NICARAGUA & MARIPOSA UPDATE -Sad and Worried for the future

I imagine most of you are enjoying holiday festivities, however you spend them! Please take a moment out to read this and reflect on whether you can help us just a little bit more at this time of giving.

Small one

As most of you know, Xmas this year in Nicaragua will be a sad occasion for many people, including us. Yesterday I had a meeting with over 50 of the Mariposa staff – a meeting which broke my heart as it was called to inform people that roughly 50% will lose their jobs after the 15th January. Some will try their luck in Costa Rica (not easy as there are already over 30,000 Nicaraguans there desperate for work), some will survive on casual work around here – we will help wherever we can – and some will depend on other family members. Those who stay with us will suffer yet more pay cuts (already on half pay and half time). Some of the projects will close, others will have their hours reduced again. Thanks to special donations the Xmas party for the disabled children and their families will go ahead though less extravagant than in previous years! The community animal projects will be suspended, hopefully temporarily.

We will maintain the basics at La Mariposa (a skeleton staff, the essential buildings etc ) so we can always respond immediately to requests for accommodation, classes, activities. Luckily all of our workers live locally so can easily return to work for a day or a week, whatever we can offer.

It seems doubtful that the kind of tourism we attract will recover soon. As with life generally in Nicaragua the situation is bizarre, unreal. We have just a handful of visitors over the Xmas/New Year period (and they are mostly friends of La Mariposa and have been before) and we are hugely grateful for their support – emotionally, morally and financially. But it is not enough to keep us going, sadly.

Mariposa group

In total contrast, in Leon last week there were enormous groups of people…..from cruises docked in Corinto. We are talking 5000 from just one ship, but they pass through in a day and so do not help restaurants and hotels. Much less Spanish schools and eco hotels! The number of cruise ships is certainly increasing rapidly…. their operators either have some kind of special deal with the government or they have no idea what is happening here. Or both. It is extraordinary to see bunches of retired folk on the roof of the cathedral and in the Museum of Modern Art when we can hardly persuade anyone to come. Ah well…..

Cruise ships

And why aren’t these groups concerned about ‘safety concerns’ which is always the reason given when I enquire why not come to Nicaragua? For tourists it is perfectly safe, and has been throughout the months of the crisis. As I say, bizarre in the extreme.

On one level life is, as the government never tires of repeating, back to ‘normal’. There are no obstacles to moving around now and the better off Nicaraguans can be seen in their multitudes enjoying holiday breaks at the beach or the Laguna de Apoyo. But life is, in many ways, a show – it is all about appearances. Government supporters can march, wave flags, hold parties, fill up the bars in the evenings. There are massive road building programs going ahead….. the presidential couple recently opened, with great pomp, a fly over in Managua which will cut minutes off a journey to Leon. Meanwhile schools, less showy, are falling to pieces and health budgets are being cut. The road between Jinotepe and Nandaime is being expanded to 4 lanes – thousands of mature trees have been felled – this might make sense if the road actually carried heavy traffic which it doesn’t. Nicaragua already has the best roads in Central America….why continue with these projects when there is so much else that requires attention? Because it is a show…..

road building

Then there are the show trials. I cannot bear to follow them in detail – but catch headlines such as the prosecution asking for 30 years for Masaya teacher for the usual list of crimes including torture and kidnapping. Two sisters sentenced to 20 years each in maximum security. And on and on. There seem to me to be far more people on trial than crimes actually committed. And if one agrees that those accused of real crimes should be brought to justice then what, WHAT about the paramilitaries who terrorised communities and committed crimes at will. Not one has even been investigated.

In the 13 years I have been here, life has improved for many Nicaraguans but is still phenomenally difficult for many. Life is not cheap here and gets more expensive by the minute….20 cords for 3 small tomatoes ( average wage C1200 per week), bus fares rising constantly. This is in the context of general economic collapse – not just tourism but commerce, construction are all in free fall. What is cheap here is labour and the zona francas (sweatshops) are taking full advantage of people’s desperation – the only area of the economy to be expanding. Xmas will be sad time for many. Even Guillermina knows she will not get any presents this year.

