Reflections of a Collaborator: Coming to Nica

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Sam and Lynn, prior to getting down and dirty in Nicaragua.

My partner, Lynn, and I arrived in San Juan del Sur two weeks ago.  We first met Muffa through mutual friends at Burning Man in early September.  Shortly thereafter, we applied for collaborator positions at Casa Oro and Rancho Regeneracion.

This is our first time working while traveling.  We love to travel – to explore new places and cultures, to meet new people, to be unsure about what each day may hold.  And we also love surrounding ourselves with like-minded people and contributing to something bigger than ourselves.  So we posted a long shot on facebook….

“Friends of FB!  Lynn and I will be traveling abroad for ~5 weeks this Oct/Nov.  We’re excited to surf, and want to contribute our time and energy to the building of a space.  Does anyone know any cool folks building an eco-community/hostel/resort that fits this mold?  Let us know!”

Sure enough, within a few minutes, three friends put us in touch with Muffa.

During our first “official” conversation, I shared my excitement to build a yurt, and Lynn shared her excitement to create art.  It seemed a bit far fetched as neither of us had formal experience with either.  Muffa asked a few questions, and then without hesitation said, “yeah, let’s do it”.  There was a long pause.  We were convinced he must have misread our applications, or misunderstood our level of expertise.  Yet two weeks into being here, I’m in the midst of gathering bamboo poles for the 15-foot diameter yurt, and Lynn’s busy with her second floor mural.

Sam working with the team on the yurt.
Lynn busy with mural #2.

We’re just one example of many when it comes to the experiences of collaborators here.  We see it every day, and it’s affirmed by stories of those past and present – there is mutual trust that we are all curious and capable of learning.  Action is prioritized over excessive planning.  Resources are limited, so everyone is inspired to do the best they can with what they have.

As someone who is mostly guided by logic, I’ve always believed that a thorough to-do list was the key to progress.  But I’m learning here that good vibes and responsibility might go a longer way towards getting things done.


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When travelling around, it is very important to find an accomodation which makes you feel at home. A bed and a breakfast is not enough. Normally, it is the vibe of the place that attracts travellers, people who would like to work or volunteer there, and locals who hang around.

What makes this lodging special, then?

Good value for money. _dsc7811

Price is important, but quality, too. Variety is no doubt the best option. Affordable beds in dorms for the lower budgets, cosy private rooms for the higher ones, an assorted breakfast which offers a different menu every day, a kitchen that allows you to cook your own meals. These ingredients could be considered as core for a winning recipy.




Being away from home is not easy, sometimes, especially if you are away for quite a while. You break up with your routines, but in a way, you miss them, too. Your sports practise, your frequent visit to the cinema, to events or exhibitions, your local bar to hang around with friends… When your accommodation provides you with all this, there is no need for you to feel homesick. It is then when you decide to stay longer than planned.


The bar.


If the hostel offers an engaging public space which is open for outside visitors, it opens up the heart of the place to welcome everyone in it, including the local community. The bar becomes the area for communication, for interaction; it allows conversation to happen under a warm light and inviting music. It is where most events take place and where dancing can keep going until it is time for the quiet ones to sleep.


The vibe.


In the end, it is the atmosphere, the vibe of the accommodation what invites you to take the first step into it, what makes you change your plans and instead of staying for a night makes you keep postponing your check-out. Maybe it is the friends that you have made there, maybe it is the quietness that the space offers you. When you make your way, there is something which stops you and invites you to stay. And we have it. Come and visit us in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua.


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We all have stories that we like sharing with other people. We are made of stories. And when we compare our tales with other travellers, we realise that we are not that different from one another. We are all connected in a way. Of all places, hostels offer the possibility of becoming storytelling centres.

Yamini Benites and Subali (Camila), Brasil.

“We have just finished a course in a therapy called Bioe_dsc8989nergetics. As soon as we were done with our studies, we decided to go travelling . . . Nicaragua had been a dreamt destination for many years. Curiously, our first workshop in meditation has been in Casa Oro.
We have connected here our passion for meditation and for Nicaragua. In the following days, we have invitations to share our knowledge in many
different parts of the country.”


