Trips out and other things to do……

 

Mariposa students who opt for our activities package are hard put to find a better way to appreciate the diversity, beauty and interest that Nicaragua offers – both the country and its people. We plan activities on a monthly basis, every weekday afternoon and weekend, there is something going on. We include things-to-do close to home, such as riding our rescued horses, and longer trips to some of Nicaragua’s most famous historical towns, volcanoes, lakes and Pacific beaches. Each activity is carefully organized and we always provide transport and bilingual guides from La Mariposa.

And if you want to go somewhere that is not scheduled during your time with us, we can organize a separate trip.

The variety is truly awesome!

Saturdays are our day out, rotating the cities of Granada and Leon, Mombacho (a dormant volcano covered in cloud forest), and La Boquita, our closest Pacific beach. Sundays we do local hiking or horse riding on our rescued horses.

Other trips out include visits to San Juan del Orient where students can try their hand at the local pottery and buy unusual and beautiful gifts in the workshops.  Masaya is the home of traditional handicrafts including world famous hammock making, leather goods, guitars, wooden jewelry and there is a lively market where we take you to stroll around, souvenir shopping.

Of course we also include activities designed to help you get to know something of Nicaragua’s fascinating history and culture, often picking up on themes students will have discussed in Spanish class – popular topics include the revolution and how Nicaragua has emerged form a period of war (the Contra War) into a stable peace. We also hold regular discussions around current day issues, such as the proposed Canal – will it happen or wont it?? Many of the trips out have historical interest visiting, for example, the gorgeous San Francisco Museum in Granada. You are always accompanied by an expert bilingual guide from La Mariposa and we use local guides when appropriate.  And we don’t forget local culture – we invite students to have go at cooking, learn some salsa and watch folklore dancing.

La Mariposa is renowned for our work with local community and the environment. We support a number of different projects – varying from equino therapy for our disabled children to maintaining nature reserves and growing organic vegetables (which we eat in La Mariposa).  Monday afternoons are dedicated to showing you some of our work.

Thanks to our hard work in environmental projects, especially establishing nature reserves near La Mariposa we are also now offering bird watching tours – both as part of our normal program and, for those interested in going further afield we can organize outings with one of Nicaragua’s leading bird experts.

Having organized activities now for 10 years, we are well able to vary activities according to the season and to local events, ensuring students always get the best possible experience.  Night time walks when the moon is full in the dry season, Easter parades by boat around the islands of Granada, Christmas meals out in the barrio after watching the parade in San Juan – are just some examples of how we respond to local events and culture!

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COME AND JOIN US!

Volunteer with the birds and bees – organic gardening in Nicaragua

La Mariposa has possibly the most varied range of volunteer projects anywhere in Central America! Children’s reading projects, working with disabled children, including helping with hydro and equino therapy (using our rescued horses!), helping out in a women’s cooperative bakery……just some of the options available – our website tells you more.

We offer a volunteer package –

  • Mornings volunteering at a supported placement and working alongside workers from the local community, this also gives opportunities for practicing Spanish
  • Afternoons in Spanish classes – our Spanish school is one of the top rated in Central America, the classes are one on one
  • Living in the house of  a local family.
  • You get to eat your produce at lunch in La Mariposa with the other Spanish students.
  • The cost of the whole package is $280

One of our most popular placements has always been on our organic veggie farm. Paulette, the founder of La Mariposa, also lives here with her daughter and a few rescued dogs, in a small straw built house.

 

Over the 6 years it has been operating, we have developed the farm on sound permaculture principles and we are always looking to improve. Though very small, half an acre or so, you will find we grow an impressive array of vegetable and native fruit trees which are consumed mostly by La Mariposa guests. We have taken the Principles of Permaculture to heart – you can see how we value diversity and the marginal – this applies to our relationships with people as well as to the land. We believe in looking for small, appropriate solutions and don’t have to feel we have to move faster and faster in order to find immediate answers. Change is often difficult, especially when it involves destruction or death (of a person, a dog, a tree) but has to be integrated into the way things are. This does not, of course, mean that we do not take a stand when the causes of change are exploitation and greed.

