Weekend in Tola – Hurricane Update

 

These days Tola is normally associated with south Nicaragua’s stunning beaches, internationally famous for surfing. Hurricane Nate hit hard and we got an SOS from a Mariposa ex intern. We responded as fast as possible, collecting both financial help and asking local people to donate whatever they could (bearing in mind that we also suffered badly from the hurricane). Many local businesses were super generous, and we filled the pick-up truck and part of a truck with food, clothes, cleaning tools and – on top of all that – several volunteers.

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And Away We Go

Saturday afternoon in Tola was spent dividing everything up into family size packages, to be delivered by Fundacion Medical Para Ninos, a local NGO, to the more remote communities who have so far received little help. Sunday the Mariposa volunteers really got to work helping to clean out some of mud from houses – distressing to see houses without walls, ruined school supplies, mattresses and clothing hung out to dry still wet nearly a week after the rains, and talk to people who had everything swept away by the current. Driving past, we could see how high the mud and water reached on the still wet and dirty walls of houses and schools. One family lost two calves and several of their pigs. There are fields that used to be of corn and platanos completely drowned in a sea of mud.

Houses and fields covered with sticky mud

Ruined school supplies

Everything hung out to dry

 

It is not just a human disaster but an ecological one too. Innumerable trees came down which of course will only make extreme weather even more probable in the future. The vast quantities of mud deposited by the swollen rivers came not just from the river beds but from the eroded fields higher up. The surrounding hills have been clear cut for small crop patches but also there are large cattle ranches which bear a great deal of the responsibility – leaving no vegetation to hang on to the soil. Exactly what is happening around La Concha!!!!

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Ending on a positive note…..we returned to La Mariposa tired but pleased with our accomplishments. We plan an extra trip this Thursday to take down more supplies. And on the home front we have visited all of the damaged houses in Palo Solo (the community near our nature reserve, Canada Honda – we estimate about one fifth of which was badly damaged) and will be spending about $2000 on supplies for repairs.

Just remains for me to THANK EVERYBODY EVERYWHERE who has donated.

 

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Hurricane Nate

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Today, Sunday 8th October, I read about Hurricane Nate for the first time. As it enters the mouth of the Mississippi River. Here in Central America we have been reeling from the effects for the past week. The Nicaraguan Government normally prides itself (rightly – I was here in 1989 for Hurricane Joan and experienced firsthand the efficiency especially of the army in evacuating people) on its response to natural disasters but this time there was no prior warning and the president has been conspicuous in his absence from the media. Though I could have missed something as I have been without power for the past 5 days.

Now what we have suffered is of course nothing compared to the Caribbean islands and Florida – though parts of Nicaragua have had it far worse than us. It started with 3 days and nights of incessant rain – our hotel guests were remarkably understanding and laid back as it had quite a negative impact on their stay with us.

Thursday night was the big one. I was up most of the night together with Chepe, one of our night guards, who came to help save my house from flooding. A design fault (mine!!!) means that rain from part of my roof collects on the patio and from there goes straight into my bedrooms! Not good (as Donald Trump might say). Bowls and buckets had to be emptied every half hour…..into a garden already inches under water. At midnight I fell into an exhausted sleep leaving Chepe and the dogs to protect me. I woke Friday morning to a scene of utter devastation. I had been aware of some wind whilst asleep but the damage was unbelievable. Trees down everywhere, my lovely butterfly garden smashed to bits.

Below, the remnants of my roble (oak) tree which was completely beheaded by the wind

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Then on to La Reserva – a huge cedro tree lying right across Jan and Alan’s garden and about 20 more fallen scattered about. Fortunately structural damage to the buildings was light, a hole in the roof of Carol’s cabin and some minor issues at the group study center. I have to say the straw builds survived the ordeal remarkably well.

Below, this WAS Jan and Alans garden……

But some of La Mariposa workers were less fortunate. Noone here was hurt though two boys drowned in nearby Diriamba. Mostly they had flooding problems but also some roof damage. So Friday morning we called an emergency meeting, divided the workers into groups and off they went to repair each other’s houses (La Mariposa paid for the necessary materials – the bill has yet to come in!).

Jimmy, one of our teachers, lives with his family in a tiny house where the septic tank is just outside the kitchen. It collapsed with the rain so La Mariposa workers rushed to help fill in the stinking hole. One of the many issues with installing flushing toilets in “Third World”  situations.

