Our stay at La Mariposa eco-lodge and Spanish school was both wonderful and wonderful to leave behind. The experience of living so simply made a lasting impression. Our primary concerns were basic: were the girls were getting enough to eat (as there was no choice or excess of the limited food offered); would any single piece of clothing dry enough to wear; would one of the helpful but luckily standoff-ish spiders build another web across our room entrance; would we be able to talk about anything meaningful in Spanish by week's end.
Above all, our Spanish instructors were excellent teachers and wonderful people. Mine (we each had grammar and conversation teachers) were both attentive, funny, and very grateful for the job that La Mariposa had provided. One was a mother of two, and each morning she wondered whether or not her dry-erase markers had been stolen from her purse by one of them. (It was eye-opening to see that they refilled their empty markers, where as we would throw the empty in the trash and buy a new pack.)
The children in the small town near the school all went to school, but only for half day. I learned that it's common in poorer communities, since they have to share limited resources by having several school sessions each day. Another example of a good use of limited resources was the soccer field. On Sunday we enjoyed watching high school girls play soccer in the village green space. The next day I walked by with my conversation teacher and there were horses, donkeys and cows grazing there.
La Mariposa was a source not only of meaningful sustainable local employment, but also of various forms of aid in the community (literacy education, preschool / early child care, medical care, pro-environmental education and action through it's several reserves and organic gardens. Not to mention the animal rescue paradise (for Jane and Maggie!) at the school and the reserves, including monkeys, parrots, cats, dogs, horses, and rabbits. Not to mention that in the backyard reserve of the school lived several storybook green tree frogs with orange hands, iguanas, and Central American squirrels.
One of my favorite memories was a walk into town with the girls. We saw some people we'd met a few days before while walking, and we were greeted like old friends. Smiles and offers to help us find anything we'd need. We managed to find a "store" (a counter with a dirt floor) to buy new notebooks; a pharmacy to buy calamine lotion, and a fruit stand for extra nutrition between meals. (I bought all in Spanish and felt proud.) As Jane and Maggie would say "Good job, me."
Another favorite memory was a hike in a reserve and agricultural land nearby. Dan stayed "home" with the girls to do some math and writing while I went to play. A local guide (and Spanish teacher and student home stay host, husband and father) guided us up and down on a sometimes non-existent trail, going between dense forest and columns of tropical crops. The crops were interspersed with native plants and trees, an expansive example of the sustainable farming La Mariposa promotes. Thanks to my fellow hikers Georgia and Richard, an awesome couple from New Zealand, I understood much of what our Spanish speaking guide explained. To say that it was raining during that hike would be the understatement of our whole year. I knew my clothes and shoes would never dry but tasting the fresh slices of dragons fruit and pineapple made up for it.
Two other experiences now tucked in my head and heart because of La Mariposa are watching the girls try traditional Nicaraguan pottery (with no electricity to turn the wheel) and swimming in a volcanic crater. The potter /artist worked in a nearby village, making a living with his wife by creating beautiful ceramics made of local dirt, sand and water. He invited Jane and Maggie to try the wheel, giving them tips in Spanish and gently guiding their hands. (Hopefully our pottery purchases will arrive unbroken in CO sometime this year!)
The visit to a volcanic lake, Laguna de Apoya (also memorable due to torrential down pour) was surreal... our small group were some of the only people in an enormous clear and WARM lake, with thermal currents from the volcano. Incredible.
Even though I was glad to be moving on to dryer, cleaner spider-less places, I am grateful for the perspectives from La Mariposa. Nicaraguans are proud, kind and generous people. The people that I met were concerned about protecting the rainforest, educating their kids and keeping their community clean and safe. What could be more important.