I recently returned from an amazing two week adventure in Nicaragua.  Jungles, volcanoes, beaches, and lakes, we explored the best this little country has to offer.

Our first stop was La Mariposa, Eco-Hotel & Spanish School. A quaint and tranquil eco hotel set within the bustling community of San Juan de la Concepción. Just a stones throw from many of the key places to visit in Nica such as Managua, Granada, Masaya and the stellar waves on Pacific coast. With the assistance of an awesome global volunteering NPO, Unearth the World, we started here to begin our first-ever “volunteer abroad” experience.

Our volunteer placement would be in the organic garden reserve where our talents were utilized to be the On-sight Irrigation System… meaning we watered the garden each morning by hand as it was dry season and scorching hot. Our efforts seemed a bit trivial at first, but we soon realized the importance of our help. While we took care of the “grunt-work” the resident garden employees were able to tend to other tasks to keep this garden productive. We would also come to learn that the garden, while used to provide fresh, organic, and impact-free produce to the hotel, was also a food source for very poor local families. The garden, the reserve and the hotel also provides over 70 jobs for the community, as well as increasing tourism in the area. To be apart of this community, even for a short week, was an incredible way to see the “real” Nicaragua.

What really brought this experience together was meal-time at the hotel. Sitting around the table with all the other guests, volunteers, and students, along with the dozen or so dogs, cats and chickens milling about, these moments were most entertaining. We met some incredible people with incredible stories; doctors, medical students, global health professionals, artists, teachers, and travelers seeking purpose.  And it was always an added pleasure to have the owner, Paulette and her, belle-of-the-ball, daughter, Guillermina join us! Conversation was never dull.

There was always something new to learn with this crowd. What I enjoyed most was learning of the unique operations of La Mariposa and its profound impact on the local community from the reserve and animal rescue to the Spanish school or the tourism aspect. La Mariposa has a profound impact for this region, and as we would learn, Nicaragua! We met many locals in other towns that knew and were quite found of Paullette and her hotel!

One thing that I found most interesting during these dinner chats, was how waste is managed in Nicaragua. Being a bit obsessed with waste management, I had to know more. So sitting down with Paulette, I asked her about it. Nicaragua is trying to get a handle on it, there are organizations like the Association of Women Recyclers of Altagracia and campaigns such as Vivir Bonitos spreading the word. But with the  increasing urbanization and the adoption of the “global throwaway culture” it is proving to be an uphill battle.

For now, garbage disposal remains in the hands of the local municipalities, of which tends to get left to the individual, so the ditch becomes the go-to.  If lucky, some communities have a make-shift landfill in a large ravine where garbage can be collected, piled, and burned. The pungent, stinging odor of burning garbage is a norm as you drive throughout the country side. Larger cities, and areas with plentiful amounts of tourism are lucky to have waste bins and garbage collection to be taken to a landfill. But these are far-and-few between.  They have very little, let alone proper waste removal similar to many other poorer countries around the world.

This eye-opening experience was profound for me. I have traveled a lot and have counted my many blessings: clean water, ample food, a sturdy roof, clothes and shoes, and health care…. etc. What really shocked me on this adventure was the feeling of gratitude for my local sanitation engineer more commonly known as the Garbage Man!

Seriously!  How lucky we are to have our filthy rubbish and junk collected and literally hidden from sight. And, not only does someone take our garbage for us, they also sort it properly to ensure it is disposed of in the most efficient manner.

And yes, we DO pay taxes for this amazing service, but the people of Nicaragua pay taxes too. It is a privilege and an honour to have a government that values proper waste removal.  I only wish that everyone could see Nicaragua, its lakes and mountains, the beautiful people and culture it has to offer, and its garbage. Maybe then, that guy driving down the road tossing his McDonalds bag out the window, or that lady flicking her ciggy butt to the ground, they might see how good they have it and change!

So, my fellow Calgarians, Albertans and Canadians alike, I implore you to be grateful for your garbage man. Smile at that row of bins of blue, green and black. Pay those utility bills with pride! But remember, we are not entitled to these luxuries. There is NO excuse for littering. NO reason not to recycle correctly (here’s how Calgary). The Garbage Man can take away your trash, but its up to you to get it in the proper receptacle! For more insight, read what this Calgarian sanitarian engineer has to say about his job!

P.S.  NICARAGUA is amazing!

Check out some of my travel pics on Instagram @plasticfreeb 

Not sure where to start on your plastic-free journey? Click Here!

 -Briana- 

References for this blog:
La Marisposa Eco-Hotel & Spanish School – http://mariposaspanishschool.com/
Unearth the World – http://www.unearththeworld.com/
Silva, José Adán, Women Revolutionise Waste Management on Nicaraguan Island – http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/women-revolutionise-waste-management-on-nicaraguan-island/
Hartman, Christopher D., Garbage, Health, and Well-Being in Managuahttps://nacla.org/article/garbage-health-and-well-being-managua 
The Huffington Post Alberta, Ask Me Anything: Calgary Garbage Man Candidly Answers Questions On Reddit – http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/17/ask-me-anything-a-calgary-garbage-man-answers-questions-reddit_n_2706892.html
The City of Calgary – Waste & Recycling Services – http://www.calgary.ca/UEP/WRS/Pages/Waste-and-Recycling-Services.aspx
The Simpsons, “Trash of the Titans” Season 9, Episode 22 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YihiSqO4jnA

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