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.

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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, http://www.treehuggers.cafeluzyluna.org , 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) http://www.cafeluzyluna.org/social-projects/ 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.

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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 http://mariposaspanishschool.com

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.

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Finca Esperanza Verde

The Spanish name is so much more evocative than the English equivalent – Green Hope Farm.

On the way there we spent a night in Matgalpa, a big commercial city, famous as a centre for coffee as well as other agricultural produce. The name of the hotel set the tone – La Buena Onda, meaning, Good Vibes.image

Our journey next morning took just over an hour, the last 11 kilometres on dirt roads, to Finca Esperanza Verde (FEV). It’s an organic coffee farm and tourist lodge, high in the hills.  The accommodation is in cabins with stunning views.

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We were fortunate to be there at the same time as group of ornithologists who, over many years, have been studying migratory birds also seen in their home state of North Carolina. Their leader, John, known as Juancito, as well as being extremely knowledgeable was also incredibly patient, taking time to point out and identify the huge variety of birds. We don’t have the right camera for pictures but there were tanagers, woodpeckers,  hummingbirds, wood creepers, hawks – more than 20 species before breakfast. We heard toucans but never spotted one!

Walking the trails with the guides, Umberto and Omar,we saw plants, birds and wildlife. On the right of this picture you can see the face of a baby three-toed sloth clinging to it’s mother.

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This is a hummimgbird’s nest with new hatched chicks – apparently they always have two.

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Here are some orchids.

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At over 1200 ft, it was so cold at night that we needed an extra blanket. The dining area was heated by Reginald the  stove – he was a long way from home, it said Made in Ireland on the back.

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We arrived in the rain but after that the days were sunny and warm with a beautiful sunset.

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It’s a beautiful place – we’d love to go back. We got on well with Viviane, the owner, as you can see.

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After three nights it was time to go back to our friends at La Mariposa for the final few days before we came home.

if you’d like to know more about Finca Esperanza Verde have a look at the website

http://fincaesperanzaverde.com

Esteli

Esteli is a large, busy city with a population of over 100,000. It’s in the North East highlands, so cooler than the places we’ve been visiting, but still warm and sunny during the day. It’s on the Pan-American highway which is said to be the world’s longest road, running the length of North, Central and South America with a short break, the Darien Gap between Panama and Columbia.

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There was heavy fighting in Esteli during the civil war in the 1970s. Although a lot of rebuilding has taken place some buildings retain bullet holes from those times.

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The old street pattern has been retained along with lots of the traditional old buildings but modern development is also taking place.

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The shopping opportunities are endless!  The traditional shops are small and carry a specific range of goods. Notable are the ones selling leather goods including saddles, belts, bridles and  high quality cowboy boots, off the peg or made to measure.

But change is happening!  Esteli now has a branch of Colonia, the Waitrose of Nicaragua. Very convenient and carrying a wide range of goods, the prices may deter some customers but, just like everywhere else, the arrival of supermarkets threatens the future of the small, local shops.

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A wide range of clothing is available. ‘America fashion’ means second hand clothes imported from North America. These are available in big bales from wholesale outlets. Retail outlets range from smart boutique style shops to something more resembling a jumble sale.  So Nicaraguan shoppers provide an important outlet for the excess of, so called, more developed societies. It occurs to me that the disappearance of this trade would greatly reduce the range of styles available – the chances of appearing in identical outfits at events is almost non-existent.

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When we were here a year ago the Parque Central was boarded off, undergoing renovation.  Now it’s reopened as a colourful playground, packed at the weekend. It makes you wonder where all these children went in the past!

The cigar trade is very important here. Tobacco is an important crop and is also imported from at least as far away as Equador. We visited a cigar factory where the working conditions seemed okay although the hours are long. That’s possibly because there are frequent visits from cigar buyers from all over the world. The situation for people who work in the fields and drying sheds looks very different! The cigars and boxes are all  handmade, with great skill on the premises.

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There a lots of murals in Esteli, we particularly liked this mosaic.

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Friends in Esteli

It was still dark when we left Sabalos on the fast boat back to San Carlos. Six and a half hours on the bus to Managua without a loo stop wasn’t our plan but we both survived!

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Back at La Mariposa work was in progress, the bedroom floor had been tiled and Marcos was busy building the kitchen counter.
We stayed long enough to present the gifiti to Paulette and get the laundry done then set off again to visit our friends in Esteli.

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We’ve been here several times and got to know Janie and her daughters very well. We stayed in Hostal Luna and hung out in Cafe Luz – both founded by Janie and run as non-profit enterprises providing employment and supporting the development of projects to benefit the rural communities nearby.

