Canyons and Waterfalls

 For the majority of this trip, it must be said, we have been following a well worn tourist track. To be honest, I hadn’t expected there to be such an established route through places such as Guatemala and Nicaragua, but there is no denying it.

So it was with some excitement that we signed up to a two-day trip to the Somoto Canyon, which while accessible to tourists, isn’t yet entrenched in the standard ‘to do’ list. The canyon itself was “discovered” in 2004 by some Czech scientists, and has recently been declared a national monument for Nicaragua. And then of course there is the fact that it has plenty of ledges and rocks to jump off of and scramble over.

The tour started obscenely early by anyone’s standards. At 5am A and I were waiting, bleary-eyed at the local bus station with our guide Gerard, who I can only describe as uncommonly jovial, and two Leon locals Miguel and Payayo. Taxi, bus, chicken bus, taxi and 40 minute hike and four hours later we found ourselves standing at the entrance to the canyon.

The first opportunity to launch myself off something came at the entrance to the canyon, which was marked by two towering cliff-faces. Here we were given the chance to try our hand at abseiling, which both A and I have done a few times before, and did again without flinching. Our two Nica friends, however, preferred to stay at the bottom and thus stepped into the role of our personal photographers. They loved taking photos with other people’s cameras, as we would later discover.

So, the first cliff face conquered – we kitted ourselves out in some delightful safety equipment – and we headed into the canyon itself. A few steps in and the grey walls rose steeply on either side of us, casting the canyon floor and the river below into complete shade. As a result, the dark green waters were fairly chilly, as we quickly learned. But not chilly enough to stop us wading, swimming and scrambling through the narrow passage.

At several points our guide led us up to a ledge and encouraged us to leap out and into the river. For the most part I was happy to oblige, but then I noticed that the ledges were getting higher and higher. Miguel and Payayo stopped jumping off rocks early on, and I stopped not too long after. Eventually it was just the guide jumping from what I considered ridiculous heights – I am sure one of the ledges was close to 20m high.

Soon enough we reached the end of the canyon and walked out into some welcome sunshine. Following a small track we walked up and up until we had looped back to the ridge of the canyon. If we hadn’t been worn out by the swimming, the two-and-a-half hour hike along the ridge soon took care of that. Eventually we came to the finca or farm where we would spend the night with the hospitable Don Juan and his family.

More hiking and abseiling were scheduled for the next day. After two hours of hiking through the rolling hills of the northern Nicaraguan countryside we came to our next abseiling point. Down a small forest path, hidden from view, as a small waterfall. Here clear water splashed down over mossy green rocks and into a small pool below. Our next task was to abseil down the waterfall.

Miguel and Payayo once again opted out of the activity, and we handed over our cameras. I’ve never abseiled down a waterfall before, so was slightly nervous about slipping on wet rocks. It was tricky going over the edge but hardest part was not squealing like a little girl when the water splashed down on me. It was icy; it took my breath away and when I reached the bottom I was frantic in unhooking myself and getting the hell out from under that waterfall. Once we were both down, Gerard suggested we try it again. A and I looked at each other; there was no way. Instead we scrambled back to the top and hurried into some dry clothes.

Back at our bungalows I had a chance to look at the photos from the two days. They were good, Miguel and Payayo had indeed taken some excellent snaps of our various descents. But what was this? They had also taken a few photographs of themselves in various poses and positions at the waterfall. By a few, I actually mean 84. I counted.

There was Miguel pointing to waterfall, Payayo pointing at the waterfall. Miguel sitting on a rock, Payayo sitting on a rock. Miguel in close-up, Payayo in close-up. It went on and on. I couldn’t help but giggle at the number of shots; who uses another person’s camera to take that many photographs of themselves? At the end of the trip Payayo shyly asked if he could have a copy of the photos of the trip, and Gerard helped out by burning them a CD each.

I still have the 84 pictures on my computer. I’m not sure why I kept them all, but then they do crack me up every time I scroll through them. I guess that is reason enough to keep them.

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