Return to La Mariposa


We had a ride in La Bastilla’s pickup to Jinotega bus station where there were no seats left on the 9am bus to Managua.  So we bought our tickets for the 10.30 service and sat down to wait, fortified by instant coffee and a packet of “Maria” biscuits.

After 3.5 hours on the bus we were delighted to see the Mariposa bus and the driver, Joshua, waiting for us at Mayoreo bus station.

It was busy week.  First we set off to see how the spider monkeys were doing. Very well, it turned out, in fact when we arrived the female had undone her lead and was enjoying her liberty on the shed roof! We discovered that setting the world to rights whilst monkey watching is a most relaxing activity! The plan is to eventually set them free but continue to provide food, hammocks and night boxes.

Next we went shopping for plants –  for the garden outside the cabin and the space at the hotel where the parakeet cage had been demolished. Also on our list were a birdbath and a tree for Richard, one of the staff who was leaving at the end of the week. The poor old bus was pretty full on the way back!

Together with Paulette we went to nearby Jinotepe to sample ‘the best Italian restaurant in Nicaragua’ to discover we had another ninety minute wait before it opened.  Instead of coffee and biscuits we had a couple of beers in Barry’s bar before an excellent dinner and a bottle of wine. Surprisingly, there were some sore heads next morning!

Next day there were speeches and a cake for Richard.

At the weekend Janie and las chicas came to visit – which mean two extra beds had to be delivered to the cabin, fortunately there’s lots of room. It was a hectic two days. At night the girls played dominoes while the adults enjoyed the evening on the patio sampling Nicaraguan rum. Of course we went monkey watching – Paulette said ‘Don’t touch the monkeys’, Zaira and Sienna took that to mean there was no problem if the monkeys touched them!

The cabin and garden are looking lovely now, as well as the planting the shutters and doors have been varnished, the outside walls painted together with the kitchen, toilet and shower. Even the floor of the shower has been tiled.  We really hope that it will be attractive to guests who prefer self contained accommodation away from the bustle of the hotel. It’s a great place to enjoy the rural environment and watch the birds.

A highlight was the arrival of two of the parakeets who were set free in the first week – they were using an abandoned ant’s nest up a tree to make a home for themselves.

And then it was time to come home where a lovely English Spring was already underway.





La Bastilla Ecolodge

Finca La Bastilla is a huge coffee growing estate in the Datani el Diablo Nature Reserve.  Twenty kilometres from the town of Jinotega it took about an hour to drive from Estelí to reach the entrance to the coffee estate. The Ecolodge was 5km further on up a steep, bumpy road – thank goodness we were in a four-wheel drive!

The Ecolodge is owned by the La Bastilla Technical Centre for Agriculture and tourism. It was set up by the coffee estate in 2009 to teach practical and business skills. According to the website 100% of the profits are reinvested back into the education of the students all of whom come from local low-income families.

The accommodation is in pleasant, spacious timber cabins  constructed in pairs with wide balconies overlooking the cloud forest and the coffee plantation.  They have ensuite bathrooms with solar- heated showers.There are also camping platforms and a dormitory.

We hoped to enjoy the views, see lots of birds and enjoy the diverse menu of  international dishes and traditional Nicaraguan food in the restaurant, as suggested by the website.

Not all our hopes were realised!  It was lovely sitting on the balcony admiring the view but we were disappointed to see how many trees had been felled to make space for coffee. Although the coffee is shade grown, we were offered a printed explanation of how much clearance is necessary to secure growth on the very steep slopes.  It’s a shame even so to see so much deforestation immediately adjacent to a national Nature Reserve.

There were fewer birds than we expected and far less than we saw at Finca Esperanza Verde at the same time last year.But we did see the Emerald Toucanet – no picture how ever.

The food was disappointing and monotonous with very little choice for anyone. No fish although as we drove to Jinotega to get the bus we drove alongside the massive Lake Apaña where everyone beside the road had fresh fish for sale! A typical Nicaraguan breakfast of gallopinto (rice and beans) with eggs, cheese and fired plantain is nice, but not every day!

We have to try new places or how do we know what they’re like?  But on this occasion we won’t be recommending La Bastilla to anyone!

Here’s some photos anyway.

The next (and last) post of this trip will tell you all about the last 10 days at La Mariposa and what fun we had with Janie and las chicas when they visited for the weekend.


