Exploring Somoto Canyon
~ Adventure by the SMr Crew, Photos by Eli Baylis ~
Our whole crew had spent the past few months working in pools of humid sweat in the sauna that is Managua. We were completely unprepared for the chill that crept in on us that evening. We didn't realize the elevation on Somoto would make that much of a difference, so we certainly didn't pack proper sleeping bags or our Winter Barriers. In fact, the only insulation Priscilla brought was a safari animal towel and a long sleeve tee! Unable to sleep through the shivers, Lacy and Priscilla rose early to stir up the fire. As the rest of our camp woke to join them, the sun rays began to beat down on the morning mist promising a warm adventurous day. We quickly packed up and headed back down the trail. Today we explore the canyon!
We ventured back to where Shaky Shakira camped out for the night, collected our tubes from the Nicaraguan family keeping watch of our things, and suited up for a day of wonder in the canyon.
Following an old cattle trail, we traipsed across several riverbeds, tossing tires person to person whenever the rocks required jumping. Eventually, we thought, we would come upon areas deep inside the canyon where we would have no other option but to swim. The water was bitter cold, so we postponed the plunge until it was absolutely necessary!
Before setting out on this venture, we had expected to thrash through a lush rainforest filled with howler monkeys and venom dripping vipers. We would blaze a trail and defeat any obstacle standing guard of the massive untrodden canyon. We brought climbing gear, ropes, machetes, and plans for how to tie a snake bite tourniquet. In reality, the scene here was very different. It was dry, there were clear paths, and the ‘raging river’ was just a splash faster than a trickle. As the hot sun bore down on our backs and the sand filled up in our shoes, we were beginning to loose our wide-eyed daydreams of the adventure to be had here.
Amidst our minor reassessment of expectations, the river took a sharp left turn, and as if stepping into the looking glass mirror, everything suddenly became more vividly colored and grand. The dry yellows were exchanged by the deep green foliage on the canyon walls, and the copper water became gleaming emeralds in the sun. We were finally, officially, inside the canyon.
Single file, we traversed along side the canyon wall with the deep mystic waters below. We scaled rocks faces and clambered over deep ravines. We got the tire-tossing assembly line down pact for when two hands were needed for climbing. The trek was cumbersome with inner tubes doubling our circumferences and halving our agility, but surprisingly, we never lost a single tire! (… or person… which is clearly also a good thing.)
Further into the canyon, the walls began to slope more directly into the water offering no reachable ledge to travel on. It was time to head into the water!
Lacy and Priscilla bolted out ahead excited to finally put their highly anticipated tubes to use. Ankle deep.... Knee deep... thigh deep.... thigh deep..... thigh deep... And we're back on rock again!
Splashing forward we came to a magical nook where the effervescent canyon water danced around us on the surface, and the river floor dropped away beneath us. Finally! Tube Time! In order to protect our packs, Lacy and Richard equipped one of the tires into the ‘gear boat’ that would tug along behind us. As the water got deeper we each developed different methods of floating. Lacy sat forward in his tube paddling with his walking staff- sort of how you would imagine Gandolf might do it. Pricilla rode what was soon to be called frogger, on her belly, like a frog. Juli did the abandoned turtle on her back while kicking and aimlessly paddling (she's not the best swimmer). Richard mostly just swam, and of course, took every open occasion to try and drown Juli. Onward went our caravan of tubes!
We floated steadily around each river-carved corner, slapping the water and gaggaling with cheer like a school of misfit sea animals. At every turn there was a new deep canyon room to discover. One room was rounded like an indoor swimming pool with small caverns off to the sides. You could hear a waterfall around the corner, yet the room was still and serene, dimly lit and yielding an evergreen hue so deep you could almost paint with it. It was the same kind of magical you read about in story books as a kid. Though you can't see 2 feet below the surface you fully believe the floor is a hundred feet down and lined with treasure chests and gold pieces.
Once the joy of swimming and awe of wonder wore off a bit, awareness of the cold set in. Our goose bump pelted skin was meeting a new level of numb, so we loaded back onto our one-man rubber ships and sailed on. At the first site of sun rays, we docked on the rocks, had lunch, filtered some water, and laid ourselves out to dry. At least 3 of us passed out cold there on the warm rocks within the first 15 minutes!
We weren't sure where we would stay that evening, but we had spotted some stellar hammock trees a little ways back. We decided it would be wiser to go back where we were certain we could set up camp, then to tread on and chance stranding our crew further into the canyon at sundown. Though whatever could be around the next corner sure was tempting!
After floating back through the canyon, we set up camp in a perfect patch of trees nestled next to the river. Our 3 Nubé Hammock Shelters doubled as clothes lines, of course, since we were SOAKED head to toe! Two Nubés with Hambunks inside and the 3rd with 1 Pares Hammock for Eli. We were far from any sort of city life hustle, the air was clear, the water was clean, and so our spirits were becoming still and clean. Nature has a way of doing that, ya know.
There were no big city lights for a hundred miles around, no lights whatsoever but the gleaming stars. We decided to cook Ramen on a small stove top for dinner that evening. All 5 of us were clad with bright headlamps, which quickly became airport landing strips for every insect miles around. I am not kidding when I tell you that as soon as a few ramen crumbles hit the ground, the ants came flowing like a small powerful river through our camp! Though it was a great spot to camp, we could NOT be more thankful for our Insect Shields that night!
Comfortable and protected in our Nubés and Hammocks, we fell asleep to the hum and rustle of Central America's eclectic assortment of insects. We had scoped out some great cliffs in one of the canyon rooms and tomorrow we plan to play!