I'm going to have to come up with a new way of describing absolutely phenomenal weekend discovery trips. I unknowingly and prematurely trumped my own ace at the beginning of the game when I referred to the Laguna de Apoyo as "Heaven," and now I'm regretting it because where I went this weekend is presenting some stiff competition. Alta (the Dutch girl I live with) and I went off on a spontaneous long weekend trip to Estelí, a town in the Segovia Mountains northeast of Managua by about 2 hours. We had initially planned to go on a tour of a coffee plantation, go see a cigar factory where they still hand-roll cigars, check out the Museum of Heroes and Martyrs (from the Sandinista Revolution) and maybe go for a hike or something. Except, ha ha, it's independence day weekend, and everything was closed. EVERYTHING. Even (especially) tourist activities. So OK, abrupt change of plans. We toodled around Estelí for about a day just sort of soaking up local life. We ate mangoes in the park, watched parades and concerts and went to the Estelí food festival, had a nice dinner, walked the town, went to mass, watched the men sit in rows at the shoe-shine station in the Plaza Central. Men are really serious about keeping their shoes clean and shiny here, it would seem. Here's a pic of me in front of the church in the main plaza.
And here's Alta, buying mango.
After that, however, everything in town being closed, we decided to change plans and go off to see the Reserva Natural Tisey, which is quite possibly one of the most beautiful mountainy places I've seen in a long time. I'm given to hyperbole, however, as you probably know by now, so let me show you some pictures later and you decide. First, though, I want to tell you about getting there. My goodness. Do you ever have one of those days where you feel like little angels might be flitting about your head and making good things happen? Well, we just had two of them, back to back. First of all, rather than wait hours for a bus, we decided to walk up the mountain to where there's this little cooperative community at the very top that is sort-of-kind-of set up for tourists. When I say "walk," of course, what I mean is "hitchhike." (Start breathing again, Mom. It's safe in the countryside.) So with our backpacks strapped on, off we set up the road. In all, we only walked about 2 or 3 hours of what would've otherwise been an 8 to 10 hour hike, because so many people gave us lifts a little ways up the road. The die-hard Sandinista in a red jeep was memorable, but I think my favorite ride was from a guy in an old battered pick-up truck who let us ride in the back with his pig. We named the pig "La Cena" (dinner) and rode off up the mountain with the sun on our faces and wind in our hair. God, that was fun.
We walked the last hour and a half up to the cooperative, and you want to know what? They make cheese!! Imagine my surprise. Here we are in the dead middle of nowhere on a mountiantop in the most rural and inaccessible mountains in Nicaragua, and I'm offered my choice of Swiss, Tilsett, or Gruyere with my lunch. I could probably devote an entire post just to how freaking cool this cooperative community is, how nice the people are, how cool the projects, how exciting the atmosphere of a coop where they've all decided to work together for the community, reinvest all earnings in the community, etc. Nicaragua is sort of a paradise, where fresh fruits literally fall off the trees into your lap, yet in spite of that natural wealth, the poverty you see, especially in urban areas, can be pretty shocking. La Garnacha is wildly impressive, for all that at first glance it looks like any other dusty collection of run-down shacks in the mountains with chickens running loose. They've built little wooden cabins for visitors to stay in, and a little restaurant where you go in and order "dinner, please." Or in the afternoon, "lunch, please." They've got an organic farm, a herd of goats and a herd of cattle, flocks and flocks of chickens. And best of all, they've got well-fed, friendly dogs and cats.
So we rocked up on foot in the middle of a national holiday weekend, nobody knowing that we'd be arriving (hell, we barely knew), and they just rolled out the red carpet. Oh, of course we'll have room for you! And while we ready the cabin, why don't you go have some lunch in the little restaurant over there! Or if you like, you can take a quick hike over to the overlook we've built just down the path there, it's quite lovely. We had lunch first: beef soup.
Then we hiked out to the overlook and promptly passed out from an overdose of gorgeous:
When we revived, I took another look and became instantly giddy at the stupefyingly wonderful view:
Sigh. What a wonderful place to be. Later that evening during dinner some of the local folks came in to see who we were and what we were all about, and we stayed up talking until the outlandishly late hour of (gasp!) 9:00, after which we snuggled down under blankets to shiver ourselves to sleep in the cold night air. I am pleased to report that in the morning, The Amazing Cheastypants Hair appeared to be much revived.
After splashing about in some HOT WATER SHOWERS (!!!! YUM YUM!!!), we went off to order "breakfast" and then set off down the mountain with a guide named Eliodoro to see a local wonder, the cliff carvings of an artist named Humberto Ramirez. First, a note about the name Eliodoro. Every person I've ever met named Eliodoro has reminded me of a very friendly and huggable teddy bear. I think I love the name Eliodoro. Next, a picture of the artist. Also, Alta and I, neither of whom are as tall or as short as we may appear here.
He has two teeth (both rotten), stark white and wildly bushy hair and eyebrows, and he smells absolutely terrible. However, this guy is incredible. About 30 years ago he decided to stop drinking liquor, and in order to help himself stop, he decided to do a carving in the cliff near his house each time he wanted a drink. Using only a small took shaped sort of like a machete/axe and a hammer, he has carved this. (Click on the picture to see full size -- promise, it's worth it!)
And this (click to embiggen):
It was a long, hot, and difficult hike to get to where he and his 4 siblings live, but my god, was it worth it. First of all, they live in paradise, perched on the edge of an overlook into the lowlands heading west toward El Salvador. Also, the paths around their property are practically overgrown with orange, lemon, banana, papaya, coffee, avocado, asian plums, and pineapple plants, not to mention the thousands of wildflowers they've seeded along the edges. It was heaven. Eventually, of course, we hugged everybody and left, but as we picked our way back up to the main roadthrough the ravines, over rocks and boulders, through cow pastures and over streams, I couldn't help but wish I could stay there forever. Only, you know, with running water. And maybe pizza delivery, just for every now and then.
Exhausted, Alta and I stumbled our way back up to the road, and down a ways to where there's a little posada with a teeny restaurant, where we collapsed into plastic chairs and practically inhaled our roasted chicken, rice and beans. And wouldn't you know it, a couple also eating lunch there was from Managua, and we chatted for a second as we were both on our way out, they to their car and we to keep on hitchhiking, so they offered us a lift back to the big city, thus sparing us the ordeal of over-crowded public transportation, not to mention 5 or 6 hours of waiting around for various buses to get us from there to here. And you know what? About 45 minutes into the ride we're just going along chatting, and the woman asked us where in Managua we lived, what sort of situation it was. And I described where (you know, where the old house of the Mejia family was, three blocks up, one block toward the lake...), and how we live with a Nicaraguan lady and her Swiss husband, and this gal suddenly snapped her head around, and said, "What? By any chance, do they have a daughter named Monica?" Why yes, they do! Oh my God, she and I work together, can you believe it?! What a small freaking world, right? How cool.
So here I am, back home safe and sound. My feet are killing me, and my toenails might very well fall off or something. I've never gone hiking in converse tennis shoes before, and I have to say I don't recommend the experience. But oh, my heart is so happy, and I feel so wonderfully energized from this fantastic journey. I almost don't even mind that my hair once again looks like an exploded Q-tip head. Goodbye for now, my poppets. I'm off to catch some zzzzzzzzzz....