North to Esteli

Esteli is the home of our friend Janie and her daughters, Zaira and Siena. Janie founded Cafe Luz, Luna International Hostel and the Treehuggers Information Centre, , to provide income to support a range of development projects in the surrounding area. A key project is the Library Bus (El bibliobus El Libro Volador) which offers reading opportunities to children at local schools where supplies of books are limited. Currently the book stock is not sufficient to enable loans but there is plenty of time to read when the bus visits. At the same time assistance is now being given to enable the schools to develop organic gardens to increase the supply of fresh vegetables for the pupils.
The first morning we joined in a brainstorming session to discuss future branding in the light of current developments in social media including hashtags (#). We quickly realised that this is a complex subject which none of us fully understand. Then we stumbled around terminology such as ‘social enterprise’ and ‘not for profit’ which are used here to describe this sort of sustainable business model. These terms have different meanings to visitors from different parts of the world which we were helping to homogenise. Janie needs a knowledgeable volunteer to tackle all this however, in their absence, we’ll all do our best to find out more and make suggestions. Marketing is now key to attracting visitors, volunteers and donations to support initiatives to step up a bit within the rapidly growing technology of Nicaragua.
We also had lots of fun!
We went to the protected Tisey reserve La Garnacha for lunch in a rustic comedor and a view of the surrounding volcanoes, all currently active! There are homestays here and the residents also make cheese, keep goats and make compost for sale.
Another friend Maggie Jo, also from U.K. was in and around Esteli. She was visiting friends she made several years ago when she was involved in a project to teach English to adults in the Miraflor protected area. They were setting up homestays in order to encourage tourism in this remote area where organic shade grown coffee is the main crop.
Together we all went out and about around Esteli. One day we were having lunch in a rather splendid resort hotel with swimming pools which also happened to be opposite the entrance to the local prison. We heard sounds like gunfire – an escape? And then realised it was coconuts hitting the hotel roof as they were thrown from the tree by the workers!
At dinner at Janie’s house we played an extended game of dominoes with the children while Janie cooked. Meanwhile fruit bats flew in and out to roost as the house is open to the garden!
It was a great week but we couldn’t stay forever. On Friday Janie drove us to La Bastilla, an eco-lodge near Jinotega. More about that in the next post.


Return to La Mariposa

We’ve just spent two weeks at La Mariposa Hotel and Spanish School. We stayed in the cabin at La Reserva where a beautiful garden has grown since our visit last year.
Jan studied Spanish for 2 weeks, 4 hours a day. Alan managed the first week and then became a volunteer, gardening and helping a local young man practice his English. In the afternoons we joined in some of the activities with other students and volunteers. We visited the beautiful Laguna de Apoyo, went to the Pacific beach and took a couple of outings to the colonial city of Granada including a boat trip round the islands on the lake. We visited the majestic Volcán Masaya at night to see the red glow from the slowly moving magma – it really was like gazing into the centre of the earth!One evening a Mariachi band came to play.
We also found time to relax and set the world to rights with our friend Paulette in her beautiful garden.
La Mariposa and it’s projects are a great example of sustainable tourism at it’s very best.
There’s a lot more interesting information on the website

At it’s various locations La Mariposa is home to a wide range of rescued animals including two white rabbits, 23 retired horses, over 50 dogs and more than 20 cats. A group of capuchin monkeys, victims of illegal trafficking, were brought in by the Police. There’s also a toucan, parakeets and other assorted birds mostly rescued from a life imprisoned in a small cage or  on a chain.
Many of these, including the capuchins and toucan have spent too long in captivity to survive in the wild and La Mariposa will be their lifetime home.
For others release back into the wild is a possibility and we were privileged to witness the opening of a cage to free a group of six parakeets. They seemed reluctant to leave at first! The following week a second group’s cage had be demolished around them.
Two spider monkeys who had lived chained as pets have been purchased from their previous owners and now live in the trees at the 140 acre Cañada Honda site bought to protect the wooded area from deforestation. Currently they are on long leads, have made friends and, in the near future, will be released one at a time to enjoy roaming in their splendid natural home. We were there on the day they were introduced.

Now we’ve moved on to visit our friends in Esteli but we’ll be back soon for our final week.


