I am so thoroughly addicted to “Club Social” biscuits here in Nicaragua (a fairly plain cracker) and turns out they make an excellent substitute to bread when one needs a very early breakfast (ham, cheese and tomato “sandwich”) before heading out for the day’s activities.
The early start was to catch the bus from Estelí to Somoto for the long (6 hour) Somoto Canyon tour (not including the 2 hour each way bus travel time). I was very impressed by the size of the television mounted at the front of the bus, which rapidly turned to despair as the driver put on a DVD of what was essentially mariachi music videos. Bring back the 80s and romantica! Because I was sitting quite close to the front, I couldn’t not look at/listen to the damn thing – but boy did I not want to! For a start, I really don’t like the music, and even though each of the clips had really high production quality (including credits!), they all featured supposedly good-looking, skinny girls in variously skimpy clothing being put upon by really-not-good-looking men. Every. Single. Clip. I was so glad to get out of there after the 2 hours!
The Somoto Canyon tour was organized through Treehuggers in Estelí and there were only 4 of us plus the guide – Reynaldo – who explained our trip before sitting in the boot of the taxi on the way to the trailhead! The first part of the excursion was a hike down the Río Tapacali. There was lots of boulder scrambling (with even more to come).
Then Reynaldo collected our cameras and packed the drybag for the first of what turned out to be a lot of times, for the first swim. The water was a lovely temperature and a relief after being so hot for so long – ever since I got to Nicaragua almost 3 months ago!
Swam and boulder hopped down the river a little further to the first jump point. Yes, one of the main attractions of the Somoto Canyon is the opportunity to jump off boulders and cliffs from various heights ranging from 1m through to 20m into the river. This first jump was only about 2m high to get us warmed up. It doesn’t sound very high. And, in reality, it isn’t very high. But when you are standing up there looking down with all those water safety ads from your childhood in Australia coming back to the forefront of your mind, it’s actually bloody scary!
We all survived that one and eventually came to the place only about 1km from the Honduran border where the boys tried to out-do Reynaldo with their rock skimming prowess (wasn’t very successful – Reynaldo has had a lot of practice!) and the Río Tapacali met another to become the Río Coco – the longest river in Central America (750km to the Caribbean Sea).
From there it was more swimming and rock scrambling until we reached the next jump of 5m. And although it went against everything I’d ever been told in my life, I jumped. It’s quite amazing the injection of adrenaline that happens the moment you pass the point of no return!
The next part of the canyon was my favourite, it had the steepest sides and there were quite long swimming stretches. It was brilliant to just lay back and look straight up at the sides of the canyon with the trees growing over the side and silhouetted against the sky. Very relaxing, very beautiful.
And punctuated with a bit of adrenaline because it was here that you could do the 10m, 15m or 18m jump into the water. I dipped out – the nice thing about not being a regular backpacker is that I don’t feel the need to prove myself to anyone. 5m was enough for me. But my companions all jumped from 10m, and the youngest (19 year old guy from the US) jumped from 15m. No thanks!
The last stage of the canyon trip was a short boat ride, that I’m guessing was to alleviate the potential boredom of having to swim a fairly unspectacular bit of the river, and/or to simply provide some Cordobas the boat rowers. By this stage it was 2:30pm and we still had a 20-minute hike back to where we started and our lunch. It was 3pm when we fell on our food with a huge amount of gusto – dead silent as we hooked in. Ah the sound of hunger!
Recommendation: Do the long (6 hour) Somoto Canyon tour rather than the normal (4 hour) tour through Treehuggers. For a difference of USD$5 you get to see a lot more of the canyon.
Cost: US$30 for the long (6 hour) Somoto Canyon trip which includes lunch (chicken, beef, vegetarian + rice + beans + salad + juice), taxi from bus station in Somoto to the trailhead and guide. You need extra 60 Cordobas for the bus to and from Somoto and 50 Cordobas to get back from the trailhead to the Somoto bus station.