So I've been meaning to write this entry for a while. The downside of working in an office where I have internet access all day is that I'm not inspired to stay later. But here's a better-late-than-never update.
Semana Santa (Holy Week) is probably the biggest holiday in Nicaragua, tied with Christmas. The not-very-religious Nicaraguans hit the beaches because the weather is HOT (April is the hottest month) and the whole country is on vacation. As I sit writing here now, the 87 degrees Fahrenheit actually doesn't feel too bad. I had Thursday and Friday off, and instead of going to the beach, decided to go up to the northern part of Nicaragua with my friend Sara, who is from Sweden and was here in the fall volunteering with La Esperanza (the tutoring program where I was working before) and has now returned to write a thesis for school.
As most vacations I've been on in Central America, nothing was really as it seemed or advertised, but I highly recommend playing things by ear because everything works out, even if you do have to share a bed in a storage room (continue reading). To explain, Sara and I had made reservations at this place called the Tisey Eco-Posada, located in this nature reserve that someone had recommended to us. We read in the book that from the town Esteli, the reserve is just a 60-90 minute walk or thus a short taxi ride (it would seem). We arrived at the entrance, and then proceeded to talk with more than 2 taxi drivers and owners of a little corner grocery store right next to the entrance, not one of whom actually knew how far the eco-posada was or seemed like they had even heard of it. There was a sign that seemed to indicate that it was 5 kilometers away, but people were estimating about 20 kilometers, a pretty big discrepancy, especially when the road was not especially high quality. We finally a negotiated a price with a taxi driver that would vary depending on how far away the hostel actually was. Going up the road felt like we were driving in the middle of nowhere in a desert-looking area. I hadn't noticed a big difference appearance-wise between the rainy season and the dry season until then because it reminded me of fall in NJ with no leaves on trees and very little greenery. Very different scenery. When we arrived at the Eco-Posada finally (20 km, NOT 5), we were surprised to discover it filled with people. Honestly it felt like they flew in from the sky or something because the road had been so deserted. When we went to check in, we found out that despite my spelling my name several times the day before and being assured that we had a reservation, somehow the information had not been taken down and so there were no other rooms. After waiting for about an hour with people seem to be running around and no information being given to us other than that they would find a solution, they let us know that they were preparing a bed for us in the storage room where they keep sheets and such. Oh, and would we mind sharing a single bed? I actually didn't sleep too poorly. Sara and I apparently share a bed well. The highlight was getting to use actual blankets. Que rico! (How wonderful!)
Despite our being able to share a bed well, we decided not to stay there the next night--it felt a little more like camping than we wanted. We walked down the 10 km to a waterfall the next day where we were literally almost the only foreign tourists, although it was full with Nicaraguan tourists. What a highlight! I'm not one of those people who only wants to go to places where there are no foreigners, but it's kind of a nice surprise when you seem to discover one of these places. That was sort of how the whole weekend passed, actually, which was really fun. Well, besides Friday night when we ran into a bunch of La Esperanza volunteers in Esteli, without knowing that they were going to be there and came from literally just asking a taxi driver to take us to a hostel in Esteli.
The absolute highlight of my trip up north, and now one of my favorite places in Nicaragua, was the canyon of Somoto. Once again, there were absolutely no foreigners and yet the place was filled with Nicaraguan tourists. [Side note: when I talked to someone later who's been here for longer, she let me know that in the north, especially near the border of Honduras where Somoto is located, there are still bandits who attack cars and rob people, so there's still a warning to be cautious there. However, since Sara and I were just taking the public buses with the rest of the Nicaraguans, I don't think I would have been very nervous even if I had known this.] To get to the canyon, we took a bus, then walked 2km, then rode horses, and then took a little boat. It's not a slot canyon, but there is sheer rock going up many many feet on both sides of you and you can swim in little pools for a really long way. The water was warm and relatively clean and people friendly for the most part. There were some overly friendly Nicaraguan boys who were videotaping and when we passed in our bathing suits (unusual, since most Nicaraguans tend to swim in their clothes) they followed us. Let's just say our swimming increased in speed for a while.
The extremely full bus ride on the way back with me half-sitting on a seat for 3 hours was not incredibly fun, but at least I got to watch a chicken in a bag in the seat in front of me. I arrived tired, but contentisimo (very content).