Dane Wobbema, United States._dsc8889


“I broke up with my girlfriend in May, quit my job in June. In the process of starting a business I decided I needed a reset: to learn to surf and to get out of my comfort zone in the States, to move from the mountains to the sea.”

“I walked around the whole town of San Juan del Sur and, for some reason I was drawn to Casa Oro.”






Federico, Nicaragua.

“I don’t have a story, only memories.”

Surfing the nica waves for over 15 years.



Juan Carlos, Argentina.

“My story? How can I start?

I used to live in Calafate, Patagonia. I used to work in a bank.

Last year I travelled to Cuba _dsc8931and this trip left me unquiet. I understood that if I continued with the life that I had I was meant to enjoy only 15 or 20 days of holidays per year. There was a click in my head. It made me untie myself from all the bonds that were keeping me in that position.

It was a progressive change. In the whole past year, the idea of searching a new way of life grew in my mind. Being part of the system allows you less and less freedom.”


Alexandra, United States with a Cuban origin

When I turned 25 last January, I decided it was time for a change. I did not want to keep living the life that I was leading. It was not a bad life, in fact, most people would have been very comfortable in it, but it was too simple for me. I felt _dsc1234that something bigger was missing, as if I were running in circles, doing the same things everyday, with the same people, rushing everywhere.

Talking about travelling and seeing the world was one thing, putting those dreams into action, quite another. Yet I didn’t want to become that woman that I was. Words were not enough for me, so I had to move. The knowledge of a necessary inner healing, together with the urge to start anew and assess myself spiritually, took me to The Sanctuary at Two Rivers, Costa Rica, where I live and work now. I’m a resident yogi, and a plant based culinary intern.

Finding this place so easily and at the right time symbolises for me that it was meant to happen. You can feel it inside. In a couple of months I sold my car, I left my appartment, said goodbye to my friends and family, and shaved my hair to arrive fresh and start anew in the jungle.

In these five months in the jungle, I have experienced that when you grant yourself the gift of time, you can heal, you can get to know yourself, as you have nowhere else to run. You are alone with your thoughts. There is no price for me to that experience because it is magic what happens, it’s the only word I can find to describe it.


Sebastian, Uruguay.


“I was travelling from San Juan to Rivas, destination Ometepe. I was listening to an Argentinian band, La Renga, on my loudspeaker, because I had no headphones. That made a guy from Argentina talk to me. We got involved in a random conversation and he ended up convincing me to apply for a volunteering position in Casa Oro as bar attendant. That was Ezequiel, who was changing his position at the bar to start working at Rancho Regeneracion project.”


Ezequiel, Argentina_dsc9119

“I was robbed in Granada. All my money was gone. Some people at the hostel there told me that I could easily find a job was in San Juan del Sur, so I hitchhiked to San Juan.

As soon as I arrived, I started asking everywhere for a position as a volunteer. I was offered to work at the bar in Casa Oro. But I needed to make money, too. It was low season, so the best I could find was a restaurant that gave me a meal in exchange of bringing them customers at the shout of “almuerzos, almuerzos.”

It was a fun period, working at the restaurant during the day, and at the bar at night time. But I changed my volunteering position, moving to the permaculture project. I am an environmental engineer, so I wanted to know better the work that it is done there. I was eager to learn about the compost and all the processes that were taking place at “la finca”, as we call it. At the same time, I felt I could help with my experience and knowledge in the field. I do not bring customers to the Asador Areliz anymore, but I sell sweet cakes all around San Juan after I finish work at Rancho Regeneracion”


Pilar, Spain

Myself, the person who is writing about everyone else.

“My life is a continuous_dsc8856 contradiction, an everlasting dichotomy. I always want to stay in a place, but at the same time, move somewhere else.

I have spent the last month and a half volunteering at Casa Oro, being part of the different projects that they are carrying out. On the one side, I want to continue working in San Juan del Sur, seeing the seeds develop into something bigger. On the other side, I want to continue travelling, exploring, moving. As said, a neverending contradiction, an ongoing tune in my head: should I stay or should I go?”