We had lots of fun with the children, visiting the park, baking gingerbread with friends in the cafe kitchen and, once the weekend was over, overseeing the homework.

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We also caught up with Alvaro, a doctor who enjoys talking to English visitors as he is fascinated by the classics and European civilisation. We enjoyed red wine and fresh bread in the Italian courtyard he is creating in his back garden.
Janie was working, but we had dinner together in the evenings and even managed a long afternoon trip out with Janie and Nazarelli who works with her, plus Santos – who came for the ride!
We have written about Miraflor on previous occasions. It’s a remote and beautiful area, ranging from dry forest at the lower levels to cloud forest at the highest point, above 1,400 metres. Miraflor is a protected reserve with an abundance of bird species, wildlife and plants, including orchids.
Life is rustic and tough with agriculture the main occupation. High quality coffee is grown by small scale producers who work cooperatively to process and market the crop. They grow some excellent vegetables too!
Janie’s organisation has supported the development of basic tourist facilities including homestays for those who want to experience life in this beautiful, remote area. These provide additional income for residents. They also run a library bus taking reading opportunities to schoolchildren across the area.

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At San Sebastián de Yali we stopped to meet Nararelli’s partner and grandmother and explored the small town while they conducted some business with a lawyer.

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Then on up the volcano to inspect some land which the couple are purchasing to build a remote and rustic cabin for visitors. Nearby an uncle and other relatives were processing the last of the coffee harvest. Horses carried the sacks up to the dirt road to be taken back to town in the back of the truck.
It was dusk when we left – the chickens were heading up to roost in the trees!

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We’ve fallen behind with blogposts so now we’ll try to catch up. You may hear more from us than you want to over the next few days!

San Carlos and the Río San Juan

When the bus arrived at Juigalpa so many traders got on that there was no space for the passengers! Eventually the chaos subsided and we found some seats. Four hours later we arrived at San Carlos where we broke the journey overnight. Not much was happening on a Saturday evening.
San Carlos is a small, quaint town, even though it is the hub from which travellers must access this fairly remote area. In recent years the road has been improved and there is even an airport. The buildings retain their traditional charm but the Parque Centrale has recently been transformed into a welcoming playground complete with benches and free wifi!

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Two hours on the slow boat got us to our destination early on Sunday. The river is wide but fairly shallow and sluggish. Hotel Sabalos overlooks the point where the smaller Rio Sabolos runs into Río San Juan on it’s way to the Atlantic.

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We took a boat further down the river and into the rainforest in the protected Indio-Maiz reserve. On the way we passed one corner of a massive palm oil plantation, said to extend over 100,000 hectares and providing employment for 980 people. This may be good for the workers and the local economy but such huge areas of deforestation are hugely damaging to the fragile environment and wildlife corridors
From here on the river bank forms the border with Costa Rica and the military presence is evident in an area which has been much disputed by the two countries over the years.
It was raining in the rainforest which started off being fun but had two drawbacks. First, Julio, our excellent guide, had difficulty hearing anything over the sound of the rain. Second we were soon up to our knees in mud! But amongst the plants, trees and insects we saw a poisonous frog; these used to be attached to arrows by the rainforest residents as an easy way to deal with their enemies.

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On the return journey we stopped at the strategically important town of Castillo above Raudal el Diabolo (the Devil’s Rapids). Accessible only by river, the town takes it’s name from the fortress, built by the Spanish in 1675. It was one of a series built to protect the Spanish vessels, returning to the old world loaded with precious goods from the newly discovered colonies, being attacked by pirates. These were the original pirates of the Caribbean. Chief amongst them, for hundreds of years, were the British who wanted a share of the booty. In 1572 Sir Francis Drake led an expedition that seized a cargo of gold in Panama. In 1780 the fortress was taken by an English expedition of 200 men and 50 vessels that were rowed up the river with many fatalities. It was led by Horatio Nelson, hero of the Battle of Trafalgar. The men were exhausted by the conditions on the river, the climate and the conflict and the majority succumbed to dysentery. It is claimed that Nelson himself barely survived!

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On the way back we spotted both an alligator and a caiman as well as exotic birds and a snake, all impossible to photograph.

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Next day we glided up the smaller Río Sabalos to a cacao plantation where we learnt all about the organic cultivation of this precious crop by a co-operative of local farmers, all selling to the German Ritter-Sport company. We could tell you all about the way the beans are fermented and processed ready for export – but we won’t!

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Then it was time for the day-long journey back to our base at La Mariposa!