Hug-A-Tree on our island of “Corte Magore” and Keep Nicaraguan Kids in School


HugATree on Corte Magore and have your tax deductible donation work to keep Nicaraguan children in school through the Finding Corte Magore project.
HugATree on Corte Magore and have your tax deductible donation work to keep Nicaraguan children in school through the Finding Corte Magore project.

Join us on our first money-raising initiative for the Finding Corte Magore​ project. With your tax deductible $250+ donation – you, or someone you love – can be memorialized forever by “Hugging a Tree” on Corte Magore, at Hog Cay, Bluefields, Nicaragua​. I promise you, with every ounce of my being, your money will be put to very “GOOD” use.

On Google Maps the Coordinates for Corte Magore at Hog Cay are the following:

11°59’25.2″N 83°45’09.7″W

Here´s an aerial view of the island.

Tree Huggers® are created using high-grade stainless steel and are noted for being the only tree plaque that gently wraps around the tree (by means of plastic-encased springs) and expands without harming it as it grows! It will not rust or corrode or release any harmful toxins or chemicals that could harm the tree.  There are hundreds and hundreds of trees on Corte Magore at Hog Cay, Nicaragua – and we anticipate that eventually, every one of them will be memorialized by our donors.   Click here to make your tax deductible donation.

The Finding Corte Magore Project Problem: 42% of all children along the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua drop out of school by sixth grade, if they ever enroll at all. Poverty in Nicaragua drives kids out of school and into the workplace. (The Guardian).  They drop out because they don’t have shoes to walk to school, because they have to watch their siblings while their parents work, or because they have to work to support their families. They drop out because they see school as pointless. Guess what? They’re right. There are no jobs waiting for students if and when they graduate. Which means poverty will live on in Nicaragua forever. Unless…

Solution: Our project, led by Author, and Entrepreneur, Tonia Allen Gould, along with her team, aims to start to reverse this cycle of poverty in one large region of Nicaragua by driving sustainable, best practices, social good tourism to Bluefields via the island of Corte Magore at Hog Cay, Nicaragua. Our social enterprise works like this: Eco-Tourists and Flashpackers visit our island in Bluefields, driving revenue to fund programs such as: Jobs and job training on the island for locals seeking to better provide for their families, such as eco-building, island maintenance, security, hospitality, transportation, and cooking, training they can take back to their communities to earn money. By showing kids along the Atlantic Coast that their parents can be trained and then gainfully employed, we can offer children hope for a better life for themselves. Hope that may start to reverse the cycle of poverty.  By providing job opportunities for parents and making school meaningful for students, the island will free students to stay in school, go after their dreams, and spread prosperity as they become business-owners, entrepreneurs, tourism professionals, artists, scientists, coders, teachers…

We also intend to fund educational programs for students in Nicaragua – programs like a floating educational barge that delivers teachers and and school supplies to remote indigenous regions, after school sports and crafts programs that only students who stay in school can partake in, or on-island biodiversity and environmental learning research camps for older students.

The Finding Corte Magore project will establish ecotourism operations in under-developed and ecologically vulnerable areas, and set the precedent for sustainable development in a way that prevents the destruction of pristine natural habitats by irresponsible tourism. The FCM business model will be validated in the Hog Cay pilot site in Nicaragua given the biodiversity attributes and relative lack of development in the area, as well as the recent influx of visitors to the country. The FCM platform will subsequently be exported to similarly vulnerable areas with a viable and repeatable business model that creates investable and scalable opportunities to promote sustainable development.

Meanwhile, we intend to build a global, K-12 environmental learning curriculum from eco-projects happening on the island -which is an identified bio-diverse hotspot, projects that have research attraction from many of our potential partners and universities, as well as will put locals to work with proper training:

  • Building our Eco-Beach complete with a volleyball pit
  • Mangrove protection and devising ways to eliminate natural, island erosion
  • Building the bar and commissary
  • Renovating the basketball court with recyclable products like used tires
  • Building floating casitas
  • Training of locals to do construction, learn hospitality, cooking, bartending and how to captain a panga, etc.
  • Creating a Zipline from one part of the island to the other or connecting the island to a neighboring island via zipline that won’t infringe on passing boats
  • Eco-Spa – Building natural, spas from collected rainwater
  • Lighting the island for evenings
  • Building eco-sensitive tree houses on the island
  • Rebuilding the island’s suspension bridge
  • Artisanal Fishing Demonstrations with natives
  • Creating Cultural Excursions like to the Garifuna annual anniversary celebration
  • Coral Reef Restoration Projects
  • Turtle Protection and Migration Projects
  • Building Photovoltaic thermal hybrid solar collectors to convert solar radiation into thermal and electrical energy to power the island and how people may be use similar technology to power their lives after a hurricane
  • Farming Mussels in the lagoon to clean up the brown water
  • Various Eco-Farming projects – (we have access to an eco-farm across the lagoon) – training on planting and growing foods in tropical climates despite global warming
  • Figuring out how to divert town rain water and brown water from flowing into the lagoon
  • Creating and traveling with our floating educational barge to indigenous regions, bringing education to children who otherwise can’t access education
  • Inventing hurricane resistant “kit” housing for poor coastal communities led by a team of engineers in a think tank
  • Building a bird sanctuary
  • Creating Vertical Gardening Systems despite the clay soil which is conducive to growing certain types of food only
  • Implementing fishing best practices
  • Introducing diving to the area and along the many shipwrecked boats
  • Finding the tradewinds and introducing surfing to areas which are untapped or undiscovered

No other tourism venture strategically connects the dots between social good, environmentalism and education – making our project the first of its kind and further promoting sustainability by making the number of visitors, to the island, virtually limitless. Planned educational opportunities at FCM are extensive and do not just include educational experiences consumed by the eco-tourists we attract. Rather, we see an opportunity to build a K-12 environmental educational platform that makes FCM virtually accessible from anywhere in the world. A FCM student/teacher/professor/university inspired curriculum will be at the core of our offerings.

