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!

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