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…..

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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.

Earth Day at La Mariposa by Wylie (intern)

 

Piles of children hang onto the back of La Mariposa pickup truck.  A jabbering gang of fifth graders from the Barrio Panama primary school have just helped me flip a large blue barrel full of water onto its side in the bed of the truck.  The water pours from the barrel, over the grinning, yelling children, onto a dried out sandlot in the hills of Barrio Panama.  Clouds of dust billow into the hot air as the truck drives in circles around the small brown rectangle of land we’ve chosen to commandeer for our Earth Day soccer tournament.  The small hilly outcropping above the field is lined with children.  They cheer on the progress of the truck, in eager anticipation for the moment when the field is completely watered and La Mariposa interns finally relinquish control of the soccer ball to let the tournament begin.

Wetting down the pitch

                The black pickup, adorned with side by side decals of Mazda and Che Guevara, progresses across the small field in jolting zigzags and tight circles before the flow of water tapers off.  Students flood onto the field as the truck leaves, only to be corralled back to the edges by a small group of shouting, sweaty teachers.  With surprising efficiency two teams occupy opposing sides of the makeshift soccer field.  I raise the ball above my head as I step into the center of the slightly damp, but newly dust repellant, soccer pitch.  My explanation of the rules, delivered in stilted, improvisational Spanish, is widely ignored and as the ball is released the entire field erupts into frenzied, kicking activity.

The soccer tournament in full swing

                The soccer tournament was just one part of La Mariposa organized Earth Day activities at Escuela Panama and Ruben Dario.  In order to both raise awareness of the environment, and to physically improve the litter situation surrounding both schools, La Mariposa interns organized a day long trash cleanup project, which was completed successfully last Wednesday. 

Collecting trash

                At Escuela Panama, the students were divided into six different teams, distinguished by different colored masking tape stuck to their shirts, and given recycled rice sacks to collect trash as they walked down the street towards the makeshift soccer field.  They brandished posters with phrases such as “Feliz Dia de la Tiera” and “Mi Comunidad es Bonita Porque yo no Boto la Basura en la Calle” to passing motorists.  Upon arrival at the soccer field the group paused for a midmorning snack of fresh fruit and juice, and then continued with the grand, exciting, Earth Day soccer tournament.  La Mariposa’s dirt covered interns ate a hurried lunch back at the Spanish school and headed out again to repeat the process at Escuela Ruben Dario that afternoon.

Not even the presence of Mariposa volunteers could stop a rowdy group of older Ruben Dario students from secretly mixing their team labels and plunging the afternoon soccer tournament into an anarchic free for all.  After three games I was forced to give up on the tournament bracket in order to refocus efforts on including the younger teams. 

“Who here is on the Black team,” I shout to a group of over forty giddy Ruben Dario students.  All hands are raised. Children who just played in the Blue vs Red match push their way to the front of the crowd to assure me of their allegiance to the Black team. One would be footballer tries to pull the ball from under my elbow.  I raise the ball above my head, pick out five kids who had been standing in the Black team’s general area at snack time, and watch as the entire group fights their way towards the soccer two PVC pipe goals.    

As the “tournament” crashed along at this disorganized pace, and I began to recognize the repeat offenders sneaking into every game, the more competitive soccer players lost interest and drifted back in the direction of public transportation and their homes. The day concluded with an ecstatic group of girls kicking the soccer ball down the street as the dirt covered Mariposa interns trucked bags of collected garbage back home for later sorting. 

A resounding success.      

Interns organising the football teams

ECO TOURISM or How a walk in the countryside and a beach holiday became transformed into a new direction (yet another one!) for La Mariposa…..

To my eternal shame it has taken me 7 years to discover that the Masaya Volcano is not just a massive lava filled crater but also an amazing national park with a whole fascinating eco system and wildlife. It is inevitably the crater which attracts the tourists, and indeed where we take a group every month, that and the bat caves. The crater is admittedly extraordinary, with its history of being the Spanish conquistadors’ idea of hell (the cross was planted at the summit to keep the devils away!) and, the aspect I find quite unnerving, some centuries later one of the ways which the dictator Somoza used to eliminate political opponents was to drop them, live, into the volcano from a helicopter. The crater also of course has its endearing, even surprising, side – most notably the parakeets that make their nests in the walls of the smoky, to all appearances completely unhealthy, crater. They can be seen by evening visitors as they return, chattering away to one another, from their feeding grounds to the nests.

