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.

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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!!!!

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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.

 

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Huracán Nate

Hoy sábado 8 de octubre leí sobre el huracán Nate por primera vez. Ya entrando en la boca del rio Mississippi. Aquí en Centroamérica hemos estado sufriendo los efectos desde la semana pasada. El gobierno de Nicaragua normalmente se regocija a si mismo (exactamente-yo estaba aquí en 1989 para el huracán Juana y experimenté con mis propios ojos la eficiencia especialmente del ejército en evacuar a la gente) en respuesta a los desastres naturales, pero esta vez no hubo previo aviso y el presidente ha brillado por su ausencia ante los medios. Aunque hubiera perdido algo ya que he estado sin energía hace cinco días.

Ahora, lo que hemos sufrido no tiene la mínima comparación con lo de las islas del caribe y florida – pero algunas partes de Nicaragua han sufrido más daño que nosotros. Empezó con tres días y tres noches de lluvia incesante – la comprensión y tranquilidad de los huéspedes era notable a pesar de que hubo un impacto negativo en sus estadías.

La noche del jueves fue la peor. Estuve la mayor parte de la noche con Chepe, uno de nuestros guardas que llego a ayudar a salvar mi casa de la inundación. Un fallo en el diseño (¡el mío!) significa que la lluvia de la parte del techo se recoge en la terraza y de ahí va directamente a los dormitorios. No es bueno (como diría Donald Trump). Recipientes y cubos tenían que ser vaciados cada media hora…en el jardín que ya tenía algunas pulgadas de agua. A la media noche caí en un profundo sueño dejando a Chepe y a los perros que me protegieran. Me desperté la mañana del viernes ante una escena de devastación total. Comprendía de lo que podía pasar a causa del viento mientras dormía, pero el daño era increíble. Había arboles caídos por todas partes, mi precioso jardín de mariposas se destrozó en pedazos.

Abajo, los restos de mi roble (Oak) que perdió completamente su copa debido al viento.

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Después en La Reserva – un enorme árbol de cedro tumbado al otro lado del jardín de Jan y Alan y cerca de veinte más estaban esparcidos. Afortunadamente los daños estructurales en los edificios fueron leves, un agujero en el techo de la cabaña de Carol y algunos daños menores al centro de estudio. Tengo que decir que los edificios de paja sobrevivieron muy bien a la prueba.

Abajo, este ERA el jardín de Jan y Alan…..

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Pero algunos de los trabajadores de la Mariposa fueron menos afortunados. No hubo ningún herido aquí, sin embargo hubo dos niños ahogados cerca de Diriamba. La mayoría de ellos tuvieron problemas de inundación y también daños en sus techos. Así que el viernes por la mañana hicimos una reunión de emergencia, dividiendo a los trabajadores en grupos para reparar las casas de los demás (La Mariposa pago los materiales necesarios – ¡la cuenta sigue subiendo!).

Jimmy, uno de nuestros maestros, vive con su familia en una casa muy pequeña donde el tanque séptico está justamente afuera de la cocina. Colapso con la lluvia, así que los trabajadores de la Mariposa corrieron para llenar el apestoso hoyo. Uno de los muchos problemas con la instalación de inodoros en situaciones de “Tercer Mundo”.

Abajo, Jimmy inspeccionando su tanque séptico colapsado y un grupo de trabajadores de la Mariposa ayudando a salvarlo.

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Uno de los momentos más tristes fue ver el árbol de Panama caído afuera de la casa de Marlon. Era el último de su especie en esta región y estábamos tratando de cuidarlo…construyendo un muro de retención para proteger sus raíces y también usando abono. No fue suficiente, las raíces simplemente no resistieron la cantidad de humedad en el suelo (esto es lo que hace que los arboles caigan) y luego el viento fue demasiado. Cuatro aracaríes (pequeños tucanes) tenían sus nidos en este árbol… ¡solo un poco más de perdida de hábitat!

Abajo, el gigante caído

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Dado el nivel de deforestación en general en Nicaragua no nos podíamos dar el lujo de perder estos preciosos árboles. Y la respuesta oficial, por lo que puedo decir, ha sido podar y cortar los árboles que están en pie en el área urbana, limpiar el lodo de las caminos (arrastrado por las lluvias de las áreas cercanas sin protección de vegetación) y fumigar, explotando las casas con una mezcla de diésel y supermetrina (supuestamente para matar los mosquitos). Algunos de los campesinos también están cortando los restos de cualquier árbol al menos que sea aguacate o mango.

Igual de deprimente ha sido la respuesta de la gente con la que he hablado hasta ahora. Algunos de los que viven en las áreas urbanas menos afectadas vieron esto como un videojuego. Un evangélico me aseguro que significa que el fin del mundo está cerca – ¡pero eso también había sido predicho para el 21 de septiembre! La reacción más común, después de habernos ayudado unos a otros, fue que no podemos hacer nada excepto seguir como si nada.

Bien, estoy de acuerdo con eso hasta cierto punto. Vamos a replantar los jardines, reparar los techos, y hacer lo mejor para ayudar a la vida salvaje amenazada.

Pero esto es cambio climático. Doce años en Nicaragua y nunca he experimentado lluvia como esta. Esta área normalmente no es directamente golpeada por huracanes. Como dijo el presidente de Antigua y Barbuda, Gaston Browne con respecto a Irma….

