Thursday, March 23, 2017

Ride a Horse, Mountain Bike, Enjoy a $1 Beer on Nicaragua's Pacific Coast - Doing Good!

Want to horseback-ride into the sunset for a few dollars?
 Do Good at the Same Time?
Paso Pacifico's magical tours into southern Nicaragua

Don Miguel - a Nicaraguan farmer - has spent decades replanting trees to fight deforestation in the Nicaraguan dry forest along the Pacific Coast just north of Costa Rica - and he leads horseback-riding tours, too!

Just a half hour south of the scenic, seaside town of San Juan del Sur, a cruise port and surfing spot along Nicaragua's Pacific Coast is Don Miguel's inn, Llomas de Bosques. Even if you're staying in San Juan del Sur or at port for the day, this is an easy trip south and you even have time for lunch.

If you're not one to swim with turtles, but prefer an adventure over land, Paso Pacifico offers hiking, horseback riding or mountain biking into the dry forest - replete with conversational monkeys punctuated by the endless chatter of native birds.

We chose to ride horseback with Don Miguel at the Llomas de Bosques, who has spent much of his adult life replanting thousands of trees to replenish the forest surrounding his land. We trotted past small farms of grazing cattle, where busy hens dodged playing children. 

Above us in the swaying trees, howler monkeys jumped from limb to limb, the quiet punctuated by the tweets of exotic, colorful birds. Imagine seeing a bright yellow parrot on a branch, rather than in a cage! 

Some locals, like Don Miguel, can perfectly imitate a monkey howl - triggering a cacophony of thunderous responses from the furry neighbors above. For those who prefer wheels to hoofs, mountain biking tours are also available, hiking, too.

Want to get a taste of rural life and climb aboard an ox-driven cart? Just minutes from the turtle refuge is the Hacienda la Flor, run by the Joseph Adam Calderon cooperative. The hardy can hike up a nearby hill to get a panoramic view of the sea, the refuge and southern Nicaragua. Back at the ranch, the farmers gently tie their oxen to a wooden wagon. Bumping along a packed dirt road, led by the gentle horned beasts, we rolled past scattered cattle, mother hens trailed by fluffy baby chicks, and goats and horses happily crunching in the fields. Suddenly, we turned into a clutch of trees, and step off into a forest floor transformed into a natural carpet of sea shells and broken pottery of past civilizations - a major find for archeologists. Back at the ranch, we were greeted by steaming coffee and a popular Nicaraguan dish, plaintain tostones topped with fresh, local cheese. 

Paso Pacifico is seeking to lure visitors to Ruta del Sur so the friendly rural residents can earn a living through eco-tourism. Treasuring turtles cuts down on theft of precious turtle eggs, considered a delicacy.  Tourism enables parents to pay for uniforms and school supplies for children to go to school and avoid cutting trees to farm for food. They are not forced to destroy nature to eat - but can partner with it, offering  unique adventures for delighted foreign tourists.  

Women and girls are central to their mission in an initiative called “Project Ellas.”  Homestays are available for as little as $12 a night per person with private bath in a village where everyone greets each other with a smile. They are basic, clean accommodations, just a short walk through the forest with flush with chattering monkeys and birds to the pristine Ostional beach - a true getaway.

Blanca of Restaurant Blanca Rosa 

Check out our Good Green Travel Facebook page to meet the women of the sleepy beachfront village of Ostional, plus the Junior Rangers, children specially trained by Paso Pacifico as biodiversity protectors, guarding turtle nesting sites and ensuring no one litters the pristine beaches!

Oh! Food! Enjoy simple dining at women-run eateries in Ostional, featuring fresh fish or chicken, farm-fresh eggs, beans and rice, fruit. For a cold drink, a beachside thatch-roofed bar offers beers for $1, your view: a cascade of pelicans plunging into the waves for food as fishermen unfurl their nets along the shore.

Their excursions are new, and cheap!  So, if you have a sense of adventure, can escape luxury for a bit, and want safe, educational, earth-saving family fun, contact Paso Pacifico at

Snorkel, swim with turtles, and, oh my, the stunning beaches in Nicaragua!

Who says you can't do good just traveling to pristine Nicaragua beaches! Not Paso Pacifico!
Do Good - Travel south - Ruta del Sur

Most visitors may associate Nicaragua’s southern Pacific Coast with the quaint, seaside tourist town of San Juan del Sur, a busy cruise port and popular surfer spot. 