The very smoky live Santiago crater

But it was only when one of the Park Rangers, Erico, visited La Mariposa and told me something of the rest of the park that my view started to change and expand. There are, he informed me, 124 species of butterfly in the woods, several of which have only been spotted in this location. This is not actually the season for best seeing butterflies (December is the best month) but I set out anyway one morning on the most enlightening walk, firstly on a path called El Coyote….there are not, according to Erico, many coyotes left on the volcano but there is a family group of 10 or so living near the crater. They are of course active at night so I need to do another walk. As well as a few butterflies and some stunning orchids we also saw the trogon bird. At my insistence we headed off on a much narrower track, El Jinoguave (one of the very common trees in this dry wood), but I had set off badly prepared and, hit by a bout of dizziness, had to lay down, (I had a touch of sunstroke I think) prostrate on the path while Erico sent for a horse to rescue me. This experience turned into something really special as a small troupe of white faced monkeys (capuchins) marched through the tree tops over my head. Including a female with a pint sized baby clutching her back. Priceless. I had a particularly great view of them thanks to my horizontal position. I was especially blown away because I honestly had no idea that a group of white faced monkeys, a species threatened with extinction, is living just around the corner. Colin, a Mariposa student and an ecologist told me that 12 is probably not a sufficient number for the group to be viable in the long run…..thus the idea was born to investigate the possibilities of liberating our 4 Capuchins there!!!

Walk with Erico in the dry forest

Then I got chatting to Erico about the problems facing the park. The surrounding pueblos are, on the whole, poor campesino communities. Erico explained one example is how people enter the park and collect firewood, sometimes already dead wood but also cutting branches and even whole trees. The response of the Rangers if they discover this used to be to confiscate both wood and the offending machete. This led to a lot of resentment – so much so that on occasion fires have been deliberately set as a way of getting back! Erico and some of his companeros had the idea of offering work to try to change the prevailing attitude to one of wanting to protect the forest. Now women from Las Sabanitas sell fruit in the car park, making a good living, and some of the muchachos now bring their horses to the car park and provide rides to the visitors (one of their horses rescued me!!). But the fundamental problem is that there is simply not enough resources to protect the park properly (this of course is a major difference with much richer Costa Rica) and it is much harder to reach the richer folk who also exploit the park, hunting with dogs and guns being one example. As a result of this activity there are hardly any, if any, deer remaining in the park.

First group overlooking the view towards the Laguna de Masaya

The possible ways in which La Mariposa can help are, in brief…

  1. Help to identify the poorest families in the surrounding communities (we estimate about 10 in las Sabanitas for example, which is the nearest to us) and who are the most dependent on the park for their livelihoods.
  2. Work with the families to establish possible alternatives. For example, the Mariposa could try to raise funds to pay a number of people to assist with park rangering (this would be based on the same model we use to pay the salaries of the extra teachers on the school projects) and, in time, help support training for those who would like to become guides with expertise in butterflies or bird watching.
  3.  La Mariposa would also look for funds to buy a number of eco cookers for the families most dependent on collecting firewood in the forest.
  4.  La Mariposa will work to attract more visitors and students who are interested in supporting this kind of eco tourism initiative and in learning about the local flora and fauna. It may be possible, in the future, to establish a scheme whereby Mariposa students could volunteer in the park.
  5. La Mariposa will take more groups and individuals to visit and get to know the park as a whole, not just the crater! And develop programs for students specifically interested in the problems facing conservation etc in Nicaragua.

