Monthly Archives: March 2016

Variegated Squirrel – Fauna of Nicaragua

Another very regular inhabitant of the gardens around La Mariposa Escuela de Español is the Variegated squirrel.  This is a tree squirrel endemic to southern Mexico and Central America.

Again taken from where we eat our meals at the school/EcoHotel.

squirrel la mariposa escuela de espanol

squirrel from La Mariposa spanish school

squirrel from La Mariposa spanish school

variegated squirrel at la mariposa escuela de espanol

El Chocoyero – El Brujo Nature Reserve

One of the regulars on the activities schedule for La Mariposa Spanish School and EcoHotel is a trip to a nearby nature reserve: El Chocoyero – El Brujo.

El Chocoyero - El Brujo nature reserve

The reserve is the main source of Managua’s water supply and has several hiking trails and good wildlife watching opportunities.

Hiking El Chocoyero - El Brujo nature reserve

The highlight of the afternoon trip with the School to El Chocoyero – El Brujo is to see the Chocoyos – a variety of the Pacific Green Parakeet that is native to Nicaragua.

Chocoyos in El Chocoyero - El Brujo nature reserve

They make their nests next to one of the waterfalls in the park and can be usually be seen in vast quantities either early in the morning or late in the evening as they leave and return to their nests each day.   During the day they search for food in the local area.

Waterfall El Chocoyero - El Brujo nature reserve

Unfortunately, it’s a little luck of the draw whether you get to see them in vast numbers or not, and unfortunately, both times I’ve been to El Chocoyero – El Brujo I have not had much luck!    You can certainly tell from the noise that there are heaps of them around, but whether they do that final flight to the waterfall while you are watching or not is another thing.


El Chocoyero – El Brujo is also home to lots of other wildlife, including over 100 different bird species (including the motmots that I love so much), and almost 50 different types of mammals including agoutis, White-faced Monkeys and Howler Monkeys (Mono Congos).

This last trip, although we didn’t have much luck with the Chocoyos, we had a fantastic view of some Howler Monkeys which, as the name suggests, make a lot of very loud noise and usually easier heard than seen.

Howler Monkeys in El Chocoyero - El Brujo nature reserve

Howler Monkeys in El Chocoyero - El Brujo nature reserve

For some reason, these guys were very quiet this day, but what a wonderful up-close view!

La Verbena in Masaya

Every Thursday night, the Centro Cultural Antiguo Mercado de Masaya (ie the artesania market) hosts a cultural show of dancing and singing called La Verbena.   Here you can see traditional Nicaraguan dances as well as some Nicaraguan singers, and it is attended by both locals and tourists alike.

Once per month a trip to La Verbena is scheduled as part of the activity program at the Mariposa Spanish School and Eco Hotel and a group of us headed there this week for dinner and the show after exploring the local market in Masaya.

La Mariposa Spanish School students at Jueves de La Verbena in Masaya

The costumes for the traditional dancing are always spectacular and there are several different types of dancing demonstrated on any particular night.

Jueves de La Verbena in Masaya

Jueves de Verbena in Masaya

I had been to La Verbena 2 years ago when I was last at the school, but this time was better – the absolute highlight being the contestants of the Mister Pacifico Nicaragua 2016 male beauty contest modelling latest fashions from the artesenia market for us!  Many thanks to Sophie for pulling together this amazing video of the fashion parade 🙂


For a bunch of latin guys, I am disappointed to say they were more than a little robotic in their movements – no it’s not just a function of the video having been sped up.    We saw them do 2 modelling runs but had to leave to head back to the School before we found out whether there was a swimsuit section to the modelling as well…

Nicaraguan themed talks at La Mariposa

Another of the wonderful initiatives on the activity schedule for students studying at La Mariposa Spanish School and EcoHotel are the talks about Nicaraguan history and other themes.   It really helps you to get a bit more of an idea about the country you are visiting and, to be honest, Nicaragua is a fascinating place!

Every Friday afternoon (just before Salsa dancing class) there is a talk covering a particular period of Nicaraguan history, and there are bonus talks every few weeks like this one on the very controversial Nicaraguan Canal.

Talks about Nicaragua at La Mariposa

Talks about Nicaragua at La Mariposa

Yes – we are all familiar with the Panama Canal which opened in 1914, but the idea of building a shipping canal through Nicaragua is more than 100 years old and lingers to this day.

