Terrified of asking strangers for photos? Me too! This post is about my personal tips on how to overcome the fear.
I write a brain dump: a collection of mostly unfiltered and lightly unorganized thoughts on an event or a place. This one is a brain dump on Nicaragua. My time in Nicaragua can be summed up in 3 words: “it was uncomplicated”.
I found out that Nicaragua offers so much more than climbing volcanoes. Here are some of my favorite adventure activities in Nicaragua.
Despite the heat, I kind of liked Leon. Everything was a little run down and a little dirty. Tattered not out of neglect but out of use.
There were times during this El Hoyo trek that I thought I must be crazy. Not only was I doing this willingly, I actually paid to do so.
I scooted my butt until I was right at the precipice and as I felt gravity taking over, I thought – ‘Well, here it goes’.
You can’t escape tortillas when traveling in Nicaragua. The Nicas eat them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Nicaraguan tortillas are made from corn flour and are quite thick. For breakfast, I’ll use it to scoop up my gallo pinto (beans and rice) and scrambled egg, I’d place a little (ok, maybe more than a little) slice of cuajada (salty cheese), and add a dash of chili sauce and fold it in half quesadilla style.
One common roadside snack in Nicaragua is quesillo: a string of mozzarella-type cheese with pickled onion, doused with watery sour cream all wrapped in a thick tortilla. It’s a little bit of an acquired taste.
I stopped for breakfast one morning at this tiny market in Matagalpa and I saw these 2 women chatting while making tortillas. Their hands were a blur as they took a pinch of dough and smack it flat with their palm. “Smack-smack” – flip, “Smack-smack” – flip.
Another woman was grilling them on top of a wood fired stove.
I ask how many tortillas they make every day.
“Mil” – 1000. And this is just a tiny stall in a tiny market.
They sure love their tortillas here in Nicaragua.
Alberto Gutierrez, an 80 year old hermit, might be one of the most interesting characters I’ve met during my travels.
Alberto spent 3 hours each day carving the cliffside on his farm. Since the carvings are etched onto the mountainside in his farm, it’s not that he could sell them. Why would he do this?
Legend has it Alberto was once an alcoholic. When the alcoholism started to go out of control, he went to a priest for guidance and was told that he should pick up a hobby. So he picked up a chisel and started carving.
35 years later, he was still carving.
If his carvings is not a good enough reason to convince you to come to visit, Alberto also happens to live in one of the most beautiful parts of Tisey Natural Reseve. There’s a great view a lush valley below from the cliffside where he worked.
With his simple worktools: a hammer made out of rock, 2 chisels, and a file, it took him 1 year to carve a cave out of the hillside that he turned into a shrine.
His carvings consisted of mostly animals and famous people of Nicaragua. But I also saw a helicopter, an elephant, and a myriad of other things. He had a story for every piece of carving he had done. I wish I knew more Spanish so I could understand all of the stories he was telling me.
Orchids grow out of little notches he had carved out among his carvings. I’ve lost count of the many different types he had growing in his farm. He knew the name of every single one of them.
As we walked, he talked non-stop, pointing out different orchids and plants, his sculptures, and the surrounding natural beauty. “Es bonito, es?” I nooded. It was hard to disagree.
It was hard to imagine that up until 2004, this chatty old guy with bushy white hair and beard would run away and hide from visitors. He now seemed to delight in showing off his works and farm to visitors.
A parting gift
On our way out, he handed me a fresh pineapple as a gift. How do I know it’s fresh? I saw him pluck it off one of trees on his farm. It was delicious!
Meeting Alberto Gutierrez was one of the unexpected highlights of Nicaragua. I’m glad I seeked him out as I really enjoyed getting to know this eccentric character, his carvings, and his farm. The journey to get to his farm is also an adventure in itself (see below). I hope that if you’re in this part of Nicaragua, you stop by and see him. I really think it’ll be worth your time.
Who’s the most interesting character you’ve met during your travel?
