Colonial Cities : A Trip to Granada (La Mariposa Adventures)

Written by Hannah Chinn, La Mariposa Intern

Less than an hour away from La Mariposa stands Granada, the oldest colonial city in Nicaragua. Rich with history and filled with colonial-era architecture, it’s also a popular destination for La Mariposa students… and for good reason. As we cruise through the narrow streets, each new turn leading us to brightly-painted houses and views of tall cathedrals, our guests point from one thing to another. One student’s excited for the chocolate museum, another one can’t wait to see the fancy buildings; there’s something for everyone.

We start our tour by climbing out of the Mariposa bus and onto a sidewalk, where Chester announces that we’re visiting a cemetery.
“A cemetery??” one person murmurs, “why a cemetery?”
It’s true, the cemetery isn’t exactly the first place you’d expect to start a city tour… but this particular cemetery is actually extremely important in Granada’s history and identity.
You see, Granada was originally founded (colonized) in the indigenous Xalteva area by the Spaniard Francisco Hernández de Córdoba, who named Granada after his hometown. During the colonial period, it became one of the central cities for commerce… later, it disputed political and historical importance with León (its rival city), saw multiple pirate attacks and invasions, and withstood William Walker’s attempt to burn it to the ground.
sidenote by Hannah: Nicaraguan history is incredible and you should look it up. Also, William Walker was a US American and a Very Bad Person.

The Europeans were the ones to build the enormous cemetery of Granada, as well. Today, it’s the only one of its kind in Nicaragua, marked by chapels and religious statues, mausoleums and marble. The graves near the center of the cemetery are the most elaborate ones, owned by extremely wealthy (and often famous) families — Fruto Chamorro, the first official president of Nicaragua, was buried there. The other graves, with names and dates in a larger structure, belong to soldiers, or are rented out to various families. And the smallest ones on the outskirts of the cemetery, marked sometimes only with a cross or a stake, belong to the poorest families. Inequality persists into the next world, it seems!

After this brief lesson on colonialism, cemeteries, and capitalism, we climb back into the buses.
We hop out again briefly to see the Fortaleza de Pólvora. Originally built to store gunpowder, as the name suggests, this fortress was used to accommodate soldiers and later to imprison people. Today, it acts as a museum with a rotating schedule of exhibits, open to the public. We couldn’t go in that day, though (it was closed?) so we took some pictures and moved on.

We take a quick break at the cigarmaker’sNicaragua is well-known for its handcrafted cigars, apparently, and a pleasant man explains the process while another demonstrates how to bind the tobacco, press it into molds, and wrap it. He hands around a fragrant leaf for us to look at; it’s dark, papery, and unexpectedly sweet smelling. For $5 USD, he adds, you can even buy/make your own cigar here!
(A few students try it, but most of us are content to hang back and watch.)

Our next stop is a church, the Iglesia la Merced. Albeit the facade looks rather old and a little crumbling, it’s lovely and quiet inside, with dark wooden benches, several statues, and a stained glass window. There’s also a small sign advertising the “best view of Granada”, and for thirty Córdoba (about $1 USD) paid to the man at the front, you can climb a short (but narrow and pretty steep!) set of stairs to the bell tower and see the view for yourself. Once we’ve gotten to the top, we can look east towards the Granada Cathedral — the bright yellow and white one near the central plaza — and Lake Cocibolca, or south towards the Mombacho Volcano. Tiled rooftops and colored houses are all around. It’s definitely worth the climb.

From the cathedral, it’s a quick walk to the chocolate museum, the Granada ChocoMuseocomplete with a pool, a hotel, a small café, and a shop where they sell everything from chocolate bars to “Nicatella” to chocolate liqeur to cacao tea. After a brief (and energetic) history of chocolate and some enthusiastic sampling, we browse the shop a bit and then we’re ready for lunch.
We head to the Cafe D’Arte and make ourselves comfortable for an hour or two (and talk to some street vendors who are selling ceramic bird whistles and handmade vases and personalized maracas —  I love the whistles and I can’t help buying one). Then those of us who are heading to the islands pile back into the bus and head for the lake… it’s time for a boat tour!

