Posts tagged community project

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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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 “

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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

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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!

    DSC00032DSC00053

  • 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.
  • DSC00174

    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.

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Masaya Volcano Community and Environment Eco-tourism Initiative by Dr Paulette Goudge

La Mariposa is embarking on a whole new set of projects, working closely with several communities that 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 below).

Las Conchitas (3)

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.

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Mariposa Community Environmental Education and Camping Centre

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!!!

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

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

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

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

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

King and Queen of Miskitia (british style!)

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

A Mayanagna Leader

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

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

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

Bank of the Bonanza river eroded by cattle

 

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

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

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

Below – legal extraction of precious woods

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

Below – panning for gold in Rosita.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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