Last week there was a long holiday for Independence Day, so we went to explore the stunning canyons, mountains and forests of the Northern Highlands in Nicaragua. It was quite a change from Granada both culturally and temperature wise – we had to wear jumpers and trousers for the first time in six weeks!
Somoto Canyon is about 50 meters high with a deep river flowing through the bottom (West-Countryers: imagine Cheddar Gorge in an enormous flood), and is so close to the Honduran boarder that you have to carry your visa with you the whole time. We worked our way through for 4 hours, hopping over rocks, floating down the rapids, jumping from 2-12 metre heights into the water and boating the final stretch in an old canoe. One of the best parts was where the river slowed right down and we floated on our backs looking straight up at the sky, with rock faces covered in jungle plants, orchids and butterflies on either side. Slightly less relaxing was almost floating into a spider the size of my hand when we stopped! Nick managed a jump from 12 metres (see Nick’s jump here), and I managed a princely 3/4 metres after much nervous faffing on top of my tiny rock.
In Miraflor Nature Reserve we stayed with 2 local farming families, which we booked through an awesome sustainable tourism company: https://treehuggers.cafeluzyluna.org/. We took the one extremely slow local bus (at 5.15am, ouch!) over an extremely bumpy road, then hiked way off the path to get to the first farm. Staying with the families was pretty rugged (think bucket shower) but a great experience. Almost everything they eat and drink comes from about a 50 meter radius. They pick, process, grind and roast their own coffee (it tastes amazing!), and grow plantains, vegetables, frijoles (beans) and potatoes as well as making cheese and tortillas from scratch. All the food is cooked over a wooden fire in a glorified shed, and the food that is ‘processed’ (maiz for tortillas and coffee beans) is all done through one tiny manual grinder. I had a go at making a tortilla, it took about 4 times as long as it should have but didn’t look too bad!
During the day we rambled up waterfalls, crossed forests of ghostly trees covered in ‘Old Men’s Beards’, saw the Nicaraguan national bird (turquoise motmot), leaf-cutter ants and hidden coffee/banana plantations. We climbed to several miradors with amazing views and visited caves that were used as hideouts for families during the war, where we were told legends of the local area.
Outdoor Art Gallery
We caught yet another crack-of-dawn, spine-jangling bus into Tísey nature reserve to visit Don Alberto the ‘hermit’ sculptor, a 76 year old who lives in a tiny wooden shack in the forest and spends his days carving a 40 meter stretch of rock on a cliff edge with fantastical animals, places, people and religious memorabilia. Meeting him was amazing. He is a gentle, generous, eccentric character, constantly diving into trees and bushes to collect fruit and flowers to gift to us and spontaneously breaking into poetry recitals about Christopher Columbus. While showing us his artwork he’d pause every 2 minutes, beam, and wave his arms vaguely at the trees/sky /mountains/view/fruit/flowers saying ‘Look how beautiful the…are!’ His land is all fruit trees and carved rocks, backing onto a sheer drop off the side of the mountain, so a pretty dramatic background to an outdoor art gallery.
For Nick’s photos, click here: https://flic.kr/s/aHskEs6oFi
Hasta la proxima!