Simple Sustainable Living

Nicraguan Sustainable Tourism

In efforts to find an education for sustainability, consider traveling to Nicaragua to embrace sustainable community. Nicaragua offers all the allure, enchantment, and adventure of the more commonly known and southern bordering country Costa Rica, but with a gentler spirit and without as many foreigners. The safest of all Central American countries, Nicaragua is a wonderful place to practice sustainable tourism and embrace the many offerings it has for education for sustainability. In particular, consider a rustic and sustainable language-emersion experience through a Spanish language school unlike most, where one is able to embrace sustainable community. Students learn about simple sustainable living and the importance of sustainable tourism in Nicaragua.

nina-compoCredit: Jordan Gregson

Education for Sustainability

map-nicaCredit: creative commonsThe language school is called Hijos del Maiz (click for school's website, opens in new window) and it's located in the small village of Lagartillo. Lagartillo is in the north-western region of the country, with Esteli being the closest small city/big town (~119,000 people). Registration for classes works on a one week basis, which costs $160 (USD). While that might sound a little expensive, it's a good deal for what it entails: 20 hours of one-on-one language instruction, living arrangements with a family in the village, and all meals. Beyond that, however, there are often excursions to the nearby waterfall/swim spot. At times, they'll even do some of the language instruction there (making it the perfect place to learn new verbs, such as: to slip and jump!). But the overall spirit and approach is informal enough to be comfortable and informal enough to learn spanish. The days are a mixture of one-on-one spanish language instruction; helping with sustainable community projects, such as permaculture plantings of coffee and other plants, work on water pumps, moving wood with horses and mules, and becoming really good with a machete; learning how Nicaraguans prepare and cook food using sustainable methods; and being exposes to the many more nuances entailed in sustainable community living.

Education in Sustainability?

Readers should now have a pretty good idea of why the Hijos Del Maiz experience makes for an education in sustainability.  If not, consider the following:

  • The village is off-the-grid, meaning that it's not connected to a centralized power system. One or two of the hoses have a small solar panel, but it's really only enough for a little light a night. But remember, no electricity = no television, no microwaves, no hair dryers, no i-pods, etc - remember, simple sustainable living.
  • The diet is simple but well-balanced. Made up mostly of corn, program participants quickly learn why they chose to name the school Hijos del Maiz (Children of the Corn, see "History" for explanation, below)!
  • The diet is composed of mostly food they've grown.
  • The floors are made of dirt, some of the walls are made of mud and sticks.
  • They use simple ceramic water filters (click for detailed article, opens in new window) for providing safe drinking water for themselves and students.

But really, beyond the isolated details, the fullness of simply living in a more or less remote "third world" community that is working towards embracing permaculture and sustainability gives students an incredibly valuable experiential based education in sustainability. It's experiential sustainable learning at its core. It's sustainable tourism. It's an opportunity of a lifetime that will change you for a lifetime.

History of the Spanish Language School Hijos del Maiz

The history of Hijos del Maiz is intimately connected to the history of Nicaragua. When most think of Nicaragua, the first term to come to mind is likely "contras." In essence, the history of Nicaragua is a history of constant conflict, of political turmoil born and sustained from inequality. In comes the community of Lagartillo and the Spanish language school Hijos del Maiz.

General Nicaraugan History: 1979-1990s - In Comes Lagartillo

Lagartillo was formed as an agrarian cooperative community (think "sustainable community) under the land reforms of the Sandinista Govornment, or the FSLN (E l Frente Sandinista de Liberacion Nacional - The National Sandinista Liberation Front) in the early 1980's. The Sandinistas came to power after their victory in the War of Liberation which culminated to its heroic end on July 19, 1979. Nicaraguans call the war by its name because it liberated them from the 40 year rule of the Somoza family dictatorship (which, of course, was very much supported by the US Government).  But their liberation from the Somoza dictatorship was quickly replaced by an almost 10 year war of relentless suffering. This war should be more familiar to readers in the United States, as it is known as the "Contra War" and was intimately tied to the pockets of Washington, both officially and unofficially (Iran-Contra Scandal). 

In Comes Hijos del Maiz

The war of the 80's and the Sandinista position in office eventually ended in 1990 with the election of UNO (Union Nacional de Opositora - National Opposition Union) presidency candidate Violeta Chamorro. Unfortunately, the Sandanistas going out of office resulted in Lagartillo loosing its agrarian cooperative status. Instead, the land was parcelled into private lots and bought by the main community leaders. So the late 80's to early 90's were wrought with trouble. Thankfully, the children of this first (or "zero") generation in Lagartillo had the inspiration to regain the original community focus, to develop a sustainable model of supporting themselves through growing food and bringing in income - thus, Hijos del Maiz language school.

Lagartillo - El SaltoCredit: Jordan Gregson

Visit Lagartillo, Study Spanish through Hijos Del Maiz

There are essentially two routes to take in setting-up a stay in Lagartillo. The first and least reliable: just show up. The second: email the school to make arrangements prior to planning your trip. Needless to say, the second option is the most reliable. (And in case you're wondering how they check email if they're off the grid, they have some contacts in Esteli that help out, and some of the teachers also often travel to Esteli.) 

Folks commonly wonder if it's possible to navigate the trip to Lagartillo without knowing any Spanish. While the answer is "yes," knowing at least some basics will greatly help. But other than knowing some basic Spanish, the single most helpful Nicaraguan-travel resource is the Moon Handbook to Nicaragua (opens in a new window, most recent addition). With out a doubt, having personally compared all the options and spent significant time in the country, the Moon Handbook is the best guide to traveling in Nicaragua. 

Sustainability Community. Holistic Education.

What more could one ask for? Whether your trip to Lagartillo to study Spanish is incorporated into a larger Nicaraguan or Central American adventure, or the sole reason for the trip, choosing to study at the Hijos del Maiz Spanish language school is a sustainable tourism option that furthers one's education for sustainability. It enables those with adventures and hardy spirits to embrace sustainable community and simple sustainable living.

May your trip be filled with many blessings and great joy! As they say in Spanish, que le vaya bien!

Education for sustainability through travel to Nicaragua to embrace sustainable community... a marvelous idea, indeed :)