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.

Loading Up

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!!!!

055

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.

 

Advertisements

Hurricane Nate

 You can donate here: https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr
OR if you are in the UK through http://www.sustainability-partners.org.uk/tierra.html (we get 25% Gift AId!)

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

012

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

024

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!

 

Nature Reserve, Cañada Honda, Update

Some good news and some not so good!

At the beginning of June the heavy rains started to come in – excellent for all of the tree cuttings and saplings planted last year. We are noting which species are doing well (coppel, madero negro and sacuanjoche – the Nicaraguan national flower – are all flourishing) and in which area. The valleys are suitable for trees which cannot withstand the volcanic gases such as aceituna and cedro. We are also taking full advantage of the rain and doing yet more reforestation, we have already had one group of volunteers from New York out there!

 

 

A wonderful discovery in the dry season has been the amount and variety of wild flowers, which also attract bees and butterflies and other insects.

 

The reserve has had several visits from groups of University of Nicaragua students who have taken inventories of the birds (some 60 plus species), reptiles and the different eco systems. The latter is particularly impressive – there is a wide range of environments, partly due to the fact that we do not grow coffee. This means that the underlying vegetation is relatively undisturbed and allows for a lot more plant life.

It does however mean that as yet there is no income from this land – maybe tourism will, in the future, provide support.

One of the biggest problems is the continued, relentless deforestation in the area. Just last week another 5 acres or so was burnt down, all of the trees and vegetation destroyed, in order to plant more dragon fruit. And this, let us be clear, is not income for poor local farmers – it is for export.

 

The saddest event was the hunting and killing of a largish wild cat which we are pretty sure was an ocelot. He had been sighted several times in the reserve by the caretaker. The two hunters – brothers from another community – were tracked down and confronted by Paulette and the police. One of the most upsetting aspects was the mother quoting from the Bible – that God had sent her sons this animals to hunt!!! Answer that one!!!

The police held a mediation session and the outcome was that the boys did community service work on another of La Mariposas reserves. Pineapple farmers since childhood, they considered everything but pineapple to be better out of the way! But with us, they did remarkably well and learnt a lot about the importance of conservation and protecting biodiversity.

In an extraordinary coincidence, a tiny wild cat kitten (maybe ocelot, maybe magay – hard to tell at this stage) appeared on our doorstep in a shoebox! Named Leo, he currently lives in the office where he gets lots of attention, raw meat 3 times a day and access to the Managua vets if necessary. He will undoubtedly be too tame to release but the hope is that one day he will be able to live in semi freedom up on the reserve.

 

Of course in true Mariposa style we have been working closely with the community surrounding Cañada Honda, Palo Solo. At the first meeting we had (almost all community members participated!), it became clear that the most important issue for all of the families is lack of access to water. The municipality of La Concha delivers a barrel of water (there is no connected water supply) to each family per week – this is for drinking, cooking, washing – everything! People used to rely on local spring water but due largely to massive deforestation in the area – to grow dragon fruit for export – this source is rapidly disappearing.

 

We have responded immediately by sending up additional trucks of water, repairing a water storage tank in the reserve which will collect water now the rains have come in. A somewhat longer term project is to provide every family with sufficient barrels and roof gutters to collect rainwater.

In return we are hoping that close cooperation with this community will result in a high degree of investment in helping us protect the precious flora and fauna which exists there.

If you would like to help us with these initiatives please check out out gofundme campaign  https://www.gofundme.com/ocelot-kitten

1928716_1224518307577160_4119343509463221590_n

 

Learning to live with emphysema, drought and one more big project…..

Mantled Howler MonkeyJPG

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.
  • 11894302_968272853233721_8382900151564339184_o
  • 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.
  • DSC05213
  • 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.
  • 110

La Mariposa has over 10 years’ experience working in rural, eco based tourism and for the past couple of years we have successfully developed our (relatively tiny!) nature reserve here in urban San Juan.

Our track record of working jointly with communities will ensure that this venture too achieves its goals.

The cost of this land is $97,000 – this is a remarkable bargain (our nature Reserve was the same price but for 12 acres!!!). The reason is location – somewhat remote and not fertile for any crop except dragonfruit.  But perfect for our purposes! The current owners  want it conserved,  for that reason they have given us an extraordinarily reasonable price.

