Colonial Cities : A Trip to Granada (La Mariposa Adventures)

Written by Hannah Chinn, La Mariposa Intern

Less than an hour away from La Mariposa stands Granada, the oldest colonial city in Nicaragua. Rich with history and filled with colonial-era architecture, it’s also a popular destination for La Mariposa students… and for good reason. As we cruise through the narrow streets, each new turn leading us to brightly-painted houses and views of tall cathedrals, our guests point from one thing to another. One student’s excited for the chocolate museum, another one can’t wait to see the fancy buildings; there’s something for everyone.

We start our tour by climbing out of the Mariposa bus and onto a sidewalk, where Chester announces that we’re visiting a cemetery.
“A cemetery??” one person murmurs, “why a cemetery?”
It’s true, the cemetery isn’t exactly the first place you’d expect to start a city tour… but this particular cemetery is actually extremely important in Granada’s history and identity.
You see, Granada was originally founded (colonized) in the indigenous Xalteva area by the Spaniard Francisco Hernández de Córdoba, who named Granada after his hometown. During the colonial period, it became one of the central cities for commerce… later, it disputed political and historical importance with León (its rival city), saw multiple pirate attacks and invasions, and withstood William Walker’s attempt to burn it to the ground.
sidenote by Hannah: Nicaraguan history is incredible and you should look it up. Also, William Walker was a US American and a Very Bad Person.

The Europeans were the ones to build the enormous cemetery of Granada, as well. Today, it’s the only one of its kind in Nicaragua, marked by chapels and religious statues, mausoleums and marble. The graves near the center of the cemetery are the most elaborate ones, owned by extremely wealthy (and often famous) families — Fruto Chamorro, the first official president of Nicaragua, was buried there. The other graves, with names and dates in a larger structure, belong to soldiers, or are rented out to various families. And the smallest ones on the outskirts of the cemetery, marked sometimes only with a cross or a stake, belong to the poorest families. Inequality persists into the next world, it seems!

After this brief lesson on colonialism, cemeteries, and capitalism, we climb back into the buses.
We hop out again briefly to see the Fortaleza de Pólvora. Originally built to store gunpowder, as the name suggests, this fortress was used to accommodate soldiers and later to imprison people. Today, it acts as a museum with a rotating schedule of exhibits, open to the public. We couldn’t go in that day, though (it was closed?) so we took some pictures and moved on.

We take a quick break at the cigarmaker’sNicaragua is well-known for its handcrafted cigars, apparently, and a pleasant man explains the process while another demonstrates how to bind the tobacco, press it into molds, and wrap it. He hands around a fragrant leaf for us to look at; it’s dark, papery, and unexpectedly sweet smelling. For $5 USD, he adds, you can even buy/make your own cigar here!
(A few students try it, but most of us are content to hang back and watch.)

Our next stop is a church, the Iglesia la Merced. Albeit the facade looks rather old and a little crumbling, it’s lovely and quiet inside, with dark wooden benches, several statues, and a stained glass window. There’s also a small sign advertising the “best view of Granada”, and for thirty Córdoba (about $1 USD) paid to the man at the front, you can climb a short (but narrow and pretty steep!) set of stairs to the bell tower and see the view for yourself. Once we’ve gotten to the top, we can look east towards the Granada Cathedral — the bright yellow and white one near the central plaza — and Lake Cocibolca, or south towards the Mombacho Volcano. Tiled rooftops and colored houses are all around. It’s definitely worth the climb.

From the cathedral, it’s a quick walk to the chocolate museum, the Granada ChocoMuseocomplete with a pool, a hotel, a small café, and a shop where they sell everything from chocolate bars to “Nicatella” to chocolate liqeur to cacao tea. After a brief (and energetic) history of chocolate and some enthusiastic sampling, we browse the shop a bit and then we’re ready for lunch.
We head to the Cafe D’Arte and make ourselves comfortable for an hour or two (and talk to some street vendors who are selling ceramic bird whistles and handmade vases and personalized maracas —  I love the whistles and I can’t help buying one). Then those of us who are heading to the islands pile back into the bus and head for the lake… it’s time for a boat tour!

The islands are mostly owned by Nicaragua’s rich and famous, or rich and famous foreigners who decided that they’d like a personal island in Nicaragua, and our guide seems to enjoy pointing out random islands and namedropping as we go. He also points out the view of the volcano — “we were there last weekend!” one boy notes — and the other islands along Lake Nicaragua. We spot several birds, a heron, and a few spider monkeys, too.

