Hurry, we’re going to Mombacho! (La Mariposa Adventures)

Written by Hannah Chinn, La Mariposa Intern

Just south of Granada, you can find the Mombacho Volcano Nature Reserve — one of the weekend trips that we offer (there are four!). Standing almost 1400 meters above sea level and bordering Lake Cocibolca, it’s covered in forest and it’s absolutely beautiful.

It takes us a little while to round up everyone and leave La Mariposa, which is sort of stressful because we have to stop by the cajero (ATM) for the students and then get to Mombacho in time for the shuttle transport up the mountain. “Hurry, hurry”, Paulette tells us and we tell each other. Finally, everyone’s hurried enough to climb into the bus, and we’re off!

We drive for about 40 minutes through the Pueblos Blancos to get there… Oscar points out the furniture, plants, sweets, and other artisan work displayed in stands along the main street. When we arrive at the volcano, we’re greeted by a fairly large parking lot and a fairly small kiosk — we park in the former and make our way over to the latter in order to pay our entry fee.

The fee itself is $20 for transport to the top (and back down) but $5 if you’re interested in hiking the 5.5km to the top and back… with inclines of up to 45 degrees near the end of the trail. (As someone who has done the hike, I’d highly highly recommend riding in the truck — the hike is possible, but not particularly enjoyable, and most people who have finished it decide that they’re Definitely Not Interested in hiking back down.)

When we arrive at the top, we’re met by several guides who directs us to the main tourist center… there, a guide points out the various types of flora and fauna unique to the volcano (the peak 850km is area protected by the reserve). There are three different trails: El Crater, El Tigrillo, and El Puma. While you need a guide to hike the last two, the first is free… it’s also the shortest trail, at 1.5 hours, and the most accessible. I end up hiking it twice, once with the group that arrived via the truck transport, and again about two hours later when the hiking group got to the top.

“The air feels lighter”, one of the students points out, and it does… everything is cooler and lighter at the top of the mountain. You might even need a raincoat (yes, in Nicaragua!!) or at least a light jacket. In the quiet shade of the trees and surrounded by tall ferns, it feels thousands of miles away from the city… later, when you emerge from the trees to explore the fumaroles (heat vents — they smell like sulfur and vent smelly hot air into your face if you try to look down into them), you’ll be greeted by open skies, orange flowers, and probably gusts of wind.

Mombacho is known for its “cloud forest” — a lush green tropical forest often masked in fog — and especially in the winter, wet season, those clouds can form quickly. For our morning hike, everything is clear (there’s a viewpoint from which you can see all the way to Granada and Laguna de Apoyo), but two hours later the mountain (and all lookout points) are completely covered in mist and it feels like we’re floating in the middle of nowhere. Either way, it’s pretty lovely.

A group of American teenage guys bolt past me, panting heavily up the stairs, and I laugh as a group of other students follow. “Hurry up”, one of the girls calls to someone behind her. Maybe that’s the nature of tourist groups, hurrying. It certainly isn’t a particularly Nicaraguan thing to do… both Oscar this morning and our guides this afternoon seem calm.

The family with me has gone on ahead and there’s plenty of time to sit and eat, so halfway along the trail I find a small bench, kick off my shoes, and eat my lunch… it’s endlessly peaceful, swinging bare feet over the path and greeting guides with an “Adiós” as they hike past me. Outside of the tour that went by before me, it’s also really, really quiet — the only sound is the rustle of wind in branches and the occasional deep bark of what I think are howler monkeys. The dwarf forest, named because the trees grow shorter here (due to heavy winds and lack of nutrients), filter sunshine down onto my head. 

I close my eyes and breathe in the forest.

Now is a time for rest.
There’ll be plenty of time to hurry later.

Nature Reserve, Cañada Honda, Update

Some good news and some not so good!

At the beginning of June the heavy rains started to come in – excellent for all of the tree cuttings and saplings planted last year. We are noting which species are doing well (coppel, madero negro and sacuanjoche – the Nicaraguan national flower – are all flourishing) and in which area. The valleys are suitable for trees which cannot withstand the volcanic gases such as aceituna and cedro. We are also taking full advantage of the rain and doing yet more reforestation, we have already had one group of volunteers from New York out there!

 

 

A wonderful discovery in the dry season has been the amount and variety of wild flowers, which also attract bees and butterflies and other insects.

 

The reserve has had several visits from groups of University of Nicaragua students who have taken inventories of the birds (some 60 plus species), reptiles and the different eco systems. The latter is particularly impressive – there is a wide range of environments, partly due to the fact that we do not grow coffee. This means that the underlying vegetation is relatively undisturbed and allows for a lot more plant life.

It does however mean that as yet there is no income from this land – maybe tourism will, in the future, provide support.

One of the biggest problems is the continued, relentless deforestation in the area. Just last week another 5 acres or so was burnt down, all of the trees and vegetation destroyed, in order to plant more dragon fruit. And this, let us be clear, is not income for poor local farmers – it is for export.

 

The saddest event was the hunting and killing of a largish wild cat which we are pretty sure was an ocelot. He had been sighted several times in the reserve by the caretaker. The two hunters – brothers from another community – were tracked down and confronted by Paulette and the police. One of the most upsetting aspects was the mother quoting from the Bible – that God had sent her sons this animals to hunt!!! Answer that one!!!