A deposit of $30,000 has been paid (Paulette’s accumulated pension!)

So we are looking to raise $67.000

You can help either through donation or taking part in one of our Mariposa packages.

For US donors opting for a tax-exempt donation, you may give on-line or via check to Lone Tree Institute (501(c)(3) non-profit organization). See www.lonetreeinstitute.net for details on how to donate. Please earmark your donation “For Canada Onda”.OR through paypal on the homepage of our La mariposa website (also tax exempt)… http://www.mariposaspanishschool.com/index.html

“UK tax payers can donate to the special appeal by Sustainability Partners, registered charity no. 1119345, which will increase the value of the donation by 25% through GiftAid. For details see www.sustainability-partners.org.uk “

Bird Watching in Nicaragua at La Mariposa

A personal account by Paulette

As someone  completely new to the art of recognising which bird is which and understanding their “lifestyles”, I have just had the stunning realisation that this is a great time of year to simply sit on the balcony on the Mariposa and watch what flies past or, better still, hangs out for a while in the bunch of trees we have planted here. It is after all the migration season when, on top of all of the beautiful resident birds we have here all year, we can see those birds flying south for the (northern) winter. A few stay here but most just drop by to feed and rest and then on they go. In the past few days I have spotted the blue grey tanagers, the grey-headed tanager (there are over 200 different types of tanager), very pretty medium sized birds with an amazing variation of colour between them. I am very fond of the blue greys who nest here and are constant companions. Their subtle colour stands out against the lush greens of the vegetation. The photo you see below (taken by Ann Tagawa, as are they all) shows how they love to eat the bananas that we put out to help all the Mariposa wildlife survive the dry season.

Blue-gray Tanager

The blue greys are resident here but the bright red summer tanager and the lovely grey-headed seem to be just passing through though I wish I could find a way of enticing them to stay!

IMG_5431

And it is a very exciting day when the family of 3 collared arircaris drop by!! They too go for the bananas though they also like to perch in our tallest tree, a guachipilin (a variety of tree becoming very rare in this area. The aricaris have bills shaped very much like those of toucans (though less brightly coloured) and, having seen them use these bills to eat, it is not at all clear why Mother Nature endowed them with such extravagancies! To eat a banana, they kind of have to bend almost the entire body sideways and it is quite tricky, even with the saw edge, for them to cut off a manageable portion of fruit. Nonetheless most of the theories I have read explain these beaks in terms of eating value!!

collared-aracari

Other newcomers have included a Swainsons thrush which has unbelievably travelled all the way here from the northern USA which I watched for several hours jumping up and down on the same branch, I guess catching small insects.  And of course the amazingly vibrant coloured Boston Oriole, known here as a chichiltote (an indigenous Nahuatl name).  I am also very proud of being able to identify a pair of rose breasted grosbeaks…particularly proud of the identification of the female as she does not have   a rose breast. She does, however, have the large thick bill!

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Baltimore Oriole

Also enlivening my afternoons is a group of half a dozen or so euphonias. The males of this species are small, bright yellow and dark blue. Just gorgeous and becoming quite rare because of persecution for the trade in caged birds. So it is really incredible to see them feeding from the trees we have planted, they are especially fond of the seeds of the capulin tree. I just need someone to help me identify which of several euphonias these are ( thick billed, spotted crowned….I think they have yellow throats so that would, I imagine, make them yellow throated euphomnias???? but not sure….oh, help!!!) and to get some good photos. The names of some of the birds are extraordinary……..how did such a little fellow get such a pretentious name as euphonia? I am sure someone must know the answer….

And a couple more of our stalwarts…the guardabarranco (the Nicaraguan national bird) and the woodpeckers.  I should mention the doves, of which we have 4 different varieties sharing the chicken food and avoiding themselves becoming cat food! . And even the vultures…so important in helping to keep the place clean. And how could I almost forget to mention our 3 varieties of hummingbird?? I have learned a few things about these birds too….for example, the cinnamon one is the largest of the three and quite surprisingly aggressive, chasing off any other species. They also use threads of spider web to bind together their nests!!!

turquoise-browed-motmot

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

So if you want to see some birdlife whilst learning Spanish, La Mariposa is your place!!

PS We also have, thanks to Dr Hilary Ernler, a guide to butterflies at the Mariposa.