It’s fun for all of us, even the excited four-year-old across from me who keeps leaning out the side of the boat to put his hands in the water; he leans so far that I reflexively grab onto the back of his lifejacket to keep him in the boat, and decide that it’s probably a good idea for me to keep an eye (and a hand) on him at all times. “I wanna swim!” he tells me, and I start to laugh. But he gets his wish when we dock at a small hostel and restaurant, where a small swimming pool (built, apparently, around a huge rock) invites all of us to splash around.

After all, there’s something for everyone in Granada.

 

Beach Day! A Trip to La Boquita (La Mariposa Adventures)

Written by Hannah Chinn, La Mariposa Intern

La Boquita Beach, a little less than half an hour away from the pueblo (town) of Diriamba (which in turn is only about twenty minutes from La Mariposa), is one of the most popular visitor beaches in our area, so we have a trip there as well! It’s raining when our two microbuses set out — especially during wet season in Nicaragua, which is May-November, showers are frequent and often unpredictable — and so when we arrive, there’s practically no one here except for our group. But the younger students run right into the waves and the older students pick their tables in the outdoor restaurant on the shore and it’s pretty clear that, rain or no rain, we’re having our beach day.

There are several different restaurants on the beach, each with a series of thatched-roof shelters and light wood tables, framed by hammocks or bamboo seats and large pots of flowering plants. A pleasant family greets us and hands us menus, so we make ourselves comfortable there.

Thankfully, the rain goes away both suddenly and quickly (also fairly typical for wet season) and the sun is out and shining brightly within the first hour or so of our stay. One of the boys rents a four-wheeler to drive up and down the beach (although there are also horseback rides available), and more of our students join one another in the water. I find an assortment of shells near the rocks along the shore and wave at a group of little girls splashing in the waves.

The beach day is probably the most laid-back weekend trip we have; it’s the least structured, and so it allows guests the most amount of freedom. It’s surprising how quickly the time passes here (and between orders of pineapple juice,  and trips to the little pulperia, corner shop, our students manage to keep busy). Several of us stretch out towels on the sand and soak up the sunshine until it gets too hot to stay there much longer, while the others decide to walk up the beach and see what they can find, collecting coral and shells along the way. The sand is warm and soft under our feet.

Lunch is delicious, if a little bit more… well, whole than we might have expected… but no one else seems surprised. Here at La Boquita, the seafood is fresh and the more common grilled meat is equally tasty (and the rice, as per usual, is excellent).
Yes, that is a whole fried fish. Also, in case you were wondering, that orange dish is not in fact a real mango. I was disappointed too. But the sauce still tastes great, trust me!

Since I’m from Portland, where the ocean is usually way too cold to swim, it’s new to be able to bob up and down in the waves, which if not warm are definitely swimming-pool temperature. I mention this to the others and they laugh, but I’m dead serious… this isn’t something I’m used to! This becomes clear when a giant wave knocks me and another student off our feet and sends us spinning head-over-heels and inhaling saltwater, but it lasts only about seven seconds before we surface, more surprised than injured.

Oh well, you win some you lose some. I’d rather be swimming in the ocean than sitting in the rain, and besides, what else can you expect from a beach day?

 

 

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.

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.

Trips out and other things to do……

 

Mariposa students who opt for our activities package are hard put to find a better way to appreciate the diversity, beauty and interest that Nicaragua offers – both the country and its people. We plan activities on a monthly basis, every weekday afternoon and weekend, there is something going on. We include things-to-do close to home, such as riding our rescued horses, and longer trips to some of Nicaragua’s most famous historical towns, volcanoes, lakes and Pacific beaches. Each activity is carefully organized and we always provide transport and bilingual guides from La Mariposa.

And if you want to go somewhere that is not scheduled during your time with us, we can organize a separate trip.

The variety is truly awesome!

Saturdays are our day out, rotating the cities of Granada and Leon, Mombacho (a dormant volcano covered in cloud forest), and La Boquita, our closest Pacific beach. Sundays we do local hiking or horse riding on our rescued horses.

Other trips out include visits to San Juan del Orient where students can try their hand at the local pottery and buy unusual and beautiful gifts in the workshops.  Masaya is the home of traditional handicrafts including world famous hammock making, leather goods, guitars, wooden jewelry and there is a lively market where we take you to stroll around, souvenir shopping.