Casa Oro Lounge & Cultural Center “Tonatiuhichan”

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Tonatiuhichan, the Sun’s house in the Mexica’s mythology, gives name to our new space on the top floor of Casa Oro. After a regeneration of the bar, our new spot has been progressively filled out with music and cultural events. In the two months that the cultural programme has been running, we have hosted photography exhibitions, live music, poetry readings and cinema nights, all free of charge, extending the invitation to anyone who wanted to join us.


We have welcomed artists from all over the world to share their stories with our audience. There has been regular gigs every Thursday and Saturday, and jam sessions on Fridays. We have built a loyalty from travellers and locals who attend our rooftop terrace looking for quality events. Songs have been sung in many different languages, the languages of the world, and we have connected with each other, irrespective of our origins.julians-photo-exhibitionjam-sessionsdiego-flyer








Cinema nights started with a selection of Latin American awarded films, as we considered that many travellers could be interested in knowing more about the countries that they were visiting. We started the screenings with The Motorcycle Diaries, a film that reflects the spirit of many of us. “Let the world change you… And you can change the world”.


We chose fairly recent films, so as to show what it has been done in Latin America in the last years, to prove the quality that our cinema has. We included works whose original language was not Spanish but minor languages, such as the Amazonic ones in El Abrazo de la Serpiente, the Mayan language kaqchikel in Ixcanul or guaraní in the Paraguayan Siete Cajas. We wanted to show our audience the diversity of the Spanish-speaking countries, to illustrate through the film industry the topics that concern not only directors or script-writers but the majority of the population. We have laughed and cried with these films. But above all, we have learned.


Locals and travellers have met in our cultural space “Tonatiuhichan” to interact and realise that their stories, their dreams and their preocuppations connect them in a special way. And we are happy to have provided San Juan del Sur with a place that was so much needed, a centre with a “special vibe”, as many stoppers-by have described it.


Thanks to everyone that has made it possible!


See our progress on Facebook:

and Instagram:

Rooftop Regeneration

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Within Casa Oro, our home for the budget friendly backpacker, our rooftop has served as both a chill bar in the evening and a space of relaxation during the day for yogis, musicians, book-lovers and hammock swayers.

Now we’re turning it up a notch. Much of what we love about our space will remain the same – our chill, relaxed and happy vibe isn’t going anywhere. Only new celebratory elements will find themselves discovered: celebration of the arts – visual, spoken and performance – celebration of finer refreshments: think wine, champagne and artisanal beers – and celebration of regenerative living at its fullest.

The transformation of our humble home on the roof into a cultural center of regeneration is our invitation to you – and the whole expansive world – to join us in our soul-fueled mission of regeneration: for Mother Nature, communities, economies and all of our human spirits.

Celebrate transformation with us on our regenerated rooftop terrace. This is only the beginning. 

Brushstroke by Brushstroke

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Without art the earth is incomplete, and we feel the same for Nuestra Casa, our newest home created for travelers, by travelers. We envision a place where the world feels not only welcomed but inspired by nature and moved to immerse themselves among its offerings: its bountiful hills, its glorious waters, its swinging branches, its spacious fields, its sparkling sands. Artists from around the world – from Australia to Spain to Managua – joined us for a weekend-turned-weeklong artistic celebration – a painting party – to celebrate art with a nature-inspired twist.

We dreamt our vision for Art-A-Thon, and very quickly our vision became reality. We invited the artists to eat, sleep and paint in Our House as we wrapped the final steps of our remodeling. Each day, each hour, each moment was a step: a step towards more colorful, vibrant living, a step towards a fuller sense of community, a step towards a hub of inspiration for regeneration.

Art does not belong solely in museums and galleries. The vitality which art brings to culture is transcendent; it transcends the limitations found within our minds, whether these limitations were created by external expectations or from our own biased perceptions. A limitation we find intent to override is the one that separates us from nature; the one that shapes our understanding in such a way that nature is a destination. Nature is a trip to the beach, a hike in the woods, a ride on our sailboat, but more rarely is it something we interact with each and every day from the moment we awake. We believe nature should be a presence that encompasses us from dusk to dawn and for all the moments in between.

