Saturday, July 30, 2016

Want to work with us?

Guias Unidos is thinking ahead. We're looking into grants, which require planning our program's future. One of our ideas when starting out was to invite people from the ecotourism industry who have a few months on their hands, such as fellow seasonal National Park rangers, to come work with us. What we would like to know right now is, would anyone come?

What volunteers would be doing:
At the moment, our work is focused on giving workshops and leading informal training hikes to augment the skills of local guides, and Spanish/English language exchange. As our organization grows, we're looking into several possible projects:
- establishing a full certification course for ecotourism guides with requirments for continuing certification; initially to be administered and majority taught by Guias Unidos, but ultimately to be turned over to local professionals to teach and administer
- collaborating with a new English-language after-school program for children to introduce environmental education topics into the curriculum
- working with an established after-school program for children at risk to teach environmental education topics
- helping with the conversion of a boarding house for Nicaraguan children into a hostel for international volunteers, with minor renovations and improvements of the building and the grounds

Who we're looking for:
- Self-starters who have a specialized skill or two.
- Spanish language skills are a must. If you don't yet speak Spanish or need to improve, plan on coming for an extra few months to take intensive classes first.
- People with a respect for other cultures, and a desire to live and work with Nicaraguans.
- Previous travel experience is a plus.

We are especially interested in the following skills:
- Wilderness first aid/responder certifications; better yet, instructor certification
- Kayak safety trainers (in the future - kayaks are hard to come by here, but the guide organization is working on it)
- Trail crew leaders or trail designers
- Interpretation mentors and trainers
- Ecotourism professionals from private industry

Other skills we can use:
- Science interpreters with specialties in tropical botany, birds, geology, or archaeology
- English as a second language teachers
- Trail maintenance
- Minor building remodeling and landscaping

We are expecting volunteers to dedicate several months to our program. Six months would be a good amount of time to get to know the area and to be able to use your skills to the fullest. We are flexible, however - the more desireable your skill set, the more we're willing to consider shorter stays. A person who is fluent in Spanish and a wilderness first responder instructor could drop by for a week if they're willing to give a course to local guides during that time. Those who come not fluent in Spanish and with basic interpretation skills would be expected to stay for many months so they can improve their language skills and still have time to share their skills with the guides.

Volunteering in countries like Nicaragua usually comes with paying your own way. Living here is relatively cheap compared to the US, but income is correspondingly low - paying your own way allows for our organization's funds to be used directly for projects in the community.

We estimate a budget of $300-$500 per person per month, depending on your choice of food and living arrangements. That includes food, place to stay (on the farm where we stay, renting a house in town, or living with a host family), incidentals like in-country travel and medicine, travel insurance,  an occasional meal in a restaurant, etc. Flight prices vary widely, but $500 would be a solid estimate. Administrative fees will be about $500 (flat fee, no matter how long you stay). If you want to take Spanish lessons, they are generally $10/hour, and for full effect, 4 hours a day is the usual amount.

So, a three-month stay would cost approximately $2000-2500, and a six-month stay would be $3000-4000.

Our question for you: would you come and work with us? If this is something you would seriously consider in the next few years, please let us know so we can have an estimate to put into our grant proposals. Email us at guiasunidosnicaragua at gmail dot com, facebook message us, or send us a smoke signal - whatever works!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

A visit to Paso Pacifico

One of our goals for this summer is to visit projects in the area that have done or are doing what we hope to do with guides on Ometepe. We had heard through networks of ecotourism development organizations of Paso Pacifico (, a group dedicated to protecting the ecosystems of the isthmus between the Pacific Ocean and Lake Nicaragua, a major wildlife corridor in the dry forests of western Central America. Thanks to the funds we raised through our crowdfunding site, we are able to take Arlin, the president of the cooperative of guides from Altagracia with us.

Paso Pacifico has a wide variety of projects going at once, including scientific monitoring and studies of wildlife in the area from jaguars to sea turtles to native bees, coordination and formation of groups of local fisherman, farmers, and business owners to support eco-friendly economic development, community education, formation of forest and marine reserves, reforestation, and ecotourism development. That's a lot of projects, but they've been doing this for over ten years, and have offices in California, Managua, and the small town of Ostional on the coast with dozens of full-time employees. Their list of accomplishments is impressive, but even more impressive is their list of new projects and new ideas.

We visited the projects near Ostional and Reserva Natural Playa La Flor, which is an awfully nice place for an office:

Our guides, Liza Gonzáles and Maritza Rivera, told us of strides in turtle protection on this beach, which can see thousands of turtles laying eggs per night at the peak of the nesting season.

We stopped by the visitor center

and met some of the park rangers of MARENA, Nicaragua's Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources, which has official oversight over the protection of turtles and beaches, but is understaffed. These guys work hard.

Strangely, this beach, with its visitor center right there and restaurants ten minutes away, was the setting for the "reality" show Survivor Nicaragua.

Let's just say all the participants survived.

We also popped into a classroom of junior rangers, an extracurricular program in its fourth year in the region.

These kids attend classes three afternoons a week for about a year, missing a maximum of three classes in the year, to learn about the flora and fauna surrounding them and what they can do to protect it. When they graduate, they receive a uniform shirt, backpack, binoculars, and other useful items for prospective ecotourism professionals. With a greater than 90% graduation rate, and a total of several hundred graduates in the last three years, we can definitely call this project a success.

Liza and Maritza needed to attend a meeting of women in a brand new project, harvesting oysters to sell to tourist restaurants in the region.

This seems to be a successful project so far, and even if the future doesn't hold much financial success, I'm a little jealous of their daily commute:

I can't call our job too hard, though. During this working visit, we got treated to a boat tour.

One of the completed projects Paso Pacifico started when it was still a new organization was tour guide training and park ranger training. They developed these boat tours as a unique option the guides of Ostional could offer tourists that included seeing hard-to-reach beaches where turtles come to lay eggs, snorkel in amazingly clear water, and learn from well-trained guides.

We kept seeing people in heavy-duty snorkel and scuba gear out in the water.

Turns out this is also an area much preferred by local fishermen, who snorkel for octopus.

The boat tour was fascinating, with lots of interesting animals and plants to see. The geology wonk in me couldn't help but get excited about the rocks.

But we saw a couple of turtles, and they stole the show, of course.

They're awfully hard to photograph from outside the water...

This visit gave us a lot to think about, and a great feeling that projects like ours are possible and can have great results. We're grateful to Liza, Maritza, and the Paso Pacifico crew for the tour and hospitality, and for answering lots and lots and lots of questions.

We arrived back on Ometepe excited about the possibilities, and happy to be home. And it really does feel like home!