On a practical level we are undertaking the following…

  1. Water conservation is of course critical. The local municipality supplies us with water twice a week and we store this in the “pila”, a large tank which holds water both for watering the vegetables and for Paulette’s house. We water by hand in order not to waste any – this also helps us maximize local employment. We also use a number of ways to conserve humidity in the ground. For example, we spread straw around the vegetables and split the trunks of banana trees, which contain a lot of water, putting them on the ground to maintain moisture. Grey water from the household is reused on flowering plants. Building with straw also uses  very little water, as opposed to concrete dwellings.IMG_0073
  2. Although the original house has an indoor flushing toilet, we have built a latrine from bamboo which we ask everyone to use. It uses no water at all and is perfectly sanitary. In the wet season we collect rain water using a very simple system of gutters and pipes. IMG_0062
  3. Constant use of organic material to fertilize and enrich the soil is essential. We use a mixture of rice husks, soil from our worm project (the worms consume manure bought from local families who are still using oxen as a means of making a living), as well as compost from garden waste (leaves etc) and kitchen waste from the house. We also practice a rotation system and plant nitrogen fixing plants such as the marengo tree and plenty of beans! IMG_0066
  4. We have learnt to respond to local conditions – for example for a long time we tried very hard to grow root vegetables such as carrots and beets. But they do not work well in our conditions so we now concentrate on what does well…lettuce, eggplant, okra, tomatoes, spinach, kale, beans…..IMG_0060
  5. We have planted a number of trees on the land. Some are fruit trees (papaya, mandarin, orange, avocado, coconut) and offer food for both humans and birds. Dogs too enjoy a slice of avocado! Others provide shade for the house and resting areas thus eliminating the need for fans in hot weather. And some are specifically for the benefit of birds, both for food and to provide living and nesting space.IMG_0079
  6. We are proud to share this precious piece of land, not only with humans, dogs and cats but with as much wildlife as is possible in a place so close to the town center. We do not allow toxic fumigations to take place, preferring to control the mosquito population through natural means such as spreading lime on the ground. We also try and ensure the survival of natural predators such as spiders, frogs, lizards and bats. We do this by ensuring their food supply and also, where necessary, providing housing for them. When we have a fallen orange tree, which happens from time to time, we leave it on the ground to provide food and cover for lizards etc. Not only does all of this help the veggie production, it also ensure a relaxing and peaceful place in which to work, live and just be!IMG_0068
  7. Over the years we have placed special emphasis on encouraging butterflies and birdlife. The latter has been so successful that it merits a separate post! For the moment, note that the bananas hanging in the aceituna and capulin trees (native trees which provide food for wildlife, including our pair of variegated squirrels) are there, along with seeds and water, to encourage birds. We are proud to say that we now have a large group of red legged honeycreepers who spend a good part of the year with us as well as 25 or so other species.

    The stunning aracari, known here as felices (happy birds!)

    The stunning aracari, known here as felices (happy birds!)

IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN VOLUNTEERING WITH US – read the website thoroughly, it will give you a good idea of how we work and your options. Write to us at lamariposaspanishschool06@gmail.com. We will send you a simple form to fill in, telling us your preferences.

Please note – your money also towards maintaining our employment project as well as all of the other environmental and community projects we support.

https://justlists.wordpress.com/2010/01/14/principles-of-permaculture/

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 “

Bird Watching in Nicaragua and more – trees, butterflies, long legged guinea pigs…..at La Mariposa

Bird Watching at La Mariposa

The stunning aracari, known here as felices (happy birds!)

The stunning aracari, known here as felices (happy birds!)

It seems our efforts over the past few years to protect and enhance our environment are beginning to show results! We have worked hard to look after existing trees, especially in the Nature Reserve, a piece of land purchased with the help of loans and donations from generous Mariposa students in mid-2014. There we built a huge retaining wall of quarried stone and volcanic rock to protect the roots of some large trees, including a beautiful Genizero (Samanea saman) and a Guanacaste (Enterolobium ciclocarpum). A native tree, the Guanacaste is now almost extinct locally as its wood is very popular in furniture making and the demand for “rustic” furniture has exploded with increased tourism. An indigenous word, it means “tree of ears” referring to the shape of the seed. Making the best of the last weeks of the rainy season we planted 2000 seedlings of a wide variety of trees but focusing on rare, native species and what will work to attract and help feed birds, butterflies, other pollinating insects, bats and the few reptiles and mammals who live with us. So as well as planting species such as the Guanacaste, Pochote (Pachira quinata), a tree pollinated by bats, and the magnificent Ceiba (Ceiba pentandra)  – also known as the cotton tree as its fluffy white fruit fibers were once used to stuff pillows and mattresses (kapok) and whose flowers provide food for birds, bees, beetles and squirrels, we also included lots of fruit trees and other food producing species such as Tempisque (Sideroxylon capirii), super popular with parakeets. Sadly, I will not be alive to see these trees reach their full height but I hope others enjoy them and they continue to sustain lots of wildlife!

