Project Update – May 2017

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This is a summary of the projects currently being undertaken by La Mariposa and Asociacion Tierra – if you would like to donate, please go to our main website and scroll down the homepage to the Mas Mariposas ”Donate” button.

There are six categories of projects, although they don’t have rigid boundaries since we try and be as holistic as possible. Please note that the core project of La Mariposa (and indeed the reason for our existence) is to assist the local community through providing as much sustainable employment as possible, using the income earned through the Spanish school and eco hotel. There were 10 employees when we opened, there are now around 70 though not all full time. The projects listed below not only provide help in the way described but also through providing additional employment. As we say in our Responsible Tourism policy – we aim to “Maximize employment…teachers, guides, admin, kitchen, cleaning, building maintenance and construction, gardens, animal care, project staff. We do not pay high wages to a select few but pay above minimum wages to as many workers as possible, thus assisting as many local families as possible”.

  • Children’s projects: One of them (the Ruben Dario project) is currently situated in a school, with a library and a paid worker to help children with the basics of reading and writing – the project worker also organizes holiday play schemes based more on having fun. She has planted a surrounding garden with our help and other schools are interested in following this model. Normally around 30 children use the project daily. 3 children’s projects (La Soya, Karen’s Cultural Center and Los Martinez) are situated in community based locations and in addition to the above services we offer folklore dance classes and will be offering English classes in the future. Around 70 children currently attend the 3 projects. There is in addition a small project in our own nature reserve – La Reserva.

Costs – Each of these projects costs between $150 and $200 per week – this covers the “ayuda” for 2 workers and provision of extra materials – most of the play, art and reading materials are donated by La Mariposa students. It does NOT cover one off costs such as building a covered patio area in Karen’s Cultural Center

  • Our newest project, opened in April 2017, is the Panama project — this one specifically focuses on offering English classes to younger children. Panama is one of the poorest barrios in La Concha so the idea is to give these children a head start with a basic knowledge of English classes (in general it is only taught in secondary schools). It also allows us to offer additional work to our Spanish teachers who also speak English — especially important during the low months! Currently there are 5 teachers working there.

Costs – Including teachers’ pay, transport and some materials (again the majority is donated) – around $250 per week. The costs of constructing the space were $1350 plus $470 for tables chairs shelves and basic materials

  • Finally, we have the disabled children’s project. We employ 3 workers who provide a variety of educational opportunities and physical therapy. We also provide equino therapy (on our rescued horses) and hydrotherapy. Recently we started with a small employment project for some young disabled people working in the organic veggie garden. Currently there 28 children and adults registered.

Costs cover salaries for the teacher, the physical therapist, and materials, transporting the children and young people to and from the various parts of the project, payment to a local swimming pool for hydro therapy, salaries for the workers who care for the horses taking part in the equino therapy sessions. We also provide the neediest families with help for the purchase of medicines, nappies, milk and food. The total is over $600 per week – $80 is the weekly salary cost for half time (the workers will return to full time in a few months).

  • Environmental projects: This includes donation of eco cookers to the poorest families (so far over 750 at a cost of $12 each), and purchase of land threatened with monoculture or development to create nature reserves and preserve local sources of water. It also involves working closely with local communities eg Palo Solo to assist with their immediate needs in return for helping with conservation efforts. In the case of Palo Solo we deliver a truck load water per week to supplement the municipal deliveries and are planting 6 acres of trees specifically for firewood for local people on the Nature Reserve. We also do reforestation on our land and in the communities (to date we have planted over 25,000 trees). This category also includes our ecobuilds, use of solar power, recycling, water reuse, growing vegetables organically, establishing a medicinal garden, minimization of trash……

The costs of reforestation etc are difficult to estimate but we can itemize the following. Purchase of Cañada Honda (in the community of Palo Solo) was $97,000, the land for La Reserva was $100,000. We employ 5 park guards specifically to look after the land – $400 per week. Provision of water costs $130 per week to 2 communities.

  • Health Projects: We assist the local health clinic in La Concepcion with volunteers and donations of supplies. To help out the volunteers need a medical qualification but we can also set up observation placements. Recently we have started to work with their Natural Health Clinic – they can take volunteers with experience in massage etc. We also provide them with medicinal plants for their garden.

