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  • Day50

    Cañon de Somoto, Nicaragua

    March 6, 2017 in Nicaragua ⋅ 🌫 -12 °C

    What a day.

    1 car, 4 buses (1 regular, 2 chicken buses and a minibus) and 2 pickup trucks.
    3 countries.
    2 border crossings.
    12 hours.
    For a mere 360km.
    $13 USD each.

    And that's how you travel the local way from San Salvador, El Salvador, across the country of Honduras to Somoto Canyon, Nicaragua. To be fair it was a relatively problem-free day considering, with a saving of $32USD each had we done it by tourist/gringo bus. The only issue really was that we didn't particularly get the chance to eat as every time we got off one bus we'd quickly be bundled onto the next one as soon as anyone found out where we needed to go next. It was also ridiculously hot (30-35 degrees) and only the first bus had air conditioning, but I guess in some ways it was helpful as we only needed the bathroom once during the day because we were all just sweating out everything we drank! Thankfully we were lucky in the fact that we were always getting on each bus at the beginning of the line so we were always guaranteed a seat, unlike the many people that ended up standing in the aisle of each bus we took. This became highly entertaining for people watching when vendors would jump on at various stops to try and sell food, awkwardly squeezing past people in the aisles on the hard sell, all while the buses are on the move.

    We were cutting it a bit fine by the time we got to the Honduras/Nicaragua border though. We needed to contact the owner of our accommodation for the night to let them know where we were so they could meet us on the Nicaragua side. Unfortunately with no access to wifi nor any phones with service, we were a bit out of luck with this one. I spoke some muddled Spanish with one of the locals at our last stop before the border to borrow his phone to call, but it was unclear at this point why it wasn't working - whether his phone couldn't call Nicaraguan numbers or whether the other end wasn't picking up. We had to carry on before we could find out, time ticking on daylight and the border opening hours. Although we were the only ones in line on both sides of the border, the immigration officers on both the sides really mucked about passing our passports back and forth between each other and getting confused with who was who. What they were up to we really don't know but thankfully in this time when we were beginning to worry, Henry and Brian from Somoto Canyon Tours/Accommodation that we were using for the next couple of days, showed up at the border to pick us up for the last 7km. Supposedly Brian had managed to call back old mate that let us use his phone on the Honduras side and figured out it was us! A bit of luck to end an exhausting day which actually passed surprisingly quickly. Cold beers were well deserved after that one - new country, new beers so got to try them right!?

    Somoto Canyon Tours is a local family run business owned by Henry, which has grown both massively both physically and in credibility in the last few years. This is mainly due to the help of retired business-savy Englishman Brian who has spent 5 months a year here for the last 6-7 years getting the business up to scratch. What was once a small business with just the house for the family, has grown into a slick operation with decent accommodation (including the first flushing toilets of the village and electricity) and a restaurant for guests to use both before and after their tour of the Canyon. Now they've reached the point that they're even able to give back to their community, providing the last of their village with running water and providing shoes for some of the less-privileged kids. On top of that, other members family have managed to launch other micro-businesses, one running the restaurant for the guests, one starting a chicken farm to provide chickens for the restaurant but now doing so well he can sell to the community too. It's wonderful to hear how well they've been progressing.

    The real reason we came here was to visit Somoto Canyon, so after a decent sleep in the countryside post ridiculous travel day, we were up and at it for an 8am start. Fitted with lifejackets and sneakers, we were rushed off the deck mid-fitting to catch the chicken bus passing by. Sitting on a bus with a life jacket felt rather silly but thankfully it was only a few minutes down the road before we could all hop off again. Our group of 8 was multinational - a mix of Canadians, English, German and Australian - plus two lovely local guides. The English guy we actually met in Guatemala at our Spanish school, he was finishing as we were starting. Small world to come across him again!

    Walking down some gravel roads and past some farms complete with huge pigs and their wee piglets, we reached the river. We got straight into it, climbing over rocks, wading in the water and sometimes swimming, depending on the depth. It's dry season so the water was low, we're told that in wet season it can be at least 7-8m higher. Last October/November the levels were some 15m higher and unfortunately some of the locals lost their lives trying to cross the river. Brian tells us that less than 40% of Nicaraguans know how to swim. This is mind-boggling to people like us that grow up somewhere like NZ that you're just constantly surrounded by water. One of the many things we continue to realise that we take for granted.

    The river that runs through this canyon (El Coco) is actually the longest in Central America, extending all the way to the Caribbean. Water temperatures were definitely not Caribbean-like as the height of the canyon prevents much sunlight getting in, so we spent the first part of the day shivering once we'd got wet! It seemed every time we'd get dry and warm from walking, it'd be time to get back in the water. You can't win with us really. Too hot, too cold!

    Before long we were at our first rock jump of many for the day, ranging from 2-8m for us girls and up to 12-15 for the lads. One of the landings didn't go so well for our English pal but it provided entertainment for the rest of us and unfortunately for him it was caught on video too! There was a 20m jump one of the guides did as well, but it definitely wasn't for the faint hearted.

    It's a shame we weren't here a month or two later so the water was a bit higher so we could use some of the natural slides and float down the rapids a bit more but all in all it was a good experience with some lovely scenery.

    After a couple of hours to have a late lunch and a bit of horizontal time, we set off on a hike with some of our canyoning pals to a couple of lookout points. Mike and Rich thought this would be a great time to add in another MERC run so set off slightly later. Before long we realised they were in for a tough run, not only in terms of steepness but also in terrain and heat! Surprising lack of blowouts and they managed to time it so we all ended up at the top together. The lookouts offered some awesome views over the canyon we had walked through during the day and the land beyond. With sunset looking like it was going to be average considering the cloud cover, we headed back to base while it was still light.

    Dinner with the team plus some well deserved beers and it was fair to say we were knackered following a couple of big days! No rest for the wicked though, bills were settled and bags were packed, we were on the move again the following morning.

    We're getting good at these early mornings. 6:30am wakeup for 7am departure - for which we are thankful that Henry was happy to drop us off in the Somoto township ready for an express bus southbound, otherwise we would have had to wake up even earlier. 13 of us plus luggage were loaded into his ute or sitting on the tray for the 12km ride to the town. Impressive. Today we're headed for the colonial city of León via express bus and chicken bus. Hopefully the early morning travel will allow us to miss most of the heat!
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