One of the genizero trees at the reserve, covered in orchids and bromeliads

One of the genizero trees at the reserve, covered in orchids and bromeliads

The madero tree, its pink flowers are food for birds and iguana

The madero tree, its pink flowers are food for birds and iguana

At the vegetable farm (where I have my small straw house) we have a very small piece of land but even so we have made it a haven for the local birdlife. Planting a Capulin (Muntingia calabura) tree which seems to produce small red seeds almost year round was a major success, the one just outside my patio is constantly full of Saltadors, Blue-grey Tanagers , Hoffmans Woodpeckers, Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks, Motmots (known here as the Guardabarranco, it is the national bird and is so named as it builds its nests in banks – barrancos – of earth) and Orioles, both migrant Orchard and Northern Orioles and our own resident Spot-Breasted family. All munching away on the copious harvest of the Capulin!

The beautiful blue grey tanager, one of our breeding residents

The beautiful blue grey tanager, one of our breeding residents

Another common Mariposa resident

Another common Mariposa resident

The glorious rose breasted grosbeak, loves to feed on the capulin. A welcome migrant.

The glorious rose breasted grosbeak, loves to feed on the capulin. A welcome migrant.

Also present in large numbers are the Clay-Coloured Robins; a plain looking bird but, a member of the thrush family, a delightful songster especially at the end of the dry season. Nicaraguans will tell you they sing to call in the rains. The local name is Zinzontle which is Nahuatl and means “bird of many songs”. Furthermore, our Capulin tree is festooned with bunches of bananas, a feeding tray for seeds and fruit and an ingeniously designed drinking bowl. Carlos and Noel scramble up the tree every day to replenish supplies!! We also provide feeding points on our other three pieces of land and do not forget to put some lower down for ground feeding birds and animals (careful of course to avoid potential harm from our rescued cats).

Food and water

Food and water

The planting of flowers, as well as just being pretty, also help to bring in insects, including many varieties of butterfly. Mostly just through observation, we are learning which flowers are good for butterflies (some species will go to a variety of flowers but others are more fussy) and whenever we spot anything on sale at the viveros in Catarina, stop and buy whatever we can. We also ask students to bring us in seeds – the Butterfly Weed (Viborana) for example is not at all common here but is important for the going extinct monarch butterfly as well as others. It has been hard to persuade the gardeners at La Mariposa that “weeds” such as the wild zinnia (Tithonia rotundifolia) provide flowers which attract butterflies and seeds which feed birds. Many gardeners here, just as in the US, want to see blocks of strong color (bougainvillea) and fancy flowers (double and triple zinnia) which do not do much for butterflies or hummingbirds! One of my favorite pleasures is to watch, early in the morning, Blue-Black Grassquits and a Painted Bunting hopping about amongst the zinnias and daisies and then in the sun of midday, butterflies making the most of the same plants!

A Painted Peacock in the garden

A Painted Peacock in the garden

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On 2nd January 2015 we did our first ever bird count (thanks to Sally Gladstone for persuading us and telling us how to go about it and of course to our intrepid bird guide, Alejandro – more of him later) and the outcome was quite astonishing to me at least (please do not forget I knew nothing about trees or birds or anything much really….learning on the job!!).  We counted, spending roughly 2 hours in each location, 30 species at the nature reserve, 25 at the farm and 38 at La Mariposa itself. Sally checked the list and gave me some interesting information. The Red Legged Honeycreeper, of which we have a family group at the farm (they just love the bananas!) were not seen at any of the other 5 locations where the count was carried out. We have three different kinds of Hawk, one of which, the Red-tailed, is quite rare. I have a real soft spot for the Roadside Hawk in the Mariposa grounds as we released one here some years ago and it is almost certainly the same one or maybe a descendent; I saw 3 together a couple of years ago. I am so happy they survive because their habit of eating young chickens does not make them too popular!! Also unusual is the Golden Winged Warbler; the little fellow from Tennessee is, on the other hand, very abundant. Another of my personal favorites is the groups of Parakeets (both Pacific and Orange-Fronted) who arrive in groups of 10 or so to feed at the reserve. It is not that easy now to see them in the wild as opposed to in small cages….actually, I love them all and am so glad that we still have birds to feed and preserve. See below for the full list.