On the personal level, it is hard watching the Mariposa fall apart, watching Nicaragua fall apart. I often wake up crying, get lots of headaches and nausea and, though it does not seem possible, each day the news is worse than the day before. The Ortega/Murillo government never seems to run out of new ideas for repression – right now it is journalists and NGOs who are getting it in the neck.

On the up side – Guillermina is coping remarkably well, and in general is being very helpful wherever she can. I love my little house, my garden, my animals, my glass of wine and the company of both resident and visiting friends. My admin team have been magnificent – Ismael, Rosa, Josimar, Felix, Donal, Melba and many of the workers are incredibly supportive. I also have a great intern right now, Jaime who spent forever applying for a grant to the Dog Trust (we will know in January). I do still spend some money on trying to keep our small piece of the natural world alive whilst the rest is destroyed before our very eyes. Thanks to a special donation we will release iguana on Xmas day – I cannot think of anything I would rather do!. We still feed wild birds, plant rare trees and flowers for bees and butterflies though their numbers are vastly reduced this year (I blame pesticides and anti-mosquito fumigations mainly).

Birds and bananas!

Just a final note on our dogs, cats and horses. Ismael did a great deal for us and we have food for them stored until the end of January. We have applied for a grant to see us through 6 months – if we don’t get that we do have a backup plan of euthanizing. It sounds horrible maybe but there may be no option. If my heart isn’t broken already it sure as hell will be at that point.

Dog food

So of course I need to ask for help yet again. I so wish we could return to earning our living which we have proudly done for nearly 13 years but I see no way at present.


We are so grateful for all of the donations we have received – particularly helpful are ongoing regular amounts as this helps me plan ahead a bit! You can donate on from the USA or with in the UK.

Also we earn approx. $2000 per month from SKYPE classes which have proved to be very helpful indeed.

Could you help by distributing our flier (if so contact me or taking classes yourself – improving your Spanish as a New Years Resolution!!

And please note we are introducing half hour conversations on WhatsApp, more flexible than skype and especially useful for intermediate/advanced levels – contact us if interested.




Although visitors have yet to return to NIcaragua in large numbers, many tourist hotspots, including the Masaya Volcano, Laguna de Apoyo and Granada (photo above) have reopened and the country in general is in a calm state though still somewhat tense. The government is now firmly in control and the opposition soundly defeated. La Mariposa has continued to welcome the occasional student and friend to stay throughout the crisis…important less for financial reasons but keeps our spirits up. We are always ready to host individual Spanish students (though we cannot cater for just one so bring a friend!), volunteers, families and groups of up to 20.


with a campaign -THIS IS THE TIME to come to Nicaragua to
HELP US REBUILD OUR COMMUNITY with practical help on projects as well as help rebuilding relationships shattered by the crisis. In La Mariposa people of all political persuasions work with the local community together in an atmosphere of respect and dialogue.
Ideas for putting this into practice
(1) progress projects planned but suspended eg children’s communal eating area in Palo Solo
(2) complete the sustainable building project & playground for Chispa de Vida
(3) initiate new childrens project in barrios in San Juan most heavily affected by the recent political crisis where people can feel isolated from the rest of La Concha.
HELP US PROTECT OUR ENVIRONMENT which has also suffered from increased hunting of wildlife (birds, iguana, turtles) and tree felling as a result of the political crisis. Some ideas…
(1) develop an educational program especially for use in children’s projects
(2) continue with reforestation, improving our tree nursery with rare and threatened species of trees
(3) raise donations and grants for purchasing land as pretty much the only way especially now to preserve trees & other plants, birds, bees, frogsAs well as helping us, visitors will improve their Spanish, learn about Nicaragua (including recent history) and have some fun!