No ongoing costs are involved here but we do respond to one off request for help – eg provision of medicinal plants at a cost of $75.

  • Animal projects: We care for rescued dogs, cats, horses, parrots, and monkeys, and return many others to the wild. Over 1500 dogs and cats from the community have been sterilized. We also support the very little wildlife that still exists in this area… that includes birds, insects, reptiles, and some mammals.

Costs for food for horses (higher in the dry season when grazing is limited), dogs, cats, monkeys, parrots, rabbits etc – around $500 per week. Plus purchase of bananas and other fruit to maintain local wildlife. Plus vet bills – $50 to $200 per week.

  • ”One off” projects: The bakery, eco builds, are examples of projects with definite end points! We also help individual families with medical needs and, in the case of several disabled children with very poor families, with food etc. In one case we repaired the house of a disabled boy.

Examples – the bakery – $10,000. Jader’s operation (not included in section on Disabled Children) – over $4000. (You can read Jader’s story here). 

PROJECTS PLANNED FOR 2017:

  • Building a center for the disabled children’s project. It will be built from sustainable materials – such as straw from the rice harvest and adobe. It will have rooms for physical therapy, education and occupational therapy for the older children and adults. Its location is in a corner of La Reserva, close to the road and very accessible for the people of San Juan who use this project, but surrounded by trees and other plants. We will plant a special garden and create a sustainably built playground. Though designed for disabled children, the children from other projects will also use this facility thus encouraging more interaction between disabled and non-disabled children. Cost will be in the region of $15,000 — we have already raised $10,000 towards this.
  • Working more intensively with the community of Palo Solo (where Cañada Honda is situated) to improve their access to water (currently no houses have running water) and firewood (see section (4) above). WE will use a small accessible area of the reserve to build a storage space for local peoples dragon fruit harvests (this does not include those responsible for large monoculture farms) and a “comedor infantile” – a communal eating area for children. Costs of construction will be around $5000 and we are also looking for a sponsor to help provide the food on a long term basis.
  • The Los Martinez Children’s Project needs an extension on its patio to accommodate the high numbers of children who attend. Cost will be $1500.
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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 “

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)

FUTURE PLANS

  • 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!!!

Another even more devastating fire in the masaya volcano national park

By Paulette

The most recent fire/s started on the 10th April and burned for nearly 3 weeks. To begin with it affected the area around the Santiago crater which is the most famous part for tourists with its reputation, given to it by Spanish conquistadores, as the gates of hell. This area is mostly grassland. Though sad that in itself would not have been a tragedy since this grows back in a year or two.

The really sad bit was when the fires started in the woodland areas. By day 5 there were several fires and some of them were in places very difficult to access so it was nearly impossible to fight them. This woodland is Pacific dry tropical forest, of which only 2% of the original remains world wide. It is (hopefully still is!!!) home to a group of white faced monkeys (we were actually considering releasing the 4 mariposa monkeys there before this happened!), a family of coyotes, several species of small wild cat, many different birds including the famous parakeet that nests within the live very smoky crater, also popular with tourists. About 125 species of butterfly have been documented,  with  a dozen or so unknown anywhere else. There are also hundreds of bats living in caves,a very popular tourist spot!

Fires breaking out all over the woods

We don’t yet know the final extent of the damage but some park guards have unofficially estimated 25% of the woodland burnt out. It is an incredible disaster……

We also don’t know for sure how the fire started but it was certainly aggravated by the drier rainy seasons we have been having and the higher then usual temperatures (climate change of course). Plus Nicaragua’s resources for fighting such disasters are severely limited.No planes for example and only very short hosepipes!

Woodland around the animal drinking hole

The mariposa helped as much as we possibly could. Right from day one we sent out brigades of up to 20 men and women. We also bought a lot of  fire fighting equipment, hired trucks, sent in tankers of water and even bought boots for the fire fighters as their shoes melted in the heat.

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We even sent out watermelons, as well as drinking water every day to try and avoid dehydration. We have posted a lot of pics of this on facebook https://www.facebook.com/pages/La-Mariposa-Escuela-de-Espa%C3%B1ol/226752447353756

mariposa watermelon delivery service!