“La ciencia es clara. El cambio climático es real en el caribe y estamos viviendo las consecuencias de este. Es lamentable que hay algunos que lo ven diferente”.

Mi propia opinión es que no podemos dejar esto a los políticos. No hay tiempo, aun cuando ellos tengan buenas intenciones. Todos tenemos que actuar y rápido. Plantar arboles donde sea posible – reducir cosas que sabemos que contribuyen al calentamiento global como los viajes, consumo de carne y aceite de palma. Comprar menos, consumir menos de todo – ropa, carros, computadoras, Ipads….si no lo hacemos con voluntad, pienso que seremos forzados a hacerlo – ¡A este paso seguro que pronto no habrá un lugar para viajar!!!

Terminando con una nota de esperanza….Los trabajadores de la Mariposa replantando un árbol de Capulín desarraigado – ¡Este es una importante fuente de comida para aves y vamos a hacer todo lo que podamos para salvarlo!

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Hurricane Nate

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Today, Sunday 8th October, I read about Hurricane Nate for the first time. As it enters the mouth of the Mississippi River. Here in Central America we have been reeling from the effects for the past week. The Nicaraguan Government normally prides itself (rightly – I was here in 1989 for Hurricane Joan and experienced firsthand the efficiency especially of the army in evacuating people) on its response to natural disasters but this time there was no prior warning and the president has been conspicuous in his absence from the media. Though I could have missed something as I have been without power for the past 5 days.

Now what we have suffered is of course nothing compared to the Caribbean islands and Florida – though parts of Nicaragua have had it far worse than us. It started with 3 days and nights of incessant rain – our hotel guests were remarkably understanding and laid back as it had quite a negative impact on their stay with us.

Thursday night was the big one. I was up most of the night together with Chepe, one of our night guards, who came to help save my house from flooding. A design fault (mine!!!) means that rain from part of my roof collects on the patio and from there goes straight into my bedrooms! Not good (as Donald Trump might say). Bowls and buckets had to be emptied every half hour…..into a garden already inches under water. At midnight I fell into an exhausted sleep leaving Chepe and the dogs to protect me. I woke Friday morning to a scene of utter devastation. I had been aware of some wind whilst asleep but the damage was unbelievable. Trees down everywhere, my lovely butterfly garden smashed to bits.

Below, the remnants of my roble (oak) tree which was completely beheaded by the wind

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Then on to La Reserva – a huge cedro tree lying right across Jan and Alan’s garden and about 20 more fallen scattered about. Fortunately structural damage to the buildings was light, a hole in the roof of Carol’s cabin and some minor issues at the group study center. I have to say the straw builds survived the ordeal remarkably well.

Below, this WAS Jan and Alans garden……

But some of La Mariposa workers were less fortunate. Noone here was hurt though two boys drowned in nearby Diriamba. Mostly they had flooding problems but also some roof damage. So Friday morning we called an emergency meeting, divided the workers into groups and off they went to repair each other’s houses (La Mariposa paid for the necessary materials – the bill has yet to come in!).

Jimmy, one of our teachers, lives with his family in a tiny house where the septic tank is just outside the kitchen. It collapsed with the rain so La Mariposa workers rushed to help fill in the stinking hole. One of the many issues with installing flushing toilets in “Third World”  situations.

Below, Jimmy surveying his collapsed septic tank and a group of Mariposa workers helping to make it safe.

One of the saddest moments was seeing the fallen Panama tree right outside Marlon’s house. It was the last of its kind in this region and we were attempting to care for it…building a retaining wall to protect the root system and putting in compost. Not enough, the roots simply could not withstand the quantity of moisture in the soil (this is what brings a lot of trees down) and then the wind was just too much. Four aricaris (small toucans) had their homes in this tree….just one more bit of lost habitat!

Below, the fallen giant

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Given the level of deforestation in general in Nicaragua we could ill afford to lose these precious trees. And the official response, as far as I can tell, has been to prune and cut any trees left standing in the urban area, clear the mud from the roads (swept in by the rains from surrounding fields which have no protecting vegetation) and fumigate, blasting houses with a mixture of diesel and supemetrina (supposedly to kill mosquitoes). Some of the campesinos too are cutting down any remaining trees unless they are avocadoes or mangoes.

Equally depressing has been the response of people I have talked to so far. Some of those who live in the least affected urban area seemed to view it all as a kind of video game. One evangelical assured me that it means the end of the world is nigh – but that had also just been predicted for the 21st Sept! The most common reaction, after helping each other out, was that there is nothing we can do except carry on as normal.

Well I am in agreement with that up to a point. We will replant the gardens, fix the roofs, and do our best to assist threatened wildlife.

But this is climate change. 12 years in Nicaragua and I have never experienced rain like this. This area normally does not get direct hits from hurricanes. As the President of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, said in relation to Irma………

“The science is clear. Climate change is real in the Caribbean we are living with the consequences of climate change. It is unfortunate that there are some who see it differently.”

My own opinion is we cannot leave this to politicians. There isn’t time, even when they have good intentions. We all have to act and fast. Plant trees wherever possible – cut down on things we know contribute to global warming such as travel, eating meat and palm oil. Buy less, consume less of everything – clothes, cars, computers, IPads……. If we don’t do it voluntarily I think we will be forced into it – for sure at this rate pretty soon there won’t be anywhere left to travel to!!!!!

Ending on a hopeful note….Mariposa workers replanting an uprooted capulin tree – this is an important source of bird food and we will do all we can to save it!

 

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!