Of course we also include activities designed to help you get to know something of Nicaragua’s fascinating history and culture, often picking up on themes students will have discussed in Spanish class – popular topics include the revolution and how Nicaragua has emerged form a period of war (the Contra War) into a stable peace. We also hold regular discussions around current day issues, such as the proposed Canal – will it happen or wont it?? Many of the trips out have historical interest visiting, for example, the gorgeous San Francisco Museum in Granada. You are always accompanied by an expert bilingual guide from La Mariposa and we use local guides when appropriate.  And we don’t forget local culture – we invite students to have go at cooking, learn some salsa and watch folklore dancing.

La Mariposa is renowned for our work with local community and the environment. We support a number of different projects – varying from equino therapy for our disabled children to maintaining nature reserves and growing organic vegetables (which we eat in La Mariposa).  Monday afternoons are dedicated to showing you some of our work.

Thanks to our hard work in environmental projects, especially establishing nature reserves near La Mariposa we are also now offering bird watching tours – both as part of our normal program and, for those interested in going further afield we can organize outings with one of Nicaragua’s leading bird experts.

Having organized activities now for 10 years, we are well able to vary activities according to the season and to local events, ensuring students always get the best possible experience.  Night time walks when the moon is full in the dry season, Easter parades by boat around the islands of Granada, Christmas meals out in the barrio after watching the parade in San Juan – are just some examples of how we respond to local events and culture!

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COME AND JOIN US!

Learning to live with emphysema, drought and one more big project…..

Mantled Howler MonkeyJPG

I chose to ignore the diagnosis of mild emphysema. It was not denial – I like to think – rather a conscious, and unregretted, decision to live life as long as possible without the constant worry and pressure of a chronic illness. Two years later, it has progressed to moderate – now, I assiduously follow the advice of my wonderful lung specialist. Though unconvinced that driving through the grime and smog of modern Managua to get to her does not do more lung damage, I always feel much better after a consultation. Marie Elena is a large, buxom woman, ready with an enormous bear hug and her extravagant outfits always impress! Her father is a Palestinian exile, arrived in Nicaragua in the 1950s, married a Nicaraguan. Marie is Catholic but most of her friends are Muslim and one of her favorite fiestas is the feast after Ramadan.  Nicaragua is just so full of constant surprises!

And the medical advice has been pretty effective too. Going to her after a series of problems, a debilitating tiredness all the time, and then a particularly nasty episode – whilst translating on a walk suddenly I just could not breathe……quite scary. Now a mixture of inhalers and nebulizers has stabilized the breathing. The other challenge, of course, is dealing with the emotional impact….I don’t know whether researching on the internet helps or just terrifies!! Marie has had to reassure me more than once that awful internet stories do not necessarily reflect my prognosis. Right now I feel physically good and emotionally calm and focused.

Strangely enough the combination of feeling fit, healthy and not tired (oh what joy!!) has led me down two apparently contradictory paths. Firstly (doctors’ advice but also my own volition) to work less….and I do now spend less hours in the office. My truly amazing group of workers has, almost to a person, responded by being even more committed and helpful. This is especially true of my unbelievably loyal and supportive “admin” team…..it has been an up and down year for many reasons and they have taken over much of my work….but more than that their personal friendship and understanding has more than once brought me close to tears.

So I should be relaxing more and enjoying the sunshine, horse riding more, spending more time with Guillermina and tending my garden. All of which actually I do. But the second path is more one of experiencing, reading, learning, reflecting in a way I have never done before, discussing, teaching a bit, and above all feeling…..about the horrors we are inflicting on this beautiful world which is all we have to call home. Let me be a little more precise. Let’s talk about just one aspect…water.

Living through a drought…. a city girl in the UK, I was barely aware of water and its importance….I just turned on the tap and out it gushed, ready to be turned into a cup of tea or a bubbly bath (I am sure that much has changed in the 10 years I have been away – at least now it would be a shower!!). Where does the water come from? How much is there? How is it replenished? Who else is using it and for what?  Is it being polluted in any way? I would not have known the answers to any of these questions but now I do…..

The water we use at La Mariposa comes from deep municipal wells, water which has been stored for who know how many millennia in an underground aquifer. You don’t have to be an expert to realize that this water needs to be replenished nor to understand what will happen if we just keep on taking, never replacing. Demand increases incessantly…not just from the local population but from massive construction and the demands of sweat shop factories, especially on the southern side of Managua. I admit I have become more than a little obsessed with water…saving rainwater, digging latrines everywhere I can (do not require flushing…I hate with a vengeance the amount of water used to disappear from view our excrement!!), reusing cooking water to water plants, and on and on!!! I try and persuade others to use the latrine, shower less, not wear clean clothes every day (unless actually dirty!!)….but I know I run a risk of becoming very boring indeed. And for Nicaraguans who have been fighting the stereotype of being “unclean” ever since the Spanish conquest, that is a difficult change to make.

