There isn’t any school this week until Thursday, because it is Independence Day here. They’ve been cancelling classes for weeks practicing for the marchas. This grew to become a large frustration for me, since we are in deep into the race, preparing for the entrepreneurship competitions. So rather than stick around for the weekend and endure the endless firecrackers and marching bands I took the opportunity for a free tour of Somoto Canyon, way up in the north of Nicaragua in the department of Madriz.
The entire trip turned out being a huge schlep, but the canyon itself was very enjoyable. We left León for Estelí at 11:30. At the bus station in Estelí we got a quick lunch before catching the express for Somoto. Except it wasn’t the express… Two hours later we arrived in Somoto, bruised and sweaty.
In Somoto we met up with our friend and tour guide Gonzalo. Gonzalo has a husky, Manchita, who accompanied us for the rest of the trip. All Inslers appreciate the companionship of huskies.
Gonzalo informed us that we would be heading toward the canyon that night and staying at a local finca (farm). So we got groceries at the supermarket and took taxis to the trail head. When we got there it was raining and dark. I could explain the ordeal, but I will let my vlog post speak for itself:
That night we went to a birthday party at a house in the local community (yes, two birthday parties in as many nights). We didn’t know anyone there but they were very nice. They gave us cake as soon as we arrived. There was a local band and I had a lot of chicha (kind of like corn wine – I think it tastes a bit like apple cider).
The next morning we set out for the canyon. It was very nice. We took a boat in and then swam around for a bit. Honestly, I liked Semuc Champey in Guatemala a bit more, but Somoto is still very nice. The canyon is carved by the Coco River, which is formed just upstream of it by the confluence of two rivers. It is not a strong or big river at Somoto, but further downstream it is a wide and powerful river intertwined with the history of Nicaragua. It forms much of the northern border with Honduras. It is the ancestral homeland of one of Nicaragua’s largest indigenous tribes, the Miskito, and has played host to pirates, Sandinistas, contras, and more recently, narcotrafickers.
Somoto is a growing tourist destination in Nicaragua, and I’m glad that the Peace Corps has been a part of their success. Gonzalo worked with the Small Business Volunteer that just left Somoto, Aaron, as well as my former site mate, Lauren. He now has a successful tour company and is opening the area’s first hostel. He told me that he may need my help in the future, and despite the Somoto Death March Saturday night, I am definitely willing to help him.
The ride home rivaled the trip to Somoto and the finca. We caught a ride out from the canyon back to Somoto. In Somoto we found out that because of Independence Day there were not any more buses to Estelí from Somoto. So we took a local bus out to the highway where we waited on the side of the road for the express from Ocotal (another northern city). That picked us up and brought us to Estelí. From there we got the bus to San Isidro, and from good old St. Isi we got the bus to León. We got home late, but we made it. I’m actually astounded looking back on it how much we accomplished in such a short amount of time. I think I will be headed back to Somoto sometime in the next two years for another visit.
And for anyone who caught the (apologetically) vulgar reference to the Oregon Trail in the first vlog post, here’s two humorous video to round it it: