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.

Jader – A Very Special Story

Yader Jn

Quick summary: Jader was born in 2013. He has always needed a tracheostomy but this is not freely available in Nicaragua, costing around $450. Jaders father sells ice cream — he makes around $3 per day. While he was selling ice cream to Mariposa students it occurred to him,  with much trepidation, to ask us for help. WE did a collection amongst the students and raised enough! Since then we have helped to the tune of $3500 for medicines, consultancies, operations etc. Jader Jn is now thriving, has started school and wants to be  a doctor when he grows up.

Below is Jader’s story, in the words of his father…
Now read on and practice your Spanish!

Jader nació el 19 de abril del año 2013 en el hospital de Jinotepe – fue remitido al hospital en Managua el día siguiente. Fue entubado quedando sedado por completo, respirando por ventilador – el cual despertó después de cinco días. Ya no pudo respirar normal por lo que tuvieron que hacerle un TRAQUEOSTOMÍA. Desde ese momento nuestra vida dio giro de 360 grados. Pasemos en al hospital 28 días con tratamiento. Luego me dieron de alta precio más tratamiento.

Lo llevamos a casa. Fue entonces cuando me dijo el doctor que necesitábamos succionar los secreciones del tubo con mucho cuidado porque se podía asfixiar. Había que conseguir un ASPIRADOR. Comencé a preguntar a varios personas sobre este aparato. Descubrí que el aspirador costaba alrededor de $450. Y no teníamos ni un córdoba en mi bolsa.

Yo soy vendedor de Eskimo (helados) y solo gana como 80 cords por dia (mas o menos $3 por dia). Siempre pasaba por La Escuela de Español La Mariposa vendiendo. Un dia se enfermo el niño y nosotros estábamos desesperados. Se me vino a la cabeza – voy a pedir dinero aquí en La Mariposa – yo me dije que por lo menos van a darme 5 dollars. Con mucho temor pregunte si me podia ayudar para comprar el aspirador. Fue ahí donde me comenzaron ayudarme de manera incondicional. Doña Paulette me pidió solo el epicrisis y una foto del niño.

Desde entonces he recibido alrededor de $3500 para comprar medicinas, un nebulizador, consultas con especialistas, operaciones, leches especiales – todo lo  necesario para sobrevivir y crecer nuestro hij. Y ahora tiene casi 4 años y aunque todavía tiene la traqueotomía se puede decir que Jader tiene una vida normal. Ya estamos llevándolo a la escuela. El dice que cuando sea grande va a ser doctor.

No tenemos palabras para agradecerles todo que han hecho los estudiantes de La mariposa por mi familia. Muchas gracias!


Eco cookers donated by La Mariposa

Eco cookers donated by La Mariposa

MAS MARIPOSAS ….Announcing that La Mariposa has a sister organization.

Our NGO is in the final stages of its formation -approved by the State of Colorado and now just a short wait for US federal approval.

Our reasons for taking this step (some of you I know think it is long overdue!)  (1) we will have  a legitimate base upon which to fundraise and apply for grants and (2) Paulette will have somewhere to leave La Mariposa in her will, thus ensuring that its operations remain for the benefit of the whole community (and of course Guillermina).

Legally, administratively and financially Mas Mariposas will be a completely separate organization from the business. This means that the Spanish school and hotel will function as normal but instead of using our income to directly fund projects, it will be donated to the NGO. Our 15 or so project workers, for example, will be paid by the NGO.

In practice, of course, we will continue to work very closely together.  The NGO will work with the same kind of community and environmentally based principles as La Mariposa and will look to support already existing projects that spring in one way or another from the community. The principle of not imposing our own ideas or solutions will still be paramount. It will also follow our well tested principles of minimum bureaucracy, maximum effectiveness and maximum local employment. Unlike many NGOs, Mas Mariposas will not be a single issue organization. It is our belief that you cannot tackle problems in isolation (whether skinny street dogs or disabled children without wheelchairs) without addressing the fundamental issues of poverty and environmental degradation.   Obviously La Mariposa will continue to play the major role in offering local employment as well as supporting other employment opportunities such as the women’s cooperative bakery. But clearly the most disadvantaged groups, such as disabled children and their families, need extra and very specific help which Mas Mariposas will continue to provide. The work will stay varied and responsive, the hope being that we will be able to access higher levels of funding than the Mariposa business has been able to provide.

Some examples of our current projects

  • donating eco cookers to the poorest families, at the same time donating tree seedlings
  • 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

  • assisting with the provision of latrines and water pipes in the poorest barrios
  • Mariposa volunteers laying water pipes with the Aguirre community

    Mariposa volunteers laying water pipes with the Aguirre community

  • supporting disabled children and their families through the Los Pipitos project,
  • Guillermina working on the equino therapy project

    Guillermina working on the equino therapy project

  • rescuing horses and dogs and offering them permanent refuge
  • rescuing wild animals and returning them to the wild
  • Marlon releasing a rare green iguana back into the wild

    Marlon releasing a rare green iguana back into the wild

  • bringing the horse project together with Los Pipitos through offering equino therapy
  • supporting community based out of school projects and reading corners, providing children in some of the poorest barrios with play and learning opportunities
  • Reading corner

    Reading corner

    working with MINED to develop our successful model of in-school support in the most deprived schools

  • working in many different ways to protect and enhance the local environment and involve members of the local community in these efforts – including planting and donating trees and other plants, demonstrating a successful organic gardening model, producing our own compost, using sustainable building methods, recycling trash and grey water, acting to protect wild animals, reptiles, birds, butterflies, bees and other insects….
  • preserving local cultures, for example, through supporting local dance groups and local knowledge of natural medicine
  • Dancing at the Xmas party

    Dancing at the Xmas party

  • supporting local sports leagues in some of the poorest barrios
  • establishing and maintaining a nature reserve, combined with an education aspect for both visitors and local people
  • XS 20141113 butterfly 5a

Happy Xmas and an activist New Year from La Mariposa and Paulette


Dear all

A brief note to wish all of our students and supporters a Happy Xmas and a Great New year.  And to give an update on where la Mariposa is up to. Plus a little bit of personal stuff!

2014 has, on the whole, been a very good year for La Mariposa. A major development has been our purchase of a piece of land right in the center of the pueblo but ideal for setting up a small  nature reserve which is what we have spent the last 5 months working hard on. The land has some beautiful enormous trees, covered in bromeliads and orchids (flowering now!) as well as plenty of good coffee. With the help of numerous volunteers, we have planted a few thousand more trees, created a butterfly garden by planting whatever flowers we can get our hands on, building a frog pond, bat boxes, a dual purpose latrine (use number one is obvious, the other is collecting urine for compost!!!) and in Jan we start building the first straw build cabin there.  We also use the land as a base for some of our community projects…especially re afforestation and the eco cooker project (we have so far donated, no cost, no strings attached, some 200 eco cookers to the poorest families in the poorest communities with the hope that their use will reduce firewood consumption. And thus reduce the felling of trees around here which in general, as everywhere, goes on at an alarming rate. Meyvi, the worker employed on this project visits all of the families afterwards to ensure they are being used correctly. Success rate so far is about 95%!! A personal project is my “heritage” chicken project!! Yes, I have finally lost my marbles. Actually they are lovely. In contrast to the dreadful explosion of factory farmed chickens in Nicaragua, these are chickens of varied breeds (some have no feathers on their necks and heads, others have feathers on their legs which look like trendy boots and still others have their feathers ruffled up the wrong way!!) – they get on reasonably well with yet another bunch of rescued dogs.  I have become a bit of a bird fanatic in my dotage so we now have bird feeders (mostly bananas) everywhere and they are attracting a wide range of birds both resident and migrant! Seeing a couple of aricaris (like toucans only smaller) feeding from a bunch of bananas quite makes the day!! I am really excited that this year we are going to do a bird count on our land, together with some of the other conservationists nearby.

Eco cookers donated by La Mariposa

Eco cookers donated by La Mariposa

Linked in with the Nature Reserve is our new program of rural tourism. The idea is to offer an alternative set of afternoon/weekend activities in some of the poorest communities close to us. I was truly shocked to discover quire recently that there are still families with no running water, no sanitation and no electricity and remote from any school! But they have the great advantage of being situated close to the Masaya Volcano national park with spectacular views over the volcano, great birds and wildlife – all in all excellent tourist potential!  The new program will be a mix of horse riding and hiking the trails, bird and animals watching (we are building a special observation hide), visiting and talking to local families, learning about their history, some of the local myths and legends. Agriculture around here is interesting too – there are small scale coffee and tobacco farms where students can take part in the harvest as well as pineapple, pitaya, fruit trees of all varieties, corn, beans, squash…….some of it is organic and some not. Students can learn a lot about environmental issues around here, most of which of course are not just relevant here but globally. One of these communities, Venecia, is situated on the shores of a stunning, but hugely polluted, crater lake. We are of course doing a lot of project work in these communities such as building latrines (for the use of the community and visitors), funding a teacher to help the kids read and write in the community of Los Aguirres, helping with laying water pipes, regular clean ups of the lake, reforestation and so on. It is a demanding project but an exciting one and we are hoping to get the first takers for the new program in the New Year.

Trekking the rim of the Masaya volcano and visting indigenous communities along the way

Trekking the rim of the Masaya volcano and visting indigenous communities along the way

Aside from this project, we currently support around 15 projects in La Concha generally. Several of them are children’s projects…reading corners, out of school clubs, community centers and support units within schools. We are even funding a night guard for a school where there are no resources to pay for one. Our work with Los Pipitos, a project for disabled kids, has really taken off this year. We now employ a physical therapist and, thanks to a generous grant from Peaceworks, we have been able to put in electricity and furbish a therapy room. For the past few months Wednesday afternoons have been horse therapy afternoons. We simply brought together two projects…the rescued horses (of which we now have nearly 20) and the disabled kids. They love it and we now have a horse and cart to take the kids who cannot sit on a horse. A huge benefit of this has been it gives Guillermina a job to do which uses her strengths; she enjoys herself enormously and has just expanded her repertoire to organizing a football team for the kids twice a week.

Life however is not all work and I am increasingly taking time out for myself and Guillermina. This is helped greatly by the new team that I now have around me! For those of you who have been here you may well remember Marlin, now the head of the Spanish school and doing an excellent job. I never thought I could find someone as good as Bergman (his leaving was pretty horrible, not suitable material for a Xmas letter!!!) but Marlin is good at the job and also honest and communicative. He really enjoys helping with the projects. Then Richard was promoted to run the activity program…also a runaway success. We have a new admin worker and accountant, Hazel who is also terrific and of course Rosa continues as head accountant though she will leave us for a while in Jan to have a baby. Chester now heads up the administrative team and the interns. So I am surrounded by wonderful, competent young people who really go out of their way to be supportive and involved. The rest of the staff group has been pretty much unchanged for some time…Ismael still runs everything; Emilia heads up the kitchen….we now employ 60 people, possibly the achievement of which I am most proud! Management meetings are great fun!

What this means for me is I can take more time off. A few months ago Guillermina and I moved out of La Mariposa where we have lived for some 8 years and into our little hobbit house on the farm. The house is built mainly out of straw with a tiled roof, lots of patios and a garden that I just love.  Much to my surprise, Guillermina enjoys being there with me…we potter about, she helps feed the rescued dogs and cats (too many!) and put out food for the birds. I listen to music and read a lot, I am trying to read more and more in Spanish. We have planted a flower garden that is attracting butterflies, special trees to help bees and other insects. Apart from the odd scorpion, all life is welcome! It is a great getaway for me.


It is hard to leave the house now but I still want to travel some more in Nicaragua. Especially because I have become more and more caught up in environmental issues and I want to go see first-hand what is happening in the areas where campesinos (of course not the rich!) are already being forced off their land to make way for the canal, the zona libre, a tourist complex and I dread to think what else. I have this year visited Bosawas, the biggest stretch of rainforest in Central America but rapidly disappearing. I saw part of it burning– huge, magnificent trees being burnt to make way for yet more cattle ranches – and now the canal. But I have written blogs on these, please read them because these are global issues not just local Nicaraguan ones!



This year I got my Nicaraguan citizenship which means I can happily start to get involved in some form of environmental activism: that is my goal for 2015!! I can be sent to prison but I cannot be deported!!


Well I think that is about it!!

We wish you a happy holiday and a globally aware New Year!

Paulette, Guillermina and La Mariposa team.


You can now book your sustainable rural adventure with La Mariposa

By horse or by foot – views of the live crater of the Masaya Volcano and, in the distance, the crater lake , Laguna de Masaya. L to R - Ariel, who leads the horses; Linda, group member; Franklin, local guide; Marlin, program coordinator; Nick, group member and photographer; Ismael, program coordinator and Bismark, local guide.

By horse or by foot – views of the live crater of the Masaya Volcano and, in the distance, the crater lake , Laguna de Masaya. L to R – Ariel, who leads the horses; Linda, group member; Franklin, local guide; Marlin, program coordinator; Nick, group member and photographer; Ismael, program coordinator and Bismark, local guide.


La Mariposa has worked for several years with our neighboring indigenous communities – primarily the barrios of Panamá, Aguirre and Venecia – now we can offer a two week sustainable tourism program of exceptional diversity, based in these communities and the surrounding landscapes. Our program has such variety and depth thanks to our longstanding relationships with the communities, our focus on assisting their self-development and our commitment to protecting the environment.

Trekking the rim of the Masaya volcano and visting indigenous communities along the way

Trekking the rim of the Masaya volcano and visting indigenous communities along the way

Our guides and homestays are from the local communities. We are not experts in any one specialty but can tell you a great deal about the area – from its history, geography, myths and legends to the flora and fauna. We introduce you to different farming practices, organic and non-organic and products as varied as pineapple and coffee. We can show you traditional medicinal plants and healing practices. We focus on the efforts of the communities to combat the impact of climate change, especially since the serious drought in 2014.

One of the indigenous communities we visit, the Aguirre family. They will teach us about their history, their organic integrated farm, local flora and fauna and their medicinal plants.

One of the indigenous communities we visit, the Aguirre family. They will teach us about their history, their organic integrated farm, local flora and fauna and their medicinal plants.

The program includes:

Riding and hiking through stunning scenery, exploring a variety of natural eco systems including Pacific dry tropical forest, a live volcanic crater, lava flows, open grassland, a crater lake.

  • Laguna de Masaya (from the Masaya side)

    Laguna de Masaya (from the Masaya side)

Visiting a variety of local farms, looking at the impact humans have had on the various landscapes – especially through farming but also, more recently, tourist developments.

  • View of the Masaya Volcano from a tobacco farm. You will see the mixture of types of small scale agriculture, of which this is one example. We can see, in season, how different crops like tobacco and coffee are processed.

    View of the Masaya Volcano from a tobacco farm. You will see the mixture of types of small scale agriculture, of which this is one example. We can see, in season, how different crops like tobacco and coffee are processed.Interacting with the communities around the rim of the Masaya Volcano, focusing especially on the indigenous, who have received the least input from national/local authorities and so have retained many indigenous customs.

    Interacting with the communities around the rim of the Masaya Volcano, focusing especially on the indigenous, who have received the least input from national/local authorities and so have retained many indigenous customs.

  • Meet Don Pablo who has lived here for 60 years, loves to tell his story and introduce us to his cows.

    Meet Don Pablo who has lived here for 60 years, loves to tell his story and introduce us to his cows.

    Learning about traditional food and cooking, music and dance, natural medicine, myths and legends, the history of the area…….

    Helping to provide funds and volunteer help for developments requested by the communities themselves. The lack of official interest has also meant of course that the level of poverty and access to basic facilities such as drinking water and schooling has been severely restricted.

  • Mariposa volunteers laying water pipes with the Aguirre community

    Mariposa volunteers laying water pipes with the Aguirre community

    Staying with local families, with overnights in hammocks, offers a real way to understand the problems and joys of community life as well as ensuring that resources go directly to local families.

    Trying to keep our tourist footprint as light as possible. Transport is mostly by foot or horseback. We use motor vehicles only when absolutely necessary!

  • Trekking around the rim of the crater of the Masaya Volcano on horseback

    Trekking around the rim of the crater of the Masaya Volcano on horseback

    Bird watching opportunities and the chance to observe night animals at our specially built observation hide.

  • Black headed trogon...just one of the many species of birds living around the Masaya volcano

    Black headed trogon…just one of the many species of birds living around the Masaya volcano

    The program has been worked out with the communities who will benefit directly from the income. The communities also receive help in the form of construction, education, drinking water projects and more. A major Mariposa project involves donating eco cookers to reduce the reliance on firewood and reduce smoke emission, thus mitigating health risks associated with cooking on open fires. This project has been linked in with reforestation so when families accept a cooker from us they also take trees from our tree nursery to plant on their land.

  • Eco cookers donated by La Mariposa

    Eco cookers donated by La Mariposa

    Reaforesting the shores of the Laguna de Masaya

    Reaforesting the shores of the Laguna de Masaya

    This program is:

    • a 14-day program but you can opt to do one week, you can also combine with the Mariposa Spanish class/activity program the preceding week or the succeeding week.

    • The group needs a minimum of 3 people to function. Maximum 6.

    • Cost for one week per person is $450

  • Thanks to Nick Saraceni, Marlon Reyes, Tim salt and Ann Tagawa for the photos

Mariposa Community Environmental Education

Las Conchitas (3)

The orange line encloses the new land (called Las Conchitas) just purchased by La  Mariposa. It is very close (as the crow flies anyway!!) to the existing Mariposa….just follow a straight line to the bottom of the above photo and you will be here (though in practice of course we have to go round by the road as our neighbours would on no account let us walk through their orange plantations!). you can see how incredibly close we are to the Masaya Volcano National Park. I have written previous posts (and on facebook too) about problems with this park (and indeed with other reserves too, such as Bosawas) including the impact of  a massive fire which destroyed about 25% of the forest (the damage is still visible one year later) and the ongoing impact of illegal logging of precious woods, taking firewood out of the park, hunting animals within the park…etc etc. Our hope is that having this land can help in some small way to conserve and improve the environment locally…maybe to offer a sanctuary to some of the beleaguered park wildlife and to act as a resource for concerned local people who are seriously worried and affected by global climate change as well as what is happening on their doorstep. The communities that are currently working with us are those that go out on the right hand side of the photo.


So below are some of our ideas so far…….we would love to get comments and suggestions….and help!!

Overall objective of Las Conchitas

  • To establish an environmental education centre for both local people and visitors to the Mariposa (both Nicaraguans and extranjeros)
  • To build an extension of some aspects of the current Mariposa (Spanish classes, accommodation….especially camping) in the hope of bringing in some income to support the first objective
  • Entrance to the new environmental education centre (to be!) and Mariposa camping

    Entrance to the new environmental education centre (to be!) and Mariposa camping

Progress so far

  • Reforestation (about 700 fruit and forest trees planted. PS the fruit is for wildlife!)
  • Live fencing planted around bottom edge of land
  • Mapping for potential camping areas, this was carried out by Bettina and Chad a couple of Mariposa volunteers. Map complete and some costing work begun. There is the possibility of using wood from 2 fallen trees to construct camping platforms.
  • Constructing bat boxes, a volunteer family is working on this now.
  • There is an existing house on the land with 2 rooms (one large), a patio, latrine. Needs renovating but could be either the nucleus of the EE centre (favoured option) or communal eating area for campers….
  • Meeting held on the patio of the house on 5/6/14 (see below)
  • Hard at work planting trees

    Hard at work planting trees

Meeting with community representatives

  • Present were several Mariposa workers (including teachers, maintenance staff, gardeners, project managers) and people from Las Sabanas, Arenal, Camillo Ortega, Venetia (poor rural communities close to the Masaya Volcano National Park) and several problems were identified. These included – contamination of drinking water from use of, amongst other things, flushing toilets – shortages of drinking water – lack of rain especially this year affecting the bean crop – logging of precious trees including in the national park – taking out firewood – loss of local biodiversity – poisoning of soil from use of pesticides – disappearance of pollinating insects esp bees.
  • Some tentative ideas were suggested for addressing some of these problems but with the necessary caveat that many of them have global origins. It was stressed that the over exploitation of the land and natural resources has gone hand in hand with the exploitation of the poor. In the case of Nicaragua, this started with the Spanish 500 years ago and still effectively goes on today under CAFTA.
  • La Mariposa will take on paying for the help of 5/6 community activists to help us work  directly with the local communities.
  • One of the issues we talked about...use of pesticdes and the disappearance of bees (yes, here too)

    One of the issues we talked about…use of pesticdes and the disappearance of bees (yes, here too)


  • Develop the land primarily as a nature reserve (with possibility of camping etc) – to include (1) water feature (pond, moving water) for frogs dragonflies etc (2) a butterfly and hummingbird centre (mariposera) (3) planting of fruit trees and flowers to help with nesting/feeding places for bats, birds and iguana, also install feeding places and nesting boxes (4) investigate how we might help larger mammals eg deer (almost extinct here due to hunting), guatusas, ?????? (5) plant rare and native trees, shrubs, flowers as much as possible to increase biodiversity as well as caring for the trees and plants that are currently growing there……this work will include building a retaining wall to contain the roots of two large cenizero trees and removing a rubbish tip from the edge of the land.
  • One of the beautiful cenizero trees, covered with orchids and bromeliads

    One of the beautiful cenizero trees, covered with orchids and bromeliads

  • Work with the local communities through the paid reps to identify where we can combine help with environmental education and improvements. For example, Franklin has identified 8 families, living in the poorest area close to the national park, who have no electricity and take firewood from the park. One possible solution is to offer them solar panels and eco cookers in return for their help in protecting the national park.
  • EE centre – to include (1) wildlife observation and information (2) permanent exhibition on what is happening to the environment both locally and globally with historical and geo political explanations (3) workshops, seminars, practical demonstrations from local people and others on what we might actively do in our own lives such as implementing worm projects (save on pesticide use and expenditure), build eco cookers, use eco friendly building materials etc. (4) trails and walks offering info on plants and wildlife and the links between this and current environmental issues (5) a small library where people can access info on eco building, organic farming etc (6) meeting spaces for large and small groups
  • With the local communities and the reps, establish links and dialogue with (1) members of other communities around the national park who might be interested in this initiative eg Nindiri AND relevant authorities including (1) the local town hall and their environmental team (2) the national park authorities and MARENA (3) the EU, currently funding a tourist initiative in the national park (4) the national press
  • Establish an NGO with the above objectives
  • And of course it would not be La mariposa without a rescued dog or two....this is Linda doing her best to help out! Thank you Chad for the photos!!!

    And of course it would not be La mariposa without a rescued dog or two….this is Linda doing her best to help out! Thank you Chad for the photos!!!

The Consumption of the Bosawas Reserve and the Attack on Indigenous Peoples

Bosawas is an enormous, incredible nature reserve in Northern Nicaragua and home to many indigenous communities. They are all being destroyed, destroyed very fast. You need to know about this even if you have never been to Nicaragua. Their death will affect us all. But you may well not even heard of Bosawas, nor of its inhabitants. I have lived in Nicaragua for nearly 10 years (and been visiting regularly since 1988) and it has only recently entered my consciousness in any real way. Just as it is disappearing! Estimates vary as to how long it can survive but no one puts it above 20 years.

descarga (2) - copia

But this reserve is of vital importance to us all. It is no exaggeration to say that it is of life-giving importance to every other living creature in the world. Together with the worlds other forests, it basically provides the air that we breathe, the water that we drink and the soil we need to give us food. It also happens to be a place of indescribable beauty and home to an incredible array of biodiversity. Does all (or any) of that make it worth saving?


You would think so…….A few basic facts… it is the second largest rainforest outside the Amazon (largest in Central America), roughly the size of El Salvador (around 14% of Nicaragua’s territory). There is a nucleus and what is called a buffer zone – together they add up to 21,000 sq kms for those looking for more exact figures! Because of its international importance, Bosawas was declared a UNESCO Biosphere reserve in 1997.

For generations, Bosawas has been home to the Miskito and Mayangna (Suma) indigenous peoples. Ironically, they were more content to live under the British protectorate as subjugated but nonetheless independent nations than to be incorporated into the Nicaraguan state (a process which began in the early 20th century). Many indigenous still perceive the Nicaraguan state (under whatever government) to be a colonizing force.

King and Queen of Miskitia (british style!)


During a delegation (organized by Nicaragua Network) in March 2014, we spoke to several indigenous leaders and visited a number of communities. There is no doubt that their forest is perceived in a very different way from how we Westerners might perceive it. Actually, to say it is perceived is not right…..the forest is not, for the indigenous, an environment to be looked at, considered or even protected (much less exploited) it is, simply, home and all that implies. The forest provides not just the necessities of life – shelter, food, medicines, but – as a good home does – an all pervading identity. To destroy the forest is to destroy its people. And, as one of the leaders told us, “people from Managua” (read outsiders!) “see the forest as an enemy, only any good once it is chopped down”. Below is one of the leaders we spoke to.

A Mayanagna Leader


Both the forest and its peoples are under a number of different but interwoven threats. It is, of course, the desire to make fast money (lots of it) that forms the most obvious motivation behind the destruction but the cattle and the gold would not make anyone money without consumers. The Mayangna Sauni As received legal title to their land in 2006, much of which is deep inside the Bosawas reserve. The Sauni As create different “zones” which they put to a variety of uses – conservation, hunting, agriculture, water use, sacred areas, artisanal mining. Houses are small, built around a communal area of grass where a few cows and pigs may be grazing. There are no large herds. In fact, the activities are all on a small, subsistence scale, done with the objective of causing as little damage as possible. It is no paradise but it is sustainable.

In 2006, the Nicaraguan government began to grant titles to the land where the Mayangna haved actually lived for thousands of years. But legal title is one thing. Protecting your land from illegal invasions is another.  Since 2007, colonizers have been arriving in ever increasing numbers from parts of Nicaragua where the ability to farm productively has been wiped out, often by drought (Boaco, Chontales for example). They move in, cut and burn the forest, build houses. Mostly the cleared land is used for cattle ranching. But the soil that is left behind after burning the trees is usually very thin and lacking in nutrients. So the grass that grows is poor and cannot support the numbers of cattle brought in for more than a year or so. So the farmers have to move on and start again….burning and cutting trees. Often the cut wood is not even utilized, just left around to rot! We were told of farmers who had cleared over 50 hectares of original forest in just a month! The area photographed below was pristine forest just a year ago.


To quote Emiliano Comejo Dixon, president of the Mayangna Young Environmentalists, “If the government institutions do not act firmly, soon the Bosawas Nature Reserve will be one big cattle ranch.”

Bank of the Bonanza river eroded by cattle



Dixon goes on “In 2008, 11 mestizo colonizing families lived within the Mayangnas’ land in the Bosawas. Today there are 103. The colonizers clear protected forest for crops and grazing. While the Sandinista government is responding – two colonizers were recently found guilty of land usurpation – insufficient resources have been allocated to patrol the territory and new colonizers are arriving at a faster pace than the government is removing them”

The problem is exacerbated, as Dixon mentions, by criminal lawyers and people who act as intermediaries but are actually land traffickers, selling Mayangna land to unsuspecting campesinos. In recent years, some of them have been arrested but not enough to prevent the Mayangna taking the law into their own hands and driving settlers out with the use of force.

As well as the land invasions and cattle, the forest is being decimated by logging, both legal and illegal. Over one third was lost to deforestation between 1987 and 2010. For example, exports of granadillo – a precious wood used to make musical instruments and furniture – grew from just over $100,000 to $6 million between 2008 and 2011.Plus Bosawas has been a particular target for illegal timber extraction (worth $100 billion worldwide). This trade is run by “wood mafias” operating with the help of corrupt officials and transporters.  Honduras is the first destination and Honduran armed criminals have actively cashed in on the trade. There are also links between illegal logging and the trafficking of drugs…several of the indigenous groups spoke to us of “our villages being swamped with drugs”.

Below – legal extraction of precious woods


As if all this is not enough, the area around the reserve has been recently declared one enormous mining concession. The beneficiaries are international companies, mostly based in Canada. Mostly gold, but they are looking to see if there are other exploitable minerals. This is Wikipedia has to say about the impact of industrial scale gold mining“includes erosion, formation of sinkholes, loss of biodiversity, and contamination of soil, groundwater and surface water by chemicals from mining processes. In some cases, additional forest logging is done in the vicinity of mines to increase the available room for the storage of the created debris and soil. Besides creating environmental damage, the contamination resulting from leakage of chemicals also affects the health of the local population”.  You can watch Mayangna children playing in a river just downstream from a gold mining area.

Below – panning for gold in Rosita.


One of the companies located in the appropriately named town of Bonanza (right on the edge of Bosawas) Is HEMCO. Reading their website you would think all the problems are now solved by technological developments. To quote them “Direct application of cyanide solution in 7 agitator tanks is used as a recovery method. In this stage the reagents dissolve the gold and silver. The gold is later recovered through the Merril Crowe system (precipitation with powdered zinc) and is sent for separation to 6 filter presses. The solid product or precipitate is then diffused to obtain the metal Dore, which contains gold (25%), silver (45%) and impurities (30%). A washing stage against the current in two parallel batteries of 4 thickener tanks ensures maximum recovery of precious metals. The last tanks discharge a waste low in valuable metals and low concentrations of chemical substances into a pond for industrial residues. The solutions are then reused in the ore reduction process making it a closed circuit”.

It all sounds very impressive though the mere mention of cyanide sends a shiver down the spine! The idea of a “closed circuit” precludes any possibility of a leak which is a dangerous assumption anywhere but especially in a country very susceptible to earthquakes.

In any case, several of the indigenous leaders commented to us that these concessions were given without consultation with them. The Humboldt Centre reports that in 2012 and 2013 the number of mining concessions in Nicaragua grew by 24% over 2011 and that currently over 13% of the country is under concession for mineral extraction!

The role of the government and government agencies in all of this is, to say the least, ambivalent. On the one hand, the Mayangna together with other indigenous groups were granted legal title to their land and the Ecological Battalion (the BECO) of the army was formed to help protect Bosawas from invasions, logging and so on.

On the other hand, there is evidence of government involvement in some of the destructive activities. Alba Forestal is partly government owned and is certainly logging in the area. The newspaper La Prensa asked on March 13th 2014 “how many tons of wood is Alba Forestal taking out of Bosawas? Which country is its destination? Why are they taking out mahogany and other precious woods when it is prohibited by law?” La Prensa says it got no answers.

But the major driving force behind the destruction of the world’s last remaining forests (and one could equally apply this to the wrecking of our oceans and other ecosystems) is the increasing consumption levels. We may lament the extinction of another forest animal or the poisoning of our seas but we do not make the link with the beef or the processed foods (which use a great deal of palm oil) we consume or the waste we generate.

No one illustrates this ambivalence better than Dr Paul Oqist. As the Sandinista government’s representative to world climate change forums, he is very concerned about the effect on Nicaragua of climate change. But, as a Sandinista Minister of State, he is also a prime mover behind the drive for more exports. Quoted in an interview with tortillaconsal, he says “Let’s look at an example of access to new markets, the case of beef exports, which has grown by 107% …from $148 million in 2006, to $400 million in 2011. Looking at destinations, the first is Venezuela, both in terms of beef as well as livestock; then there are the traditional markets…United States…. Mexico does not even figure in this list…yet Mexico is investing $100 million here in SuKarne so as to export Nicaraguan beef to Mexico. The Russian Federation has already sent experts to certify Nicaraguan abattoirs, because Russia wants to import Nicaraguan beef. Our beef is of excellent quality, which is why they fetch excellent prices”.

It is inevitable that increasing the number of cattle or looking for more gold to mine will affect areas of land thus far unexploited. Where else are the farmers and miners to go? And of course this is happening all over the world though the end products may be different. The fastest disappearing forests are those of Indonesia and here it is the demand for palm oil and paper that is largely responsible

So…..to put it succinctly. We, especially in the West, are consuming more beef (as well as more of everything else) – the raising of which consumes more rainforest. The death of the rainforest leads directly to worsening climate change through a double whammy – the trees release all their stored up carbon dioxide as they are cut down and, once felled, no longer can absorb the greenhouse gases and emit oxygen. And climate change is already with us – melting ice glaciers and permafrost, raising sea levels and temperatures worldwide. None of this can now be avoided, only mitigated by swift and decisive action on the part of ALL OF US. WE can plead with the big palm oil companies (Kellogg, PepsiCo for example) to use “rainforest friendly palm oil (if it exists which I very much doubt) but the great corporations will only change their ways in response to consumer pressure. And in this case consumer pressure is to NOT CONSUME!!

Naomi Klein puts it well in an essay in The Nation “Late capitalism teaches us to create ourselves through our consumer choices: shopping is how we form our identities, find community and express ourselves. Thus, telling people that they can’t shop as much as they want to because the planet’s support systems are overburdened can be understood as a kind of attack, akin to telling them that they cannot truly be themselves. This is likely why, of the original “Three Rs”—reduce, reuse, recycle—only the third has ever gotten any traction, since it allows us to keep on shopping as long as we put the refuse in the right box. The other two, which require that we consume less, were pretty much dead on arrival.”

Everybody likes to find someone else to blame whether it be a government not acting fast enough, corrupt public officials and lawyers, greedy individuals and corporations, campesinos who know no better than to slash and burn .  And, certainly in the case of Bosawas, there is some truth in all of these. Interestingly, though, the role of consumers rarely if ever figures on anybodys blame list. Maybe because as Klein says, consuming is to a large extent who we are these days (and this is increasingly true even for the most remote indigenous peoples). We all need to think more, talk more and ACT more to stop this vicious and damaging process. In the case of consumers (that’s us!), that would imply simply consuming less.