Nuevas Esperanzas is no stranger to taking on projects that require logistical miracles. Past efforts brought clean water to communities using rainfall collection tanks and an extensive pipeline across canyons. Now the team is focusing their same determination on a different aspect of development: sustainable tourism.
In 2014, Nuevas Esperanzas embarked on an ambitious project with residents in Agua Fría to increase tourism on Telica. Though about 200 to 300 tourists visit Telica each month, most utilize tour operators based in León and bypass the community entirely. Those living on the volcano rarely receive the benefits of the tourism industry. By participating in tourism, residents can augment their income while providing a unique cultural and environmental experience. Agua Fría is perfectly situated below the crater, and the local families are experts in the area they know and love: who better to guide tourists through the protected area of Telica-Rota?
With the support of Agua Fría’s residents, Nuevas Esperanzas got right to work. The sustainable tourism plan encompassed a wide variety of initiatives, including a tour guide cooperative, model farms and beekeeping. As Telica is traditionally seen as inaccessible to all but the most intrepid, new hiking trails were built using responsibly sourced local materials. A central aspect of the development plan is the construction of a café, an information center, and cabins. Local residents work alongside contracted employees, investing in the development of their community.
In March 2014, Nuevas Esperanzas broke ground on the construction site for the café. The location was carefully chosen: next to the access road, just at the base of a trail to the crater, and with expansive views of the valley to the north. Construction on the side of a volcano is no ordinary undertaking: special care must be taken regarding environmental concerns. Volcanic activity and earthquakes demand rigorous structural integrity. To ensure the café would safely survive local natural events, Nuevas Esperanzas contracted a specialist to design an earthquake-proof building.
Construction on the café began with leveling the selected land. The plan incorporated a large tank beneath the café to capture rainwater, allowing residents to run the business without needing many difficult journeys to haul water. Workers accordingly dug out the basement manually, completing and covering the underground water tank. Dedicated to using locally sourced materials, building supervisors then utilized volcanic rocks to painstakingly create beautiful walls. By mid-May 2015, the café is ready for its roof and floor.
The roof of the café will be made of Emmedue, a construction system using reinforced polystyrene panels. This material is both lightweight and sturdy, effectively insulates, and is highly resistant against earthquakes. While the steel beams for support weigh an average of 80lbs each, the team cheerfully transported several loads to the construction site. Once the structure is complete and capped with cement, the final touch will be solar panels on the roof for a source of renewable energy.
Cabin construction is progressing steadily as well. Thanks to the joint efforts of the building supervisors and community members, the two room cabin is now ready for its roof and floor. A current challenge is deciding on the materials for the roof. While the Emmedue design planned for the café is effective, it is highly expensive and therefore not a viable option for the cabin. Community members are reluctant to use a traditional palm roof, which requires replacement every six to seven years. A tin roof is easily corroded, and the volcanic gases would quickly render it useless. Nuevas Esperanzas’ civil engineer Arturo Juárez is currently discussing various options with community members, and once a joint decision is reached construction will continue.
Also ready for its roof is the control post, a small hut on the road below the café at the entrance to the park. The structure is part of Nuevas Esperanzas’ environmental conservation efforts. The municipality of Telica plans to post a guard at all times. The guard will control access to the forest and supervise movement of materials. Deforestation is a critical and ongoing issue. While it is illegal to remove wood from the protected area, loggers are still chopping down trees and making away with the precious cargo. Nuevas Esperanzas, the Ministry of the Environment, and the municipality of Telica all hope that increased surveillance will halt the thieves in their tracks.
Though construction has progressed steadily over the last year, the Telica volcano recently had other plans. On May 7th, Telica began spewing ash and gases in a series of small explosions. The Nuevas Esperanzas team had no choice but to suspend construction work until the activity calms. Despite the hiatus of a week or two, completion of the project is still on track for October 2015. The team is looking forward to returning to the work and assessing any changes the volcano has thrown their way.
Civil engineer Arturo reflected on the most gratifying moments to date: when they finished the water tank below the café, and when the walls all arrived at their final height. He is still waiting for the truly momentous celebration when the last nail is hammered home in the last window frame. Until then, the Nuevas Esperanzas team continues constructing both the buildings and the future of the sustainable tourism initiative on Telica.
Volcanic activity has continued during the last few days. We have put together a short video about what is happening.
We are grateful to the European Union for their funding for this project.