NICARAGUAN ALPHABET A to M

Alphabet2I lived in Nicaragua for three years, & devised this alphabet before my return to the UK – my best memories….

A is for AMERICA CENTRAL

Nicaragua is one of the seven small countries that make up the Central American isthmus. Proud & patriotic, but most of these countries are also poor, institutionally weak & unstable.  Nicaragua is the poorest country on the continent of ‘America Latina’

A could also be for ADOQUINES – (Paving Stones, very important in Nicaragua).

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B is for BEACH

Nicaragua has fantastic beaches. Living in Leon our favourite is Las Peñitas which we love. It’s very beautiful & ‘tranquilo’.

B could also be for BARRICADES, built from paving stones. From May to July 2018 people built barricades to keep out the police & paramilitaries. B is also for my BLOG Nicaragua caminando

B

C is for COUNTRYSIDE (El Campo)

Nicaragua has beautiful highlands, lakes, waterfalls & rain-forest, with lovely vegetation. Kath & I always enjoyed hiking in the greenery. Though the government needs to bring to an end the deforestation that is destroying the remaining rainforest.

C could also be for COFFEE (lovely to drink & shade-grown is good for the countryside).  Or C for the CAMPESINOS who work in the countryside.  Good people.

C

D is for DANIEL ORTEGA

In 1984 I came to Nicaragua to support the young Sandinista revolution, & their president Daniel Ortega. The FSLN were a brave young effort committed to improving the lives of the poor. Today Daniel is still president, still leader of the party, & has become a corrupt violent authoritarian, repressing his own people. Power corrupts. What a shame. This country deserves better.

D is also for DEAF, Kath worked supporting the deaf community. Before the troubles started, D also would be for hosting DELEGATIONS.

D

E is for EDUCATION

In my work in Leon with PGL, we fund eight NGOs who support children’s education.  Kath works supporting Deaf Education, so we have visited many state schools. On the plus side Nicaragua has free education for the poor, & high’ish rate of attendance. On the negative side, education quality is very poor. Teacher attendance is poor, & sadly children spend very little time actually learning.

E is also for the ENVIRONMENT (Nicaragua has a commendable record on renewable energy).

E

F is for FRESH FOOD – for example FISH,  & cheap FRUIT, gallo pinto, beans, tortillas, crema. We like Nicaraguan food.  F could also be FIESTAS which are always great fun.

F could also be for the FSLN. In power for too long & with no younger generation leaders coming through. As a friend of mine said, ‘F is for Frente… we should keep their great sacrifice & their hope in our hearts, but their decline in our heads, as a warning for the future’.

F

G is for GODOY BROTHERS MUSIC 

The Godoy brothers (Carlos & Luis) have been the soundtrack of Nicaragua for more than forty years. Authors of the famous ‘Nicaragua Nicaraguita’ they were early supporters of the FSLN armed struggle in the 1970’s, & their songs have been hugely popular ever since. At any event in Nicaragua the band will play the favourite Godoy songs. Since the April protests began the Godoy brothers have supported the opposition, & Carlos Mejia Godoy has been forced to flee into exile in Costa Rica, now in fear of his life from the party he supported for so many years.

G is also be for GIGANTONA, a well-known giant in Leon. And G is for GETTYSBURGProject Gettysburg-Leon is where I work, a terrific bunch of committed activists in Leon’s Sister City or Twin-town.

G

H is for HOMESTAYS    

If you visit Nicaragua as a tourist you should really stay in a homestay, ie with a local family. Kath & I stayed many weekends in rural houses, for example in Miraflor or around San Ramon, Matagalpa. At my work for PGL we would put up visiting students in urban homestays in Leon, & they always say it’s the best thing about their trip. The photo shows breakfast in a Homestay in Miraflor.

H could also be for HOMEWORK CLUBS (which PGL fund), or HEAT in Leon  or HEART. We are leaving Nicaragua because Kath has been diagnosed with a heart issue that needs an operation.

H

I is for IDIOMAS – languages – including Idioma Nicaraguense de Señas

Kath & I both had to polish up our Spanish to work here, with lots of Nicaraguanismo vocab. But Kath had a much greater challenge: Nicaraguan Sign Language. NSL is the worlds youngest language, formed soon after the 1979 revolution. Kath enjoyed working with the Nicaraguan deaf community but speaks BSL (British Sign Language). NSL is as different to BSL as chalk is to cheese.

I

J is for JINOTEGA

Jinotega is a lovely town in the mountains of Northern Nicaragua, little visited by tourists. If you do go it is a lovely base for walks in the hills. You can climb up to a cross high-above the town, 960 steps up a hill-side. Jinotega is where Kath worked one week a month at the School for the Deaf with Mayflower Medical Outreach (MMO).