Friends...

Friends…

Inevitably it is not all good news! Our neighbors at La Mariposa are busy, as I write, hacking vegetation to bits in order to plant citric trees.

Loss of habitat

Loss of habitat next door

This means, specifically, loss of habitat for a group of Long Tailed Manakins who used to live amongst their coffee bushes and is a threat to the nests of the guatusas (long legged guinea pigs who live here in spite of sharing their territory with 12 dogs!!). The fact that the land is now much more open also makes them more vulnerable to being hunted. The birds we are helping by leaving more of our land untouched and putting out extra food. We are investigating the possibilities of capturing the guatusas and taking them down to the reserve where there is far more space for them to hopefully live safely.

Night shot of gustusas feedeing on bananas

Night shot of gustusas feedeing on bananas

La Mariposa, together with Alejandro who is a recognsed bird expert here in Nicaragua, are now incorporating bird watching walks into our monthly program. Alejandro will also offer tours further afield though these will be at additional cost to our package prices. And in the summer of 2015 we will have an eco built cabin in the reserve so bird fans can stay on location to see some of the best and rarest! His facebook is https://www.facebook.com/pages/Birding-Nicaragua-Travels/525230747587641

Thanks to John Kraijenbrink for the butterfly and some bird photos, Ann Tagawa for bird photos and Phil Careless for the nighttime guatusa! Also thanks to sally and Alejandro for getting me interetsde in birds. And to Ismael for getting the trees planted!!

LA RESERVA – LA MARIPOSA
Gray Hawk 1
Red-tailed Hawk 1
Red-billed Pigeon 8
White-winged Dove 2
Orange-fronted Parakeet 9
Pacific Parakeet 10
Squirrel Cuckoo 1
Cinnamon Hummingbird 2
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 2
Canivet’s Emerald 1
Hoffmann’s Woodpecker 5
Great Kiskadee 2
Boat-billed Flycatcher 1
Yellow Warbler 4
Tennessee Warbler 1
Blue-gray Tanager 1
White-throated Magpie-Jay 1
Rufous-naped Wren 3
Plain Wren 2
Clay-colored Robin 5
Blue-black Grassquit 4
Olive Sparrow 1
Black-headed Saltator 2
Greyish Saltator 3
Western Tanager 1
Great-tailed Grackle 4
Spot-breasted Oriole 2
Orchard Oriole 1
Northern Oriole 1
LA FINCA
Turkey Vulture 1
Red-Billed Pigeon 1
White-winged Dove 5
Inca Dove 1
Cinnamon Hummingbird 1
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 1
Turqoise-browed Motmot 1
Hoffmann’s Woodpecker 2
Barred Antshrike 1
Tropical Kingbird 1
Yellow Warbler 3
Tennessee Warbler 6
Blue-gray Tanager 4
Red-legged Honeycreeper 1
Black-headed Saltator 1
Grayish Saltator 3
Buff-throated Saltator 2
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 4
Painted Bunting 1
Western Tanager 1
Spot-breasted Oriole 2
Northern Oriole 3
Melodious Blackbird 1
Rufous-naped Wren 4
Clay-colored Robin 4
LA MARIPOSA
Turkey Vulture 6
Roadside Hawk 1
Red-billed Pigeon 2
White-tipped Dove 2
Ruddy Ground-Dove 2
Squirrel Cuckoo 1
Cinnamon Hummingbird 3
Steely-vented Hummingbird 1
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 1
Canivet’s Emerald 1
Plain-capped Starthroat 1
Turquoise-browed Motmot 3
Hoffmann’s Woodpecker 2
Yellow-bellied Elaenia 1
Dusky-capped Flycatcher 1
Great Crested Flycatcher 1
Great Kiskadee 1
Social Flycatcher 1
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher 1
Long-tailed Manakin 1
Yellow Warbler 3
Chesnut-sided Warbler 1
Magnolia Warbler 1
American Redstart 3
Rufous-capped Warbler 1
Tennessee Warbler 20
Golden-winged Warbler 1
Blue-gray Tanager 6
Rufous-and-White Wren 1
Plain Wren 2
Clay-colored Robin 9
Blue-black Grassquit 1
Grayish Saltator 1
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 4
Western Tanager 1
Spot-breasted Oriole 1
Orchard Oriole 5
Northern Oriole 2