We have been in talks with many notable agencies and insitutions such as NOAA, Conservation International, CREST and UCSB’s Bren School of Environmental Science. Sustainable, best practices and conscientious travel is imperative to this region or it may be devastated by tourists. That said, the tourism is still coming to the region regardless, here’s why:  Eco-Tourism is already happening in Nicaragua  A dirt road from Managua that normally takes twelve hours to drive, is currently being paved. This connects the Atlantic Coast to the rest of Nicaragua without having to fly.  Lonely Planet calls Nicaragua the Top 4 place in the world to visit  The Canal de Nicaragua is a shipping route under construction through Nicaragua to connect the Caribbean Sea (and therefore the Atlantic Ocean) with the Pacific Ocean.

Our business partner is: Ambassador Francisco Campbell, Nicaraguan Ambassador to the U.S. and owner of 29-acre, Hog Cay. FCM has negotiated a 15-year leasehold already on the island. We are halfway there to make our vision at Corte Magore a reality.

Hog Cay Google Coordinates: 11°59’25.2″N 83°45’09.7″W.

We believe the dreams of children are the most precious resource in Nicaragua – but also the most squandered. So many dreams go unfulfilled due to extreme poverty. Something needs to be done about this.  Every child deserves a shot to go after their dreams, and the Finding Corte Magore Project intends to give it to them. We believe that achieving dreams can not only elevate children above their birth circumstances, but also their communities and, over time, their nation.

We have acquired the island through a lot of hard work and dedication, and now we need to build it out, develop programs and put the island to work to keep a nation of children in school.

Finding Corte Magore is a California Benefit Company. The purpose of a benefit corporation includes creating general public benefit, which is defined as a material positive impact on society and the environment. A benefit corporation’s directors and officers operate the business with the same authority as in a traditional corporation but are required to consider the impact of their decisions not only on shareholders but also on society and the environment. Finding Corte Magore at Hog Cay, Nicaragua is a Nicaraguan joint partnership formed under Nicaraguan law.

Project hyperlinks:

Finding Corte Magore – findingcortemagore.com

Tonia Allen Gould – toniaallengould.com, author and founder

FCM YouTube Channel

Tonia YouTube Channel

FCM Twitter – @cortemagore

FCM Facebook

Donate to FCM via PayPal (Donations are charitable and tax deductible)

Oh, and one day, we hope to see you visit us on Corte Magore!

Aerial Photo of Hog Cay - Left The Bluff and Caribbean Sea - Right Bluefields - Top Rama Cay - Bottom Escondido River

My Hometown Newspapers Connect the Dots Between My Background, Book and the Island of Corte Magore


By Culver Citizen Editor, Jeff Kenney - Culver, Indiana
By Culver Citizen Editor, Jeff Kenney

School Author Visit: SRTMS Career Day 2015 on Writing, Islanding, and Social Good


Food and Fun on Nicaragua’s Caribbean Coast


By Guest Blogger, Whitney Gould, the Finding Corte Magore project

Traveling along the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua is like shopping in a thrift shop – the gems are there, but you have to search for them.  And when I say gems, I mean the most gleaming gems of all.  From its jungle river rides to its coconut-infused cuisine, the often overlooked Caribbean Coast is full of discoveries, activities, and cuisine that left the three of us – my mother and founder of Finding Corte Magore, and Eric Anderson, FCM’s Communications Director and me – feeling as if we’d found a new wonder of the world in Bluefields, Nicaragua.

Bluefields was named after the Dutch pirate Abraham Blauvelt who hid in the bay’s waters in the early 17th century.[1] It has a population of 87,000 (2005)[2] and its inhabitants are mostly Mestizo, Afro-descendant Creoles, and indigenous Miskitu, along with smaller communities of Garifuna, whites, Chinese, Mayangnas, Ulwas, and Ramas. Bluefields is Nicaragua’s chief Caribbean port, from which hardwood, seafood, shrimpand lobster are exported. Bluefields was a rendezvous for English and Dutch buccaneers in the 16th and 17th century and became capital of the English protectorate over the Mosquito Coast in 1678. During United States interventions (1912–15, 1926–33) in Nicaragua, American Marines were stationed there. In 1984, the United States mined the harbor (along with those of Corinto and Puerto Sandino). Bluefields was destroyed by Hurricane Joan in 1988 but was rebuilt. (Source:  Wikipedia)

When traveling to this coastal region in Latin America, you’ll want some handy tips on the food and fun. Here’s where to start:

Food – When it comes to food, try everything with the Nicaraguans’ trademark coconut flare.  Coconut accents enhance the flavors of rice, shrimp, and bread in ways you’ve never tasted. Hunt down a bakery selling signature pan de coco (coconut bread) – a dish with subtle but delectable hints of coconut that grow on you as you eat it. It’s nearly impossible to save any for later. If I’ve tempted your taste buds and no immediate trip to Nicaragua is in your future, trying making your own pan de coco bread at home with this recipe.

