“Yes, we’re almost there. Just another ten minutes.”
The guide pointed towards what looked like a neverending dirt road descending steeply through a breathtaking landscape of lush mountains. I already knew what the road consisted of; deep mud over sharp stones. I stopped to take in the view and forget about the pain for a second, listening for the sound of the waterfall we were trying to find – all I could hear was nature.
We set off from Managua last Saturday morning at 8am on our way to Estelí and the Miraflor Nature reserve. It was Camila and I, and a group of new Nicaraguan friends that had organized the trip via Facebook. We were five girls, three guys and two dogs in Christians pickup truck – so I got in the back with little Nica, Fily and Roger. The drive with wind, talks, rain, sun and beautiul views was a great pleasure.
We arrived at the Neblina del Bosque lodge before noon, and were welcomed with a beautifully prepared Nicaraguan traditional breakfast. You’ve heard this one before; Gallo Pinto – rice and beans. Egg. Tortilla. Fried banana. Cottage cheese. And, surprise – flowers! The staff at the place were really helpful and all the meals were included in the US$ 25 pricetag of the stay.
The group was great. Talkative, open, positive. Easy-going. Life-loving. Beatriz and Maria-Teresa are running a travel magazine called La Mochila del Vago, Christian is setting up an Eco Lodge on Isla Zapatera, Roger swims for two hours every day and runs marathons, Dariana is curious, speaks portuguese and loves photography, Chela the dog is calm and smart, and Fily and little Nica are a power-team of positive energy and smiles.
We were joined later by Alexandra and her videographer boyfriend, our friend Diego “Stekare” who runs the Ikaria Eco Hostel, his friend Rodrigo, and Selim “Selli” the music man.
On our first day in Miraflor, we went to a small waterfall where we swam and hung out before returning to our cottages in Neblina del Bosque. Neblina means mist, and the mist had indeed covered the entire valley and the air was humid and cold – so we gathered, all 12 of us and the two dogs, in one of the cottages. We then spent the rest of the evening drinking tea, laughing and chatting away – a fantastically random night.
We took off early next morning to see some kind of mysterious waterfall called La Chorrera. “But we didn’t plan on hiking!” we said. People were wearing trainers and flip-flops. “It’s fine, you need to be wearing long pants, but you can go barefoot if you don’t have shoes.” So we went. Wearing borrowed pants and long sleeved sweaters. Flip-flops. Off into the wilderness.
It started off like a fun thing. The mud. It was sometimes knee deep and swallowed people’s canvas shoes. We didn’t mind, we weren’t wearing shoes anyway. I was trying to walk on the grass and skip the stones and cow shit, it took a bit longer to walk, but it went fine once my feet had gotten used to it.
Then the surface suddenly changed. There were stones underneath the mud and they were sharp. Some of the guys volunteered to walk next to us and give support, a shoulder to lean on means millions when something suddenly cuts into the soles of your feet. Our new friends were patient and understanding and would walk slower to keep us company and give support. Faith in humanity had been restored.
I couldn’t believe the guide had let us start walking without shoes. This was easily the hardest hike I had ever done, and I was doing it barefoot. What were supposed to be “about 2 hours”, became much more. The two hours we had heard were referring to the hike one-way. On horses. “Nobody ever really does this trek by foot, actually” the guide revealed later on. “Especially not during the rainy season when the road is bad like this.” I couldn’t believe it. We kept on walking, always downhills. The guide reassured that we would get to the waterfall very soon.
“We’ll have to climb this same road on the way back, right?” I asked. The guide smiled shyly without answering. We had not rested for a minute as we were the last one’s walking and each time we would catch up with the rest of the group, we all continued. The landscape was beautiful but there was no waterfall at sight. It was hot, humid and I was being eaten by mosquitos. At one point I felt like I would loose patience, I was trembling every time I took a second not to walk, my feet were covered by little cuts and I did yoga breathing to stay focused. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Imagining the pain leaving my body with every breath. I hummed the circus song and kept on balancing my way between cutting stones and the pleasure of stepping on grass.