The artists of Coyoacan

Freda Kahlo is probably Latin America’s most celebrated woman artist. Born in 1907, she became disabled as a result of childhood polio and again following a tram accident as a teenager. Bedridden for months following the accident she took up painting.
Despite her physical sufferings and numerous operations, Frida went on to have an extremely successful life both artistically and socially.
She married Diego Rivera, the foremost Mexican muralist of of the early twentieth century. Together they met and entertained many outstanding cultural figures and artists from all over the world.
They made their home at Casa Azul (blue house), Frida’s childhood home. The house was transformed to reflect their shared passion for all things Mexican including traditional folk art and Diego’s growing collection of pre-Hispanic antiquities.
The house was modified further in 1937 when the Russian revolutionary, Leon Trotsky and his wife, came to stay as exiles from Stalin’s Russia. Land was purchased to enable a wall to be built to shelter them from Stalin’s spies.
In due course Frida and Leon embarked on an affair which made shared living impossible for the two couples. The Trotskys moved to a house nearby where he was assassinated by an artist bearing an ice axe. That house is also open for visits – you can read about it in our blog from 2010.
Frida and Diego’s relationship remained tumultuous and at times he left Casa Azul. In 1940 he started planning a new property, Anahuacali. Using local materials including volcanic stone Anahuacali was designed as a showplace for Diego’s collection of items from Mexico’s ancient cultures. It was built in a style reminiscent of the monumental buildings the ancient past. Frida is said to have commented that the building of Anahuacali dealt with Diego’s desire to sleep surrounded by his idols! The part we were able to visit was more like a museum than house but possibly there are other, more domestic sections.
Sketches are on display for some of the murals Diego painted in Mexico and the United States. A mural commissioned by Nelson Rockefeller to depict the television industry was destroyed following misunderstandings over the inclusion of the Bolshevik leader, Lenin. The American capitalist entrepreneur and the Mexican communist were unable to resolve their conflict!
Diego and Frida married twice and, despite various affairs, remained together until her death in 1954.
Dolores Olmedo Pinto, a Mexican businesswoman, was Diego’s friend and patron. She must have been fabulously rich. After Diego’s death she both funded completion of Anahuacali and ensured that Casa Azul was preserved as a memorial to Frida. It opened as a museum in 1958 and is now the most popular destination in Mexico City. As the guide states ‘every object in the Blue House tells us something about the painter….’
Dolores Pinto’s extensive home, set in beautiful grounds, is now a museum too. It houses a large collection of works by Frida, Diego and their contemporaries. When we visited the 25 works by Frida were on loan to another gallery but in their place was a fascinating collection of photographs from her life – Freda’s father was an important photographer of the early twentieth century.
In their lifetimes Diego was by far the most famous but in recent years his fame has been overtaken by his wife’s celebrity. This may be as much due to her life story as the quality of her art.

The last two pictures are by Diego, including a self portrait as a young man.

Now we’ve moved South to Nicaragua. The next post will be about animals and birds at La Mariposa Spanish School




Coyoacan, Mexico City

Once upon a time Coyoacan must have been a town outside Mexico City. Now it has been absorbed into the massive urban area but it still retains a very individual character which attracted us when we visited for a day seven years ago as part of our big Mexico/Mayan trip. Coyoacan has been the home of artists and intellectuals for a long time.
We stayed in a quiet residential area with lots of mature trees. The buildings are mostly 2 storey, some built from adobe, many brightly painted. Most are in the Spanish colonial style which means the outer walls surround shady internal courtyards and gardens invisible from the street. On the short daily walk to the centre we craned our necks round any open gates and doors to get a glimpse of the interiors – some very splendid, others quite homely.
Our tiny apartment was furnished with individual items collected by the owners with not an IKEA item in sight! The hosts are studio photographers, collectors and also run a small cafe in a converted ground floor cafe. We enjoyed dropping in every day to relate our experiences and make plans for the next day. Sadly the person who painted the cafe sign could not spell ‘garage’ in Spanish or English.
So far so idyllic, but if we turned left instead of right outside the door we came up against one of the realities of life in Mexico City. Outside the paediatric hospital parents and relatives were gathered at all times of day and night sitting on the benches provided or on the pavement. At night some erected small pop-up tents but the majority huddled down where they were under a blanket. By the way, due to the altitude, the nights are very cold at this time of year even though the days are sunny and warm. We never saw anyone from there in Cafe Garash, their needs were met by the cheap fast food stalls on the corner.
The name Coyoacan means something like ‘place of the Coyotes’. This piece of history is celebrated by a fountain in the centre where two interlinking squares are busy all the time. They are pleasant shady places to rest populated by hawkers and musicians including a very unfortunate sounding barrel organ!
The food in Coyoacan was a delight after our previous Mexico City experience. The restaurants were good but we especially enjoyed eating very cheap lunches at stalls in the covered market.
Coyoacan has had some very famous residents, more about them in the next post!

Sorry to say the photos will have to wait as after several attempts they refuse to upload!