ESO NO SE HACE – Paulettes take on the troubles, 30th April

What is really pissing people off, at least the ones I have been talking to (neighbors, Mariposa workers, of all political parties and none) is that Daniel Ortega is not confronting the situation and talking directly to people. Most believe that the government was primarily responsible for the violence that led to the deaths of at least 60 people and so far uncounted injuries. But whatever the detailed statistics of who was to blame for what – the government really needs, in my view, to tackle this head on and not blanket everything in a suffocating silence, which is how it feels right now.

The official TV channels did not cover Saturdays march which was huge and peaceful, not a uniform in sight. Interestingly it had been called by the Catholic Church but the priest that I listened to talked a lot about the Virgin Mary but not much else! Oh well.

Similarly no report yesterday on how the National Dialogue went. OK it will take a while for some resolution to emerge but SAY something!!! Rumor has it the chief of police has resigned. Don’t leave this stuff to gossip and rumor….come clean and tell us what is going on.

Daniel Ortega has not lost all credibility, still many respect all of the good things he has achieved in Nicaragua, and no one sees an alternative, at least not now. However, he does need to start connecting with people to build on what remains. And he needs to promise that nothing like this will happen again.

Of course the short and long term effects of all of this on the economy, on people’s jobs can only be speculated on. But it sure as hell is going to be a bumpy ride. Tourism as we at La Mariposa know only too well is totally dependent on reputation and, as a friend commented, we have only just convinced many especially from the US that Nicaragua is NOT the violent place it is often portrayed as. How hard will that job be now???? Especially as many North American travelers are super timid and take fright easily.

Personally I feel 100% safe here, always have done and I was first here in the Contra War. Nicaraguans like having foreigners here (unlike other countries I could mention!) and not one has been targeted or even affected by the “troubles”.

La Mariposa will survive thanks to the huge amount of support we have had, both financially and emotionally, from ex-students and friends and to the students who are still planning to come…..but almost certainly not in its present form.

For now, a deep breath and we continue the struggle to provide decent employment, help local kids to learn English, support disabled kids and their families, and rescue unwanted domestic animals. Above all, whilst this crisis grabs the headlines the planet continues to burn, literally and we must continue to act proactively on that front as well.

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Mariposa Permaculture Project

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PERMACULTURE PROJECT AT LA MARIPOSA

The word “permaculture” is often associated with organic farming. Of course this is a part of it – and an important part – but by no means the whole story. At La Mariposa we have integrated permaculture principles into all aspects of our work and have added an ethic to the basic 3 (care for the earth, care for people, and fair share) which is respect and care for animals, both domestic and wild. This has to be a critical element, especially in the modern day world of the cruelties and abuses of factory farming especially of pigs, chickens and increasingly cattle both beef and dairy, the widespread destruction of forests for cattle ranching and the overfishing of rivers and oceans. In this sense we should not be “imitating the relationships found in natural ecologies” too closely as the human race is, frankly, too powerful and too destructive a predator – the current rate of extinctions of other species is terrifying. Thus we include protection of our wildlife, rescue of injured or neglected animals and a largely vegetarian diet as part of our Mariposa permaculture principles. Additionally, the human body also benefits from ingesting less meat and more vegetables and legumes and we have also discovered the therapeutic benefits of horses and dogs for humans – a further example of integration in our practice.

Of course you cannot in practice care for people or animals without caring for the earth – so it is a holistic, integrated approach that is required of us all. We certainly need to observe and analyse what is going on around us both in the immediate vicinity and globally (Nicaragua is already dramatically affected by climate change) and then open ourselves to learning what works in the here and now to improve the situation

 

Ethic – Caring for People

La Mariposa started some 12 years ago as an employment project – to try and help the local community by finding a way of offering sustainable employment. From 5 employees we now have over 80 (not all full time permanent workers) from Spanish teachers to organic gardeners. We opt to maximize the chances of employment so wages are reasonable but not high – we also provide attractive working conditions and adhere to labor laws. Our workforce is exclusively drawn from the local community and we ensure that visiting volunteers contribute skills and labor but never replace a paid worker.

We fund several children’s projects in the poorest barrios of La Concha. For example, in the barrio of Panama we try and give young children a head start by offering English classes (this also has the side benefit of providing extra work for our teachers) which have proved very popular. Other projects assist with reading and writing skills and provide opportunities for craft work, learning folklore dancing and play!

Our biggest project by far is Chispa de Vida supporting disabled children and their families (as well as providing jobs for 5 people). We offer physical therapy, equino therapy – using our rescued horses, thus integrating two projects – hydro therapy and educational help. Sustainable materials including straw, adobe and recycled tires were used to construct the buildings and playground, and as an added bonus, it is really beautiful, fitting in with the environment. Furthermore, this project is situated in our urban Nature Reserve so everyone will be able to relax and enjoy natural surroundings.

 

Ethic – Caring for Animals

La Mariposa funds a range of initiatives following the principle that animals, both domestic and wild, are an integral part of our environment. We do not serve red meat – many of the animals are raised and slaughtered in “industrial” conditions which are cruel, often also polluting the surrounding environment. We do serve chicken and fish though there is no real justification for doing so except human demand (note the chickens are often given huge doses of hormones so they grow at great speed which of course is accumulatively damaging to human health). We always offer a vegetarian alternative for those aware of this.

Approximately 2000 dogs and cats have been spayed and neutered under a Mariposa program, working jointly with World Vets in Granada. We actively care for over 100 rescued dogs and cats (many more have been adopted), 20 horses and provide veterinary services to local people who could not otherwise afford it. We hold “free pet days” offering treatment to eliminate parasites. We take care of several monkeys and parrots who cannot be released into the wild due to loss of habitat or they are too tame to survive.

Animals we have released into our Nature Reserve or other suitable locations include over 50 iguana, 200 parakeets, armadillos, foxes, and howler monkeys. We continually try to provide mammals, reptiles, birds and insects with a fair share of our land, our food, our water to ensure their survival.

 

Ethic – Caring for the Earth

Trying to implement this principle requires challenging the demands of the ever encroaching consumerist ethic which encourages a focus on THINGS, not relationships. However, it is important that those who come from the West with our fancy “organic” ideas need to remember that in Latin America, for example, the emphasis has been on pushing Westernization of culture, of agriculture and so it is somewhat arrogant to be suddenly saying “actually you indigenous peoples had it about right….life 500 years ago was probably better than it is today”. The response may well be along the lines of “yeah right, you in the West have it all and now you are telling us not to consume so much………” Tricky.

However, caring for the earth is paramount and one way is bringing to life existing but often dormant knowledge/s about traditional farming methods as well as incorporating ideas about saving water, using less chemicals generally (eg soap) and not creating waste by following the principle of REDUCE REUSE RECYCLE (with the emphasis on the first!).

 

Fair Share Ethic

This one is crucial and requires an understanding of historical forces which havd shaped the world so that resources are so unfairly distributed – between rich and poor, between developed nations and “developing” nations and why we seem incapable of sharing the planet with species other than the human one. Why indeed we seem driven to destroy our own home with massive deforestation across the planet contributing massively to climate change all in the name of greater profits. But if each person who gets more than enough to eat could CUT meat and snack consumption by half (also reducing the problems of obesity and diabetes) – this would start to impact the multinational drive for more and more of the earth’s diminishing resources. As Naomi Klein points out “global capitalism has made the depletion of resources so rapid, convenient and barrier-free that ‘earth-human systems’ are becoming dangerously unstable” (P450 This Changes Everything).

Clearly we all have to do everything within our individual and community power (obviously this includes political protest and other actions at this level). Whatever decision each of us makes now has to pass through 4 filters – and this now has to include the decision whether or not to have children and how many (it is the consumption of the developed world driving global destruction NOT so called 3rd World overpopulation)

  1. How will this action impact the environment (soil, water, air, creates waste or pollutants)? Positively, or negatively?
  2. How will this action impact my community (which includes but does NOT ONLY apply to immediate family?
  3. How does it impact of the life of another species, does it lead to preventable suffering or death? eg is the fact that I like the taste of beef worth the suffering of a cow?
  4. In this decision/action – am I taking more or less of my FAIR SHARE of the planets resources? Am I being driven by a THING principle or an EARTH/HUMAN principle?