Recent tripadviser review

 I travel a lot internationally and give thought to where I head – and I have chosen to visit Nicaragua and the La Mariposa three times already this year – in April, May and July. Previous plans will keep me away in August, but I’ll likely be returning in September as well.
If you are considering visiting, remember that the nature of news is to focus on the dramatic scenes and then use them over and over which makes it seem as if the entire country is engulfed in violence 24/7. It is not and never has been (pay close attention to the dates on the media credits and you’ll see what I mean). The reality is that, in much of the country, life is going on in a usual manner and has been doing so the entire time.
No one is interested in foreigners – not in the least bit – and there is nothing that points toward this changing. This has been very much an internal struggle.
And, most importantly, the staff at the Mariposa knows what is going on – their news gathering network is a wonder to behold – and they will not allow guests to take the slightest risk.
So, on with it! There is, with the help of excellent teachers, Spanish to be learned. There is volunteer work to be done and community projects to support, there are wonderful people to meet, there are dogs to play with and horses to ride and wonderful food to eat. Go.

On a personal note – Chester is leaving the magagement team, he is worn out and rather depressed by only working with cancellations! Hopefully this will be temporary, depending on whether we can recover in Dec and Jan 2019. If we do not then we will have to close permantly.
Paulette too is hoping to take something of a break to recover from exhaustion.

For the past 2 months we have survived on donations from friends and ex students. You have been incredibly generous with us and we estimate we can continue as we are (workers and projects on half pay) until Oct/Nov. We have made some hard decisions such as whether to spend money now on repairing the roof, vehicle upkeep – hoping against hope it is not money wasted.
We have tried to thank everyone…if not please accept our apologies and thanks!
If you would like to donate from the USA go to (our new 501)
From the UK, use Sustainability Partners button on our webpage http://www.mariposaspanishschool.comYOU CAN ALSO HELP BY TAKING SKYPE SPANISH CLASSES -$12 per hour
as in true Mariposa style we still try and earn our way!
Contact Josimar on

Weekend in Tola – Hurricane Update


These days Tola is normally associated with south Nicaragua’s stunning beaches, internationally famous for surfing. Hurricane Nate hit hard and we got an SOS from a Mariposa ex intern. We responded as fast as possible, collecting both financial help and asking local people to donate whatever they could (bearing in mind that we also suffered badly from the hurricane). Many local businesses were super generous, and we filled the pick-up truck and part of a truck with food, clothes, cleaning tools and – on top of all that – several volunteers.

Loading Up

And Away We Go

Saturday afternoon in Tola was spent dividing everything up into family size packages, to be delivered by Fundacion Medical Para Ninos, a local NGO, to the more remote communities who have so far received little help. Sunday the Mariposa volunteers really got to work helping to clean out some of mud from houses – distressing to see houses without walls, ruined school supplies, mattresses and clothing hung out to dry still wet nearly a week after the rains, and talk to people who had everything swept away by the current. Driving past, we could see how high the mud and water reached on the still wet and dirty walls of houses and schools. One family lost two calves and several of their pigs. There are fields that used to be of corn and platanos completely drowned in a sea of mud.

Houses and fields covered with sticky mud

Ruined school supplies

Everything hung out to dry


It is not just a human disaster but an ecological one too. Innumerable trees came down which of course will only make extreme weather even more probable in the future. The vast quantities of mud deposited by the swollen rivers came not just from the river beds but from the eroded fields higher up. The surrounding hills have been clear cut for small crop patches but also there are large cattle ranches which bear a great deal of the responsibility – leaving no vegetation to hang on to the soil. Exactly what is happening around La Concha!!!!


Ending on a positive note…..we returned to La Mariposa tired but pleased with our accomplishments. We plan an extra trip this Thursday to take down more supplies. And on the home front we have visited all of the damaged houses in Palo Solo (the community near our nature reserve, Canada Honda – we estimate about one fifth of which was badly damaged) and will be spending about $2000 on supplies for repairs.

Just remains for me to THANK EVERYBODY EVERYWHERE who has donated.