Talks about Nicaragua at La Mariposa

In this presentation, Brandon was telling us about the social and environmental impacts of the Canal as well as current status of the project.   It is truly frightening how devastating this will be for Nicaragua!

Unfortunately the construction of the Canal has started (just) and if there is anything good to come out of a possible slowing of the Chinese economy … abandoning this project will probably be one of the things at the top of the list!

Semana Santa Procession – San Juan, Nicaragua

There are no Easter Eggs in Nicaragua…   Nor hot-cross buns.  However, there is an overabundance of Semana Santa Processions (Holy Week Parades) and Easter is much, much more than an excuse to eat far too much chocolate and bread-and-buttery goodness.

There have been parades all week, but the main parades tend to occur on Viernes Santa (Good Friday).   So yesterday many of us headed down to watch the final stages of the parade for San Juan (the “suburb” of La Concepcion where La Mariposa Spanish School and EcoHotel is located) with our conversation teachers.

The Semana Santa procession started at 7am and we joined right at the end between 10am and 10:30am.   3.5 hours of very slow movement through the suburb with hundreds and hundreds of people praying and singing.  My teacher told me that most of San Juan is Catholic and the majority were there following the procession of Jesus and Mary through the streets to different stations of the cross.

semana santa procession san juan

semana santa procession san juan

Of course, there was a brass band to accompany them.

semana santa procession san juan

And the Catholic Church was collecting donations.

semana santa procession san juan

It was an incredibly hot day (April is the hottest month in Nicaragua), hence all the umbrellas to offer some kind of shade for the duration of the Semana Santa procession.   One of the things that fascinates me here in Nicaragua, is that despite the heat (it’s always hot here) everyone wears jeans.   I had sweat running down my back and I was wearing light weight travel clothes!  I also felt a bit sorry for the kids that had dressed up – it had to have been hot under all that after 3 hours, despite the smiles.

semana santa procession san juan

The highlight for me was right at the end of the parade when the Jews – young people from the church dressed up in disguises – ran through the streets carrying Jesus aloft on the cross.

semana santa procession san juan

semana santa procession san juan

semana santa procession san juan

My teacher told me that young kids are usually very scared of the Jews in the parade and I can understand why!  Wonderful masks and headpieces, and lots and lots of noise and fast-paced movement.

semana santa procession san juan

To give you an idea of the noise and movement – this was the last run they did.  By this time Jesus had gotten off the cross and a wannabe Jesus went for the ride 🙂


Finally, after an hour or so out in the hot sun we bought a sorbet and headed back to school.


Masaya Volcano Night hike in the Cañada Honda

In both of my visits to La Mariposa Spanish School and EcoHotel I’ve managed to luck out with a night hike 🙂   They are not part of the usual activity timetable and are scheduled when there is enough interest and willing guides available.

2 years ago we hiked through the pineapple farms to a lookout from which we could see the lights of Managua.

la mariposa spanish school and ecohotel night hike

Despite being an unbelievably windy evening, we lit a bonfire and the guides broke out biscuits and marshmallows (which we toasted in the fire) to make the North American classic – s’mores.    Along the way there and back, both the local guide and Philip Careless (who knows everything there is to know about things that skitter around at night) were finding critters to show us and explained a little about the night life along our journey.   It was awesome fun!

This time, we did a short hike into the Cañada Honda – a new 140 acre private reserve established by La Mariposa and their associated NGO, Asociación Tierra, to prevent deforestation and provide a safe haven for wildlife.  The goal was to see the red glow from the very active Masaya Volcano, the lights of Masaya city, and to do a bit of stargazing.

masaya volcano night hike

Unfortunately, it was a full moon…

This meant that a) the glow from the Masaya Volcano was somewhat overshadowed by the very bright light from the moon, and b) it was quite difficult to give a tour of the night sky given we could only see the very brightest stars.

Still – it was a fun time and I didn’t do too badly with my night sky tour even though I’m a southern hemisphere astronomer and therefore not completely familiar with the sky I was seeing.

It was also incredibly windy for the first time in weeks.  Must coincide with night hikes…

One more motmot photo…

Couldn’t resist – these birds (Blue-Crowned Motmots) are so beautiful!

Look who brought a friend to visit me this morning at La Mariposa Spanish School and EcoHotel.   This branch is just outside my bedroom window.

blue-crowned motmots

Jewelry making in Conversation classes

My conversation teacher for the third week at La Mariposa Escuela de Español (we change conversation teachers each week) was Layda.  In our first class, we started talking about interests and I found out she’d recently done a community course on beaded jewelry making.