Nicaraguan Canal….connections and questions by Paulette Goudge

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Homosapiens is the only species to be progressively destroying its home, the planet, not only through climate change, pollution, deforestation, poisoning our oceans and soils but also through our addiction to the big project.  We now know, beyond doubt, that such a toxic combination could very easily render the planet uninhabitable within the lifetime of our grandchildren and yet we continue with our addiction to the grandiose, the fast, and the “glamorous” without apparently making any connections! The human race is increasingly addicted to big projects….wherever one looks …the mining industry, the agriculture industry, the building industry, methods of communication and even the food on our plate – it is all about doing things on a bigger and bigger scale and as fast as possible. Transport, both of people and things, is no exception. This all takes a huge toll on the planet, using ever scarcer resources and adding accumulatively to the forces of destruction.

I, for one, have a lot more questions than answers about the proposed canal in Nicaragua. Most of the scientists, economists, politicians, commentators seem to have answers but they also have their own agendas. That is the way of the world; no one is “objective”. The problem is they are mostly less than honest about what those agendas are. I will come clean about mine. I would like to preserve as much of the environment as possible for the sake of future generations and because I hate to see Nicaragua taking the same destructive path that my own country of origin (the UK; I am now a Nicaraguan citizen. I have not left Nicaragua in nearly 10 years) has long since embarked upon. Also these issues are global issues. We all have a responsibility as global citizens to think them through and act. I also care about poverty; a quick glance at our website will offer plenty of evidence of how La Mariposa has struggled to provide local people with sustainable employment as well as looking for other ways to help the poor. For the record, I am a long term supporter of the Sandinista government though not uncritical.

Nicaragua is obviously not alone in its developing obsession with big projects. We are just going along with the rest of the world. Nicaragua does not need a canal. But apparently the rest of the world “needs” one. Why? Because ships are being built that cannot go through the existing one.  Hold on a minute!  Why do we “need” such enormous (and presumably faster) ships? The answer is that we not need them. Some of us want them – to carry essentially two things – oil and plastic things from one side of the world to the other. How can this be justified, in the era of climate change and destruction of the oceans? How many people really “need” more plastic baubles and cheap T shirts (now also mostly made of plastic)?

The redundancy of oil is particularly acute in the case of Nicaragua as the majority of its energy is already being produced by renewable sources. So why on earth are we currently building, and at the most incredible speed (working round the clock), the biggest oil refinery in Central America? The practical answer is to process Venezuelan oil but there is no answer to the moral question …..why an oil refinery when Nicaragua plainly does not need the oil, except to fuel the increasing number of outsize vehicles,  and the world in general needs to be moving away from dependency on oil?

What part the canal will play in the Chinese challenge to US world hegemony remains to be seen.  I do not know if there is any agreement on whose navy gets to use the canal, maybe I just missed it.  Protestations of Nicaraguan “sovereignty” ring hollow when one considers how little effect Nicaraguan laws, especially in relation to the environment, have on the operation of internationally controlled zona francas. Mucho menos, even less will they be in control, I suspect in the case of the canal. Who, it must be asked, will be policing the inevitable secure zone alongside the canal? Again maybe I just missed this information.

The major promised benefit for ordinary Nicaraguans focuses on jobs as the main route to poverty alleviation. However, Xang Jing is undoubtedly a good businessman (at least one assumes he is or he would not be where he is now) and good businessmen, in this capitalist world of ours, do not get to be rich and successful worrying themselves about poverty or environmental issues. On the contrary. Big projects do not, globally speaking, have a good track record in alleviating poverty. Of course there will be jobs on the construction though I imagine, as any good capitalist would, Xang Jing will keep costs, including wages, as low as possible. Construction work is, by definition, short-lived – though I accept there is bound to be another big project following on for some workers to move on to! How many jobs is also an interesting question…I would guess that the most intensive phase will be at the beginning (building the camps and road access) but surely the bulk of the excavation will be done by massive machines and not by people. Further I suspect that the top best paid jobs will not go to Nicaraguans at all. Any more than is the case with any foreign run outfit, anywhere in the world.