Back to the drought, happening in spite of all my best conservation efforts. The Nicaraguan wet season is – should be – May until November. Six months dry summer followed by 6 months wet (daily rain), sometimes stormy, winter. No rain equals no pressure on the aquifer (long term it also means there is no replenishment), therefore ever harder to extract water. So in a normal year, by April after 6 dry months, lower pressure in the aquifer means instead of water coming in twice a week from the wells (we store it in special tanks, often hotel guests have no idea that we do not have constant “on tap” water), delivery goes down to once a week and then even less……at that time of year, we often have to buy in water at a weekly cost of $500 to keep the hotel supplied.

Last year the rains were 3 months late. So the situation described in the previous paragraph was exacerbated. This year they are already 4 months late. ….though we have had maybe half a dozen showers since May…one just two nights ago started at midnight and lasted three glorious hours. I stayed awake the whole time, happy just to listen and smell the moistened earth through my open window……not a good rain by anybody’s standards, but something to hang onto. I now understand why indigenous peoples worship definite (I almost said “concrete” but that is the last thing anyone should worship) entities and not an abstract G/god. Made perfect sense to thank the rain for coming and plead with it to hang around a little longer!

One of my greatest comforts is to just sit in my tiny but lovely garden, carved out of the Mariposas vegetable plot.  This is where the emphysema and the drought cross paths! I am supposed to be chilling out, relaxing but instead I am deciding whether to use precious water on flowering plants or not. The arguments against are obvious. Those in favor not only include my emotional wellbeing, but also the food supply of insects, birds and small reptiles. I note gloomily that the plethora of butterflies and bees which I watched last year have all but disappeared….my colony of blue grey tanagers (only “mine” in the sense that I love them and care for them) is much reduced in numbers and there are far fewer bats around…..on the bright side, some of the frogs are surviving the drought in their specially built pond. So my relaxation time becomes my observing, feeling (sad, worried and then angry) time. Feelings which drive me to read and investigate. The next step is action….what can we do better? For example, we have learnt that the more ground cover we provide and the more nutritious it is, the less water we have to use. We have been putting this into practice for a while with vegetables, this week we will do the same for the flowers.

Blue-gray Tanager

Blue-gray Tanager

I don’t wish to sound overly dramatic but something about being aware of my own mortality makes me more conscious of what is happening around…and it is not a pretty sight. The state of my lungs is not dissimilar from the state of the world around me…..both are being gradually starved of the basic requirments to survive. It is driving me to do as much as possible to save at least little slices of the land and biodiversity.

Hence the current Mariposa project….

La Mariposa (www.mariposaspanishschool.com), in partnership with our newly formed NGO, Asociacioñ Tierra (www.asfltierra.org), is embarking on its biggest and possibly most important project to date. We are hoping to buy over 140 acres of land, Cañada Onda (means Deep Gully), in Palo Solo which is way out on the ridge beyond our Group Study Center. Over half of this land is original forest and we have already started to reforest the rest. This is critical because

  • The area around us is fast becoming a monoculture desert. The ever increasing popularity of exotic fruits in the US and Europe has led to clear cut logging across our municipality. Mostly pineapple and dragonfruit – both of which like pure sunshine, absolutely no trees.
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  • The massive deforestation is having a negative impact on soil through erosion and the local water supply as well as disappearance of local biodiversity and destruction of habitat for animals and birds including migrants. There are rare nisperal and ceibo trees, several acres of heliconia, different types of fungus, flocks of parakeets visit in the early morning and an ocelot was recently spotted…we are in contact with UNAN (University of Nicaragua) to help with an inventory of species
  • Look at the size of this ceibo...it would be a crime to log it for dragonfruit

