A Travellerspoint blog

August 2014

Wonky thoughts: Bad NGO. Bad!

From Nicaragua, when good intentions go wrong


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Latrines, the only viable option for the rural community near La Mariposa, on the right. Donated toilets that require water are unused on the left.

The staff of La Mariposa, aside from having fabulous teachers also have an array of people behind the scenes that help support the surrounding communities in more subtle ways. For example, like when a non-governmental organization (that will remain nameless) bought materials and built bathrooms for the nearby Panama community. Panama, sitting under Volcano Masaya, is one of the poorest communities in Nicaragua. There are most likely many reason for this but that side of the volcano is enveloped by noxious fumes (that eat through most building materials) and other than pineapples, not much else can be grown there. Also, here's the kicker for any conversation about development, there is no running water.

All of this makes Panama a great place to provide much needed assistance. So, while building toilets in a desperately poor, rural Central American community sounds like a lovely idea worthy of a group's annual report, building them where there is no water supply and monster eating fumes, turns out simply to be a waste. Staff from La Mariposa remedied the problem by building latrines. Water is so rare, a fellow student Joshua who has volunteered at the school for the past three summers, told us during lunch one day that kids ran out of class during a rainstorm to shower.

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Fellow student (and proud Texan) Markey gives the durable concrete slide a try outside a school in Panama. The fumes for the volcano would eat through a metal slide.

Posted by BettinaNYC 09:56 Archived in Nicaragua Tagged wonky Comments (0)

Leaving the La Mariposa Nest


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For two months I was fortunate to call the tiny barrio of San Juan de la Concepcion home and was graced by La Mariposa's kind and excellent teachers, its staff and countless animals (I will spare you the endless photo stream of dogs, birds, turkeys, roosters, chickens, monkeys, frogs, butterflies and various unknown critters). OK, here's just one!

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La Mariposa is an oasis not only because it is in the jungle but because it introduces students to the generosity and culture of Nicaraguans while simultaneously contributing to the local economy. La Mariposa is more than a language school and eco hotel. It's a farm and animal rescue, has helped programs like a women's bakery cooperative and after school programs get off the ground. It supports librarians in at least two public schools and helped create a program for people with disabilities along with other countless acts to help its neighbors.

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My grammar teacher Elisa has the patience of a saint and I will reflect fondly on our weeks sitting in "Lucy's Ranchero", even those hour-long drills of verb conjugation! Learning a new language is rewarding but learning from strong, confident women like Elisa is a thrill.

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Volunteering on a reforestation project. We also researched how to build bat boxes to help increase the bat population that is threatened due to development, pesticides and deforestation.

The La Mariposa experience would not have been the same without our homestay. From the moment we walked into the Blass' home, we were treated like family, despite our limited Spanish skills. Each day after school, two-year old Angelina greeted us screaming "Cha-betti! Cha-betti!" and ran into Chad's arms. Our gracious host mother, Aura Maria made the world's best frescos; juices from pitaya (dragon fruit) piƱa (pineapple) lemon, calala (passion fruit) among others.

Many evenings we watched (and judged from our rocking chairs) the Latin American version of Dancing with the Stars, Ballando Por un Sueno. I had heartwarming and sisterly-like conversations with their daughter Maricela who has an amazing, albeit quiet determination about her. There were fascinating conversations (lots of listening on my part) with our host father and I learned about Nicaragua's history from his first hand accounts. Stories of conflict are necessary to share but never easy to hear.

As we left San Juan I felt prepared to experience more of the sites and culture of this amazing country. A heartfelt thanks to all the people whose path I crossed that made the time at La Mariposa about more than learning Spanish including: the Blass Family, Paulette, Guillermina, Elisa, Richard, Ruth, Amanda, Marky, Joshua, Oscar, Marty, Kinema, Ismael, Gabriel, Moises, Miguel, Nixon and the Butterfly man, Erico.

Muchas gracias por todo!

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Chad joins teachers and other students in a soccer game.

Posted by BettinaNYC 17:55 Archived in Nicaragua Tagged la mariposa Comments (0)

Big trip to Little Corn Island

Getting to beach paradise is rough


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The "vacation" part of our time in Nicaragua began with a trip to Little Corn Island, about 50 miles off the country's Atlantic coast. It is a helluva trip to get here.

First, we took a 12 (ish) passenger plane from Managua to Big Corn Island. Much of it in a thunder storm and over the rainforest. Then a taxi from the airport to the panga dock. And then the real fun began with a 30 minute panga ride in the open ocean with swells taller than I am. Remember, we have to do it all again to leave. That's a lot of energy and time to get to an island where there's no electricity in the morning for four hours (mas o menos) to enjoy some R&R and scuba diving after Spanish school.

Little Corn is fascinating to me in part because it isn't like being in Nicaragua at all. The Island's predominant language is English and due to its complex history with Nicaragua's political elite, its culture is more closely aligned with the African and Indian melting pot of the Miskito Coast. Not surprisingly there are a litany of languages spoken here: English, Spanish, Creole, Miskito, Garifuna and others. I asked my dive master, who was raised on the Island, how many languages he spoke and he rattled off more than five.

Demographics and politics aside (or possibly because of) there's no disputing we are in the Caribbean: crystal blue water, fine sandy beaches, genial atmosphere.

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Sunset from Little Corn Island

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Thanks Garry for the great dives.

There's not a whole lot to say about our time on Little Corn and maybe that's its charm. There is a scene of mostly Americans and Canadians that enjoy the happy hour atmosphere but we tried our best to ignore them. I had wonderful dives, Chad took kite surfing lessons, we didn't eat rice and beans, we strolled though the jungle and watched sunsets.

Now, we have to get back to the mainland. Hold on!
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Posted by BettinaNYC 18:32 Archived in Nicaragua Tagged island corn little Comments (2)

Puebla, home of the Mexican Revolution

Please stand by. We are experience technical difficulties.


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We are in Puebla, Mexico where revolution is in the city's soul and where we found the eighth wonder of the world (the Capilla del Rosario, photo at the bottom), but technology isn't feeling so revolutionary to me.

File under lesson learned:
I knew having access to consistent and reliable wifi on this trip would be an issue. Which is why we backed up important information and documents. But it only works if you use it.

Several days ago, Chad's Ipad mysteriously locked itself, along with my blog drafts which may or may not still be there when we find a location/authorized dealer we trust enough to fix it. And the iphone version of the website hosting the blog is, shall we say....different, than the complete version.

So, send your positive tech vibes to Mexico so I can share stories about our last days in Nicaragua, how we partied until dawn in Colon, Panama (well, almost until dawn), rode Panama City's brand new subway, and my joyous culinary tour of Oaxaca.

Until then, I'll be distracted by all the gold.

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A very subtle sign indicates a chapel that is drowning in gold leaf.

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Another lesson I've learned? Photos don't do most of what we have seen justice. The Capilla del Rosario (the eighth wonder of world, or so say the lovely materials we picked up at the tourism office) built in the late 1600's is no exception.

Posted by BettinaNYC 21:55 Archived in Mexico Tagged lesson learned Comments (0)

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