Cañón de Somoto

…a peaceful yet active exploration of a pristinely beautiful canyon hosted by local people. Incredible.

I began my Nicaraguan excursions with a 3-day backpacking trip to Somoto Canyon, which is one of the best decisions I’ve made on my travels. I had to wait a few extra days in León to go with a tour group but the trip turned out to be one of the most extraordinary things I’ve ever done. I went with Quetzaltrekkers, a volunteer-run tour company that donates almost all of what you pay to local organizations working with at-risk youth. In fact, they donate a portion of their proceeds to the very same organization that I volunteered with and their volunteers also spend time working in the local organizations. Brilliant.

Our first day was spent navigating the inexpensive chicken buses towards Somoto to ensure more of our money would go to the community. We stopped in Estelí for an interesting tour of a cigar factory where I was amazed at the amount of work that goes into making a single cigar and overwhelmed by the smell of tobacco leaves. We then put on a show for the locals as we prepared and ate our lunch at the station while waiting for the bus.

Our digs the first night

When we arrived at the local finca (farm) where we would stay the night we were greeted by the giant smile of our gracious host, Henry. Henry has a small hospedaje (lodging) and comedor (restaurant) on his farm where he lives with 8 family members in a lovely campo setting. He showed us to an empty farm house where we set up our tents while his children climbed the trees nearby. I loved that cows, turkeys, pigs, chickens, ducks, geese, cats, dogs, horses, donkeys, rabbits and the babies of nearly all of those ran amuck on about a quarter of an acre.  The family prepared us a delicious dinner and one gentlemen showed me how he had trained the cat to jump through his arms…quite impressive!

Tortillas!

Tortillas!

The next morning I was excited to try my hand at making tortillas under the tutelage one of Henry’s relatives, a good-humored woman who had no qualms about laughing at an inferior product. I escaped her laughter and apparently impressed her with my tortilla-making skills as she was showing mine off to her family. Success! We tasted the fresh milk that others opted to squeeze from cows that morning as well as our tortilla attempts with breakfast.  Then we met our guides, one was Henry’s brother from the finca, put on our life vests and hopped on a bus to make our way to the entry point into the canyon.

Somoto Canyon is located near the northern border of the country and was carved by the Río Coco that left white stone walls up to 150m high and as narrow as 5m. Discovered in just 2004, it is protected as a national monument and as such contained the cleanest water I had seen in Nicaragua with an exquisite milky-turquoise hue (the photos don’t do it justice).  We entered the canyon and hiked for a bit before dipping into the cool water and letting the current carry us.  The life vests seemed a bit excessive at first but I quickly realized they made a world of difference as they allowed me to float “lazy river” style while gazing up at the awesome rock walls.  In this way we made our way down the river, swimming rapids (so fun!), stopping to play with spiders that could skim the surface, hiking, and jumping off cliffs. There was one mandatory 5m jump with options at various points for 6, 10, and 18m jumps.  I maxed out at 10m with only the guides and a young Dutch gent jumping from 18m.  About half-way down we stopped to do some repelling off a 30m wall…so much fun I did it twice!  And after about  6 hours we arrived at some small boats and were ferried by locals a short distance to complete our trek with another hour’s walk.  One of the most wonderful things about the adventure was that we didn’t come across any other tour groups or people which added to the uniqueness of such a day. (Note: I did not have my camera for the hike so I’m borrowing from others.)

Adorable. If you could hear him talking...

Adorable. If you could hear him talking…

After another scrumptious meal prepared by Henry’s family, we hiked up to a mirador (viewpoint) that overlooks the canyon. Along the way we encountered some delightful, loquacious children who were heading to their home that was not far from our campsite. They were incredibly animated and kind and keen to have me come rest and eat at their home, an invitation I was sorry to decline. Their mother was hiking with them, the boy of five rode the pony and mother walked because she said she liked the exercise and it showed as she appeared to be well into her 60s at least and it was a strenuous hike.

The digs the second night

The digs the second night

We arrived at a covered deck at sunset where I saw my first fireflies!  What divine creatures these are!  They should be everywhere, always.  We settled into our tents and hoped that roosters would not start crowing starting at 1am in this remote spot as they had at the finca the night before.

Sunrise at the mirador

We woke early (but no roosters!) to watch the sunrise over the river we had floated down.  After a tasty oatmeal-extravaganza breakfast prepared by the guides we began our hike down to the finca and our long journey back to León.  Being a Sunday, transport was limited which meant waiting for some time at the bus station. Some of my fellow travelers had had enough of this waiting and when the microbus arrived they engaged in the shove-fest to pile on. I have never seen people, locals and elderly included, fight so much to get onto transportation but they clearly did not want to wait the 2+ hours for the next bus.  I decided to hang back with a few of the others and enjoy the experience as one of the precious jewels of “Nica life” that have made my wanderings so remarkable.

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