J could also be for JUSTICE. Justice denied to the 400 demonstrators who have been killed since the protests began in April 2018 (mainly, but not all, by government forces), and the scores of students imprisoned since August.

J

K is for KATHLEEN  

Everything good I have done in Nicaragua Kath has been with me. Together we went through a few difficult times & lots of good times. Kath is always popular, in her work with the deaf, & with all the PGL partners. Kath’s health is troublesome at the moment but we are all very confident it will soon be fixed & she will be back at 100%.

K is also for KAYAK. Nicaragua has lovely lakes & rivers to kayak on & we had some great times watching the birds, the sunsets & the nature.

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L is for  LEON    

Leon is where Kath & I lived most of our time in Nicaragua. It is a nice town & we were mainly happy here. It is an old colonial town but not poshed up yet like Granada, it is crumbling around the edges, in fact many of the homes are falling apart. It is a university town with lots of cheap eateries, & a lovely Cathedral. The photo here shows the church & plaza just behind our house, where we would stroll around in the evenings & see the sunset. Nearby are nice beaches & some good volcanic hills to hike in. On the other hand it is extremely hot, & our house had a lot of mosquitos.

L could also be for LAKES, Nicaragua has two enormous lakes as big as an inland sea.

L

M   MOSQUITOS & MURALS

For Kath M is for MOSQUITOS because she got bitten a lot by them, especially in the rainy season. Lucky me, I rarely got bitten. So for me M is for MURALS. Nicaragua has lovely murals on walls all over the country, although most of the old socialist murals of the revolution were erased in the 1990s. The mural below shows the Somoza dictatorship shooting unarmed students in 1959. History repeats itself.

M could also be for MIRAFLOR (a lovely countryside area), or MASAYA (the most violent & smashed up town during the roadblocks in May June July this year), or MASKS (as worn by protesters & paramilitaries).

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The second half of the Alphabet will be up shortly. Please share this blog. You can also write comments below – what have I left out, what would you have included?

Many more beautiful photos of Nicaragua can be seen on my Instagram site – follow @owstonlewis

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How your travel can benefit Nicaraguan social organisations

After two years living and travelling in Nicaragua I have seen that just by staying at certain hotels you support the education of needy children. And by eating in some restaurants you can provide jobs for adults with special needs. A number of tourist ventures in Nicaragua are now ‘social-enterprises’ which dedicate their profits to charities, or programmes that benefit the local community. But many of these ventures are not well publicized, and some towns seem to be missing out. I wonder if we could make a ‘portal’ or site where Nicaraguan social enterprises can easily be found?

You kayaking trip can benefit children’s education on Ometepe island

I work for a ‘‘Sister City’ programme  that regularly brings delegations of visitors to Nicaragua. There are many organisations who bring groups of visitors to this wonderful country, from  ‘Global Glimpse’ to brigades of deaf teachers, or Church Mission groups. Not forgetting  normal groups of tourists enjoying what the country has to offer. If each of these groups stayed in hotels which are Social Enterprises then we could bring large amounts of new income towards school and social programmes. I try to take my groups to one of these Five Favourite Places, but I also try to spend our hotel and restaurant budget in Social-enterprises.

A Social Enterprise is a company, like a hotel or a café or shop, which channels its profits to a non-profit or Non-Government Organisation (NGO). Across Nicaragua Social Enterprises are now raising large amounts of funding for poor communities and local charities. Let me give some examples…

I stayed at Hacienda Merida on Ometepe which was a great place to relax and  watch the sunset views. But the best thing was knowing that the profits go towards building a primary school for the local community. The hostal income allows them to build a new classroom each year. (the classrooms are built partly out of recycled bottles which is also beneficial). The owner, Alvaro Molina, began years ago with a dream. Now this self-supporting project has allowed the building of four well-equipped classrooms and dozens of children receiving a bilngual education. All paid for by the profits from happy travellers.

The lovely primary school supported by Hacienda Merida

Esteli is the town in Nicaragua that is best served by Social Enterprise hotels. Casa Vinculos is a lovely hotel that directly supports Fundacion Vinculos, which promotes Early Childhood Education. When I take delegations to Esteli we take over all nine rooms in Casa Vinculos and enjoy their good food and crafts shop whilst knowing that our funds benefit local children. Esteli also has the more upmarket Hotel Los Arcos, which supports a health centre, plus SONATI, and Hostal Luna which cater for the backpacker market and support environmental work and a mobile library.

