Up until yesterday we had no idea we were going to do this. We had arranged to be at the Hotel Casita San Payo at 7:00AM (www.hotelcasitasanpayo.com)
The folks there had arranged our hiking adventure for the day. They had a driver Jesus who, with his trusty Hilux Toyota 4-wheel drive would take us to the start of the trail to the fabled Cacadas Verde. The ‘green falls’. The tour guide would meet us there and we’d go for a 30 minute walk to see the falls. Easy peezy.
4 Wheelin’ in Nicaragua
The ride out in the truck reminded us of when we used to 4-wheel in the 1960’s. A number of times the truck hit the skidplate and the grades were intense. We rolled through small streams and over mountain passes.
All the while, cruising by visually stunning vistas of the northern hills of Nicaragua.
We were headed to the Volcan Yali Natural Reserve. Waaay out there.
The walking tour
After a 45 minute drive, we arrived at a river with a suspension foot bridge. Jesus parked the truck and a young Nica man with rubber boots walked up. Jesus was not particularly vocal and we just assumed this was our guy. He was. Like Jesus, he didn’t speak any English but it didn’t matter. For a walk in the woods, our Spanish should be fine. It was.
We had not been given an itinerary of any kind so I asked, “Quantos minutos por la camino?” He replied, “Trienta”… 30. Well that should be fine, we’re ready – “Listo!”
The hike started straight up, and up, and up. We adjusted to the chore and enjoyed the volcanic rock nature had supplied as steps.
Within 15 minutes we arrived at the first set of falls. After walking up, we had to go down now, via a jungle trail clutching the hillside.
The reward was clear. A naturally beautiful little set of falls that we could walk right up to. Cool!
The feeling of accomplishment welled up inside and we were so glad we came. Wow, that was great. So… should we return to Jesus’ truck now? “No”. “Esta mas!” There’s more!
Marlon was right. We kept going up, and up and up. It became a major climb.
We stopped for water every ten minutes or so and before long we passed by a sign. “Finca Modelo – Cascadas Verdes – Proprietario – Alejandro Mairena.
Another short climb and the pieces of the puzzle started to come together. We found ourselves walking into a corral with a saddled horse waiting there. We both muttered that yes, we could ride no problem. The horse wasn’t for us. It belonged to Marlon’s Grandfather – Alejandro.
We met all of Marlon’s family and were invited to have a cup of coffee – from their own coffee plantation and a piece of sweet bun. Happily.
But we still didn’t know what was next. It felt like this might be the final stop and we’d be going back. Not.
After coffee, we were ushered through a back gate and descended to the edge of a mountain stream where Marlon and his Dad Marlon proceeded to guide us through the most incredible Nicaraguan back country tour one could ever hope for.
Rubber boots would have been nice as the mud was ankle deep at times and the stream crossings barely had enough stepping stones – but, suck it up Hartridge this is your day – enjoy! And we did.
The tour took us under immense natural bridges of volcanic rock, along narrow trails hugging the tropical hillsides, into a bat cave, through forested areas where we were cautioned to not touch the trees because of ‘espinas’ – thorns that could lead to infection and all the while… we were climbing.
Ever so gradually we could hear the sound in the distance.
And then.. there it was. With a wave of arms like they were introducing a famous poet, Marlon and his had brought face to face with “La Reina” – the Queen.
She was breathtaking. We had to bend our necks backwards as far as they could go to see the top. She created beautiful patterns of water as it cascaded down her face.
We felt an overwhelming sense that this was the best day of our tour so far. And it all happened without a clear plan – to us. What a fantastic adventurous feeling!
And, we hadn’t finished climbing. We still had another level to reach before we turned back. So, up we went. It took us half way up the falls where we could look both up and down the Queen’s face. Wow.
I asked Marlon where the water was coming from and he said, “el lago en la volcan.” I didn’t see it but there was a body of water above us in the volcano we just climbed. Over the years we haven’t done a lot of hiking, mostly biking and this felt fantastic. We were a sopping mess.
Our guides knew exactly where to head next. We took a high narrow trail along a hillside above the stream we had just trekked through. It gave us views of the family’s beautiful finca and the hills beyond. We were smiling big time. What a morning!
Back at the finca homestead, we saw the coffee bean production area and were invited to learn about the process.
From pulping, (outer shell taken off) to washing and drying we saw the beans that we take for granted every morning. Not any more. We know now where they come from, how they get from here to the outside world and… whatever we pay for free trade coffee is money well spent.
Oh, and we had one more cup before we left the farm. We sincerely thanked the whole Mairena family. What a visit!
If you’re into maps this is where we were: Find Jinotega in Nicaragua go north to San Rafael Del Norte and find the Reserva Natural Volcan Yali – good luck!
The walk down was actually harder because it had rained and we were trying NOT to slip and BREAK ANYTHING! We were successful. 4 hours after we left him, Jesus met us after sleeping a bit and washing his truck in the stream. We thanked Marlon for not only guiding us but for introducing us to his family. Faith in humanity restored once again!
We celebrated with a couple of beers at the Hotel Casita San Payo and a steak dinner afterwards. We’d been looking forward to a meal like that and today seemed the right time. Needless to say we were going to sleep well.