Permaculture was first developed practically by Austrian farmer Sepp Holzer on his own farm in the early 1960s and then theoretically developed by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren and their associates during the 1970s in a series of publications. — wikipedia.org

Central to permaculture are the three ethics: care for the earth, care for people, and fair share. They form the foundation for permaculture design and are also found in most traditional societies.

 

Protecting Protected Areas

 

Please sign the petition asking the President of Nicaragua to protect protected areas;

https://secure.avaaz.org/en/petition/Presidente_de_Nicaragua_Daniel_Ortega_PROTECT_WHAT_IS_LEFT_OF_THE_INDIO_MAIZ_RAINFOREST_RESERVE/

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Nicaragua has suffered another environmental disaster (and there have a been many – the above photos were taken during the fire in the Masaya Volcano National Park) with the burning of the Biological Reserve along the Rio San Juan. Much of this area has already been raised to the ground for African palm (palm oil) and large cattle ranches. 5000 hectares of tropical rainforest have disappeared together with incalculable numbers of endangered species including jaguars, tapirs, anteaters, macaws……..this reserve is also home to indigenous Rama peoples. We are asking the government to do more to protect protected areas…this is important whether or not the Indio Maiz fire is now extinguished!

There is a great deal of confusing information out there about the Indio Maiz fire and the governmental response to it. I am happy to try and make my own position on this quite clear!

First and foremost I wish to stress that I have been an avid supporter of the Sandinista government and, indeed of the Ortegas, for many years, particularly in relation to their very successful efforts to tackle rural poverty. However I do not think that means that criticism is not allowed though I think this is the approach taken by many.

I am very critical of the global response to climate change, I totally accept that countries such as Nicaragua are suffering greatly from something they have done next to nothing to create. My view is that we all have to try and respond to this threat to our future existence as best we can, within our own individual and community limits. My relevant point here is that the Nicaraguan government could certainly do more to stop deforestation, at least in the protected areas, which we now know to be one of the major causes of climate change.

I have personal evidence of this issue, originating in my experience of trying to help fight a major fire in the Masaya Volcano National Park. I myself took photos of this fire still burning after the government had announced it was out. Bear in mind also that roots of trees, especially big ones, can carry on burning for days underground after the surface fire has been extinguished. I also visited Bosawas a couple of years ago and saw first hand the destruction of the rainforest there.

In my view it is a serious issue, not only for Nicaragua but globally. And, to repeat, each of us needs to do what we can, including the Nicaraguan government.

La Mariposa takes this very seriously…we have spent most of our profit in the past years buying land to conserve – we have a very rare nature reserve in that it is not also used to produce coffee or anything else, it purely exists to help protect local water supplies as well as fast disappearing flora and fauna. In the past 10 years we have planted over 30,000 native forest trees, including several acres dedicated for local community use as firewood……..please let me know if you would like to know more!

El Fin de Semana en Tola – Novedades del Huracán

Actualmente Tola está asociado con las playas más impresionantes del sur de Nicaragua, internacionalmente famosas por el surf. El huracán Nate golpeo fuerte y tuvimos una llamada de emergencia por parte de una ex-interna de La Mariposa. Respondimos tan rápido como pudimos, recogiendo ayuda económica y pidiendo a la gente que donara lo que pudiera (teniendo en cuenta que nosotros también sufrimos por el huracán). Muchos comercios locales fueron súper generosos, y llenamos la camioneta y parte de un camión con comida, ropa, utensilios de limpieza y como si fuera poco muchos voluntarios.

Cargando

Y así nos vamos

La tarde del sábado en tola la pasamos dividiendo todo en paquetes, para ser entregados por Fundacion Medica para niños, una ONG local, para las comunidades más remotas que han recibido poca ayuda. El domingo los voluntarios de la mariposa realmente si tenían que trabajar limpiando el lodo de algunas casas – con angustia de ver las casas sin paredes, ruinas de materiales escolares, colchones y ropa colgada para secar todavía mojada después de una semana de lluvia y hablamos con la gente que la corriente les arrastro todo. Pasando por el lugar, pudimos ver lo alto que el lodo y el agua alcanzaron en las todavía mojadas y sucias paredes de las casas y escuelas. Una familia perdió dos terneros y muchos de sus cerdos. Hay campos que eran usados para sembrar maíz y plátano que están completamente sumergidos en un mar de lodo.

