|Modern day tourism tends to emphasize the “experience” aspect of travelling — often to the point of excluding the learning and reflection that can make international travel (especially to “less developed” countries) more meaningful and worthwhile. We try to offer a truly exceptional range of good, interesting experiences (we do not do the adrenalin pumping stuff) whilst learning Spanish – we are now one of the best schools in Central America – and absorbing the culture and history of Nicaragua. Travel can also be an important stimulus to reflect on questions which affect us all as global citizens, such as “what kind of development is good?” and “what can we do about the state of our environment?”
(if you’d like, you can find our Responsible Tourism Statement here).
We do not offer luxury or perfection, we are not a paradise and we do not offer to solve all your problems!! We aim to provide friendly and thoughtful service to our visitors which is also an exceptional value for money. We are not a “Hilton” type hotel where all is of a predictable standard (and please note there is no pool, no disco, no all-night bar). Staff and students treat each other as human beings working and living together who naturally have different opinions and even (occasionally!!!) make mistakes. Our animals are also a part of La Mariposa community.
We create as much sustainable local employment as possible. Except for Paulette (now working part-time due to health issues), every aspect of La Mariposa is staffed and managed by local people, trained by us over the years. Wages are reasonable but not high (workers also receive a month’s paid holiday per year, a month’s wages at Xmas, severance pay and social security). Our goal is to help as many families as possible across the community rather than pay a lot to a select few. A very unusual aspect of La Mariposa is that we do not operate behind closed doors, everything we do is visible….you can talk to any of our staff, watch the accountant adding up bills (if you want to!) and join in with cooking in the kitchen. We do not hide any aspect of our work and you are always welcome to ask questions.
We have developed many other ways to return resources to the local community. We pay families to host students, which can benefit both very poor rural and more urban families. Plus we buy as little as possible in supermarkets (and we avoid the bigger ones as they are now mostly owned by Walmart), purchasing instead from local producers who supply everything from fruit to building materials. We consciously minimize buying imported goods (wine is an exception!). This policy ensures that the food we serve has not been transported long distances.
Clearly we aim to be as sustainable as possible in our own practice. We are not 100% but better than most and constantly striving to do more. Both the hotel and the study center incorporate eco-friendly practices such as solar power, solar heated hot water, rainwater collection, grey water recycling, and organic gardening, among other features. We plant trees wherever possible on our land, both rare forest trees and fruit trees for wildlife. We grow some of our veggies on our organic huerto and produce our own organic free range eggs. The food at La Mariposa is in season, largely vegetarian, locally sourced and as organic as possible. And always freshly cooked!!
Our respect for the land is such that we try hard to use built spaces in the most economical way possible and minimize the need to build extra areas. Our rooms and cabins are designed to make the best possible use of space. And it often means dual usage of a space…for example, the library in the eco hotel doubles as a TV room, a classroom, a meeting space and an office! Our lovely garden terraces and patios are not just relaxation spaces (with many locally purchased hammocks) and havens for birds and wildlife but also serve as outdoor classrooms. One of our classrooms serves as a massage room, complete with massage bed made from a fallen tree, at weekends!
So over the years, environmental justice has become a stronger and stronger guiding principle for us as the effects of climate change become clearer and the impact is felt locally. Poorer countries will undoubtedly suffer disproportionately. Deforestation is a major contributing factor. In Nicaragua rainforest is being felled at an alarming rate especially for logging precious wood and raising cattle (a beef burger costs about 9 acres of rainforest!!!). Even protected national parks (as in other parts of the world) are increasingly under threat, including, on our doorstep, the Masaya Volcano National Park. Sadly most tourists only know about this volcano because of its dramatic live crater and have no awareness of the Masaya Laguna, the surrounding dry Pacific tropical forest (among other rare ecosystems) or the communities that live within the borders of the National Park . This forest is fast disappearing- only 2% of the original now remains. Water is taken from the Laguna for road building. The local communities are not consulted on major new tourist infrastructure developments. La Mariposa, on the other hand, works hard to do what we can to preserve these amazing and unique features of our precious landscape.
Thus what started out as a mere Spanish school has evolved organically into a myriad of projects and initiatives but all based on the same values. We have to consider the immediate community and environment whilst simultaneously thinking globally. The problems local farmers face here in La Concha are directly related to industrial prosperity and global climate change. How can we connect it all together in practice as well as in theory…people, animals, trees, the soil, food, water….. the community and environment of which we are a part? And how can we change what needs to be changed but preserve that which matters?