Our Quest to Discover Somoto Canyon
~ Adventure by the SMr Crew, Photos by Eli Baylis ~
We hadn't done much research, we just knew we wanted to find it. Word was that Somoto Canyon had been relatively unexplored until 2004, and since then, tourism to this magnificent secret world wonder was growing slowly at best. It would still be almost as secluded and publicly undiscovered as it has been to the villagers near by for ages. We did not have access to a GPS or Maps on our cell phones. What we DID have was pencil scratchings of obscure directions and a stir-crazy sense of adventure. (..also machetes.. We thought we may have to clear our own way into the canyon, or fight off venomous vipers that methodically fall out of trees onto victims below. We had quite an imagination of how the trip was going to play out!)
Eli scored 6 sturdy inner tubes at Huembes Market in Managua, near the SMr ILLUMINATE facility, where we worked and lived for the past 3 months. We loaded up our trusty SMr Expedition Vehicle, most commonly known as Shaky Shakira, and hit the rolling highway on a search for nature's water park.
The 3 hour drive from Managua to Somoto was serene. As we traveled further from the polluted commotion of the city, the air became more clear and clean. The landscape had a peaceful ruggedness about it. We each allowed the crisp air and blazing sunlight to slowly unravel our tightly wound spirits.
Directions to the actual mouth of the canyon were vague and hard to follow. Really all we knew was that it was located off the Pan-American Highway in Nicaragua near the border of Honduras. Following our treasure map directions, we turned down a beaten (to death) path expecting a giant golden "X marks the spot" to be gleaming at the end. Shaky Shakira did her best, but the 15th large rock in her pipes made the call; we should stop now before pushing her to the point of no return.
We piled out of Shakira, one by one, straying in all directions, each with theories of what to do next. Just then, a man from the village came by on his bike. Laughing at the site of 5 clearly confused gringos, he stopped and offered guidance. He introduced himself as Luis, smiling through a toothless grin. Though there was no telling where he had been headed, he insisted he knew of a special spot near the canyon and it would be best for him to lead us there.
Luis hopped back on his bike and instructed us to follow him. Heading back the way we came, the cycling hero of our little lost parade rode his bike ahead of us down the middle of the street. 12 MPH and a few bystander chuckles later, we eventually came to a stop in the yard of a Nicaraguan family. They promised security watch for our vehicle while in the canyon for just 20 Cordobas a day (which is just 75 cents in US dollars).
Luis advised that we would not need the tubes where he was taking us. We were still unsure of exactly where we were being led, but nonetheless, we packed up our gear and followed behind our new found friend. He led us up a crumbly trail through thick shrubbery on either side. Up and up we went until the path flattened out and opened up a bit, revealing the breathtaking landscape of Somoto. We scrambled up an ancient stair case, marked by a sign the Nicaraguan government added in 2010 declaring Somoto Canyon a national monument to encourage tourists.
A little ways over the staircase was the special spot Luis had in mind and he was smiling with pride at its beauty. It was a lookout pavilion built on the edge of a cliff overlooking the entry into the canyon. We decided to set up camp here for the night to get a good rest before our exploration into the canyon the next morning. We were more than thankful for Luis's guidance and offered him payment for the graciousness he had shown. He waved goodbye and headed back towards whatever his original plan for the day had been.
The sun was lowering towards the horizon, casting golden rays through the wooden rails. We had expected to spend our first evening on the banks of the river, but the size and strength of the Pavillon offered more than enough room to set up all three of our Nubé Hammock Shelters and Hambunks (two hammocks per selter). More than anything, it was getting late in the day, and the view was enticing us to stay.
The unexpected detour towards the stars revealed a mystical dusk as the chill of the evening mist sauntered over the land. We quickly built a fire to defend our cozy niche from the oncoming cold.
After a while, the flicker of the flames trickled to a warm glow. Beyond the luminance of settling coals, the blackened night sky was screaming for attention. Beckoning to its calls, we hiked out to the darkest open area we could find and stretched out on the ground reveling at the radiant performance taking place above our heads.
One by one we trickled off back to our hammock tents enamored by nature's display. Drifting off to sleep with the swing of my hammock, I felt a calm but wide-eyed excitement. Tomorrow we explore the canyon!
See Somoto Canyon - Nature's Water Park for Day 2 of this adventure!