to export Nicaraguan beef to Mexico. The Russian Federation has already sent experts to certify Nicaraguan abattoirs, because Russia wants to import Nicaraguan beef. Our beef is of excellent quality, which is why they fetch excellent prices”.

It is inevitable that increasing the number of cattle or looking for more gold to mine will affect areas of land thus far unexploited. Where else are the farmers and miners to go? And of course this is happening all over the world though the end products may be different. The fastest disappearing forests are those of Indonesia and here it is the demand for palm oil and paper that is largely responsible

So…..to put it succinctly. We, especially in the West, are consuming more beef (as well as more of everything else) – the raising of which consumes more rainforest. The death of the rainforest leads directly to worsening climate change through a double whammy – the trees release all their stored up carbon dioxide as they are cut down and, once felled, no longer can absorb the greenhouse gases and emit oxygen. And climate change is already with us – melting ice glaciers and permafrost, raising sea levels and temperatures worldwide. None of this can now be avoided, only mitigated by swift and decisive action on the part of ALL OF US. WE can plead with the big palm oil companies (Kellogg, PepsiCo for example) to use “rainforest friendly palm oil (if it exists which I very much doubt) but the great corporations will only change their ways in response to consumer pressure. And in this case consumer pressure is to NOT CONSUME!!

Naomi Klein puts it well in an essay in The Nation “Late capitalism teaches us to create ourselves through our consumer choices: shopping is how we form our identities, find community and express ourselves. Thus, telling people that they can’t shop as much as they want to because the planet’s support systems are overburdened can be understood as a kind of attack, akin to telling them that they cannot truly be themselves. This is likely why, of the original “Three Rs”—reduce, reuse, recycle—only the third has ever gotten any traction, since it allows us to keep on shopping as long as we put the refuse in the right box. The other two, which require that we consume less, were pretty much dead on arrival.”

Everybody likes to find someone else to blame whether it be a government not acting fast enough, corrupt public officials and lawyers, greedy individuals and corporations, campesinos who know no better than to slash and burn .  And, certainly in the case of Bosawas, there is some truth in all of these. Interestingly, though, the role of consumers rarely if ever figures on anybodys blame list. Maybe because as Klein says, consuming is to a large extent who we are these days (and this is increasingly true even for the most remote indigenous peoples). We all need to think more, talk more and ACT more to stop this vicious and damaging process. In the case of consumers (that’s us!), that would imply simply consuming less.

 

 

 

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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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