There are two aspects to reducing poverty. The first is a sustainable, reasonable income, which the canal will not provide. The second factor is how that income is spent. A family may have a “reasonable” income, say, with a member employed in a zona franca. But if she suffers from cancer as a result of working in a place where she is constantly breathing in small textile fibers that float in the air – then most of that income has to be spent on medicines (most are not covered by social security). Industrialized agriculture, mining, construction – especially in impoverished countries – all take their toll largely because “good businessmen” put profits before the lives and health of their workers.  This adds to poverty.

Poverty is not just about money. The basics that we need (need as opposed to want) to live are air, water and food. Nicaraguans will not be helped to access any of these by a canal. But they may all be adversely affected. I imagine a fair amount of cement will be used in the construction – cement is Nicaragua’s single most polluting industry.  Plus the loss of trees (it is not relevant whether they are in a national park or someone’s back yard) will both add to the carbon dioxide in the air (increasing global warming) and reduce the amount of oxygen.

Water….where is the water in the canal going to come from?  And the damage to the potential drinking water of Lago Cocibolca is incalculable. I live in the meseta of La Concepcioñ, our water comes from an underground aquifer. We also supply much of the new (big) constructions along the Carreterra Masaya.  I asked an ENACAL official what happens when it runs out, as it will. I have not received an answer.

The issue of food security in Nicaragua is a disgrace. An incredibly fertile country, we should be able to produce all our food requirements easily. But instead it is easier to buy US rice in the local markets than home grown. Why? Partly because of unfair subsidies to US farmers but also because so much of the land here is used (again by good businessmen) to grow export crops for profit.  A large percentage of land is given over to coffee, sugar, tobacco which (when you think about it) are simply drugs for Western consumers. These products, together with the zona franca output (mostly clothes in the case of Nicaragua), are sold as cheaply as possible to maintain demand. So profits have to be at the expense of paying the workers low wages, often just above “extreme poverty” level.  More and more land is being used and forests felled to supply the hamburger market with beef. Cows, incidentally, also contribute their fair share to global warming just by existing as they emit so much methane gas! The canal will aggravate this dire situation by encouraging the export of more and more, faster and faster!

Importing more and more plastic baubles and cheap T shirts is not the answer to poverty. People are increasingly pressured to buy trash (just go look see what is on sale in your local market) which is deliberately designed to last for the shortest possible time. So people have to buy more. This perpetuates the cycle of poverty but, of course, ensures good profits.

Furthermore, the talk about poverty reduction through job creation also ignores the jobs and productive land that will be lost. Outside Brito, the first eviction notices have been served and people are not being offered the market value of their land. I think many of us would resist being thrown out of our houses and lands for the sake of the greater good! But it is always so much easier to bully the poor. And where are the dispossessed to go?

The effect of the canal on the existing tourist industry can only be imagined.  It will take just one oil spill (and please do not tell me this cannot happen…human error is always a factor even in the grandest projects) to ruin the southern shores of Omatepe (what value then being an international biosphere reserve?) and the shores of Lago Cocibolca. Should the oil reach the islands and beach of Granada??….that is the direction the current flows and that is where most of the trash ends up. The southern part of the Pacific coast will no longer offer amazing sunset views and surfing paradises as it will become a traffic jam for barges and ships waiting their turn to enter the canal. Plus more oil spills – most oil spills at sea are not the major Exxon disasters but merely ships cleaning out their tanks and dumping their waste whist waiting about. This will accumulatively have a dire impact on Nicaragua’s reputation as a relatively unspoiled tourist destination. Precisely what attracts most visitors. Many community and environmental based tourist organizations could be hit hard. With the loss of more jobs! Building a major tourist complex alongside the canal (another splendidly grand project for sure!!) will not address these problems.  Especially as the probability is that such a complex would be largely foreign owned and when that happens the profits (for example of the Hilton hotels) do not stay to be invested in Nicaragua……and tourist complexes do not in general have  a strong record of concern for the community or environment .