How to visit Alberto Gutierrez, the Nicaraguan Hermit
How to visit Alberto Gutierrez from Esteli
From Esteli, take a bus to Tisey from COTRAN Sur (6:30 am and 1:30pm). Either ask to be dropped off at the the entrance to El Calejate or Eco Posada. If dropped off at Eco Posada (where you can get lunch/buy drinks, etc), walk for about 10 minutes until you see a wooden sign that says “El Calejate” – the name of Alberto’s farm. Walk through the rickety wooden gate and keep following the trail downhill passing what feels like private farms. Soon you’ll see a wooden sign, “Bienvenidos A Galeria Escultura en Pierdas”. Cross over the wooden bar, and start calling out. If nobody answers, that means Alberto is showing off his sculptures to other guests. Keep following the trail towards the back, climb some steep steps, and you should see the carved rock soon enough.
Entrance fee of 10 Cordobas is weakly enforced.
I went hiking in the cloudforest of La Selva Negra and came face to face with its treetop inhabitants.
On being impulsive
Nicaragua was a slightly impulsive trip.
This is what happens when a wanderlust freelancer gets stir crazy working from home. February was a busy work month for me. I was juggling many projects at one and working long hours. It was awesome (yay money!), but it was also stressful.
Whenever I feel stressed out, I go window shopping. For airline tickets.
Nicaragua has never been a country that interests me. I wanted to go to go back to Mexico, a country I can keep returning to again and again. But this time, looking at the map I noticed an area south of the US that neither Jack nor I have set foot on: Central America.
When I read about Nicaragua and its gazillion volcanoes, I perked up. Volcanoes? I can’t have enough of ’em. The idea stuck.
MORE: Chasing Lava Flow
One day, I pulled the trigger.
“Err, I just bought a ticket to Nicaragua,” I told Jack after after a particularly stressful day. He rolled his eyes and muttered something that sounded suspiciously like, “I hope it’s a one way ticket.”
Truth be told, he was just jealous. I knew he’d love to come but he doesn’t have the flexibility that I have as a freelancer. And in case you’re curious, I’ll be dragging my laptop and working during my time in Nicaragua. One of these days I’ll be taking a ‘real’ vacation. But it’s not this trip.
On traveling alone
Many people were surprised to find out that I’ll be going to Nicaragua by myself. The most often asked question was invariably along the line of ‘Your husband lets you do that?’
I’m lucky that Jack ‘lets me’ travel on my own. Nothing makes me happier than exploring new places. Being a wise man that he is, he’s come to realize that having me gone sometimes to indulge in my passion is better than having an unhappy wife around all the time. It’s one of the most precious gifts he’s given me in our relationship: the trust that I won’t get myself in trouble when left on my own device in a strange city.
Don’t feel too bad about him. Just so he doesn’t feel like he’s missing out on the fun, he’s got a new shiny gadget. He’s also got to drag me on a big climbing trip in the summer. Our relationship is all about making compromises (and bribes – ok, maybe mostly about bribes).
So in a few hours, I’d be kissing Jack and the cats goodbye and off I go on my way to Nicaragua.
What am I doing in Nicaragua?
There are volcanoes to climb, but I’m scared of the heat. Due to pure bad luck in timing, I’ll be there during Nicaragua’s hottest time of the year. Last I checked it’s 95 degrees in Leon, Nicaragua. Phew! I’m sweating just looking at that number.
I have my 1st night booked in Granada – Nicaragua’s prettiest colonial city (or so I’ve read) – but my feeling is that I’ll be making a beeline to the mountains to find a higher and hopefully cooler ground.
As I battle the heat, homesickness, and consume ridiculous amount of gallo pinto (the closest thing to veggie friendly Nicaraguan food from what I’ve read – but it’s basically rice and beans and therefore is lacking in the excitement department) in the next few weeks, I hope to find the answer to the question,
‘What the hell am I doing here in Nicaragua?’