For seafood, try Pelican Bay (or as the local taxi drivers call it, “El Pelicano”) – not necessarily for the cuisine (although it’s good), but for the view. Take a look at the dishes cooked with coconut – I recommend the shrimp and rice.  It was so good I ordered it two days in a row.  Be sure to find a seat outside.  Seated over Bluefields Bay, the balcony offers amazing views of the water and nearby islands.  It’s a great place to take pictures of the passing pangas, well-presented dishes, or better yet, both:

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View over Bluefields Bay from Pelican Bay restaurant
Fred Ulrich, Casa Ulrich
Fred Ulrich, Casa Ulrich, Pearl Lagoon, Nicaragua
Casa Ulrich CuisineFun – A foolproof way to have fun in Nicaragua is to spend time in the water.  Take a panga through the bay and the connecting rivers.  This is the easiest (and sometimes only) way to travel from place to place.  Pearl Lagoon*, home of Fred Ulrich’s restaurant, Casa Ulrich, is known for vibrant locals, a beach-like atmosphere, and big screen TVs for sports fanatics.  Order the seafood platter, have a beer, play a game of beach soccer, and you’re sure to have a fun-filled day.

If you’re up for the day trip, take some time to go to Pearl Lagoon by boat.  Fred Ulrich, Swiss trained chef and Nicaragua local, owns this top-notch seafood restaurant right off the dock. Since you’ll be staying for dinner as well as lunch, be sure to try the seafood pasta in both the red and white sauces.  Don’t forget to wash your food down with a Toña Cerveza – the most popular beer in Nicaragua (and we see why)!  Watch the video below as Eric gives his critique of this Nicaraguan beer.

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Soccer match on the new beachfront recently installed at Casa Ulrich
HugKey
HugKey, Bluefields, Nicaragua
DSC_4190If you have time for another day trip, schedule a tour at CEDEHCA’s own farm, HugKey**.  HugKey is a sanctuary unlike any other for ducks, pigs, turkeys, and chickens.  Set on a lush, sprawling, open field, the island is also covered with gardens, fruit trees, and vegetable patches.  Plus, your visit contributes to a great cause.  CEDEHCA is using the farm to teach young people how to raise farm animals -like hogs, chickens and turkeys, grow fruits and vegetables, and sell to local businesses.  If you’re interested in visiting the farm, contact Earl Gregory Taylor, CEDEHCA’s Operations Coordinator, at (505) 8430 0884 or earl.taylor@cedehcanicaragua.com.  Munch on some sugar cane while you’re there!  

*Be sure to wear pants to protect from local mosquitos! – Yes, I learned the hard way. By the time, I left Pearl Lagoon, I had over 50 mosquito bites on my legs. Mom and Eric both paid heed to local advice to wear bug spray, but I thought I was impervious to what I thought I was only local lore. By the way, my mom was using her own lavender, orange and euculyptus natural oil concoction and she escaped the whole trip without a single bite.

SnakeOh yes, and do watch out for snakes, while touring any tall, grassy areas – after all, you are in the jungle.

I hope you fall in love with the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua like I did.  Open yourself up to experience the flavors, personality, and beauty of the coast and its people, and I promise that you, too, will enjoy not only these gems, but will find some of your own!

Some day soon, we hope to see you visit us on Corte Magore at Hog Cay, Nicaragua!

image2 DSC_3695 CM1 DSC_4067 DSC_4095

Welcome to the Jungle


By Lorna Pierno

When I travel back to Nicaragua, the phrase “Welcome to the Jungle” means more than the iconic Guns & Roses song.

Here, “Welcome to the Jungle” means waking up to the sounds of roosters crowing, birds chirping, and the leaves on the palm trees swaying to alert us of a pending storm. It means returning to the jungle of my childhood and the vivid memories that live here, like when I laid the first brick of what would later become the family farmhouse I sit in now, looking out at the trees that my brother and I climbed when we were kids.

“Welcome to the Jungle” means I’m home at Finca Zaragoza, a luscious coffee farm located on over 500 acres of nature in the mountains of Nicaragua’s La Dalia region.
Lorna's Laptop

In the blink of an eye, over 30 years have passed since I climbed those trees. While much of the coffee farm remains the same, there is one big, new addition that fills me with hope for the future of the country. Across the way, in what used to be an open cement field where we dried coffee beans and I learned how to ride a bike, there is now a schoolhouse.

In 2012, my father, Omar Perez Leclair, built the schoolhouse for the kids of the farm workers who harvest coffee here. Prior to the schoolhouse, parents struggled to keep their kids in school. Unable to afford cars, the only way for kids to get to school was “on foot,” and since the nearest schools were five to ten miles away, the kids’ shoes would quickly wear out. Without money to spend on new shoes, parents would sometimes just take their kids out of school. By building a school on the farm, we hoped to save not only kids’ shoes, but their dreams.

Francis, a 7-year-old girl, who enjoys playing hide-n-seek with her friends, told me she wants to become a doctor so she can take care of anyone who gets sick.