On the outskirts of San Juan we are the stewards of 80 acres of land, the foundation of Rancho Regeneración, a regenerative community where things come full circle. The ranch serves as a farm, learning center, and laboratory, closely interweaved with Nuestra Casa and our sister homes Casa Andalucia and Casa Oro, and various initiatives within and surrounding San Juan del Sur. Together, we are regenerating communities, economies, Mother Nature, and, most significantly, the human spirit. The day our artists arrived, they traveled to our ranch to seek inspiration before returning to Nuestra Casa to pour their hearts onto our walls.

Brushstroke by brushstroke, our artists created masterpieces, and for many of them it was the first time their canvases had been walls. Some had only rarely picked up a paintbrush, exploring art primarily through a pencil or pen, or through observing the artwork of their lovers. While many identified as artists, few identified as professionals, yet the art seen on the walls defies their self-proclaimed identities. This was a dream we longed for with Art-A-Thon, and it’s a dream we long for all: to see oneself in a new light; to recognize the potential and capabilities stirring in one’s mind, anxious to burst alive into action. These artists created with us for a reason. You are here for a reason. Art is transcendent. Together, we can regenerate the world. Join us.  

Soil Farming in Nicaragua

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Do not despise small beginnings.

I knelt down like a baseball catcher in front of our first batch of compost.

Anticipation built as hours, days, and weeks of design and preparation were already behind us. I scraped away the top inches of the pile. I carefully lowered my cupped hand like I was testing the readiness of a stove burner. I was hoping for heat — an indication that insects and microorganisms were doing their part to devour the mix of food scraps and dried leaves. In the moment of an outstretched arm, my mind teetered between the risk of a failed experiment and the possibility of a wildly successful first go at composting. As my hand sensed warmth radiating from the center of the pile, a sense of accomplishment washed over me. The system was working.

Over the following days, our team has continued to explore our system further — temperature, color, humidity. We came to understand that our humble beginnings sat somewhere between unusable organic matter and perfectly-balanced soil. In a final test of that first compost pile, We claimed victory with successful sprouts of Ayote and Tamarindo.

We had officially begun soil farming.

* * * * * *

A 2009 World Institute report states the issue clearly: estimates show that about one third of all food produced worldwide gets lost or wasted. In the U.S. alone, Americans put 30 million tons of food waste in landfills each year. That’s a big plate of food — more than 500 feet high and half a mile in diameter. Just imagine what even a fraction of this $1 trillion worth of waste could do if composted. Here’s a glimpse into how we’ve intertwined an artistic approach with a scientific one to do our part in putting a growing portion of San Juan del Sur’s food scraps to use.

A Trade As Old As Dirt

It’s been naturally happening in nature for hundreds of millions of years. Fruit falls from tree, animal walks by, eats some of fruit, poops on fruit remnants, leaf matter mixes in, microorganisms amongst all of it. And voilà, with some time richer soil fed back into the root system of the fruit tree that helped start it all, automatically.

Nautral_CompostFrom here, you might be able to piece together the essence of the compost Wikipedia entry and the human history of it all. I’ll paraphrase. Settlers in the Fertile Crescent 10,000 years back transitioned from hunter-gatherers to agrarians and soon figured out that composted soil produced better crops; 4,000 years ago written evidence carved on tablets was discovered and further supports these practices in the Fertile Crescent (what is modern day Iraq); and then there’s the account which names the naturalist Pliny the Elder of the Roman Empire as the godfather of compost.

One of the biggest advancements we’ve seen is how we’ve sped up the process from a seasons-long endeavor to the rapid-fire,18-day system. Economies of scale is surely another change as we’ve gone from millions to billions of people with municipal-sized composting systems. Yet, even in our modern world of leaf shredders and compost thermometers, the composting basics remain largely unchanged.

Brown Is The New Green

We’re all accustomed to the vibrant greens that have long been the color of all things eco. I get it, green is a sure sign of life. The sudden burst of bright green leaves across the San Juan del Sur hillsides in these first summer rains offers a timely example. However, with my exploration into composting, I’d like to pose an alternative perspective. That without the deep browns of the earth — or even deep blacks since the locals refer to the healthiest soil as “tierra negra” — lush green wouldn’t be possible. Brown is the new green.