I have personally been “informed” by an INTUR official that the number of tourists in Nicaragua will go up exponentially thanks to the canal. I just do not see this and I have been working in tourism for the past 10 years. Why would anyone come to see a sea level canal? The Panama Canal is surely more interesting with its lock systems. Maybe just because it is bigger….but this has limited attraction I would argue.

So far I have considered the environment in terms of how it is essential just to ensure human existence. But of course there is a much deeper significance. Biodiversity keeps us healthy. So do clean air, soils and water. But to my mind at least we are not the only species that has a god given right to live on the planet, though I have heard government officials argue that what is put on this planet is here just for our use. The fact that nature (in its many forms…trees, plants, wild animals, birds insects) has been ruined does not mean that we should go on trashing it!! This too is an argument I have heard several times….well, Nicaragua is now so deforested that what does it matter if we fell more  trees and replace them with various designs of concrete! This is OUR HOME!!! If your home has a leaking roof does that mean you trash the rest of it? The usual response would be to repair it…….and repairing at least some of our environmental damage would provide jobs…..

A final point on poverty reduction and environmental protection.  One of the most impressive aspects of the current government has been precisely its poverty reduction strategies which have had an observable impact on extreme, especially rural, poverty. How did they do this. With small, local schemes…such as micro loans to small businesses (bicycle repair shops and the like) and producers, housing and roofing projects, ensuring every schoolchild gets a daily meal. That is what works. This approach has worked in the experience of creating and sustaining jobs at La Mariposa.

But the most important change towards reducing poverty and, at the same time, helping the environment is for Westerners especially to consume less (the USA has 5% of the world population but consumes 25% of its resources) and pay a fair price, incorporating the true cost of the product, whether it be a pair of jeans made in Nicaragua, coffee or rum.

A couple of last points….something that was apparently not thought about before work started on the Panama Canal. Where will all the excavated soil go? I cannot even contemplate what might happen should there be a major earthquake….it would be good to see the disaster plans.

The risks of this project are too enormous, both for Nicaraguans and in the context of what is happening globally. I, for one, will be doing whatever possible to oppose it.

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.

SUSTAINABLE ADVENTURE WITH THE COMMUNITIES OF THE MASAYA VOLCANO

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

La Mariposa Sustainable Tourism

La Mariposa is embarking on a whole new set of projects, working closely with several very poor rural communities, with the focus of sustainable tourism benefiting directly those communitiesLas Conchitas (3)

The barrios we are working with form a semi-circle around the rim of the Masaya Volcano (the barrios of Panama, Camille Ortega, Las Sabinitas, Arenal, El Pochote, Venecia). These are the communities to the right of the land (marked in orange in the map above). The idea is to try to combine eco tourist initiatives specifically designed to work towards alleviating the worst poverty whilst at the same time offering incentives to community members to help us preserve and improve the environment. We have already had several community meetings (using the new land as a  base to organise and a meeting area) and it is already clear that local people are very worried about the effects of the lack of rain. We have had almost nothing in the first 3 months of a 6 month-long rainy season and this of course follows a 6 month dry season.  It is the worst drought since 1976.  Nearly everybody who has come to the meetings has lost one crop of beans and had a much reduced corn harvest (in other parts of Nicaragua cattle are dying of thirst and hunger). And these are people who live on the economic margins, for whom losing a  crop of beans is the difference between eating and not eating. It also means there are no seeds to plant the next time around.  What is remarkable is the level of understanding and discussion that of course these problems are the result of climate change and the situation is only going to get worse in years to come. One person commented to me that “rich people are not going to help us so we have to see what we can do”.

Beans ready to harvest in Camille Ortega...but there is less than one third of a normal crop

Beans ready to harvest in Camille Ortega…but there is less than one third of a normal crop

A major issue we will have to confront is the current devastation in the Masaya Volcano National Park, right on our doorstep.  The park was badly affected by fire a year ago, even though it is supposedly the most protected piece of land in Nicaragua. Strong rumours suggest the fire was deliberately set in order to allow for the development of various mega tourist attractions, which are now in their beginning stages, with backing from the European Union and Luxembourg Aid. The park has suffered from many unconstitutional activities including the organised cutting of precious woods, the extracting of water from the laguna in order to assist local road building and the poaching of rare animal wildlife ( a group of white faced monkeys seems to have completely disappeared). Firewood is taken out by the weekly truck load by commercial sellers as well as local people using it to cook. A current plan is to construct a hotel and various roads within the park boundary (also against the park constitution). Apart from providing a minimum number of low paid jobs, the benefit to the local communities will be derisory. But the damage to a precious nature reserve (the forest is – or was – Pacific dry tropical forest of which only 2% of the original remains) will be irremediable.

