Friday, January 26, 2018

Living on Ometepe




Hey everyone! My name is Trever and I am a new volunteer here at Guias Unidos. I met Jeff and Kate as an SCA intern in 2015 at Theodore Roosevelt National Park and I returned to THRO for my first official NPS gig the following summer. I spent the summer of 2017 working as a Ranger in Kings Canyon National Park in California (pictured above). This is my first ever blog post, but over the next few months I want to explain what I am doing for Guias Unidos as well as some of the everyday life here in Nicaragua.

 For those of you who are new, Ometepe Island is the frontline of our Guias Unidos work. Ometepe is located inside of the large Lake Nicaragua and is comprised of two different volcanos connected by a thin strip of land called an isthmus. The volcano on the left, Conception, is still active and Maderas to the right is a dormant volcano. The two make life on the island very interesting! This photo was taken from a ferry on its way to Moyogolpa, the only port currently active on the Island.
My main goals here are to help with the education of the local guides and to work on diffrent trail projects around the island. The Guias Unidos work takes us all over the Island, even to the top of the volcanoes! The picture here was taken during the hike up Conception. Which is a very steep scramble up with a wonderful views of Maderas along the way. The plant life on Conception is much less forested than Maderas, which is covered with trees all the way up, and into the volcano. So this view is only one way. 
 The view at the top of Conception are awesome but also a little scary. Here Chelsea poses at the top of Conception with a view of Maderas in the background. The hike back down the volcano seemed longer than I remembered it being on the way up but it did have a neat surprise! A little switch in the trails on the way down leads to a kilometer of sand that allows you to skip/jump/ski down the side of the mountain. 10/10 I would definitely recommend the going down the sand trail.
 Si a la Vida in English means Yes to Life. It’s an organization that works with local children and runs a farm that I as well as some of the other volunteers stay at. It has puppies, a kitchen, volcanic views and a cat, that we named Senior Gato, or for our English speakers: Mr. Cat. The farm is cold showers only though.
 Most of the land at the farm is used to grow plantains, which are a very starchy relative of the banana. So we got more plantains than we know what to do with. Here we get a view of conception volcano over the farms plantain field. The farm also has chickens and cattle occasionally running about.
 This photo is a little bit of a sneak peek into the daily life here at the farm. Enrique, one of the farm workers, clears brush while a Magpie Jay fly’s overhead. It’s generally calm and pretty here at Si a la Vida.
 ·         Speaking of Magpie Jays they are all over Ometepe and they are totally gorgeous. The locals treat them like a nuisance. The problems they have given me so far is that they seem to be a little camera shy.
 About a kilometer and a half from the farm is the Altagracia port. The ferries that used to bring people to the port stopped coming several years ago when lake levels were to low. The port still gets some usage by fishing boats and seems to be a hangout for some of the locals.
 Here a man fishes at the pier during the sunset. We didn’t see him get anything big but he kept going for the whole hour that we were there.
·    I have been here for almost 2 months now and I have been pleasantly surprised by how welcoming most of the Nicaraguan people have been. This place offers so much to do, not only with working with the environmental aspects, but with the people as well. I am looking forward to my next few months here on Ometepe and the work it will bring. One thing is for sure though, this view will never get old.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Help Nature Libre and friends!

We have a new campaign going through January 2018. Nature Libre would like your help!


Learn more and help Nature Libre and friends at naturelibre.causevox.com

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Back in Nicaragua for 2017/2018

A blog by Jeff:
That's not Nicaragua, it's Denali National Park.

We're at it once again. The seasonal park jobs are over, and we're back to working full time with Guias Unidos. At least as full time as we can. It's been a challenging year--professionally the timing has been good, but personally the timing has been a tough. Because of family needs, Kate had to decline her job in Denali this summer and is living in Seattle permanently. I had to rove Alaskan Range by myself. Well, maybe not by myself, but without Kate.
Ranger Jeff leads a "Discovery Hike," an off-trail wilderness trek in Denali

Not tied to the intense ranger schedule, Kate has been involved with the National Association of Interpretation, NAI. She went to their international conference in Mexico (boondoggle, baby!) and she just returned from their national conference in Spokane (must be legit if it's in Spokane?). When I came back to Seattle in October, we were just in time to take NAI's Certified Interpretive Guide Trainer course to become certified trainers. That means we'll be official soon!
The CIT class of 2017, at Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park in Seattle

Timing has been good to not migrate back to Florida for the winter, even though we will miss our alligator-infused river of grass. The National Park Service (NPS) was never designed for the oxymoron of the "permanent seasonal" employees that we used to be. They are cracking down on rehire if you work more than 6 months per year. That means this is the right year to do something different for the winter, both for me and potential volunteers.