Granada has Hotel Con Corazon  which supports education programmes. Hotel Con Coraon is interesting because its publicity positively emphasizes the social benefits supported and its name reflects this. Unfortunately since it is always booked up well in advance I have never stayed there, and so far I have not heard of a second similar hotel in the town. Since Granada is the heartland of tourism in Nicaragua, with over 100 hotels, I believe there is plenty of scope for more hotels that could be added to Hotel Con Corazon and take up more of this market segment.

NGOs and non-profits aim to encourage a love of reading for pleasure. Nicaraguan schools and homes have a major shortage of books

By contrast, in terms of social-profit hotels, Leon and Managua are disappointing. In Leon the SONATI hostal does good work with the backpacker crowd, raising awareness on environmental work. But in terms of a hotel, for better off clients, I don’t know of a single hotel in Leon or Las Peñitas or Poneloya that dedicates all its profits to social programmes.  Of course there are some hotels that will give a donation now and then to a charity. But I am talking about hotels that exist to raise funds for the social good. If you exist, then let the world know. I bring groups to Leon 4 times a year and would love to place visitors in a hotel on the model of Casa Vinculos or Casa con Corazon.

In Managua there are hundreds of hotels. Like Leon, if one exists like the examples above, then you don’t advertise widely enough. Hotel Europeo does support a foundation but it is not clear from the website what % of the profits goes to the charitable work. I would also love to know if a hotel with social benefit exists in San Juan del Sur or other towns.

Cafes and restaurants can also be Social Enterprises, such as the wonderful Cafe de Las Sonrisas in Granada, which employs deaf staff

The tourism sector can support more Social Enterprises – not only hotels but also restaurants, language schools and other services. Esteli has Café Luz which raises funds for the mobile library.  Granada has the wonderful Café de la Sonrisa  where deaf young people work. Also of course there are shops and crafts. In Granada there is a Hammock workshop next door to Café de la Sonrisa which provides  employment opportunities for differently-able young people. In Leon or Managua, is there anything similar?

To learn Spanish you can visit the Mariposa Language School. To climb  a volcano from Leon then go with  Quetzaltrekkers which raises funds through providing tours and guides. Quetaltrekkers provide funding for a range of Leon NGOs such as  Las Tias and NECAT, to pay the salaries of teachers and social workers in deprived areas of town.

If you want to climb a volcano, go with Quetsaltrekkers, who devote their profits to support NGOs such in Leon

So these tourist-orientated ventures are providing a great service. But they could be better known and there could be more of them. How could tourist-orientated social enterprises in Nicaragua be better publicized? I would love to find a one-stop shop where you could easily find information for every town in the country. How could this be set up?

My dream is to be able to always stay in social enterprise hotels when I bring groups here.  To spend most of our budget with services like Quetaltrekkers and mainly eat in cafes or restaurants like Café de las Sonrisas. Do you think that will be possible? And how could it be set up?

 

Photos by Steve Lewis. Follow Steve on instagram at @owstonlewis

Community Tourism in Nicaragua – Get Off the Beaten Track & Do Good!

 

As the sun came up I lay in bed listening to the howler monkeys in the forest…after a delicious ‘tipica’ breakfast with our host family we had a great walk through the coffee fields up to the rain-forest in the hill-tops. We saw sloths, oriole birds, wonderful butterflies and Nicaragua’s national bird, the guardabaranco. Community tourism in San Ramon allows farmers to diversify their farm-income and encourages all the community to preserve the environment. It’s a win-win for tourists and the local community together’.

Stay in local houses amidst the lovely nature of La Reyna, San Ramon

Although Nicaragua is still the second poorest country in Latin America, tourism is booming, with around 5% annual growth in recent years, supported by Nicaragua’s excellent record of peace and safety, and a growing economy. According to the World Tourism Council 2017 report tourism contributed $720 million in direct revenue to the country, amounting to around 5.3% of GDP in 2016. Tourism makes up nearly 4% of total employment, or 100,000 people. So things are looking good.

But there are flies in the tourism ointment. Land on the pacific coast is now selling for inflated prices and being snapped up by foreign buyers. Tourism is concentrated in two or three small areas of the country. Granada and San Juan del Sur are over-touristed, and are losing some of their Nicaraguan culture.  Much of the tourism industry is owned by large companies, and eventually by non-Nicaraguan private sector.

There is a way for tourists here to get off the beaten track, and see the real Nicaragua, by visiting rural villages and cooperatives that run community tourism initiatives. Community Tourism and Eco-tourism are ways to experience rural life, stay with local people and help preserve the environment. According to Martha Honey, author of Who Owns Paradise?, ‘ecotourism is travel to fragile and often protected environments, that strive to be low-impact and small-scale. It helps educate the traveller, provides funds for local conservations, directly benefits the economic development of local communities and fosters respect for different cultures’.