Below, Jimmy surveying his collapsed septic tank and a group of Mariposa workers helping to make it safe.

One of the saddest moments was seeing the fallen Panama tree right outside Marlon’s house. It was the last of its kind in this region and we were attempting to care for it…building a retaining wall to protect the root system and putting in compost. Not enough, the roots simply could not withstand the quantity of moisture in the soil (this is what brings a lot of trees down) and then the wind was just too much. Four aricaris (small toucans) had their homes in this tree….just one more bit of lost habitat!

Below, the fallen giant

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Given the level of deforestation in general in Nicaragua we could ill afford to lose these precious trees. And the official response, as far as I can tell, has been to prune and cut any trees left standing in the urban area, clear the mud from the roads (swept in by the rains from surrounding fields which have no protecting vegetation) and fumigate, blasting houses with a mixture of diesel and supemetrina (supposedly to kill mosquitoes). Some of the campesinos too are cutting down any remaining trees unless they are avocadoes or mangoes.

Equally depressing has been the response of people I have talked to so far. Some of those who live in the least affected urban area seemed to view it all as a kind of video game. One evangelical assured me that it means the end of the world is nigh – but that had also just been predicted for the 21st Sept! The most common reaction, after helping each other out, was that there is nothing we can do except carry on as normal.

Well I am in agreement with that up to a point. We will replant the gardens, fix the roofs, and do our best to assist threatened wildlife.

But this is climate change. 12 years in Nicaragua and I have never experienced rain like this. This area normally does not get direct hits from hurricanes. As the President of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, said in relation to Irma………

“The science is clear. Climate change is real in the Caribbean we are living with the consequences of climate change. It is unfortunate that there are some who see it differently.”

My own opinion is we cannot leave this to politicians. There isn’t time, even when they have good intentions. We all have to act and fast. Plant trees wherever possible – cut down on things we know contribute to global warming such as travel, eating meat and palm oil. Buy less, consume less of everything – clothes, cars, computers, IPads……. If we don’t do it voluntarily I think we will be forced into it – for sure at this rate pretty soon there won’t be anywhere left to travel to!!!!!

Ending on a hopeful note….Mariposa workers replanting an uprooted capulin tree – this is an important source of bird food and we will do all we can to save it!

 

Project Update – May 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PROJECTS PLANNED FOR 2017:

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

El Mural de La Mariposa

 

img_0149En los cerros alrededor de La Concepción está pasando igual lo que pasa en muchos países del mundo, especialmente los países pobres. Lo que pasa aquí refleja la situación mundial del cambio del clima, destrucción de los océanos y deforestación. Nuestros bosques desvanecen mas y mas para sembrar, en nuestro caso, pitaya (dragon fruit) para exportar a los Estados Unidos y Europa. Dragon fruit actualmente es la fruta de moda especialmente por su color llamativo.
La foto muestra áreas de despales recientes, áreas ya sembradas con pitaya o piña y áreas todavía con unos pocos árboles.

Este tipo de monocultivo generalmente no beneficia mucho a las comunidades pobres. Provee algunos trabajos, por cierto, pero son temporales y mal pagados. Y la comunidad ha perdido mucho, incluido sus fuentes de agua que han desaparecido con los bosques. Y además donde no hay árboles llueve menos. Aquí hemos tenido 4 años de sequía. Este cerro también es importante porque forma parte del abastecimiento del agua para Managua.
Otro impacto muy preocupante es la pérdida de biodiversidad. Un ejemplo bien conocido y tan crucial para la sobrevivencia de los seres humanos – es la devastación de las abejas, otra vez al nivel global. Sin flores y montes, con muchos químicos (pesticidas etc) sus números están cayendo dramáticamente.

En nuestro región estamos perdiendo muchos especies de árboles, de plantas, de aves, de reptiles, de insectos, de animales. No solo es triste por el paisaje, puede ser un amenaza muy grande para nuestro futuro.
En este desierto los que pueden sobrevivir son los carroñeros – los zopilotes, los ratones – irónicamente los que no le gusta para nada a la gente!

En el mural se ve muchas cosas de la naturaleza que ya están desapareciendo – el guanacaste por ejemplo, un árbol muy grande, magnífico, está siendo cortado mucho para la madera que es bueno para hacer muebles. Los hoteles tienen mucha responsabilidad por eso! También la iguana ya es un animal en peligro por pérdida de su ambiente y la caza.