Now, Paso Pacifico, a women-run conservation organization has a special tourism strategy to protect the forests, ocean and endangered wildlife. If you’re ready to be adventurous, want to get close to nature, meet and greet locals and help save the planet - just by visiting - go with Paso Pacifico! Forget shopping for trinkets or expensive ship-planned excursions. Head to the Ruta del Sur for safe, family-friendly fun. 

A mother turtle lays eggs at Refugio de Vida Silvestre La Flor

Think turtles! This zone is an important nesting place for endangered species. Paso Pacifico offers a tour with their guides to visit Refugio de Vida Silvestre La Flor, just a half-hour (20 km) from San Juan del Sur.

 Here, visitors can approach these gigantic reptiles and their new babies. But don't touch! The refuge draws thousands of olive ridleys, hawksbill, leatherback and green sea turtles every year. 

If you get there between July and December, the beaches are flooded with mama “tortugas” and newborns. Paso Pacifico guides - even children - can tell you why their existence is under threat from humans, what they do to save them, and the turtles’ crucial role for millions of years in maintaining central America's earth-saving biodiverse ecosystem. Both leatherbacks and hawksbills are critically endangered. You also receive a special ranger guide and visit to an on-site interpretation center.  See what Paso Pacifico does here with turtles. 

Lulu with our fishermen and boat in the distance.

Paso Pacifico also goes out to sea - to swim with turtles and maybe dolphins! Skilled fishermen conducts snorkeling adventures on a motorboat, and know just where to go to find entertaining marine life. A refreshing dip is followed by lunch served on a pristine, deserted white sand beach. You also can get to the  La Flor turtle refuge this way, by boat.

When Lulu and I motored into the Pacific with Yorlin, our fisherman guide, it was February, off-season for nesting. Nonetheless, our trusty guide scanned the horizon to find the “tortugas.” When the small leather heads of the giant turtles emerged, Lulu and  I delightfully jumped into the water, equipped with snorkel and fins. What a thrill to see the huge flappers of these marine animals through our masks - as they disappeared into the depths of the sea.

Stay tuned for our next blog.... from the turtles to the forests.... Want to go here? Paso Pacifico's excursions are new and cheap! So, if you want an adventure, can escape luxury for a bit for a safe, educational, earth-saving family fun, then:

      Nancie L. Katz is a New York-based investigative journalist, writing about pristine, ecotourism destinations where travelers can experience unique forays into nature with friendly locals - and save the planet at the same time! Join her on Facebook at Good Green Travel or contact her at:

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Paso Pacifico - Turtles, Monkeys, Birds - Protected by Girl Rangers!

Nicaragua - Paso Pacifico - 
Run by Women - Empowering Women and Girls
AND Saving the Earth 
During February, Lulu, 17, and I explored the wondrous work of Paso Pacifico, a not for profit founded and run by two phenomenal women - Sarah Otterstrom and Liza Gonzales - who both cherished the dry forest, the Pacific ocean and coastline, the endangered turtles and monkeys and birds threatened by climate change, deforestation and more. 

When people think about conservation and want to do good - take action to save wildlife, the environment and the planet, they often overlook these effective, moving small grassroots charities. These are the folks - with no funding for colorful PR and marketing campaigns and paid grant writers - doing the hard work of transforming hearts and minds of locals, respecting and training them to overcome poverty and hunger - NOT by cutting down trees or over-fishing - but by eco-tourism. They give them the gift of learning how to earn money by partnering with their fragile natural resources - the magical forest, the endangered turtles vital to biodiversity, the engaging and vulnerable monkeys and birds. 

During Women's History Month and just a few weeks after International Women's Day, we must mention what they do for girls. Listen to Hilary, 14, and Nicole, 13, below.

Even if you don't speak Spanish - here's the message! Two girls growing up in an impoverished village on Nicaraguan's Pacific Coast - one born when the mom - now employed by Paso Pacifico -was only 16. Nicole wants to be doctor, and Hilary a biologist. They are girl rangers, trained by Paso Pacifico, who guard and protect vulnerable baby turtles, keep the beaches clean, identify the multitude of birds and wildlife. In other words, they just rock! 