Given my love of jewelry I asked her more about it and she suggested that in our second class she could show me how to make a pulsera (bracelet) while we were chatting.   More than happily agreed!

We headed to La Mariposa Reserva (a new project of the school) passing by her home to pick up  a few bits and pieces for us to work with.    Found a shady spot with tables and chairs in La Reserva and sat down to work.

jewelry making during conversation class at La Mariposa Escuela de Espanol

The bracelet pattern she had me work on was a fairly simple one and formed kind of a flower pattern.  This is Layda starting me off.  The majority of the beads we were using were tiny little things, no more than a couple of millimetres across, and Layda made it all look very easy as she started me off.

jewelry making during conversation class La Mariposa Escuela de Espanol

Of course when it came to my turn, it turned out to be not quite so easy…  I wouldn’t get the nylon thread through the hole and the bead would disappear forever, or I would get it threaded but then I would bump the nylon and it would go flying off, never to be seen again.   Felt very clumsy indeed!

jewelry making as part of conversation class at la mariposa escula de espanol

The beads in the yellow lid above were easy, but the microscopic little ones (like the small one between the yellow lid and the green lid in the picture above) were impossible!  Here’s Layda with my almost finished bracelet — all that was left was to put the clasp on.

jewelry making during conversation class at La Mariposa Escuela de Espanol

And the finished product!  The clasp was a fish 🙂

jewelry making during conversation class at La Mariposa

Vía Crucis Acuático – Las Isletas, Granada, Nicaragua

It’s Semana Santa (Holy Week) here in Nicaragua and La Mariposa Spanish School put on a special trip for us so we could see the Vía Crucis Acuático around Las Isletas near Granada.

After driving from an hour, we arrived in Granada at 8am and headed straight for our boat.

via acuatica, las isletas, granada, nicaragua

We most definitely were not the only ones there though the majority were Catholic locals.


This event is considered unique in the world – the only procession of boats depicting religious scenes and decorated with flowers and produce.  This one seemed to be the lead boat that pulled up at the front of each of the isletas that hosted one of the 14 stations.

via acuatica, las isletas, granada, nicaragua

It was closely followed by a brass band that played as we moved between each of the stations.

via acuatica, las isletas, granada, nicaragua

Each of the 14 stations were decorated with Nicaraguan flowers, and upon arrival, a prayer was spoken via loudspeaker to all assembled boats.

via acuatica, las isletas, granada, nicaragua

The boats themselves were also decorated with flowers and produce.  In particular, most of them had the Flor de Sacuanjoche – the Nicaraguan national flower – in abundance.  The green fruit are Jocotes.

via acuatica, las isletas, granada, nicaragua

This was another of the floating floats

via acuatica, las isletas, granada, nicaragua

The barbed wire crown was particularly inventive!

via acuatica, las isletas, granada, nicaragua

And the third float:

via acuatica, las isletas, granada, nicaragua

I actually felt pretty sorry for these kids…  The whole procession took about 3 hours (we only followed for about 1.5 hours) and it was quite hot, even out on the water.   Carrying that cross on the shoulder, having your hands tied to crosses … I don’t think the despondent expressions were part of the act, I think they might have been real!

The Vía Crucis Acuático was certainly interesting and an amazing thing to witness – even for someone who is not religious.

Guardabarranco vs Blue-Crowned Motmot – the difference

After catching many glimpses over the past weeks, I finally had a wonderful view of a Guardabarranco, the national bird of Nicaragua, this morning.    It was just outside my bedroom window at La Mariposa Spanish School and EcoHotel and I managed to get a fairly good picture of it (see below on the right).

Many visitors to Nicaragua confuse the Blue-crowned Motmot (image on left; taken from the eating area at La Mariposa) with the Turquoise-browed Motmot (the Guardabarranco) so I thought I’d show that there are actually quite a few differences.

guardabarranco (turquoise browed motmot) vs blue-crowned motmot

The easiest to spot at a distance is the difference between the tail feathers – the Guardabarranco has a large gap between the tail feathers and the tip of the tail, the Blue-crowned Motmot does not.   The colouring is also quite different (though harder to spot at a distance).

Really thrilled to have had a really great view of this wonderful bird 🙂