Francis’s family has worked in Finca Zaragoza for many, many years. My mother taught her grandfather, Don Julio, now retired, to read and write. He will never forget it and tells me this same story every time he sees me. For me, the joy he got from learning to read and write reinforces the importance of investing in Nicaragua’s future by making sure that essential resources (such as accredited teachers, desks, notebooks, pencils, a chalkboard, etc.) are in place to educate the kids.  Francis

Despite the efforts of people like my father, many kids here will not make it past the 6th grade. Their parents will force them to start working in the city, the streets, or in other farms so that they can help contribute towards food and clothing to support the rest of the family – including younger brothers/sisters and grandparents. Without school, many won’t have a shot at fulfilling their dreams.

I need only look at my own path to see how important school was in building the life I lead in Los Angeles. In 1983, my family and I fled to the United States. I was in 2nd grade, enrolled in “El Americano” School and learning how to speak English, when fighting between the Sandinistas and the US-supported Contras grew severe, causing Nicaragua’s economic and civil rights conditions to worsen. My family and I settled in the San Fernando Valley in California, and I enrolled in the 3rd grade with American kids. I quickly learned how to read and write in English, and by the end of the school year, I was helping my American classmates with their homework. I admit, I was kind of a nerd, but I just LOVED going to school and I never missed a day – I looked forward to winning “perfect attendance” awards at the end of the year. When I got chicken pox in 4th grade, I was crushed that I had to miss a full week.

I went on to attend Bishop Alemany High School in Mission Hills, CA, and then CSUN (California State University Northridge), where I graduated with a bachelor’s in Business Administration. After graduating, I ventured into the world of marketing at several fast-paced telecommunications companies.

Today, I am thankful for all the events that have led me to this point, and feel that the school is an expression of our gratitude and hope for the parents and children in Finca Zaragoza. Yet for as many as we’ve helped, there are millions more across Nicaragua who are forgotten. Spreading quality education to a whole country of children is a huge task, one requiring big ideas, hard work, and the coordinated efforts of dedicated people. It’s more than my family and I can do alone.

Then, one day, on Facebook, I saw a video about the Finding Corte Magore Project.  But, it was this personal video from Tonia, about Finding Corte Magore, that got my attention the most because it tells the story on how her personal journey to Corte Magore began and how that relates to my own experiences, growing-up Nicaraguan.

I’d known Tonia Allen Gould, the project’s founder/CEO, for several years after we’d worked together in Los Angeles and became friends on social media. I learned that Tonia had published a children’s book, Samuel T. Moore of Corte Magore, and now was turning the book’s fictional island of Corte Magore into a real island in Nicaragua to help kids stay in school. I knew I wanted to learn more, be a part of it, and help Nicaraguan students fulfill their dreams by helping Tonia fulfill hers. When Tonia approached me about visiting kids in Nicaragua, I welcomed her with open arms.

One conversation led to another and six weeks after our initial conversation, we were at the schoolhouse in Finca Zaragoza watching the kids’ faces glow as most of them received coloring paper and crayons for the very first time. They also received an English lesson from Tonia for the very first time as she taught them to say “Samuel T. Moore of Corte Magore.”

Ultimately, I understood that The Finding Corte Magore Project’s mission was to bring awareness to education in a country that desperately needs it.  This trip to the schoolhouse was a starting point for a grand initiative, a vision and a project that started out as a dream in the pages of a children’s book but was going to leap off the pages into reality.

So with great hope and excitement, I invite Tonia, the island, and the Finding Corte Magore Project to Nicaragua by saying: Welcome to the Jungle.

About the Finding Corte Magore Project: Our goal is to crowdfund a “social good” island in Nicaragua to raise awareness to the children who may drop out of school before reaching the sixth grade. In an effort to promote dreaming amongst children at home and abroad, our goal is to rebrand the 29-acre island of Hog Cay, to Corte Magore, after the fictional island in the children’s picture book, Samuel T. Moore of Corte Magore, authored by Tonia Allen Gould. The main character in this story had to overcome a lot of challenges to accomplish his goal of building a life for himself.  We believe, with a little help from students and teachers in the US, crowdfunders, and the Finding Corte Magore Project, that the children in Nicaragua too can create a better life for themselves as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THREE ENGINE FAILURE ADVENTURES IN NICARAGUA


By Eric Anderson

As the panga roared away from the dock and into the humid twilight of Laguna de Perlas, Tonia, Whitney, and I waved goodbye to Mr. Fred and the partiers at Hotel Casa Ulrich, his beachfront restaurant where we’d spent the afternoon eating fresh seafood, dancing to Caribbean music, and playing a made-up volleyball-soccer hybrid game straight out of childhood – only better now, because we could drink beer.

 
The party animal in me wished we’d taken Mr. Fred up on his offer to stay the night at his hotel so the fun could go on.  But we had to get back to Casa Rosa, our hotel in Bluefields, before nightfall.  The next day, we’d arranged to visit the Pearl Cays, a snorkeling and diving destination with clear waters and abundant marine life.  To get there, however, we needed our passports, and Whitney and I had left those at Casa Rosa.  So we would come back this way tomorrow morning, which was pretty okay, too, because it meant we’d get a couple more panga rides up and down the stunning Kukra River (watch documentary) that connected Laguna de Perlas and Bluefields.

Warm breeze in our hair, cold beers in our hands, it was a fantastic ride.

“I could do this all day,” Tonia had said on the way over.