    Look at the size of this ceibo…it would be a crime to log it for dragonfruit

  • This land will form a vital part of a biological corridor, linking still forested land on the Pacific side of the Sierras to the Masaya Volcano National Park, allowing animals and birds to move naturally through their habitat, thus helping their chances of survival.
  • The land is on the other side of the ridge from El Nisperal, a nature reserve (and organic, bird-friendly coffee farm (www.nisperal.org)) that is part of the Nicaraguan System of Protected Areas with whom we work closely to augment existing eco systems.  We are both planting trees close to the track dividing us to provide a bridge so howler monkeys who now live in El Nisperal can cross over into Cañada Onda thus doubling their territory.
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  • As in all of our work, we will involve the community at every step. An NGO, Lone Tree Institute (www.lonetreeinstitute.net), associated with El Nisperal already funds a community library, and educational programs so our focus will be mainly on providing local employment wherever possible and raising incomes through promoting rural eco-tourism – we already offer weekend breaks with horseriding, hiking, bird watching, nighttime animal observation, using experienced local guides.
  • Met this little fellow on our first walk through Canada Onda

    Met this little fellow on our first walk through Canada Onda

  • For 2 years now, our rescued horses have grazed on part of this land. Stabled at the Study Center they have had a daily walk to and from their pasture – tiring especially for the older ones. Now we are renovating a rancho so they will live permanently at Cañada Onda!!
  • Chepe living in his new home

    Chepe living in his new home

  • We will work with AMARTE (an NGO with a long history of rescuing and rehabilitating wildlife) to release appropriate wildlife on the land. This may include monkeys, sloths, deer, cats and birds.
  • We are already reforesting and several groups of young environmentalists from all over La Concha have asked to help. We also plan very soon to hold meetings with local small producers of dragonfruit to establish how we can work together.
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La Mariposa has over 10 years’ experience working in rural, eco based tourism and for the past couple of years we have successfully developed our (relatively tiny!) nature reserve here in urban San Juan.

Our track record of working jointly with communities will ensure that this venture too achieves its goals.

The cost of this land is $97,000 – this is a remarkable bargain (our nature Reserve was the same price but for 12 acres!!!). The reason is location – somewhat remote and not fertile for any crop except dragonfruit.  But perfect for our purposes! The current owners  want it conserved,  for that reason they have given us an extraordinarily reasonable price.

A deposit of $30,000 has been paid (Paulette’s accumulated pension!)

So we are looking to raise $67.000

You can help either through donation or taking part in one of our Mariposa packages.

For US donors opting for a tax-exempt donation, you may give on-line or via check to Lone Tree Institute (501(c)(3) non-profit organization). See www.lonetreeinstitute.net for details on how to donate. Please earmark your donation “For Canada Onda”.OR through paypal on the homepage of our La mariposa website (also tax exempt)… http://www.mariposaspanishschool.com/index.html

“UK tax payers can donate to the special appeal by Sustainability Partners, registered charity no. 1119345, which will increase the value of the donation by 25% through GiftAid. For details see www.sustainability-partners.org.uk “

La Mariposa Sustainable Tourism

La Mariposa is embarking on a whole new set of projects, working closely with several very poor rural communities, with the focus of sustainable tourism benefiting directly those communitiesLas Conchitas (3)

The barrios we are working with form a semi-circle around the rim of the Masaya Volcano (the barrios of Panama, Camille Ortega, Las Sabinitas, Arenal, El Pochote, Venecia). These are the communities to the right of the land (marked in orange in the map above). The idea is to try to combine eco tourist initiatives specifically designed to work towards alleviating the worst poverty whilst at the same time offering incentives to community members to help us preserve and improve the environment. We have already had several community meetings (using the new land as a  base to organise and a meeting area) and it is already clear that local people are very worried about the effects of the lack of rain. We have had almost nothing in the first 3 months of a 6 month-long rainy season and this of course follows a 6 month dry season.  It is the worst drought since 1976.  Nearly everybody who has come to the meetings has lost one crop of beans and had a much reduced corn harvest (in other parts of Nicaragua cattle are dying of thirst and hunger). And these are people who live on the economic margins, for whom losing a  crop of beans is the difference between eating and not eating. It also means there are no seeds to plant the next time around.  What is remarkable is the level of understanding and discussion that of course these problems are the result of climate change and the situation is only going to get worse in years to come. One person commented to me that “rich people are not going to help us so we have to see what we can do”.

Beans ready to harvest in Camille Ortega...but there is less than one third of a normal crop

Beans ready to harvest in Camille Ortega…but there is less than one third of a normal crop

A major issue we will have to confront is the current devastation in the Masaya Volcano National Park, right on our doorstep.  The park was badly affected by fire a year ago, even though it is supposedly the most protected piece of land in Nicaragua. Strong rumours suggest the fire was deliberately set in order to allow for the development of various mega tourist attractions, which are now in their beginning stages, with backing from the European Union and Luxembourg Aid. The park has suffered from many unconstitutional activities including the organised cutting of precious woods, the extracting of water from the laguna in order to assist local road building and the poaching of rare animal wildlife ( a group of white faced monkeys seems to have completely disappeared). Firewood is taken out by the weekly truck load by commercial sellers as well as local people using it to cook. A current plan is to construct a hotel and various roads within the park boundary (also against the park constitution). Apart from providing a minimum number of low paid jobs, the benefit to the local communities will be derisory. But the damage to a precious nature reserve (the forest is – or was – Pacific dry tropical forest of which only 2% of the original remains) will be irremediable.