I cannot tell you how sad it was to be there (I spent day after day at the fire). But now I feel strongly that I want to be as positive as possible. So I am in communication with the park authorities about using the trees we have been growing in our nursery (obviously those appropriate) and looking for volunteer who would like to experience of helping us with this.

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New beginnings!! Above some of the tree seedlings in our nursery which we are hoping to plant out in the burnt forest. So if anyone is intersted to volunteer for this (it will be hot sweaty work) then please get in touch with us.

 

Forest Fire at Masaya Volcano National Park, by volunteers Dina and Colin

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Colin and I arrive at Masaya Volcano National Park three days after the forest fire to find the ground still smoking hot. Roughly 3 sq km, almost 5% of the park, was lost during this forest fire, the largest in the history of the park. Charred black earth stretches out from the crater, interrupted only by the white ash piles of what were recently plants and trees.

Our courageous park guide leads us deeper into the burn. First we pass only scorched stumps, but soon we begin to see trees with healthy, green crowns. However, we soon lose hope for these trees’ recovery, once our guide digs into the earth to reveal the burnt root systems. These trees are the standing dead. Without roots, these trees will soon wither and die. Their loss will be felt most directly by the park’s many animals that depend on these trees for habitat and food. More subtly, the entire forest will be hurt by the absence of the key ecosystem services provided by these trees such as erosion prevention. Healthy roots are the glue that holds nutrients and seeds in the soil to nourish the next generation of plants. Without roots, all of the soil’s nutrients and seeds will be washed away during the coming rainy season. The ecosystem will have to start from scratch, awaiting brave, pioneering seeds to float in and take hold.

The 17 park rangers and one hundred volunteers, fought tenaciously to limit the damage. They fought the fire entirely by hand with water containers on their backs and shovels in their hands. Our guide leads us down a wide track dug in a mere hours to hold back the flames. Days later, park guides are still taking 12 hour shifts walking the path to guard against new fires, flaming up from underground. Before we continue walking, our guide stoops to deepen a trench against this eventuality.

This ecosystem well deserves the valiant efforts of the park guards and volunteers. Born of volcanic rock, this unique tropical dry forest developed over centuries. The first arrivals on the lunar landscape were lichens, which slowly and surely decomposed the rock to create little pockets of soil where the first seeds could take hold. As plants grow and die, they enrich the soil and increase water retention. Eventually, trees can take hold, creating shade and habitat, which animals soon discover. In addition to being unique, Masaya national park cradles an abundance of life including white-face and howler monkeys, iguanas, deer, birds,and bats. The park boast 40 species of mammals, 29 species of snakes, 200 species of butterflies, 93 species of birds (20 migratory), and 500 species of plants. In the lava tunnels near the crater, over 25,000 bats of five different species roost each day to pour forth as a surreal wind at sunset.

Some species will be hit harder by the fire than others. Three of the species most harmed by the fire are Chocoyos (beautiful green parakeets), iguanas, and armadillos. The park’s chocoyos are well known for nesting in steep and sulphuric slopes of the active craters to avoid predators. During the day, they venture out of this wasteland to seek food in the verdant forest, where their striking green feathers provide the perfect camouflage. However as they fly over the burnt, black forest, they are easily spotted by predators. The iguanas will be heavily impacted because the fire struck during their reproductive season and their eggs will be easily visible to poachers and predators in the burn. Additionally, many of the yellow oleanders the iguanas prefer to eat were destroyed in the fire. The armadillos were most directly impacted during the fire itself, unable to flee the smoke quickly enough.

Despite many casualties of the fire, we still find many signs of life. Some trees have a white, milky sap that renders them resistant to the fire. Colin spots a lizard savoring his freshly caught breakfast on a burnt tree stump. Birds call from above. With the coming rains, this area will soon be covered in grass. No one knows how long it will take for this ecosystem to return to what it once was, but life will continue here.

Later during our visit, we hop in the back of a pick up to get a ride from some rangers up to the top of the ridge to better view the extent of the fire damage. The road cuts starkly between yellow grassland and incinerated earth. Along this path, rangers held the line preventing the fire from entering the rich and verdant Masaya coldera that has taken hundreds of years to develop into a cradle of life.