Now, sitting near the bow of the boat, I directed my camera at the passing shoreline and brought into focus a green-grey blur of palm trees and foliage, the leaves fat and wet from the light afternoon rains, broken only by a sporadic flash of color in the decorated fishing boats, tin-roof huts, and laundry lines of an indigenous village.  Orlando, our driver from Casa Rosa’s Rumble in the Jungle, had selected the biggest, fastest panga – with a 200hp outboard motor – at Casa Rosa because it could make the winding 30 mile trip between Bluefields and Laguna de Perlas in 50 minutes, and because it had room for his brother, friend, and girlfriend.  As we traveled further, the distance between each village became greater.  Soon, we would cruise down the throat of the Kukra River, and the jungle would close in around us.

I was about to start recording when the panga came to a sudden, jolting stop in the middle of the lagoon, throwing me against the bench hard enough to briefly knock the breath out of me.  The cooler we’d stocked that morning with Toña beers and bottled water slid into the bench Whitney was sitting on.  Jicaro, a skinny 17-year-old boy, had been sitting on the bow but was now on the floor of the boat.  I rose, unhurt but unsteady, and looked over him to see what we’d hit.

There was nothing.  Just open water.

I turned to Tonia and Whitney, searching their faces for what had happened, only to hear the answer a moment later in the wa-wa-wa-wa-wa of an engine refusing to start as Orlando turned the ignition.

Wa-wa-wa-wa-wa.  Wa-wa-wa-wa-wa.  Wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa –

As Orlando tried and failed to start the engine, Tonia gave me a knowing smile.  “Didn’t I tell you we’d have an adventure?” she said.

Before coming to Nicaragua for the Finding Corte Magore Project, she had promised me an adventure.  With a week of experiential tourism offerings involving filming the 29-acre island of Corte Magore on Hog Cay, meeting with the Campbell family (the island’s owners and Finding Corte Magore’s partners), and exploring an eco-farm, Bluefields nightlife, restaurants, casinos, and surrounding areas like Laguna de Perlas, I had no doubt an adventure would happen.  I did not, however, expect it on day two, and frankly wasn’t convinced a minor mechanical hiccup qualified.  Everything we’d done today had gone off without a hitch, and I was pretty sure the boat would start back up in a second…

Wa-wa-wa-wa-wa.  Wa-wa-wa-wa-wa.

Frowning, Orlando raised the engine from the water so he and his friend, a large guy in a Boston Red Sox hat, could examine it.

We waited, bobbing listlessly in the middle of the lagoon.

  
I scanned the shoreline for civilization, but there was none.  We had only gone a mile or two, but it was enough.  There were no villages in sight, no other boats passing by.

Wa-wa-wa-wa-wa…

That sound was starting to get on my nerves.

Tonia dug out her iPhone.

“Who are you calling?” Whitney asked.

“I’m going to ask Mr. Fred to tow us back,” she said.  “I worked at a marina in Indiana.  I know what a broken engine sounds like.”

Mr. Fred had given her his number just before we left and told her to call anytime.  He would have a good laugh at this one, I thought.  Mr. Fred had offered several times to accommodate us for the night, and, when we’d declined because we didn’t have our passports, offered us use of the showers and a change of clothes and, when we’d declined that, suggested we at least stay for one more round of beers.  “You must have work to get back to,” Tonia had said.  “We never work on Saturdays,” Mr. Fred said with a smile.  Now here we were, about to take Mr. Fred up on all of his hospitality after all.

Tonia frowned.

“He didn’t pick up?” I asked.

“The call’s not going through.”  She dialed again.  Again, the call didn’t go through.  “How do you make local calls?”

There were seven of us on the boat, but we couldn’t figure it out.  Orlando gave Tonia his phone and this time, the call went through.  But Mr. Fred didn’t pick up.  Tonia dialed him again.  Again, Mr. Fred didn’t pick up.  Tonia left a voicemail, explaining the situation and asking Mr. Fred for a ride back.

“So much for calling him any time,” she said, jokingly.

“They’re probably still partying,” Whitney said.

“Okay so we need to call the restaurant itself.”  No one had the number to the restaurant.  Back on her iPhone, Tonia googled Casa Ulrich, but the connection was slow.  We waited, silently, as the webpage loaded and she got the number.  Using Orlando’s phone now, she dialed.

No one picked up at the restaurant either.

At least for now, Casa Ulrich was a dead end.

Orlando called Casa Rosa in Bluefields.  Someone picked up, but that didn’t do us any good.  Randy and Rosa, the owners, were gone for the week on a fishing trip.  Casa Rosa had several spare pangas, but everyone who worked there who could operate one had taken a vacation day to come on this boat with us… this boat that was stranded in the middle of a lagoon with a busted engine, a long way from home, without any help on the way.

I had to smile at how fitting it was that we’d found ourselves living out a textbook opening to a horror movie.  When I’d first met Tonia on a flight from LA to Chicago, I was working as a script reader at a horror film company and was all too familiar with the scenario we found ourselves in now.  A group of tourists spend the day living it up in paradise.  Just when they think nothing can go wrong, they get stranded in the wilderness.  They have no cell reception, but one of their cameras is conveniently still going and catches every moment in trendy shakycam as a monster rises from the muddy depths of the lagoon and tears them apart… 

There were no monsters in the lagoon.  There were, however, alligators.  Baby alligators, Orlando had stressed.  They couldn’t eat people… though I wondered whether whatever gave birth to these baby alligators could.  Fred Jr., Mr. Fred’s son, had joked that there were anacondas.  Tonia had joked there were piranhas.  Everyone was a comedian when we were safely ashore.