Casas y campos cubiertos con lodo

Ruinas de materiales escolares

Todo colgado para secar

No es solamente un desastre humano sino ecológico también. Innumerable cantidad de árboles cayeron lo que por supuesto causará un clima extremo aún más probable en el futuro. Las grandes cantidades de lodo arrastradas por los ríos no solo venían de las riberas sino también de los campos erosionados de las colinas. Las colinas de los alrededores han sido taladas para ser parcelas pequeñas pero también hay grandes fincas ganaderas que tienen gran responsabilidad – no dejando vegetación en el suelo. ¡Exactamente lo que está pasando en La Concha!!!!

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Terminando con algo bueno…..regresamos a La Mariposa cansados pero contentos con nuestros logros. Estamos planeando un viaje extra este jueves para llevar más suministros. Y en el ámbito interno, hemos visitado todas las casas dañadas en palo solo (la comunidad cerca de nuestra reserva natural, Cañada Honda – estimamos que una quinta parte fue bastante dañada) y gastaremos aproximadamente $2000 dólares en suministros para reparaciones.

Solamente me queda agradecer a todos en todas partes que han donado. ¡Gracias!

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!

 

Let’s Explore: Cooking Class

written by Hannah Chinn, La Mariposa Intern

On Monday afternoon, we have cooking class!

We pile into the Mariposa van and drive to a spot on the outskirts of San Juan, where we take a short walk down a dirt road and arrive at a small house. A man directs us to the back, where we find a circle of chairs, a table, a bowl of dough, and a very large artisan oven. Our driver and guide, Josue, explains that we’re learning to bake three different traditional Nicaraguan bocadillos (snacks): empanadas, rosquillasand viejitas

We start by washing our hands (always an important first step in cooking) and then mixing the masa (dough), which is made with flour, cheese, butter, oil, eggs, and milk. When we arrived, it was already partially mixed… so we pour all the rest of the ingredients into the giant bowl and four of us knead it with our hands until it’s soft and easily formed into shapes (and Josue gives it his stamp of approval and tells us we’re finished).

It’s quite messy!

The baker then shows us how to take spoonfuls of dough, flatten them into circles, and fill them with a sweet-salty mixture of cheese and sugar — fairly common in Nicaraguan baking (and incredibly yummy… would recommend highly). With the help of a round plastic base, we fold the circles in half around the filling. Then we seal the edges shut with our fingers and lay them one by one in a long rectangular pan. Just like that, we’re finished with our first snack: empanadas.

We make viejitas next (literally translated as “little old ones”, which is rather confusing at first, but that’s just the name of the snack). Taking balls of the same dough, we press them with our fingers and form shallow bowls that would later be filled with a sweet brown sugar (it was very dark and tasted vaguely of molasses — several of the students taste it before we put it in). We place them carefully in the pans, and two students spoon sugar into each one of them before baking.

Finally, we roll all the leftover dough into small doughnut-like circles and put them into the pans as well — these, the baker tells us, are rosquillas
It’s harder than it sounds.
Hannah’s note: if you Google “rosquillas” you’ll see something that looks a little like a doughnut rolled in sugar… but Nica rosquillas are different! They’re crunchy and a little bit salty (because of the cheese in the dough, probably) and definitely more like biscuits than like doughnuts. They were still pretty great, though.

Once we put everything into the pans (we go through all the dough and filled up four large ones!) to the baker’s satisfaction, he and Josue slide each pan into the oven.

Speaking of which, the oven itself is huge… about as tall as I am (5 feet) and easily 6 feet wide and long. It’s also very hot, since the fire has been burning brightly since we arrived, so the baker uses a long staff to push the pans into the side of the oven between the wall and the hot coals.

We wait about twenty minutes for the baking to finish, telling stories while we sit. Then we pour coffee and eat lots (and lots, and lots, and lots) of piping hot pastries… the baker even gives us bags so that we can take some back to La Mariposa with us!

they’re delicious.