Middle left of the photo is a big bare patch...this is where the fire burnt off original Pacific dry tropical forest (25% of the park was affected). Still visible a year later.

Middle left of the photo is a big bare patch…this is where the fire burnt off original Pacific dry tropical forest (25% of the park was affected). Still visible a year later.

This is a guanacaste logged for precious wood within the borders of the national park (photo taken by me!)

This is a guanacaste logged for precious wood within the borders of the national park (photo taken by me! in May 2013)

We cannot work with the authorities to improve this dire state of affairs (we have tried and failed) so we are embarking on, in conjunction with members of the communities, an exciting though demanding combination of the following –

  • Establishing a rural tourism initiative through local homestays, volunteer work in local schools and in the campo and learning Spanish. There will also be a camping option for students and guests. Combined with local activities such as providing local guides for horse riding, bird watching, and hiking. The aim is to provide as much local sustainable employment as possible and therefore income directly into the communities  (very much along the model successfully used to date by La Mariposa).
  • Hand in hand with the above we would like to establish programs working in environmental conservation and improvement. We have already established a scheme whereby over a hundred of the poorest families have been provided with eco cookers, which use 50% of the amount of firewood used in traditional open fires and are also much healthier as they emit far less smoke.
    The info on the eco cooker - given to representatives of each of the communities along with a demonstartion.

    Info on the eco cooker – given to community representatives at the demonstration.

    The photos below show Marisol, from Coci Nica, who gave the demonstration and Carlos, from the Los Aguirres section of Camille Ortega who is walking slowly towards the cooker telling everyone that it is amazing, he can feel no heat at all coming from it! The second pic is of cookers about to be carried away to their new homes!

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  • We recently helped to install running water for several families in one of the poorest neighborhoods (Los Aguirres)- several Mariposa volunteers really enjoyed working hard on this project together with people from the beneficiary houses. More than one volunteer commented that “it is amazing how kind these poor people are – they kept offering and insisting that we take food and drinks from their houses”.
  • Volunteers and local people digging the channel for the  water pipes

    Volunteers and local people digging the channel for the water pipes

  • Future plans include providing solar panels and helping dig latrines.
  • One of the families who will benefit from a latrine.

    One of the families who will benefit from a latrine.

  • We are not asking for payment in any shape or form – but what we are asking of local people is that they help us with re forestation projects and we have already, to this end, donated/planted some 1,300 forest trees in the area. The Mariposa tree nursery has a few more thousand to donate and we are actively looking for sources of precious and rare trees. Future initiatives will include working towards eliminating chemical pesticides in the area.
  • Selecting trees from La Mariposa tree nursery to plant out in the communities

    Selecting trees from La Mariposa tree nursery to plant out in the communities

    School kids involved too.

    School kids involved too.

  • On the new land itself, plans are progressing to build a butterfly house to raise and release local species of butterfly, digging of  a frog pond starts this week,  actually two ponds linked by a running stream to encourage other wildlife especially dragonflies (powered by a solar pump). And of course plants  and trees(at present we are concentrating on those which attract butterflies and birds, especially the local groups of parakeets….we have had groups of over 30 feeding regularly on our fruit and seed trees) are being continually planted (though this is hindered by lack of rain). Plans for a bee project are in the initial stages.The aim is that these developments will attract more tourists to this area, some of whom might wish to stay in the communities and learn more about life here as well as the flora and fauna. Of course it will also be a wonderful resource for local people and Mariposa students to visit and enjoy.
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    This is the now almost extinct cocobola tree, we ahve planted two on the new land. Also known as rosewood, it has been mercilessly exploited for musical instruments and “fine” furniture

    If you look carefully you can see the BAT BOX!!

    If you look carefully you can see the BAT BOX!!

    Digging the frog pond...

    Digging the frog ponds…

    Nicaraguas national bird.....the guardabarranco. Alreday there are several living on the new land.

    Nicaraguas national bird…..the guardabarranco. Already there are several living on the new land.