Looming nightfall, however, was a more realistic challenge.  I’d heard earlier that the only boats on the river at night were those of drug dealers, but even they rarely frequented the waters, given Nicaragua is the safest country in Latin America.  By nightfall, we’d have to do watch rotations.  We’d have to figure out a way to light-up the boat so no one crashed into us.  We’d have to split, what, the five or six bottles of water left in the cooler? The beer would have to be rationed. Oh no!

Wa-wa-wa-wa-wa.  Orlando tried one last time then shook his head, defeated.

“Battery,” he said.  “Engine,” Tonia said.

So his friend proceeded to peel off his shirt, shorts, and Red Sox hat and jump into the water.  He hadn’t expected the water to be so shallow and hit the bottom hard, tumbling over.  For the first time since the boat stalled, we laughed.  Jicaro jumped in next and started pushing as well.

Unable to restart the engine or call for a pick-up, we had come upon our last resort: pushing the panga back to shore.  I powered up my camera.  This was turning out to be an adventure after all.  Which meant I had work to do.

Part of the reason I was on this trip was to gather footage for the Finding Corte Magore documentary.  I imagined the film telling an inspiring tale about the obstacles Tonia and her team overcame to make the fictional island in her children’s book real.  I knew of many of the obstacles already – locating the island, negotiating with the Ambassador to let us use it for the project, crowdfunding it, building it up, and managing it for tourists. But surely we could find room in the film for getting stranded in a jungle river, too.  I pressed record:

Maybe more than two miles.  I couldn’t even see the village Casa Ulrich was located in.  Pushing a panga was slow-going so whatever the distance, by the time we made it back, it would be nighttime.

Jicaro waded to the bow of the boat and started pulling the rope used to dock it.  After steering the panga on its course back to Casa Ulrich, Orlando jumped into the water as well and started pushing.  I felt a sudden urge to do the same.  So, kicking off my flip-flops and holding my $1,000 Canon D70 above my head, I stepped over the side of the boat and into the water.  It was bathwater warm.  The bottom consisted of a squishy mud that sucked in my feet.  I felt like the intrepid storyteller I’d always dreamed of being but, in this business, so often remains a dream.  As I filmed, I felt myself enter the sweetspot of adventure.  This plan was last-ditch, slow-going, ludicrous, but spirits were as high as they’d been all afternoon.

There was only one thing that could make the adventure sweeter…

And Tonia made it happen by doing what I imagine every documentary filmmaker would want from its chief subject: without prompting her, she jumped into the water and started pushing the boat, too.

As a storyteller, a part of my mind is often separate from whatever’s going on before me, running through quality control checklists: What am I trying to get across?  How do I get that across?  What contribution am I making to this story, all stories, the world?  Here as I filmed Tonia pushing the panga, I thought of the famous shot of General Douglas MacArthur wading ashore in the Philippines WWII, of Daniel Craig announcing his presence as the new 007 in Casino Royale by strutting through the Caribbean.  Walking through water isolated human toughness.  Motors broke, cellphones died, but willpower was its own power source.  The idea that, through hard work, anything is possible was a central message to the Finding Corte Magore Project, and here it was in action. Our fearless leader did not let us down. I waded behind, ahead of, and to the side of the boat, shooting as much and from as many angles as I could before Tonia climbed back in.

As we went along, the water started getting deeper, and I had to hold the camera higher and higher.  It rose to my waist, then my stomach.  When it reached my torso, I decided there’d been enough mechanical failure for one day, and put the camera back aboard the panga.  Then, unable to resist becoming a character in the story, I grabbed the side of the boat and started to push.

We docked the panga at the first fishing village we came across.  A dock worker and two small children had seen us approaching and were waiting for us.  Orlando explained the problem and, a few minutes later, the dockworker had a fresh battery.

“This is why I love Nicaraguans,” Tonia said as they connected the new battery.  “They’re some of the friendliest and most helpful people I’ve ever met.”

Orlando fired up the engine.  Wa-wa-wa-wa-wa.  Wa-wa-wa-wa-wa.  Wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa –

So it wasn’t the battery after all.

Tonia sighed.  “I knew it wasn’t the battery.  The battery starts the engine.  Once it’s running, even if it goes out, the engine would keep going.”

Eventually, a fisherman tied our panga to his and towed us the rest of the way back to Mr. Fred’s.  As we neared, we saw the beach party was still in full swing.  The partiers gathered on the pier and greeted us with big grins, none bigger than the told-you-so grin of Mr. Fred as he helped us off the panga and onto the pier.

He couldn’t resist saying it either.  “Told you! You should’ve stayed!” he said.

Our engine failure adventures continued.  A few days later we were taking a panga away from Corte Magore on Hog Cay in the lagoon when the engine died and the boat came to a (much gentler) stop in the middle of Bluefields Bay.  Here we go again, I thought.  

All afternoon, I had been gathering on-island footage for the crowdfunding video, something I’d been waiting to do for months.  Having done it at last, I’d awarded, if only to myself, a “mission accomplished,” and allowed myself to turn off the camera and settle in for the ride.  It seemed I had celebrated too soon.

Juan Martinez, our driver and our island handyman, took the casing off of the engine and started fiddling with it as Tonia told the story of our Laguna de Perlas engine failure to Earl, our guide.  Earl is a coordinator for CEDEHCA (Centro de Derechos Humanos, Ciudadanos y Autonómicos, or the Center for Human Rights, Civil and Autonomous), a human rights organization stationed in Bluefields and run by the Campbell family.  He had given us the tour of the island and the eco farm.  Now we were swapping engine failure tales when we heard the throaty but lyrical roar of the engine coming back to life.