There is beauty in brown. Especially when you look close. A single teaspoon of healthy soil contains more than one billion bacteria and an eloquent combination of life, death, and rebirth. These life cycles are created by a long list of organisms that make up the soil web. From the aforementioned smallest single-celled bacteria and fungi, to the more complex nematodes and micro-arthropods, all the way to earthworms, insects, plants, and small vertebrates. Maybe this sophisticated mixture is what keeps us from embracing brown as the foremost color of sustainability. In a time of information overload, we ask for clear and attention-getting symbols that will grab us only for a moment, allow us to quickly comprehend, and then move on to the next item on our to-do list. As a recovering marketing professional, I see the allure of green. But when you take time to explore the complexity and depth of the brown earth below our feet, there is magic in the diversity that is as deep as a mature oak’s roots.

The New Math: Soil = Water

In the dehydrated month of April, I found myself riding in the back of La Gris (an affectionately named gray Toyota pick-up) with our team. We were headed out to the farm to take a look at the construction progress of our first well. Looking out the back of the truck, we passed people peering down their own wells, which were drying up by the day. These scenes were a result of a three-year drought here in Nicaragua where dry had taken on new meaning. I imagined these groups of locals looking down their waterless wells and chatting about how to respond — subtle but powerful signs of life to come in a world of changing climate. How would we respond to our farm’s fundamental water needs with an innovative strategy?

soil farming
Looking down into freshly struck water of our well

Soil is a vital part of our farm water plan. While this may seem paradoxical, we’re using some of nature’s oldest tricks in the book. we’re leveraging soil to SLOW, SPREAD, and SINK water on-site to optimize its role as a life-giving force.

Protecting and amplifying the diversity of organisms that we find in healthy soil is a good start. As these critters eat, grow, and move through the earth they create conditions for higher water quality and more efficient water use. Creatures such as bacteria, fungi, and earthworms do this by leaving behind substances that bind soil particles together for a variety of water-related benefits. This wonderful gunk creates soil that holds more water longer and detoxifies rainwater before it seeps underground.

Our composting ensures that we’re attracting the right mix of all these organisms to the decomposition party. And that’s only the beginning. Where we place all this life-filled soil and how we shape it across acres of arable land — up and down hills, between stream beds, around farm infrastructure — offers limitless possibilities of how we will do more with less water.

How We’re Doing It

It goes almost without saying — first, the food scraps.

They are the cornerstone of the system. They are full of nitrogen and contain moisture. There’s plenty of food waste in San Juan del Sur. We’ve only begun to fill the bucket, so to speak, with food waste from within The Circulo Initiative family of businesses and a growing number of local restaurants. Like much of our work, we’re constantly looking for synergies within the Initiative and with the San Juan del Sur community. Transforming food scraps to soil is a prime example of how we’re creating a closed loop system by turning one organization’s trash into another’s treasure.

soil farming
A simple sign goes a long way

To accompany the nitrogen-rich food scraps, dried leaves full of carbon complete the mix. This is where biology meets personal touch. Leveraging knowledge of the most effective nitrogen-carbon ratios paired with intuition and good judgment is an art that we continue to hone every day. Every bucket of food is like a thumb-print like no other. The same goes for every pile of leaves, different than the last. Every compost pile is an experiment with the variables of nature and human nature constantly ebbing and flowing with each other.

Then the infrastructure.

You don’t need much. We’ve kept our compost structure to some extremely straightforward branch walls that we built in less than two days. It was a labor of love and a project that we constructed with nearly all recycled and reused materials. We were even so minimalist that we used nearby rocks to pound our corner posts into the ground, caveman style.

soil farming

Finally, the people.

Really, it starts and ends with the people. When I count, there have been more than 15 people who have touched the system in some fashion. From our core team who designed and are operating the system, to those helping collect and transport food scraps. Not to mention the hundreds of Casa Oro hostel guests who have tossed their leftovers into our compost buckets. We’re all looking forward to the day when the first harvest of organic fruits and vegetables crop up from our composted soil, ready to share with the entire Circulo Initiative family and far beyond into the San Juan del Sur community.  

Minds and Hands at Work

Do not despise small beginnings.
Instead, embrace them to grow them.

For more info on the step-by-step process of composting, take a look at Composting 101 and The Easiest Way to Compost.