I am working with lots of partners in Nicaragua to get new activities up and running, and Kate is running administrative support from the gray chill of the Pacific Northwest. And speaking of chill, after having spent a summer in Alaska, Nicaragua feels very hot to me right now! But the cool trade winds blow over Lake Nicaragua and between the volcanoes at night, making it livable. Let's not discuss the bugs right now, though.
This is the view of the farm from my bedroom. That's Volcan Concepcion in the background.

Guias Unidos has a lot of new things planned in Nicaragua this year. New England Biolabs Foundation awarded us a grant to set up a resource center and pay some guides to help with our programs. We've also gotten some generous donations from friends, family, and a few strangers to help with all the expenses. We've also hand some generous equipment donations from a network of people. Amy Simso Dean and some generous birders from Minnesota donated a suitcase full of binoculars to us. Kate's cousin, Leah Schedin, transported them to Seattle, from where I took them to Nicaragua. So even though our budget is tight, we think we can get a lot done with it. We're planning on having a few volunteers/students join from the USA, so that will help out.

Well, that's the news from Lake Nicaragua, where all the bull sharks are strong, all the birds are good looking, and all the volcanoes are higher than average.
The twin volcanoes of Ometepe Island.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Recruiting volunteers!

We've been quiet lately, but we've been plugging away in the background, we promise! We have some big news about a grant coming up soon, but first, please check out our new recruitment video for volunteers:



We'd really appreciate what help we can get from skilled folks. One major project coming up (more in the blog about the grant) is starting a guide-ranger program to help compensate guides for work in the Maderas Protected Area that in a US National Park would be done by rangers - trail design, search and rescue, and understanding the use patterns in the Protected Area to prioritize what should be done. There will still be guide training opportunities, as well as many others. A big change is that Kate may not be able to go to Nicaragua for a long period of time due to family commitments in the US, so Jeff will really need any help he can get down there!

If any of this is of interest to you, check out http://www.guiasunidos.org/get-involved.html. If you think someone you know might be interested, please pass this on! We appreciate your help.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Donations are now tax deductible!

Due to our new status as a project of a non-profit (501 c3) organization, we can offer tax deductible status for donations. You can donate at our new Acceptiva page by clicking here. All information about tax deductions comes to your email once you put your information into that site.

Thanks in advance!

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Earth Island Institute

We have big news! Guias Unidos has been accepted as a project of Earth Island Institute (EII). EII is a "fiscal sponsor," which is a less-than-clear name for an umbrella organization that helps small projects like ours with the administrative parts of being a non-profit organization. So now we can officially get tax-free donations and apply to grants that are only for non-profit organizations, but we don't have to go through all the complicated business and law messiness to become a non-profit ourselves.

This also means that we have been "vetted" by an organization, EII, that has a more than 30 years of experience in what they do. They currently have about 75 projects under their watch, and some past projects have spun off to become their own major players. EII was started in 1980 by the first president of the Sierra Club, David Brower, and is to this day run by a group of people with lots of experience in social and environmental work.

We spent a couple days with the EII team in Berkeley, CA getting aquainted to their resources and work, and we're pretty excited to be working with them. If you'd like to see what they do, check them out at http://www.earthisland.org/index.php/support/, and especially the Earth Island Journal at www.earthisland.org/journal/.

Speaking of journals, Jeff got an article published in Ranger Magazine, the journal of the Association of National Park Rangers. You can read it on pages 15 and 16 (pdf pages 17 and 18) at https://aonpr29.wildapricot.org/resources/Documents/Ranger/2016Ranger_Fall_4C.pdf. We're hoping to get more word out there about our project soon.

