May 26, 2009

Planting Seeds

We decided to venture away from the coast for once to check out a one of the wonders of the world, Omatepe Island in Lake Nicaragua.

Volcan Concepcîon

Omatepe Island is unique in many ways. It is the largest freshwater island in the world with two massive volcanoes, one of which is still active. The lake has sharks, and is connected to the Carribbean via the San Juan River.

The lake shore

There are many farms on the island, the rich volcanic soil supports crops year-round. One such farm is unique to the island as well, demonstrating Permaculture Design and giving back to the locals. Finca Bona Fide is located on the northeastern slope of Volcan Maderas, with a superb view of Volcan Concepcion.

Bona Fide Nursery

veggie garden at Bona Fide

They are researching different varieties of food crops to create more dependable and longer lasting harvests for the locals. Chris Shanks has been introducing many new food crops to the island, and sharing the seeds with the locals. He has planted many varieties of avocado and mango, hoping to dine on them year-round.

Cob Bathrooms

outdoor sink and tree platform

Project Bona Fide also has several programs that benefit the locals. “Café Infantil” feeds 60 children breakfast six days a week, and teaches them about basic dental care and hygiene. They are also building a Community Center, to serve as a library and school for English.

fresh roasted coffee and cane sugar ready to mix with cacao

We toured around the farm, sampling delicious bananas and fresh roasted cacao with coffee bits. We took in the sunset with the sound of the wind generator humming with the persistent breeze.

howler monkeys a'bound

cacao flowers, on the trunk!

evidence of the ancients

We took the opportunity to climb Volcan Maderas, through coffee and cacao forests to the crater lake at the top. Trekking through the moss covered trees with our intrepid guide Marvin, who definitley resembled a mountain gnome, we reached the top and took a dip in the mud pit of a lake. Not as refreshing as you would have hoped after climbing 4000 verticle feet... but unique once again.

Aubrey and Marvin try not to get lost in the enchanted forest

After returning to the mainland, we met up with some mutual friends that Loren had actually met 4 years earlier. Roy and Linda are constructing an "Earth Ship" (click to visit their site), a house built into the hill and made mostly from old tires and cob. They live on a precipitous slope overlooking the many wave options, perfect for sussing out that next session.

the front of the Earth Ship

The house is complete with an outdoor shower covered in passionfruit vines, and the greywater feeds their garden located just outside the kitchen window. The local builders were pretty psyched on the idea of building with trash, which as we know, there seems to be shortage of...
tires form the walls

detail of walls showing cans used to fill in space

Moving north though the country, we came to another unique place, Los Cardones Eco-lodge. They have created a low impact and beautiful resort right on the beach in front of some great waves.
natural construction means low-impact

Compost toilets convert last night’s dinner into valuable fertilizer, and solar panels provide enough light to dine. We discussed the possibility of having a Permaculture Design Course there in the future. The seed has been planted.

baño ecologico

More seeds were planted with the help of Holly Beck and her partner Ryan, on their new little homestead in Northern Nicaragua (click to read her blog surf life nicaragua). They are building a few casitas to rest in while waiting for the next session, and we helped them plant a garden that will hopefully feed them and their caretaker, Osmar, and their many amigos.

Sharing the seeds

the garden crew gettin' dirty

They have planted a small food forest, including almendras, mangos, avocados, limes, and gunabanas. We helped pull out some crabgrass in preparation for planting nitrogen fixing groundcover under the little trees.

la Casita de Ryan y Holly, con sus arbolitos

Aubrey diggin' it

It was nice to catch up with friends, share some good laughs, make good meals, sample the 12yr. Flor de Cana, dig in the dirt, and wash ourselves off in some fun waves.

Our time in Nica was just about up so we ventured on, just barely making it through the border at Honduras. This was our most difficult crossing yet, and still we finally made it through with a little help from good 'ol trusty green dollar!

We are now in El Salvador. Looking out over the waves, feeling very grateful for the opportunity to experience this trip. Thank you all for your support and for taking the time to read our blog! Stay tuned, there will be more to come!

May 11, 2009

Waves Of Optimism

The average storm drain in Rivas Nicaragua

It is hard not to get cynical while traveling through Central America. It seems as if nobody cares about pollution or socio-economic issues, especially the locals. Trash covers many towns and beaches, while people lie in hammocks watching the offshore winds blow it into the sea.

Offshores are great for surf, not so for trash into the sea

The reality is the majority of people in Central America and many other poor countries in the world are more concerned with survival than pollution. The economic situation is pretty dire in Nicaragua: the average daily wage is US$5. Gringos show up with their flashy sunglasses (like us) and blow that in a minute ordering a few cervezas.

The people may be lying in hammocks during the heat of the day, but that is because there is little work. It could be argued that they could be more proactive and seek work, but the capitalist reality is not their reality. Furthermore, many people do not have transportation to get them to the bigger towns where there may be employment.

There are some heavy waves down here...

A light amidst this darkness has emerged in Gigante, Nicaragua. A small fishing town with a population of about 400, they had no public transportation to get the kids to school or for the local businesses to get their sacks of rice from the city. Then a couple gringos with a mission showed up.

Adam Monaghan and Nick Mucha were Peace Corps Volunteers in Honduras directly after college. They wanted to continue humanitarian work, and live closer to the beach. They found this calling in Gigante. They created a project they dubbed Waves Of Optimism, or Project WOO (, to address the needs of the town.

Adam Monaghan of Project WOO

They first performed a rigorous census of the community and consulted with its leaders. Then helped the locals get what they wanted and what they felt they needed most to become more successful in the capitalist world that is rapidly overtaking neighboring villages: a bad-ass bus.

Adam and Marlon take pride in their bus

Enjoying the ride

The WOO-Mobile is an old coffee delivery truck, which WOO had converted to people hauler. They put in folding benches so that the bus could double as a materials transport while not delivering students to their teachers- whom he also helped. WOO raised the money for the salaries of three full time teachers, much of it coming from the rich gringo homeowners in the neighboring bays of the south coast of Nicaragua.

WOO also started an after-school program to help the kids with their homework and to teach them English and organic gardening. We joined in the fun with Club WOO, and Aubrey brought out the paints for the kids to experiment with. We demonstrated how they could use local materials to paint- palm fronds make great brushes and ground up bricks make nice pigment.

Palm fronds for brushes and ground-up rocks for paint

Aubrey demonstrating color blending

The results

Face Painting is fun too

WOO employs two other locals full time. Marlon drives the bus and heaves the sacks of rice into the rig for the passengers, and Norma runs the after school program and takes care of the books. Norma is also training to take over the project full time in the near future, and well deserved, as she embodies a huge wave of optimism that can be felt by anyone in her presence. Both Norma and Marlon are super stoked to be working for such a different project, and to be contributing to the education of local kids.

Norma (in the bright green shirt) joining in the painting

WOO is an example of what two motivated people can do when they put their minds to it. It is also an example of grass roots organizing at its best: they worked with the locals every step of the way. Adam stresses the importance of community buy-in for the success of any project- if the locals are not into it, and more so have a vested interest, a project will not be successful.

They have created a great model that could be applied to any community in need, and used by any humanitarian organization hoping to help. Take the time to look at their website and support the work they are doing! (

Thanks for reading- stay tuned for more adventures as we return north, making our way back up, across many borders, for the long journey home!