We entered some kind of jungle when the sky opened up. The cold rain felt wonderful underneath my feet, there were no stones and we kept on walking until we met a man who gave us fresh bananas, they filled me with hope and energy, but I was still upset. “It’s just around the corner now, ten minutes.” the guide said. I didn’t believe him but didn’t know what to do, I felt that if I stopped there it would have been all for nothing. “I hope this will be the most amazing waterfall I have ever seen.” I thought. Not possible.
We crossed a little mini-waterfall, stinging plants and barbed wire, and suddenly we were walking on a steep mud wall. Little stones were falling down into nothingness and every little branch I would grab was breaking, the mud was sliding underneath our feet. The guide climbed up and threw down a rope for us to hold on to while we were climbing, he fastened it to a thin tree that didn’t look particularily strong. “Seriously, this is how people die.” Camila said. “Are you crazy!? We can’t go up there!” somebody shouted. There was a lot of fear and there were tears. Most people were just quiet, some laughed nervously. Fily was pep-talking the group while carrying little Nica in his arms. “You can do it, guys! Come on!” I tend to turn on my autopilot of reason and calm when I sense that other people are afraid, as if it will keep us safe. So I stayed controlled, supported those I could support, and climbed that wall with holes in my feet. I was angry at the guide and didn’t care about the waterfall anymore, all I knew was that we couldn’t stop in the middle of the jungle by ourselves.
Finally, we got there. And it was a beautiful waterfall indeed. Surrounded by jungle and mysterious roots covering the stone walls. Untouched. It was only us and nature. I went up to feel it, but I was too exhausted to get into the ice cold water for a swim, I couldn’t help but keep thinking about the long walk back. Chela was shivering in the cold and people were eager to start walking again, it was cold and the sun was slowly starting to go down.
We started heading back and I spoke to the guide again, I was upset. “I can’t believe you let us walk this dangerous road with bad shoes and even barefoot, this is too dangerous!” He offered me his rubber boots for the second time and I didn’t hesitate for a second to accept. Camila got Fily’s rubber boots. We were saved. The way down was scary, but I was filled with energy and every step felt like paradise on the rubbber soles. It felt so much easier that I wanted to cry of happiness and I couldn’t believe how much pain I had been enduring before. Life was beautiful again. Dariana was ahead of us and she was sliding down the mud wall on her butt, going fast. Chela the dog and some of the guys had gone ahead, they knew that they needed to get back to the car before it got dark.
The uphill walk was very long and as hard as I had imagined. It was me, Camila, Diego and Selim. Rodrigo was walking a bit ahead of us, and we had lost sight of the rest of the group a long time ago. My tighs were hurting, I was tired, we had no water left and it was getting dark. The jungle woke up as the stars came out. Crickets, monkeys and other sounds that we couldn’t identify. We walked on, stopped for a second, and walked on. The evening smelled beautifully and there was something mysterious about our surroundings. We were all alone, somewhere in the middle of nowhere. The silhouettes of the trees were casting beautiful shadows onto the road, there was no source of light other than the moon.
Suddenly we heard somebody shouting in the forest. It sounded like cowboys straight out of an American Western movie. We couldn’t see well but heard that it was women on horses. There were three of them and they had been sent to save us. “We heard there was somebody walking barefoot here!”
Feeling the warm body of the horse underneath me was bliss. We rode fast and my feet were hanging down from the sides as I was holding on to Esther not to fall down from the horse as it was tripping around. We had almost arrived and there was no doubt that we would have made it walking until the end, but I was happy that the last 30 minutes of torture had been transformed into a 7 minute bumpy horseride. We got to the car and met Christian and the girls. A couple of minutes later the rest of the group arrived. We were all exhausted and couldn’t wait for the chicken soup we had been promised.
It had been a long walk. 18km. 8hours. Mud, stones, jungle and waterfalls. Slightly insane. But we made a lot of fantastic friendships.