Orchids and Flying Bears
Granada, Nicaragua, January 13,
I spent the last week in Esteli,
a small but vibrant city that I visited earlier in my
travels. I returned to Esteli to specifically brush
up on the Spanish language in the Escuela
Egdalina Lanuza is the founder and administrator for
the school. Her vision was to create a school that provided
a strong language program within the context of Nicaraguan
culture including the history, politics and economics
of the people.
The program offers one-on-one instruction, afternoon
activities and home stays. I stayed with Dona
Luisa Ibarra (a recent widow), her daughter Faviola
and her husband Juancin. Dona Luisa's husband's family
had lived in the same spot for over 200 years. She is
a great cook and a very knowledgeable storyteller.
For the afternoon activities we made excursions to
the local museums and art galleries. One day we took
a bus to a local waterfall
for a refreshing swim. The hour long walk back was equally
enjoyable passing cattle ranches and farms along the
The most memorable outing was the day we visited Miraflor,
an organic cooperative of 60 ranches. The cooperative
began 10 years ago through the inspiration of a local
German farmer who had diversified his crops and eliminated
the use of chemicals on his land. The local Nicaraguans
formed a cooperative with the same intent and after
a 3 year transition, they also diversified their crops
and eliminated chemical use.
Miraflor which is 60 kilometres north of Esteli spans
some 200 square kilometers, 1,500 meters above sea level
in the vast Cloud Forests of the region. Totally self-funded,
the cooperative has developed several programs including
organic farming, ecotourism and wild orchid cultivation.
My fellow students for the week Scott
Garnest, Kate Foley and I began our day at 5 a.m.,
meeting our guide Ariel
and catching a bus to the junction high in the mountains.
From here, we walked for about 20 minutes through the
mist-enshrouded forest to where we collected our horses
at a small finca (ranch). None of us had ridden much
so this was an adventure in itself. Later it became
a painful adventure - in the end.
Our first stop was a small
lagoon that branches off the local stream. We tied
our horses up near a narrow, muddy, steep path leading
downwards. Ariel told us the lagoon is rapidly being
taken over by a variety of aquatic plants. Unfortunately
this is not a natural process but an example of unrestrained
use of chemical fertilizers. The damage to the lagoon
is irreversible. Eventually the lagoon will be consumed
by the plants, along with the home of many aquatic animals.
After this, we mounted up and headed to our next stop,
the Orchid Farm. On the way we passed a local baseball
game. Ariel's team was eliminated last Sunday in
the semi-finals. Nicaragua is the only C.A. country
were baseball is the national sport.
farm is home to some 200 species of wild orchids,
40 of which are yet to be named. The cool highlands
with its constant humidity and moisture makes this the
perfect climate for these incredible plants. The children
of the area are employed to walk the countless paths,
collecting orchids on dead trees and tying them on to
the trunks and into the crotches of living trees. This
is a labour of love to enhance the region for it is
prohibited by law to sell the orchids. In March and
April, the forest becomes a literal paradise of colors
and smells when the giant oaks and matapalos become
covered in blooms.
An incidental side trip down one of the many paths
brought us to a breathtaking lookout across a deep valley
to the mountains on the other side. Then Ariel showed
us a hidden surprise; a rope swing into that great wide-open,
drop-off. I have not been on a rope swing for a long
time but I was pumped and after a quick warning of falling
into the abyss below, off
I went. What an exhilarating ride. We all took several
turns but Ariel showed us the best way to do it - upside
Our final destination for the day was a giant Matapalo
tree. These trees are a parasitic variety that surround
existing trees (usually oaks) and literally swallow
them whole. After the dead tree within rots away, the
Matapalo is left hollow inside. These trees live on
an average of 100 years and more.
The one we visited rose through the forest canopy for
more than 30 metres. The inside cavity could fit 3 people
in it at the same time. There was nothing to do but
climb to the top using the many tendrils and openings
as footholds and hand grabs. The shape is somewhat reminiscent
of the Spanish architect Gaudi and his Church of the
Sacred Family in Barcelona which is very organic in
design. So ended our day at Miraflor, exhausted, sore
and ready for sleep.
I have been in Nicaragua for over a month and I still
have not seen it all. I am back in Granada getting ready
for the beach at San Juan del Sur on the Pacific coast.
The surfing is supposed to be the best in Nicaragua.
I have never surfed before so maybe it is time to learn.
And now the story of the flying bears. One day Kate
and her Spanish teacher went for a walk in the park.
The Spanish teacher asked Kate what her favorite animals
were and Kate said in English "birds and snakes". The
teacher thought she said "bears" and gave her the Spanish
word for that.
"I have never seen any bears, are they big?", asks
"Oh no some are as small as my hand," says Kate. "I
can not believe you have never seen a bear. They are
everywhere, in the parks, in the trees, why I just saw
some fly right by us a moment ago." And so ended the
Spanish lesson along with this chapter of the journal.
See you in San Juan del Sur. Surf's up.
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New Year from Granada, Nicaragua