 

Community and locally owned tourism contributes more to a country than large scale package tours or high-end hotel chains. Globally the tourism sector that contributes least to local economies is the cruise-liner sector. It is estimated that if you buy a cruise-holiday, 90% of your total spending stays in the country of origin. Whereas back-packers, and low-impact travellers in Central America spend 80% of their total spend in the region.

When you are travelling in Nicaragua try to get away from the Southern ‘tourist-triangle’ (Granada –Ometepe-San Juan del Sur) and visit some of the small towns and rural nature areas. Travel on your own or, if you are in the USA or UK, sign up with a small group trip run by one of the  Sister-cities such as Gettysburg-Leon  or one of the Nicaragua solidarity groups. Here are five great ecotourism recommendations that we have enjoyed in the last 18 months:

1/ Stay with a rural family, Miraflor nature reserve, outside Esteli.

Beautiful countryside, nice hiking, and lovely waterfalls. Google UCA Miraflor Tourism to arrange to stay with a local family, and to go horse-riding or bird watching. Prices are very reasonable, at around $20 per day with meals included. By travelling on public transport you help to keep your environmental footprint low. Tourists who show their love for nature encourage local communities to preserve the forests.

2 / Volunteer in exchange for reduced lodging rates.

In Rancho Esperanza, on Jiquilillo beach in Chinandega, you can stay for a couple of months or longer and really contribute to the life of the local community. (It’s beautiful too). Volunteers work in a Kids Club with children. If you can’t stay that long you are still encouraged to support the local community by taking ‘tours’ such as line fishing, kayaking, or learn to climb a coconut tree.

3/ Somoto Canyon

The author, floating gently through Somoto Canyon

Somoto canyon is a must-do in Nicaragua, an adrenalin rush that will provide you with some of your best memories. Somoto is in Northern Nicaragua, so helps to get tourists to explore much-less visited part of the country. You can stay the night near the canyon, and make sure you use local guides with a good reputation. We have always taken groups with Henry Soriano, of Somoto Canyon Tours,  who are highly recommended for a friendly service with a good commitment to safety.

4/ Support Cooperatives

Around the country look out for the system of ‘co-manejo’ where local communities have joint control of natural resources with MARENA the ministry for the environment. In Las Peñitas, a beautiful fishing community outside Leon a cooperative of 12 local people  offer tours of Isla Juan Venado and the mangrove swamps. Between July and December they protect the eggs of endangered turtles, and at any time of the year you can stay the night in rustic cabinas on a very isolated beach.

In Las Peñitas and Jiquilillo community groups protest the endangered baby turtles

5/ Fair trade coffee villages

There is a wide range of options on offer, well-marketted throughout the North. Ask in any hotel around Esteli, Matagalpa, Jinotega and the Segovias.

In San Ramon a series of small villages and struggling cooperatives eke out a living from coffee production. After tough times under the right-wing government in the 1990s the co-ops have been supported to improve their incomes by CECOCAFEN  an umbrella body. The co-ops have now improved their shade-grown coffee, are moving to organic status, and have started homestays and visitor programmes. Support the fair-trade coffee villages and stay in a beautiful mountain community, enjoy fresh-roast home-grown coffee, and also visit gold-mines, viewpoints, cloud-forest, all the time surrounded by monkeys, sloths and butterflies.

For more information on all these areas the Moon Guide book is an excellent source of information. In this blog post they also recommend five rural cooperatives that get consistently high reviews  http://moon.com/2015/06/enjoy-sustainable-tourism-in-nicaragua/. Check them out and soon you’ll have your own list of favourites to share.

 

Please follow my Instagram page for more photos of beautiful Nicaragua – owstonlewis

Which are your favourite recommendations for low-impact tourism in Nicaragua or other countries you want to share? Please use the comments box below to share your recommendations.

Gallery: Las Peñitas, a beautiful Nicaraguan beach & fishing village

Sunset at Las Peñitas beach

Sunset at Las Peñitas beach

Dusk over the estuary

Dusk over the estuary

Still morning

Still morning

Gutting the catch

Gutting the catch

Dawn on the beach

Dawn on the beach

Grandpa, mending the nets

Grandpa, mending the nets

Shower door, Barca de Oro hotel

Shower door, Barca de Oro hotel

Sopa de Ponche on Sundays

Sopa de Ponche on Sundays (crab soup)

Las Rocas at Las Peñitas

Las rocas at Las Peñitas

Waiting for Godot

Waiting for Godot

A heron stalks breakfast

A heron stalks breakfast

Community tourism

Community tourism

A good catch

A good catch

A hint of black and white

A splash of colour

And a splash of colour