The islands are mostly owned by Nicaragua’s rich and famous, or rich and famous foreigners who decided that they’d like a personal island in Nicaragua, and our guide seems to enjoy pointing out random islands and namedropping as we go. He also points out the view of the volcano — “we were there last weekend!” one boy notes — and the other islands along Lake Nicaragua. We spot several birds, a heron, and a few spider monkeys, too.

It’s fun for all of us, even the excited four-year-old across from me who keeps leaning out the side of the boat to put his hands in the water; he leans so far that I reflexively grab onto the back of his lifejacket to keep him in the boat, and decide that it’s probably a good idea for me to keep an eye (and a hand) on him at all times. “I wanna swim!” he tells me, and I start to laugh. But he gets his wish when we dock at a small hostel and restaurant, where a small swimming pool (built, apparently, around a huge rock) invites all of us to splash around.

After all, there’s something for everyone in Granada.

 

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Volunteer Perspective: A Week At La Mariposa

Written by Nick Heise, La Mariposa Volunteer

A scenic view from a local volcano

The community of San Juan in Nicaragua generally moves pretty slowly, but fortunately as a student at La Mariposa I am never lacking for interesting activities with which to get involved. The school organizes activities every single day of the week, ranging from cooking classes to trips to the nearby Laguna to lessons about the history of Nicaragua. I have only been at La Mariposa for a relatively short time (about a week and a half now), so I have much left to experience here. However, my first full weekend spent here was jam-packed with fun and unique adventures — including an unexpected animal encounter and experience with healthcare and hospitals in Nicaragua.

 

As I mentioned, there are constantly activities offered by the school and students are given the freedom to pick and choose as they want. On Friday evening, after classes ended at 5, we took a trip to the nearby city of Granada. This was offered more as a taste of the city, allowing us to have dinner at a local restaurant and explore a little before heading back to San Juan at about 9pm. Granada is a city with some beautiful architecture and interesting people, with streets filled by stalls for handmade crafts, cigars, and jewelry along with street performers. If you’re interested in short glimpses of touristy places, this would have been perfect for you – and if your curiosity wouldn’t have been completely satisfied, the school also is offering a longer day to Granada this Saturday. With the school’s activities, there really is a little something for everyone.

And that was just Friday night! On Saturday we took a day trip to a nearby volcano called Mombacho, which was equally exciting as it was physically strenuous. For hiking enthusiasts (such as myself), you could choose to take the extremely steep yet short (~3.5 mile, or ~5.5 kilometer) hike up the volcano for a reduced price. If this isn’t your idea of fun, no worries – you can take a bus up instead for about $10. At the top, enjoy an educational talk by a worker at an eco-station about the local environment and take a relaxing walk around the volcano crater. There are some truly fantastic views (so long as it’s a clear day) of both the city of Granada and the nearby landscapes.

Smiling through the tears on our hike – we were about halfway up at this point

 

Sunday morning kicked off with a guided walk around Barrio 19 Julio (a neighborhood named for Nicaragua’s independence day). The guides were very friendly and more than happy to chat as an opportunity for us to practice our spanish, will also giving us cool facts and info about the neighborhood and the surrounding area. In the afternoon, some students at the school organized a trip to a beach on the west coast of Nicaragua. La Mariposa provided transportation, and we enjoyed a wonderful beach day of swimming, relaxing, and refreshment in the warm central American sun.