For now, we're still applying for funding for the next steps. Some ideas include to create a resource library in one or two locations on the island (an office, basically, with computer training and guide books, etc.), and paying guides to be like rangers on the trails, keeping track of who is there, what is being done, and helping out where necessary. Likely, we won't have enough funding (the goal being $15,000) to go in June, so we're also applying to summer park jobs in the US. Not a bad backup... We'll likely be going back to Ometepe in October, and staying through March or early April.

And, of course, we're still having fun. We took the opportunity of being in the Bay Area to spend a weekend in San Francisco. So beautiful!


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Finishing in Nicaragua for 2016

We knew the fun had to come to an end, so we made sure to squeeze in one more project before our time was up.

After our first-aid training course we took with the Ometepe Guides in June, we decided that the theory was helpful, but we wanted more practice (and more tourist-specific topics, such as heat exhaustion, dehydration, and sanitation), and we thought the guides should have first aid kits to go along with their training. In the USA you may be able to stop by your local convenience store and buy a first aid kit, but it's not so easy in rural Nicaragua. We were able to get lots of supplies from the local pharmacy, and using our sewing skills and some ideas from the internet, we put together our own custom kit--well stocked for the wilderness.

We then hired a local tailor to make us 18 more (Gracias Angel Vela!).

The kit rolls up and fits in a small bag.

It ended up costing $27 per kit, which would be a great deal for US standards, but we had to consider that this kit costs about an average week's wage in Nicaragua. Would you spend a week's wage on a small first aid kit? I wouldn't! Since we had some funds left over from the generous donations of our supporters, we subsidized the costs of the kits down to $7 each, and we put together a refresher course and practical training workshop for the guides who signed up. We had a nice crowd that afternoon, especially as our last workshop doubled as our despedida (good-bye festival).

We put together kits

Then used them to treat simulated injuries.

Then went straight for the piñata (which happened to be a yellow-naped amazon parrot--one of the threatened species that finds refuge on the island).

By the end of the night, the parrot's head was on Willmore's head.

We also had our last classes with the Si a la Vida kids. We read The Giving Tree again.
And we read the Lorax.


Both of these books we also bought with your donations, and left behind with our partners in Nicaragua.

The school put on another big despedida for us, just two days after our first despedida with the guides. The kids danced for us,

and we had another piñata!

And after a beautiful morning spent together on the beach, we had to say good-bye to the kids as they left on their "school bus."

We also said good-bye to our home on the farm. Kate planted some interesting plants with the hopes that they will grow and bring us food next year when we return. You can also see the doors that Jeff varnished in the background.

We left our island home, with hopes of returning to see all of our wonderful friends there again soon. We'll leave out the details of how Jeff managed to get another stomach bug the night before leaving, oddly similar to the stomach bug he got the night before leaving the USA to come to Nicaragua.

It wasn't over, however.  We still had 5 days (or so we thought) to do some sightseeing in Masaya and meet with some folks at the Embassy before flying home.

There's an active volcano in Masaya, so we couldn't turn down seeing that. There's an active lava lake in the volcano--even better! For health and safety reasons, you can only visit for 15 minutes, but we designed our tour around it. We hired transportation that brought us to the edge. We looked down into the glowing caldera.

listened to the glowing-red smoke spew out of the depths,

and we saw the lava lake bubbling and sloshing in the bottom. We took some video of the event and put it on youtube:


Due to a strange twist of luck and unluck, the very same night as the volcano we noticed that there was a hurricane heading to Florida on the day our flight was to arrive. We had tickets with one of those discount airlines, you know the ones that don't have mutual agreements with regular airlines, so you can't just reroute your flight. I won't name the airline, but let's just say it rhymes with "Schpirit." Anyway, they only have one flight every other day, so if a flight is cancelled, displaced travelers could spend a week or more trying to squeeze into the following flights. Well, on our way to the volcano, "Schpirit" put in a travel advisory that allowed for free ticket transfers. The only flight available for us to change to was two days earlier than our planned departure. In other words, it was that very night, just a few hours after our volcano tour. And we booked it. So on the way back from our lava lake excursion, Jeff found a taxi would take us to the airport in Managua (about a 50 minute drive). Suffice to say, the next morning we woke up in Fort Lauderdale, and the Nicaragua chapter of our 2016 adventure came to a close.