Here's a few seconds of our walk in the forest with the Junior Rangers of Paso Pacifico. See the monkeys? Those are exotic birds you hear.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Nutritionally, a Tale of Two Cities in the Daily News


Nutritionally, a tale of two cities 

Keep more farmers markets open

Comments (1)
Why not fresh food for all, year-round?


Why not fresh food for all, year-round?

As the mayoral election made clear, race and economic inequality are turbulent topics across the city. Its manifestations are not confined to policing or education. Spare a moment this holiday season to consider food inequality and injustice.
This winter, only the richest New Yorkers can give thanks for a nearby outdoor farmers market — because all in Harlem, central Brooklyn and the Bronx have shuttered for the season.
Yes, that’s right: Neighborhoods that need farmers markets the most — where children and adults are most likely to struggle with obesity, hunger, diabetes and other ills tied to poor nutrition — won’t have them through the cold winter months.
Yet wealthier areas, where Whole Foods and other outlets already make fresh, green produce plentiful, will continue to enjoy open-air markets.
Someone needs to right this wrong.
Americans spend an estimated $147 billion a year in medical care for obesity-related diseases. Adult obesity now afflicts 39% of African-Americans. One out of every five city children lives in a home that can’t afford food regularly, especially fresh produce.
Nearby farmers markets are one effective tool to fight this public-health crisis.
June to November, about 140 city farmers markets populate the five boroughs. These colorful oases provide cheerful community destinations and business for local growers. And, most importantly, they offer healthy food close to low-income homes.
Poorer residents are attracted by government incentives that make fruits and vegetables affordable — a key to reducing obesity. Food-stamp recipients get $2 in city Health Bucks for every $5 spent on fresh produce — racking up $2.2 million in sales this season.
State Fresh Connect checks and federal Farmers Market Nutrition Program coupons also lure the needy elderly, moms and babies.
But come November, these incentives vanish — nixing the buying power of the most vulnerable at the coldest time of year. Farmers can’t come if there’s no business.
On top of that, bureaucratic hassles, red tape and fees cripple the small community groups that run markets for the neediest, preventing them from operating year-round. They manage on shoestrings and struggle with city laws and permits. Most depend on vendor fees, fund-raisers, donations and grants.
Not all of market operators have those headaches. GrowNYC, a nonprofit, gets government, vendor and private funds to run 54 markets, plus youth farmstands, environmental and food access programs.
Yet only a fraction of these are in high-need food deserts.
And unlike GrowNYC, which has had a city contract since 2004 to operate year-round, all other farmers markets must exit public parks by Nov. 15.
That leaves about 25 outdoor markets open year-round citywide — 23 run by GrowNYC in upper-income Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens neighborhoods.
Not one is in the Bronx — rated the state’s most destitute county.
Don’t our city’s unhealthiest deserve fresh vegetables and fruits in winter too?
Laudable public efforts are making produce easy and affordable for the poor. But lack of year-round cash incentives and frustration among groups trying to run markets in the city’s unhealthiest zones leaves residents swamped with convenience stores and fast-food outlets.
Take central Brooklyn. Just before Thanksgiving, a permit issue barred a farmer from Seeds in the Middle — a group I co-founded — from selling vegetables in Crown Heights parks. Our permit expired Nov. 15.
Maritza Owens is CEO of Harvest Home Farmers Markets, which runs 16 markets in Harlem, Brooklyn and the Bronx. She co-authored a 2011 report by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, which cited the city for entangling community-based groups in red tape, excessive fees and costly parking tickets for farmers.
Harvest Home also cannot stay open year-round because less abundant produce in winter means higher prices. With no cash incentives, her customers can’t afford to buy.
Meantime, Washington could make matters even worse. Congress is considering yet another drastic cut in food stamps.
Why not offer year-round what works against malnutrition and obesity — food stamps, Health Bucks, Fresh Connect checks and federal coupons?
I see some green shoots. Sources recently told me that, for the first time, offering year-round park permits to more markets “is being explored.”
Let’s press the city to issue permits, even through the winter, to have farmers markets in far more parks and on busy street corners. Everyone in the Big Apple deserves an apple all the time.
Katz, a former Daily News staffer, is an investigative journalist and co-founder of Seeds in the Middle, a nonprofit that works to empower students and schools to get healthy.

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