A short time after this idea took root, I went on holiday for a week to a semi tranquillo beach up north called Jiquillo. It happens to be next door to a nature reserve, Padre Ramos. Could not be more different to Masaya in terms of eco systems, here we are talking huge river estuary and mangroves. But the challenges are remarkably similar…in this case, I gatecrashed a training session being given by an NGO, Fauna and Flora, to a group of local people interested in working to save the very rare hawksbill turtle, rather than making a living through taking the eggs, and acting as guides to eco tourists. And again, it is even harder to tackle the rich who exploit, in this case the pollution caused by sugar cane fields and prawn factories. The role of La Mariposa would in this case be rather limited by distance but I am excited by the idea of taking study groups up to the estuary and comparing the issues and solutions with the Masaya situation.

turtle

As a first step towards developing the Mariposa co-operation program with the Masaya Volcano national Park and the Padre Ramos Nature Reserve we are offering a two-week study program when we will be visiting and studying, with local guides, both locales. I will put up more detailed information shortly.

First Group in the Study Center

On Friday, the 28th of December, the great day arrived: After eight months of construction and preparation the first group moved into the new Study Center. Twelve students and their two teachers – Christine and William – came from the Solebury School, outside Philadelphia.

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After spending the first night at the Study Center, they got to know the surroundings: The tour given by Paulette started at the Mariposa, followed by eating lunch there and visiting the Finca and the reading corner in Santiago. The last station was La Concha, or better: The ice cream shop in La Concha, so that everybody could cool down a little bit.

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On Sunday the group joined Paulettes charla about Nicaragua, which covered not just its current situation, but also it’s beleaguered history. The talk finalized with John Pilgers documentary Nicaragua – A Nations Right To Survive. After lunch the students and the two teachers went to the Laguna de Apoyo, a crater lake located between Masaya and Granada.

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On Monday, by the way the last day of 2012, the group started their volunteer work. They could choose between three different options:

  • Helping out at the reconstruction of the community center across the road

  • Working on the farm – and finally…

  • reading with children in the Reading Corner

In the afternoon, the group was divided up into three, maximum four persons, to study two hours of Spanish with teachers from the Mariposa.

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However, the 31th of December didn’t only consist of work and classes. At around 5 o’clock it was party time! They enjoyed the dancing on the “Mariposa dance floor” a lot and later in the evening the Nicaraguan band Son del Pueblo. Back at the Study Center they had a stunning view over the valley and the tons of fireworks Nicaraguans use to burn down.

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On Wednesday morning coffee picking stood in the agenda. To get there, one has to hike circa one and a half hours, which was already exhausting. Anyway, the coffee picking itself on a steep hill isn’t easy neither. Afterwards, the group agreed that it was worth it, since in the future they will look in a different way at their everyday cup of coffee.

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The following day, on Thursday, had the same program like Monday – except there was no party at night. In the evening of that day the students moved for the last two nights into homestays. All of them were quite excited about it and experienced a great and interesting time in a different environment. It’s obvious that it’s way easier to get in touch with the local community when you’re living with them. The students took advantage of it and played for instance football with some Nicas.

On Friday the group went to the close-by volcán Santiago. Later on, after lunch, they enjoyed their last four lessons of class.

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On Saturday it was time to say Goodbye. It has to be said that this group was almost perfect for coming as the first one, since they were very enthusiastic. Luckily it’s not just us being thankful, but also them, as the email of William and Christine shows:

By Patrick

Birds at the Mariposa

Black-headed Trogon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is a very exciting time right now at the Mariposa for bird life. We have tried hard to create a welcoming environment for both resident and migratory species by planting lots of trees to provide general habitat and also specific trees for food. We have discovered, for example, that the hummingbirds just love the white flower of the marango tree (also incidentally known as the miracle tree as people can get their daily protein needs from eating the leaves – our chickens and turkeys love them) and many birds come to feast on the seeds of the chilomate and capulin trees. Learning from the experiences in the original Mariposa land we have similarly planted something in the region of 2000 more trees on the land of the study centre and already, in the first year, it is clear there is more bird life around. A particular project has been protecting an enormous tree called the panama which happens to be on municipal land right opposite the study centre. The Mariposa is currently funding the repair of a community centre on this site and we also take care of this beautiful tree. This year a family of aricaris nested there and they have since been spotted eating bananas at the Mariposa. Wonderful!!! here is one below. many thanks to Ann Tagawa for sending us some stunning pics and allowing us to use them.

Collared Aracari