Volunteer Perspective: A Week At La Mariposa

Written by Nick Heise, La Mariposa Volunteer

A scenic view from a local volcano

The community of San Juan in Nicaragua generally moves pretty slowly, but fortunately as a student at La Mariposa I am never lacking for interesting activities with which to get involved. The school organizes activities every single day of the week, ranging from cooking classes to trips to the nearby Laguna to lessons about the history of Nicaragua. I have only been at La Mariposa for a relatively short time (about a week and a half now), so I have much left to experience here. However, my first full weekend spent here was jam-packed with fun and unique adventures — including an unexpected animal encounter and experience with healthcare and hospitals in Nicaragua.

 

As I mentioned, there are constantly activities offered by the school and students are given the freedom to pick and choose as they want. On Friday evening, after classes ended at 5, we took a trip to the nearby city of Granada. This was offered more as a taste of the city, allowing us to have dinner at a local restaurant and explore a little before heading back to San Juan at about 9pm. Granada is a city with some beautiful architecture and interesting people, with streets filled by stalls for handmade crafts, cigars, and jewelry along with street performers. If you’re interested in short glimpses of touristy places, this would have been perfect for you – and if your curiosity wouldn’t have been completely satisfied, the school also is offering a longer day to Granada this Saturday. With the school’s activities, there really is a little something for everyone.

And that was just Friday night! On Saturday we took a day trip to a nearby volcano called Mombacho, which was equally exciting as it was physically strenuous. For hiking enthusiasts (such as myself), you could choose to take the extremely steep yet short (~3.5 mile, or ~5.5 kilometer) hike up the volcano for a reduced price. If this isn’t your idea of fun, no worries – you can take a bus up instead for about $10. At the top, enjoy an educational talk by a worker at an eco-station about the local environment and take a relaxing walk around the volcano crater. There are some truly fantastic views (so long as it’s a clear day) of both the city of Granada and the nearby landscapes.

Smiling through the tears on our hike – we were about halfway up at this point

 

Sunday morning kicked off with a guided walk around Barrio 19 Julio (a neighborhood named for Nicaragua’s independence day). The guides were very friendly and more than happy to chat as an opportunity for us to practice our spanish, will also giving us cool facts and info about the neighborhood and the surrounding area. In the afternoon, some students at the school organized a trip to a beach on the west coast of Nicaragua. La Mariposa provided transportation, and we enjoyed a wonderful beach day of swimming, relaxing, and refreshment in the warm central American sun.

Enjoying refreshments at the bar right on a Pacific beach

 

I was, however, unfortunate enough to – while wading in the shallow water – step onto a stingray and get stung by it’s barbed tail. Yelling, I rushed out of the water and back towards the beachside bar. The locals working were immediately helpful and knew what to do, a testament to the kindness of Nicaraguans. After cleaning the wound and dousing it in hot water, we shortly returned to the bus to go back to San Juan. The pain of the sting was excruciating (and lasted for hours) but the driver from La Mariposa drove me to the local hospital where I was treated by nurses. The nurses were knowledgeable and helpful, giving me shots for tetanus and for the pain and assigning me on a regiment for some medication to ensure it does not get infected. Notably, this entire experience was entirely at no cost to me – even the shots and medication were given to me free of charge. Further, my host mother was notified and even came to the clinic to check on me, help me understand the treatment needed going forward, and take me back home. La Mariposa sent more people to check on me once at home and make sure everything was alright. Between the nurses, the staff at La Mariposa, and my host family, I felt extremely cared for and secure. I take the experience, despite the pain and discomfort, to be one showing the extent of the care Nicaraguans and this community have for one another and their preparedness in case of odd, unlikely emergencies.

Life here at La Mariposa is usually quite calm and relaxed, but certainly not boring! And if an accident occurs, you can rest assured that you will be well cared for in this close-knit community.

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