Within minutes, Juan had fixed the engine, and got a job offer:

After we’d docked at Casa Rosa, Tonia turned to Whitney and me, smiling.  “That makes two engine failures.  We’re due for one more.  Things always happen to me in threes.”

I would have considered this no more than an idle superstition had I not read Tonia’s memoir-in-progress, When it Comes in Threes.  In it, she traced threepeats through her adult life and childhood.  If Tonia’s rule of threes held true here, we were indeed due for one more engine failure, and running out of time for it to happen.  It was our last night in Bluefields.  Tomorrow, we’d fly to Managua.  I don’t think any of us liked the idea of climbing into a single prop plane with fate owing us one last engine failure.

So it was with some relief when, that evening, our cab broke down as we were driving to a seafood restaurant called Pelican Bay.

“This is the third time!” Tonia said, vindicated.  “I told you things always happen to me in threes!”

As if to reinforce it, Tonia gave the driver three unsuccessful turns of the key before calling Earl, who we were meeting for dinner.  Tonia checked with Earl if we were in a safe area (we were, even though a large, muscular man standing on the sidewalk made me uneasy), and had him talk to the driver in Spanish.  An arrangement was made to have the driver’s cousin pick us up.  We were getting good at this.

The next day we boarded a small prop plane and slept easily on a wonderfully unadventurous flight back to Managua, and eventually – safely back on American soil – I marveled at the experiential tourist this trip had helped me become.”  

As a follow-up to this post, we got a kick out of a tweet Tonia received on Twitter. It reads, “@MyWeego: Sorry @ToniaAllenGould. If you had a Weego jump-starter, you could be back on the water in no time. Check it out 🙂 http://t.co/0zculKdDYf” 
Given the frequent trips to Nicaragua, we might just have to buy the WEEGO jumpstarter and battery pack. 

Getting Off My One-Acre Island

How one author’s children’s picture book unfolded out for her in real life eventually making a fictional place real for social good.


On Corte magoreFifteen months ago, I had an “AHA” moment that, at first, involved marketing my book, Samuel T. Moore of Corte Magore, an epic children’s tale about a land and sea fiddler crab who wandered onto a beautiful island called Corte Magore. Sam wanted to stay and live there forever, but had to first overcome obstacles like building himself a home before the tides came in to sweep him back out to sea. He also had to work around naysayers and the big, bad beast, the Great Tidal Wave.  Sam was a dreamer and a hard worker. He made mistakes but each time he failed, learned to pull himself up again and again by his bootstraps.

If you know me well, you’ll know there are some parallels between Samuel T. Moore of Corte Magore and my own life. Like Sam, I’m tenacious and a hard worker. Also like Sam, I too was once searching for a home. At the age of fifteen, I was placed in foster care. Mine was a dysfunctional family living well below the poverty line and things were often difficult for me growing up. The naysayer in my life was the system – the statistics that said I wasn’t supposed to break the cycle. Many children don’t, but I fortunately did. I’m resourceful, entrepreneurial, and when I’ve failed, I learned early on to pick myself up gracefully and work to get myself right back on track – just like Sam. I broke the mold and I know, in my heart of hearts, that it’s my duty to share with others that they can do it too. Despite their circumstances.

I tried to ingrain many pearls of wisdom throughout Samuel T. Moore of Corte Magore. If only I had a book, growing up, that told me it was okay to be searching for something, that acknowledged that my dreams had validity, that being punctual and minding the time and deadlines were important, and that though there would be bullies and naysayers in my life trying to squelch my dreams, it was up to me to tackle them anyway. Somehow, early on, I learned I’d have to do most everything for myself and on my own and that being independent can be incredibly empowering, even for a child faced with life’s difficulties.

My story was one I HAD to tell. But just telling it wasn’t enough. I had to figure out a way to market my book in a big way to children so they could make my story and Sam’s story, about overcoming obstacles and persevering, their own.

One morning, right before I woke up – a time when being “almost” lucid often brings clarity to my problems – the way to market my book in a big way came to me in an “AHA” moment. “AHA, I’ve got it,” I thought as I sat straight-up in bed. “If you can name a star in the sky, then why can’t I find some postage-stamped-sized island, somewhere in the world, and name it Corte Magore?”

That crazy, absurd, half-cocked idea put me on a personal journey that has changed the course of my life – rallied even my own family, one that’s forced me to get off my own personal, one-acre suburban “island” in Southern California, a life I eventually built for myself, step out of my cush comfort zone – and onto a real life, 29-acre, living/breathing, bio-diverse island along the devastatingly poor, Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua. That “AHA” moment, caused my passion (writing books for children) to be met with its purpose – having an island work to somehow keep an impoverished nation of child drop-outs in school. One adventure lead me to the next, just like in my story. And that “AHA” moment has snowballed into a new tale that now involves an ambassador, universities, conservation, eco-tourism, environmental learning, ocean science, crowdfunding, grant-writing, television/film, real estate development, and much, much more. In the course of a year, I’ve traveled to Nicaragua three times and have fallen in love with its people and possibilities, but most importantly, I’ve fallen in love with the journey to “Finding Corte Magore”.

Over the next few days and weeks, my team on the Finding Corte Magore project and I will attempt to break down this amazing adventure for you. Look for videos, pictures, and blog posts as we unfold the story from varying perspectives.