Cañada Honda es la reserva natural de La Mariposa – tenemos más o menos 100 manzanas (140 acres) donde hay bosque, flores y mucha vida salvaje! También hay dos manantiales que preservamos para ayudar la comunidad, Palo Solo. Hemos sembrado muchos árboles para reemplazar el bosque. Las ranas, las boas, las arañas, las abejas, los grillos, los monos, los cusucos, los árboles de cortez, la heliconia – todo tiene protección contra el fusil y la motosierra.

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Vamos a iniciar describiendo de la esquina de la derecha hacia abajo y alrededor:

La rama es del guanacaste – un árbol nativo de regiones tropicales y fue común en el bosque seco del región del Pacifico. El nombre viene del idioma nahuatl – guauh = árbol y nacastl = oreja por la forma de la semilla que parece una oreja humana. Este árbol puede alcanzar 30 metros de altura y hasta 4 metros de ancho. Ahora está amenazado porque está siendo cortado por su madera que se usa mucho en muebles artesanales – actualmente muy popular en los hoteles turísticos.

Sentado en la rama hay un guardabarranco – el ave nacional de Nicaragua y también de El Salvador. Tiene una cola muy rara que parece una raqueta que ellos mueven de lado a lado. Solo se encuentran en los bosques tropicales de las Américas. Comen frutas e insectos y hacen sus nidos en barrancos (por eso su nombre!).

A la derecha se ven varias flores diferentes de heliconias. Ahora son muy popular como plantas del jardín pero están desapareciendo en las áreas silvestres otra vez por el despale de los bosques. Nicaragua es uno de los diez países donde el despale es lo más fuerte.

La rana ojos rojos (no es venenosa) está amenazada por la pérdida de su hábitat natural, contaminación de las aguas y masiva captura para ser exportada al comercio de mascotas.

Las mariposas (una malachite y un simple checkspot) hace unos años fueron muy comunes pero se ven menos y menos cada año. Los insecticidas han destruido muchos insectos incluyendo las abejas que son muy importantes para polinizar las plantas.

La iguana verde podemos ver normalmente en las ramas de los arboles cuando hay sol. Les gusta calentarse! Ahora están perdiendo su hábitat rápidamente. También sufren mucho por la caza ya que hay gente todavía a quien le gusta comer su carne.

Un ave que es muy abundante en todo el país es el zopilote (este es el zopilote negro) y a menudo viven en grupos grandes. Comen la carne podrida y son muy importante para mantener el campo limpio. Otro animal que en general no es muy popular con la gente es la araña! Pero otra vez nos ayudan mucho – en este caso a cazar los insectos como los zancudos.

Hay muchas variedades de colibrí en Nicaragua pero la mayoría están amenazados por la destrucción de su hábitat.

La flor amarilla es del árbol cortez que fue muy común aquí pero ya casi no se ve.

Y finalmente la boa magnifica!  Esta serpiente puede alcanzar hasta cuatro metros de longitud. Come más que todo ratones y es completamente inofensiva para los seres humanos. Pero mucha gente tiene miedo, está asociado con espíritus malos, y por eso se mata mucho. También está sufriendo la pérdida de su hábitat natural.

 

Other Victims of Zika

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Restaurants and hotels in Granada are empty, the Masaya market weirdly deserted, even the popular Laguna de Apoyo is suffering. And, together with the rest of tourism in Nicaragua, La Mariposa is  reeling under the impact of zika. The outcome for us could well be fatal. The whole of 2016 saw a massive drop in the numbers of our students especially from the USA –  adverse publicity around the upcoming Nicaraguan elections (Nov 6th) may be partly responsible. But almost everyone is agreed that the main reason travel plans are being changed or cancelled is the zika scare.

If you are thinking of travelling to this part of the world then obviously you must take into account all of the risks – I would just enter a plea that in the case of zika, you read some of the more detailed evidence and commentaries, not just the scary headlines. On the 4th October 2016 there were precisely SIX  confirmed cases of Zika in the municipality of La Concepción (population over 50,000).

The link between the zika virus and babies born with microcephaly is far from proven and there are some important questions that need to be answered before firm conclusions can be drawn. My head is buzzing after several days doing internet research – one of major questions in my mind is why does Colombia (with the second greatest number of cases of zika) not show the same rise in numbers of microcephaly as the northeastern part of Brazil – and why only one part of Brazil? Mosquitoes don’t generally respect borders. Is it also pure coincidence that most of the mothers affected are the extremely poor or could malnutrition also be responsible? And that this is a region where pesticide use has been particularly intensive? Could any of these other factors be significant in causing microcephaly? And what of the existing 25,000 cases in the USA that have no link whatsoever with zika – what has caused them?