From the top of the ridge, we spot some smoke, not from a forest fire, but part of the nearby community in the park. Many people in the community are dependent on local wood for their cook fires. However, the wood in the park is protected from collection. Some community members frustrated with the prohibition and seeking a means to communicate their need for this basic necessity are believed to be behind some of the recent fires. Paulette and the Mariposa hope to identify the families most dependent on the wood and raise funds to buy them eco-cookers, which require less wood to burn. In the future she also hopes to employ local people in sustainable tourism projects around the park to mutually benefit the community and the natural treasures of the park.

We thank our guides and finish our tour beneath the cross above the Santiago Crater. The cross was originally placed there by the Spanish to prevent the devil from crossing out of what was believed to be a gate to hell. Looking at the cross now, I consider all of the impossible things humans have believed can be easily controlled such as volcanos and devils with a cross. On the flip side though there are such small actions we can take to prevent catastrophic damage. Providing eco-cookers and tourism training can help turn the tide in protecting this ecosystem and world heritage site for future generations. I wish Paulette buckets of success with this project and I will be sure to follow its progress in the future!

We arrive at the burn to find the ground still smoking hot.

Our guide digs into the earth to show us how the far spread under the earth.

We head deeper into the burn where some trees are still intact.

Close up of desiccated leaves.

Charred trees.

A nest in still green crowns.

The park guards and volunteers rapidly cleared this path to prevent the fire from spreading further.

Seeds in a scorched tree.

Seeds like the one above will be washed away during the coming rainy season.

Snake bones found in the burn.

Signs of life in the burn! A lizard enjoying breakfast.

This type of tree has some fire resistance thanks to its milky sap.

A shot of the area worst hit.

The grassy area above burned in a fire last year and gives us an idea of what we would expect to find in the burnt area next year.

The yellow oleander that iguanas prefer to eat.

Here the volunteers and park guards held the line and fought the fire back.

We stop at the top of the ridge for a better view and to take some notes.

Big picture view of the damage framed by one live and one dead tree.

Camouflage!

A ranger indicates smoke near a community.

Heading up to the cross.

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.

Dog Clinic day

Every so often Ruth, the senior Mariposa intern who has been with us a year now, collects up any unspayed female dogs she can find and heads off to Granada to a vetinary clinic. She comes home dirty, somewhat smelly and grinning from ear to ear!! This is her account….

PS One of the future dreams of the Mariposa is to accomodate brigades of vets in our new study centre so if anyone reading this has any ideas, please get in touch!!!

RUTH’S ACCOUNT….

Every now and then La Mariposa goes to Granada with our pickup truck filled with female dogs.  There’s a clinic in Granada that operates on dogs for free to help people to have less puppies when they can’t take care of them. They have had two special Mariposa days where we could take up to 15 dogs per time to get them operated. First we got a few dogs operated that live at the Mariposa, the farm, the project or dogs from the workers.

Last time we went twice with dogs from the different barrios close by. We went into the barrio and talked to the people about the clinic, explained them that we would pick up the dogs in the morning and bring them back in the evening. A lot of people were really interested and we were able to take up a lot of dogs to get their operation. It’s a long day, starting at 6 am getting the dogs from all around and loading them in the truck. Some go in the kennel and others sit in the back of the car with us. Some are small, some are big, some are friendly, others are just really scared.

The drive on the back of the truck is very pleasant and with beautiful views. Upon arrival in Granada we drop the dogs off at the clinic and leaving them for the day. From then on is just waiting around, enjoying a coffee or two at one of the coffee shops and chatting with one of the vendors in the park. This lady knows what we do there and is always happy to have a small chat. She offers us a seat and talks about her life and her daily activities. It’s very nice and good for the Spanish.

At the end of the day, this varies at what time; we get a call from the vet that all the dogs are ready to go home….

This time all the dogs are a bit more sleepy and some of them easier to put back in the pickup. All the way back again and then it’s time to reunite owners with the dogs. This is the nicest part…seeing the owners waiting for their dogs and really happy to see their dogs back at their homes. The day ends with sitting on the back of an empty truck, enjoying the views and seeing the sunset.
A cold  bucket shower is more than welcome and our home stays and a plate of warm gallo pinto awaits when we’re all clean and done for the day…….It was enjoyable, worthwhile and I hope we can do it again soon.