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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Catarina, Nicaragua

Tourism is finally happening to Nicaragua. What seems to us here as a lot of foreigners can be seen in a few places, particularly Granada and San Juan del Sur, which both don't even feel like Nicaragua any longer to the rest of us. Foreigners are also exploring the more uncommon places, so that it is not uncommon to see visitors from afar in Bluefields or Matagalpa, and sometimes even in the rural areas, for the more adventurous type.

One of the most attractive municipalities in Nicaragua is Catarina, and tourists from near and far are making pilgrimages to its "mirador". One of a handful of towns called Pueblos Blancos, this small town is perched on the edge of the Apoyo volcanic crater, giving it a fabulous view of the lake. The overlook has numerous offerings of restaurants, ice cream, horse riding, and lots of park-style space with benches just to sit and admire the incomparable views in the fresh breeze.

On a typical Sunday, Nicaraguans pour into Catarina from Managua, seeking a respite from the city life in family style. Most Nicaraguans have never actually touched the water of Laguna de Apoyo, but they have probably sat on the crater's edge and watched vultures soar in the breeze, with the lake before them, Mombacho Volcano to their right, and Granada plainly visible on the opposite side of the crater.

Family visits to Catarina may even include pets. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.
Although Estacion Biologica Laguna de Apoyo is not exactly a short walk from the urban center of Catarina, its municipal territory extends along the shore of the lake, to and beyond our place up to about a kilometer further to the east. The urban center of Catarina sits precisely on the edge of the Apoyo crater, which is also the limit to the conservation zone of the Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve. We are happy with being part of this lovely, dynamic city, where we can participate in programs to protect the environment and culture of the area and help our community to prosper. 

Volcano Mombacho lies immediately to the south of Laguna de Apoyo, part of the landscape of the town of Catarina. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.
Catarina offers more than just a gorgeous view of Laguna de Apoyo. Its history is rich, including being the residence of the first Liberal Party president of Nicaragua, Jose Santos Zelaya. A train carried him home to Catarina from Managua each weekend, passing along the base of what is now the Catarina overlook. In those days, the United States foreign policy often contradicted Liberal intentions, and Zelaya was eventually forced into exile by an invading US Marine force. Another historically important Liberal, Benjamin Zeledon, fought against the US Marines who were occupying Nicaragua, and was killed in battle in Catarina, where his remains now rest. The politics of Nicaragua are rich and very colorful, and a visit to Catarina should be accompanied by a review of the role of these heroic agents. 

Many plant nurseries are found along the roadsides of Catarina, using rustic bamboo and ceramic containers made by artisans from the area. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.
Nicaraguan mission architecture is epitomized in the churches of the Pueblos Blancos, including that of Catarina. No gold is found in these churches, but rather combinations of wood and adobe, with vaulted ceiling and natural colors. Many Nicaraguans take advantage of a weekend trip to Catarina to visit the many plant nurseries, which supply many gardens with ornamentals and even coffee, tomato and other production seedlings.

Gaia director Jeffrey McCrary making official donation of a motorcycle tire to support the Catarina Police. Photo Mar Espinoza Smith.

The Gaia Program at FUNDECI works closely with the government authorities in Catarina and other municipalities that encompass the Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve. The reach of the National Police for such a small town as Catarina must be wide, because much of the outlying areas of the town are completely rural. Extensive stands of forests in the area, filled with precious hardwoods, are the targets of wood smugglers. The Catarina Police take seriously their mandate of protecting the natural resource base, which requires mobility to enforce effectively. We recently donated from our funds a new tire for use on the only motorcycle assigned to the Catarina Police station. 

Gaia Program Director Jeffrey McCrary inspects timber and cut wood confiscated from illegal traffickers by the Catarina Police. Photo Mar Espinoza Smith.
Throughout Masaya Department, in which Catarina is located, numerous carpenters are found, many of whom work in remote locations. Illegal wood is trafficked through numerous informal carpentry shops, threatening the natural resource base of Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve and other areas nearby. The police are constantly vigilant to inappropriate movements of wood in the area, and they often capture vehicles with loads of wood lacking proper registry. FUNDECI/GAIA supports their activity by providing logistical support, including fuel and recently, we donated a tire for their motorcycle. By collaborating with the Nacional Police in Catarina, we work to make Nicaragua a better place for all, including those who wish to visit the Catarina overlook and see wild nature, not deforested spots where trees were cut and its wood stolen.

Cut and round wood of various precious hardwood species was recently confiscated from wood traffickers in Catarina. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.
You can help us work to keep Catarina and Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve beautiful and natural, with a small donation to FUNDECI/GAIA. We accept donations through PayPal and we can provide official receipts for your records, and documentation of the use of your funds for specific programs in conservation. Consider contributing and write us to let us know what you think of Catarina and our project. Thank you!

You can help us keep nature wild in Nicaragua, by volunteering your time with us or making a small donation to support our projects in wild nature conservation.

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