Middle left of the photo is a big bare patch...this is where the fire burnt off original Pacific dry tropical forest (25% of the park was affected). Still visible a year later.

Middle left of the photo is a big bare patch…this is where the fire burnt off original Pacific dry tropical forest (25% of the park was affected). Still visible a year later.

This is a guanacaste logged for precious wood within the borders of the national park (photo taken by me!)

This is a guanacaste logged for precious wood within the borders of the national park (photo taken by me! in May 2013)

We cannot work with the authorities to improve this dire state of affairs (we have tried and failed) so we are embarking on, in conjunction with members of the communities, an exciting though demanding combination of the following –

  • Establishing a rural tourism initiative through local homestays, volunteer work in local schools and in the campo and learning Spanish. There will also be a camping option for students and guests. Combined with local activities such as providing local guides for horse riding, bird watching, and hiking. The aim is to provide as much local sustainable employment as possible and therefore income directly into the communities  (very much along the model successfully used to date by La Mariposa).
  • Hand in hand with the above we would like to establish programs working in environmental conservation and improvement. We have already established a scheme whereby over a hundred of the poorest families have been provided with eco cookers, which use 50% of the amount of firewood used in traditional open fires and are also much healthier as they emit far less smoke.
    The info on the eco cooker - given to representatives of each of the communities along with a demonstartion.

    Info on the eco cooker – given to community representatives at the demonstration.

    The photos below show Marisol, from Coci Nica, who gave the demonstration and Carlos, from the Los Aguirres section of Camille Ortega who is walking slowly towards the cooker telling everyone that it is amazing, he can feel no heat at all coming from it! The second pic is of cookers about to be carried away to their new homes!

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  • We recently helped to install running water for several families in one of the poorest neighborhoods (Los Aguirres)- several Mariposa volunteers really enjoyed working hard on this project together with people from the beneficiary houses. More than one volunteer commented that “it is amazing how kind these poor people are – they kept offering and insisting that we take food and drinks from their houses”.
  • Volunteers and local people digging the channel for the  water pipes

    Volunteers and local people digging the channel for the water pipes

  • Future plans include providing solar panels and helping dig latrines.
  • One of the families who will benefit from a latrine.

    One of the families who will benefit from a latrine.

  • We are not asking for payment in any shape or form – but what we are asking of local people is that they help us with re forestation projects and we have already, to this end, donated/planted some 1,300 forest trees in the area. The Mariposa tree nursery has a few more thousand to donate and we are actively looking for sources of precious and rare trees. Future initiatives will include working towards eliminating chemical pesticides in the area.
  • Selecting trees from La Mariposa tree nursery to plant out in the communities

    Selecting trees from La Mariposa tree nursery to plant out in the communities

    School kids involved too.

    School kids involved too.

  • On the new land itself, plans are progressing to build a butterfly house to raise and release local species of butterfly, digging of  a frog pond starts this week,  actually two ponds linked by a running stream to encourage other wildlife especially dragonflies (powered by a solar pump). And of course plants  and trees(at present we are concentrating on those which attract butterflies and birds, especially the local groups of parakeets….we have had groups of over 30 feeding regularly on our fruit and seed trees) are being continually planted (though this is hindered by lack of rain). Plans for a bee project are in the initial stages.The aim is that these developments will attract more tourists to this area, some of whom might wish to stay in the communities and learn more about life here as well as the flora and fauna. Of course it will also be a wonderful resource for local people and Mariposa students to visit and enjoy.
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    This is the now almost extinct cocobola tree, we ahve planted two on the new land. Also known as rosewood, it has been mercilessly exploited for musical instruments and “fine” furniture

    If you look carefully you can see the BAT BOX!!

    If you look carefully you can see the BAT BOX!!

    Digging the frog pond...

    Digging the frog ponds…

    Nicaraguas national bird.....the guardabarranco. Alreday there are several living on the new land.

    Nicaraguas national bird…..the guardabarranco. Already there are several living on the new land.