The Foundation for Children with Microcephaly lists as possible causes – rubella, fetal exposure to the herpes virus, mothers drug or alcohol abuse, toxoplasmosis, malnutrition….no mention of zika which seems rather odd (http://www.childrenwithmicro.org/causes.html). I have listed below some of the internet sites I have found helpful in putting this situation into some perspective, as well as the basic World Health Organisation and CDC sites.

At current rate of income, we have sufficient savings to survive another 6 weeks or so with all of the workers already on half time and everything else pared down to the bone . Our estimated income for October is $8000, the outgoings are $16000. So at some point, and not too long in the future, we have to make some hard decisions. At the very least we will have to close down the community and environmental projects, saving $1500 per week. A back up plan is to sell part of La Mariposa in the hope that we can keep the school and hotel going until the zika crisis passes. Complete closure is a last resort – I am having nightmares about 75 families losing their income and what will happen to 50 rescued dogs and 20 horses, not to mention the monkeys and parrots! We have already started trying to get some of them adopted. Of course some workers have been able to find other work and we have already lost some of our best Spanish teachers to call centers. Hopefully we can entice them back if things improve. But for the majority, especially those who do not speak English, it will not be so easy. Below is a photograph of our project for disabled children.

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Here at La Mariposa we rely on natural predators to control mosquitos, keeping the place clean of trash and stagnant water and regular applications around the gardens of lime, a strong repellent. The wonderful golden orb spider helps by spinning vast webs which are great mosquito traps.The number of cases of chikungunya last year (carried by the same mosquito as zika) was the same as in the community in general. We also have a natural repellent (alcohol, oil and cloves) which is very good though most people prefer to use DEET (see http://responsibletravelnicaragua.com/2016/02/10/why-war-on-zika-could-be-bad-for-your-health/).

Our advice to travellers is to use plenty of repellent, of whatever sort suits you best, wear cover up clothing and be especially alert around dusk when mosquitoes are at their most numerous.

for further reading:

NYTimes: What is Zika?

The Scientist: Brazil’s Pre-Zika Microcephaly Cases

The Globe and Mail: Zika defies predicted patterns

The Dominican News Online: Taking a Close Look at the Zika Microcephaly Question

New England Complex Systems Institute: Is Zika the Cause of Microcephaly?

The Saturday Paper: Disease Definitions linked to Pharmaceutical Companies

Reuters: Health and the Future of the WHO

Huffpost: Tackling Zika Requires Tackling Inequality

notes on Cypermethrin

Trees of Life – Combating deforestation

Jadelina carrying estacas of jinoguabo

Jadelina & Gabriel carrying estacas of jinoguabo

Yesterday I went out to Cañada Honda to see how our tree planting is going. Half of the Mariposa staff were out there – some lugging around what appear to be nothing more than bunches of large sticks……but which are actually “estacas”, branches which grow into trees once planted.  Others carrying what are more obviously young tree saplings in plastic bags. Still others were wielding shovels and planting. Hazel, one of our admin team, planted over 40 trees just in that one morning!! And Guillermina of course also did her bit. The energy and enthusiasm of the team was amazing. We have now planted over 5000 trees, with 5000 more to go.

Guillermina doing her bit!

Guillermina doing her bit!

Gazing out over the ridges, the presence of rain clouds over the wooded bits and nothing but clear sky over the pitaya plantations reinforced our determination. And the New York Times agrees with us!

http://www.nytimes.com/…/su…/deforestation-and-drought.html

Luckily, the last week has seen a fairly steady amount of rainfall so most of the plantings are surviving. We have to be careful what we plant where and concentrate on species which we know will do well in this particular environment.

On the way back to La Mariposa for lunch, I spotted some illegal logging on a neighbouring pice of land. I went out to investigate on horseback and we took some photos of the devastation. We informed both the local police and the environmental department at the town hall…we will see what results that brings!

Bare patches being illegally deforested as I write...

Bare patches being illegally deforested as I write…

Close up

Close up

Meanwhile the government of Nicaragua continues to buy more “trees of life” to adorn Managua at night!! It sure is a surreal world we live in….. descarga

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 “