Enjoying refreshments at the bar right on a Pacific beach

 

I was, however, unfortunate enough to – while wading in the shallow water – step onto a stingray and get stung by it’s barbed tail. Yelling, I rushed out of the water and back towards the beachside bar. The locals working were immediately helpful and knew what to do, a testament to the kindness of Nicaraguans. After cleaning the wound and dousing it in hot water, we shortly returned to the bus to go back to San Juan. The pain of the sting was excruciating (and lasted for hours) but the driver from La Mariposa drove me to the local hospital where I was treated by nurses. The nurses were knowledgeable and helpful, giving me shots for tetanus and for the pain and assigning me on a regiment for some medication to ensure it does not get infected. Notably, this entire experience was entirely at no cost to me – even the shots and medication were given to me free of charge. Further, my host mother was notified and even came to the clinic to check on me, help me understand the treatment needed going forward, and take me back home. La Mariposa sent more people to check on me once at home and make sure everything was alright. Between the nurses, the staff at La Mariposa, and my host family, I felt extremely cared for and secure. I take the experience, despite the pain and discomfort, to be one showing the extent of the care Nicaraguans and this community have for one another and their preparedness in case of odd, unlikely emergencies.

Life here at La Mariposa is usually quite calm and relaxed, but certainly not boring! And if an accident occurs, you can rest assured that you will be well cared for in this close-knit community.

“Wonderful”: the Panama Project

written by Hannah Chinn, La Mariposa Intern

Because La Mariposa has multiple focuses, and there are a variety of initiatives that are proposed by people in the local community, we have quite a range of projects. Our newest one opened about three months ago…  it’s called the Panama project, and it focuses specifically on offering English classes (usually to children between the ages of 5-12).

The original Panama project began when a friend of Paulette’s (who now does one of the homestays — his name is Hector) asked Paulette to visit the school he taught at. The school itself was in Panama, one of the poorest barrios in La Concha, and the lack of resources there was staggering; the only teaching materials available in his classroom were a chalkboard (no chalk) and a ruler.

Hector asked it’d be possible for La Mariposa to support the school by providing things like books, paper, pencils, and chalk, and pointed out that some of the students in the community were affected by a lack of resources as well.

He noted that there were two young sisters who only came to school on alternating days; he had realized it was because they only had one set of clothes between them.

With this in mind, La Mariposa began to collect donations and accumulate resources. In addition to providing student supplies and various classroom materials, they used funds to mend the roof, paint the school, put in latrines, and build a dining area for the children. The school continues to use these today — however, a few years ago, the project itself was forced to close due to some issues with the Nicaraguan education administrators.

After the first project ended, La Mariposa began to work with a family who lived in the local area and were close with the Mariposa community; their names are Doña Maria and Don Martin. LM rented a small piece of land from them and built an area to hold classes (Doña Maria takes care of class area upkeep as well).

The program launched this past April, and there are currently 5 English teachers for 50-60 children (and sometimes adults!) every afternoon.

The children themselves are extremely bright and energetic — “Good afternoon”, they shouted at me when I said hello — and intently focused on learning. Initially, I was hesitant about the concept of them having to learn English (colonization of language and all that), and Paulette tells me that she was too… but many Nicaraguans in the local community supported the idea of English lessons, and insisted that this would be a good idea.

During my ride in the microtaxi, I asked Tania (one of the primary teachers — she’s the one in the orange shirt) about this. Why did she think it was important for the children to learn English?

In secondary school, she told me, English is often taught — these classes offer children a background in the language and some extra preparation that will become more and more important as they continue in their education. In addition, learning English often expands the amount of opportunities available for Nicaraguan students; “they don’t have to be fluent, but one or two words here and there are helpful to know”.

Tania herself studies English at the local university every evening after she finishes teaching at the Panama project… and even though this means her days are incredibly long, she cares about the children and she thinks this project is important and she keeps doing it.

Even the littlest students — the ones who are too young to read or write — are learning.

“Ask them a question,” their teacher requested, and I hesitantly queried, “Um… how are you?”
They smiled big and the boy next to me shouted, “I’m fine thank you!” The little girls next to him responded, “I’m good!” “I’m great!”, and the last one threw her arms into the air and exclaimed, “I’m WONDERFUL!”

wonderful.

 

 

if you’re interested in helping these kids by donating to the Panama Project (and the other projects that La Mariposa regularly sustains) you can do so by going to our homepage and scrolling down to find the “donate” button… thank you so much!

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.