I promise that when it’s all over, you will be inspired to get up, dust off some of those old dreams of your own, dare to get off your own islands and realize that nothing at all is impossible.

See you on Corte Magore!

Tonia Allen Gould

http://www.findingcortemagore.com

I Grew-Up Dirt Poor in Indiana, but, Still I had Hope


But, Still, I Had Hope… 

Someone asked me last night – challenged me really, over dinner while talking about the Finding Corte Magore project. “Why not do all this in the U.S.? Why Nicaragua?” My answer? “I grew-up dirt poor, living below the poverty line. But, books, education, teachers, welfare and our American laws saved me. I had hope. And, everyone deserves hope.   

The poorest children in the U.S. have so much more hope than most of the kids in Nicaragua, one of the poorest places on the planet. Kids in Nicaragua are forced to eventually choose work over school, if they ever enrolled in the first place.  My goal is to teach kids in the U.S. that no matter how bad they have it – someone, somewhere, has things worse. And, in Nicaragua, my goal there is to let kids know that it’s okay to have hope and dream for a better life.” – Tonia

Please join this important discussion regarding the Finding Corte Magore project on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FindingCorteMagore/posts/840844052658052

A Personal Path to Growth


This week, I’m especially thankful – thankful I have a solid roof over my head and a home with windows and doors, and readily available food hand-picked from a market, proper medicine and supplies, running water and yes, definitely yes, flushing toilet facilities and a roll of paper always at an arm’s reach to me.

I’m equally thankful I’ve seen with my own eyes, through experiential and cultural travel, a part of the world along the Caribbean Coast, in developing Nicaragua – so now I know what it means to call myself truly fortunate.

I’m thankful for the opportunities, present and past, I’ve had bestowed upon me simply because I’m a red, white and blue, flag-waving American, and thankful to know I could, if I had to, live without surplus and modern conveniences, electricity and things that don’t really matter if it came down to instinctual survival. I am heartened and enlightened to know there are nations of people everywhere, especially in developing countries, that know far more about survival than many of us ever could. And, it is they that have much to show us on what that really means, and globally, we can each benefit from showcasing our cultural differences in a non-exploitative, educational way.

I’m thankful to know I can survive under dire circumstances because I’ve seen people, with my own eyes, who have literally nothing and yet maybe, in some ways, they have everything they could ever want and need, because they know how to live and thrive in some of the poorest conditions on the planet and still know what it means to be a part of a community and to love and support their families.

I’m thankful that I can now put my personal judgements and biases aside, because I’ve seen impoverished children, far more impoverished than I ever was growing up – living below the poverty line in Midwestern America. While many of the people I met may be lacking in opportunity, Nicaraguan children still smile and are happy, because they are each cared for by an entire village of people, and causes, who invest their hearts and souls into their wellbeing and care, despite economic conditions.

Mostly, I am thankful that I have stumbled upon the Finding Corte Magore project which has put me on a personal path to growth and the opportunity to work and mindshare with some of the smartest and caring people I can ever hope to know. I am thankful that we have “found” Corte Magore and that I have had the great pleasure of coming to know the Campbell family, and their beautiful, private island of Hog Cay, Nicaragua, and that I have personally earned their family’s trust and support in the Finding Corte Magore project. It’s a huge undertaking and I’m comforted to know, it will take our own village of incredible people, to raise this project to be everything it promises to be.

See you on Corte Magore!
The Finding Corte Magore Project
Coming Soon on Hog Cay, Nicaragua

Tonia Allen Gould

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The Finding Corte Magore Project, Live in Nicaragua


Day 1:
We woke-up in Managua, Nicaragua’s Capital. We had hoped to be on the future site of the Finding Corte Magore project today on Hog Cay, but our flight to Bluefields, Nicaragua cancelled due to a tropical depression that moved in. We took advantage of the rain delay and Team Finding Corte Magore hired a driver and we traversed our way to historical Grenada. We hit the streets and really got to be tourists on foot and from inside a horse carriage. The highlight of our day was spending time out on Lago Nicaragua and getting caught in the rain.

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A Better Life for Yourself is Tangible and Within Your Reach


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I went into my first foster home when I was fifteen-years-old. Back then I knew a better life for myself was tangible and within my reach, I just had to want it and reach out and grab it. Books taught me that. Books, teachers, and having access to education saved me.

~Tonia Allen Gould
the Finding Corte Magore project

One-third of all Nicaraguan kids will drop out of school before they reach the 6th grade .

So, Did You Know I Want to Buy an Island in Central America?


Children’s picture book author, Tonia Allen Gould, wants to crowd-fund an island to bring awareness to the children of Nicaragua who drop out of school, on average, by the sixth grade.

The Finding Corte Magore Project works virtually to connect a global community of students and crowd funders in real time with the plight of educationally and economically repressed Nicaragua. The project incorporates social entrepreneurialism, gamification, and augmented reality and involves showcasing, purchasing and managing, through collective voting processes, one of the country’s own small, yet beautiful islands to create awareness, coupled with sustainable, positive and long-term impact on the country’s people.

Samuel T. Moore of Corte Magore Original Musical Score by Robby Armstrong, Copyright (C) Tonia Allen Gould, All Rights Reserved.

Introducing “The Finding Corte Magore Project”


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With the help of an amazing team of crowd funders, entertainment industry and international tourism execs behind this project; we intend to bring one of the most exciting and socially contributed campaigns to the crowd fund scene.

See you on Corte Magore!

Tonia Allen Gould