Friday, November 20, 2009

Monkeys & Parrots & Horses, Oh my!

Anything that can be rescued will be rescued at La Mariposa! White-faced Monkeys, parrots and parakeets, dogs, horses.

These residents arrive in a variety of ways. The monkeys and "exotic" birds have been rescued from illegal trade. Paulette Goudge of La Mariposa has a very good working relationship with the police, and they know that when animals intended for smuggling come into their hands, they can pass them on. These animals have sometimes arrived in very poor condition, but they certainly aren't in poor condition now.

The dogs have found their way here in a variety of ways, and they are comfortable residents, mingling with students and guests as we come and go from classes, meals, and activities. Here you see Molly on the stairs.
Rescued horses don't actually live on the grounds of La Mariposa. They pasture in semi-retirement on a mountainside not far away. Sundays usually offer an opportunity for horseback riding. Students whose brains have been taxed with study are invited to take a leisurely (or energetic) ride. The horses are delivered to the front gate, and riders are guided along paths that take them to spectacular views of lake and volcano.

La Mariposa is so much more than a "Spanish School and Eco-Hotel." It is a network of projects, all designed to support human, animal, and plant life in Nicaragua. Projects are supported by the school and hotel. This is quite an amazing place.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

That bird!

For days I had been wanting to see the guardabarranco, national bird of Nicaragua. I had been told that they are frequently in the garden here at La Mariposa, but I spend a lot of time in class, on field trips, and studying, and I just hadn't happened to be looking when a guardabarranco was about. Finally, however, I've seen one, with its pendulum tail (which doesn't show up dramatically in this photo). This gorgeous bird actually cooperated while I took its picture--until I tried to get just a bit too close.

For those who care about such things, this is the Turquoise browed Motmot (Eumomota superciliosa). El Salvador also claims this as the national bird, calling it pajaro reloj, clock bird, because of the way it swings the tail back and forth.

Friday, November 13, 2009

School Days at La Mariposa

School days at La Mariposa are an intense, wonderful weave of learning experiences, some highly structured and some more informal, with infinite possibilities for inventing one's own path.

Breakfast is on the terrace at 7:15. Classes begin at 8:00. Before lunch, I've had a 2-hour conversation class and a 1 1/2 hour grammar class with a 30 minute juice break. Jenny (at right) has been my conversation teacher this week. Today, something special for me, she read to me from the Autobiografia of Ruben Dario, one of the nation's most honored (no longer living) poets. This text became the topic of our conversation, text alternating with talk. (Jenny speaks no English. This is good for me!)

Lunch on the terrace is followed by afternoon activities, which have often been prepared for in the morning's conversation class. For example, the unifying theme of my conversation class the first day I was here was Tortillas y sopa de queso (Tortillas and cheese soup). That afternoon, in the kitchen, there were lessons in making tortillas y sopa de queso. And guess what we had for dinner!

Often our afternoon activities are field trips from which we return at dinner time. After tarea (homework!). We are very busy at La Mariposa Spanish School! And there's lots more to tell. Later.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

"The Mouth of Hell"

El pais des volcanes y lagunas Nicaragua is sometimes called -- the country of Volcanoes and Lakes. These volcanoes are live, and Volcan Masaya is one of the few in the world where you can walk right up to the edge of the crater and look down into an open lava pool. In the daytime, you can't actually see lava through the plume of sulphurous gases, smoke, and (sometimes) ash, but at night (we went first in daylight, then after dark), you can peer down to see the glowing boca de enfer as the Spaniards called it centuries ago ("the mouth of hell").
Here, as at the Chocoyero waterfall, chocoyos nest in holes in the stone walls of the crater. These birds have adapted, remarkably, to the inhospitable gases. People who live in the path of the volcano's fumes do not do so well. A number of health problems result, and very few crops will grow.
Multiple craters mark this volcano, which has erupted at various times from various openings, and there are caves that run underground between craters. One cave is sufficiently accessible that visitors may go there--at night, to visit the habitation of bats. We walked to one opening of the cave where the air was full of bats; they flew in and out of the cave, around our heads. We did not enter there but went to a larger opening not far away. There, we were able to walk deep into the large lava-tube (perhaps 1000 yards?), its walls dripping with moisture. The park service had equipped each of us with a hard hat (for which I would soon be grateful) and flashlight.
The floor of the cave was rough but somewhat regular in its roughness (if that makes sense), and I suppose I wasn't using my light as carefully as I should have been. I didn't see the edge of the large rock on which I was stepping or the 18-inch drop from it. I slipped, took a really bad fall into a pile of large rocks. So, I had a painful night, and the next day, had the adventure of visiting a doctor and having x-rays. My arm is in sling (3rd day), but it's not broken. I am very happy about my good strong bones (all that weight bearing exercise, paddling a canoe). I have some stunning bruises and a gorgeous temporary souvenir on my forehead. Grateful I am for that hard hat. Also grateful for the attentiveness of Paulette and Ismael of La Mariposa, who saw me through the medical visits, and for Karen's attentiveness as I very slowly regain use of my right arm. The hardest part of this adventure has been not being able to write. At least now I can, with the arm propped well, type.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

El Chocoyero Nature Reserve

Through pineapple, banana, and shade-grown coffee fields, our hero driver, Bergman (in photo), conducted us up and up on a deeply rutted and washed out road (think of the worst dirt road you've ever been on and multiply by ten) until we arrived at El Chocoyero Reserve. Bergman showed us the map of the trail that we would take to the waterfall called El Chocoyero, and we began our hike through the lush hardwood forest--so many trees, shrubs, and vines whose names I do not know. I'm learning--rubber tree (with scars from slashes to harvest the sap), ceiba....

About half an hour into the hike,, I saw ahead beside the trail a single gumbo limbo tree with its familiar peeling bark, felt an irrational joy at its recognition. Old friend in a new place.

Our objective on this hike was not simply the waterfall. It was also the high stone cliff adjacent to it, pocked with holes which serve as dwellings for approximately 1500 birds,
chocoyos (wild green parakeets), of which there are five different types in the preserve. The birds leave early every morning and then return in the evening to spend the night in their individual or family homes. Our hike was timed to get us there for the return, its grand racket of squawking.

For me, the finest moment of the day occurred when we were standing at the bottom of the waterfall, listening as the noise of the returning birds mingled with the howls of the howler monkeys in not-so-distant branches. It was a fine cacophony.

El Chocoyero is an important Watershed for the area. It is also a destination for ecotourists in a nation which is just developing its tourism infrastructure. It is one of the few parks in Nicaragua that permits overnight camping. I probably won't be camping there this trip, but if there's time, I may be going back with a private guide to learn more about the ecology of the preserve, the specifics of the preservation effort, educational outreach, and, yes, I want to know the names of those trees.

Monday, November 2, 2009

El dia de los Muertos

Hi all! Yesterday was November 2nd, the Day of the Dead in Nicaragua, el dia de los muertos. I wrote about our walk to the cemetery of the village of San Juan--down the street, through the soccer game in a grassy field, along the sidewalk past coffee trees and walls with political grafitti. I wrote about the gravesites honored with bouquets, garlands, and loose flowers, about the priest conducting mass and children playing among the graves. And when it was all written, I lost my internet connection. If posts become irregular, you'll know why.