The police held a mediation session and the outcome was that the boys did community service work on another of La Mariposas reserves. Pineapple farmers since childhood, they considered everything but pineapple to be better out of the way! But with us, they did remarkably well and learnt a lot about the importance of conservation and protecting biodiversity.

In an extraordinary coincidence, a tiny wild cat kitten (maybe ocelot, maybe magay – hard to tell at this stage) appeared on our doorstep in a shoebox! Named Leo, he currently lives in the office where he gets lots of attention, raw meat 3 times a day and access to the Managua vets if necessary. He will undoubtedly be too tame to release but the hope is that one day he will be able to live in semi freedom up on the reserve.

 

Of course in true Mariposa style we have been working closely with the community surrounding Cañada Honda, Palo Solo. At the first meeting we had (almost all community members participated!), it became clear that the most important issue for all of the families is lack of access to water. The municipality of La Concha delivers a barrel of water (there is no connected water supply) to each family per week – this is for drinking, cooking, washing – everything! People used to rely on local spring water but due largely to massive deforestation in the area – to grow dragon fruit for export – this source is rapidly disappearing.

 

We have responded immediately by sending up additional trucks of water, repairing a water storage tank in the reserve which will collect water now the rains have come in. A somewhat longer term project is to provide every family with sufficient barrels and roof gutters to collect rainwater.

In return we are hoping that close cooperation with this community will result in a high degree of investment in helping us protect the precious flora and fauna which exists there.

If you would like to help us with these initiatives please check out out gofundme campaign  https://www.gofundme.com/ocelot-kitten

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BIODIVERSITY AND LA MARIPOSA

How much do we understand about the importance of biodiversity? The answer, it seems, is very little.  We cannot plant a bunch of mango trees and call it a forest…..acres upon acres of teak trees is a plantation, a monoculture crop not a forest.  A forest is one of several eco systems (meadow lands, coral reefs are others) that make up the planet, each supporting a massive diversity of life. Even though human life is dependent on this diversity, we do not, apparently, think biodiversity is worth preserving. Each day around 100 species become extinct. Matthew Schneider-Mayerson argues in “Extinction : A Radical History” we are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction in the history of the planet, in which 25 to 40 percent of all species are expected to disappear by 2050. Because extinction is generally a silent, invisible process, we are rarely forced to confront its inherent tragedy and the potentially vast ecological ripples of even a single species’ eradication”.

This silent but deadly process ought to be scaring us into taking action. Consider the case of bees, whose path to extinction is being relatively well documented though there is still debate over the cause – possible offenders include pesticide poisoning and malnutrition. Microwaves from radio towers could also be destroying their ability to navigate. Their disappearance would be a direct hit to the human race as nearly all fruit and most vegetable species (ie much of what we eat) owe their pollination to insects; mostly bees. What will happen without them?

Such processes are interwoven with other parts of the jigsaw of factors destroying the planet – a jigsaw that is very much in evidence in this area around La Concha. Continued deforestation and land clearance for monoculture crops such as pineapple and pitaya have led to the virtual disappearance of plants that provide food for the bees. One, the beautiful abejon (which actually means “big bee” – see photos above) has virtually disappeared from fields and hedgerows. 10 years ago they were plentiful…now hardly to be found, along with most other wild flowers. The variety of garden flowers which used to help nourish bees and other vital insects has been replaced almost uniformly with plants providing instant color, such as bougainvillea, and don’t take too much work to grow. However, they are utterly useless as a source of bee food.

You can take any species virtually at random and just the quickest internet research will give you the same story (except for the scavengers – vultures, cockroaches, rats – they are doing very nicely, thanks to us!). Over and over again. Take frogs as another example – almost one third of the world’s amphibian species are threatened with extinction. This not normal – 200 species have gone since 1980 – pollution, disease, habitat loss and so on. I recently found a mutant frog with a large lump growing on its back. In this area I am sure that highly toxic fumigations carried out to control mosquitoes are at least partly to blame. And the sad irony of course is that the noxious gas kills many natural predators, including the frogs, whilst mosquitoes seem to be becoming resistant!

red eyed tree frogs

So what are we doing at La Mariposa? We plant the widest possible range of trees and plants with minimum bougainvillea!, always taking into account which birds, animals, insects will any given plant help survive. We use almost 100% organic methods to grow our veggies. We dig ponds to help frogs in their fight for existence – frogs, lizards, spiders and bats are particularly welcome at La Mariposa as voracious mosquito eaters.  We are also planning to hold an Environmental Fair in June – a mix of educational stalls, tours around the vegetable patch, veggie food and herbal teas for folk to try, competitions…..one of our ideas is to hold a competition for the best bee and butterfly (also good pollinators) friendly garden, offering a substantial prize for the winner.

But I often feel we are just hanging on by our finger tips, as I notice another hedgerow plant or type of wild flower seems to have completely disappeared, I hear yet another chainsaw hacking yet another tree to pieces…….to quote Schneider-Mayerson again “conservation efforts have widespread support and can boast a few modest (and temporary) victories, they have been overwhelmed by the ongoing wave of anthropogenic annihilation”. That about sums it up….but nonetheless we shall keep going in the hope that others join us and we can save at least a few species!