The other side of Granada: moving up the mountain

Editor's note: the following article is the first in a new series on one expat's 
adventures living and working on Mombacho Volcano.
Mombacho Volcano

Mombacho Volcano

Prior to 2010, I had a pretty big-time job as the Director of Legal Affairs and a bunch of other departments for a large hospital system in New Jersey. It was a lot of work and I enjoyed it. But there came a point when I knew I needed to do something different. After looking around Central America a bit, I moved to Granada, Nicaragua. Too young to retire, I continued to pay my way by doing consulting work back in the States. It did not take me too long to realize that was not what I had in mind for something different; it was just a different place to live.

In August 2012, I really changed gears and, with the help of a friend who had previously built a wooden house on the mountain, a good Granada carpenter (but not a “house builder”), his crew and half a dozen local workers I set out to build a small eco-resort on Mombacho Volcano. I got funny looks when I told people what I was doing, but after a lot of paperwork and more building issues than you want to hear about right now, we finished Mombacho Lodge in June 2013 and I moved up from town to run it. I quickly learned that living on Mombacho was very different than living in Granada. I think it’s more the real Nicaragua; the place I originally wanted to be.

cabin twoThe whole project was a huge challenge and, frankly, more of an undertaking than I had anticipated it would be: from designing the esthetic and physical layout of the structures and utilities, to supervising and communicating with the workers who spoke no English (my Spanish improved real fast), to getting materials up here in the rainy season and hauling up water in the dry for concrete. Looking back, if I had analyzed it better I might not have done it, but now that I have, I am glad that I did.

We are completely off-the-grid. The water we use for everything but drinking is collected off roofs. We generate our own power and use batteries to store it so we don’t have to listen to the constant drone of the generator. My employees and I are the water, electric and sewer departments. I’ve certainly learned a lot and much of it the hard way.

In building Mombacho Lodge we did not cut down a single tree and caused minimal damage to the terrain despite digging a 300 foot septic pipe ditch with a stretch that was 15 feet deep. Consequently, undisturbed tropical plants and coffee, as well as huge Chilimate, Zapote and Ceiba trees, through which the howler monkeys constantly pass, surround the cabins and restaurant.

At the end of the day, Mombacho Lodge turned out to be amazing. I am excited about what people say on TripAdvisor.com. Still, it has been a tough slog getting guests to this out of the way place… but it is happening. We are working on a partnership with Mombacho Reserve and other local businesses to attract more visitors to the area to enhance everyone’s business, provide additional jobs for the local people and develop a quality experience for visitors from Nicaragua and overseas tourists alike.

cabin 3Like all businesses, I need to make ends meet. I hope I make a good living, but know that I will never get rich from this. For me, the best thing about this project and living up here is that it creates jobs on the mountain. During construction there were up to 20 people working on the project at any one time. We bought everything we could locally – I swear I know every hardware store in Granada and Managua too. Today I employ five people to help me run the place and hope to hire more once business is more predictable. Dollar for dollar and sustainability wise, this is a lot better than giving money to an NGO.

And, the jobs are not just back breaking, mindless jobs hauling bags of concrete and clearing beneath the coffee…the young men who started with me learned about construction, plumbing and electric and are now learning the business of tending to the guests. Its rewarding to see how quickly and well they pick up new things; how they are starting to show initiative; and how they are now occasionally stopping work to think about whether what they are doing is furthering the goal or farther from it … things many gringos might think they could never do on their own

Also important, my dog, Alli likes it better here too where it is 10 degrees (F) cooler than Granada… and no bombas!

That’s living, on Mombacho. See more at MombachoLodge.com and stay tuned for more details.

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