What’s great about a long trip is that wrong turns don’t throw off your experience or dampen your spirit like they might on shorter vacation-style adventures. In fact, quite the opposite happens. The more busses that break down, showers you take with cold water or just a trickle of pressure, food-born illnesses you contract, the more you learn to roll with whatever comes your way without throwing a tantrum. OK, maybe the last example was a bit of an exaggeration. Grin. But throughout our nearly seven months of travel, Mark and I have encountered more than a few pitfalls and have made many a blunder that normally would’ve sent us reeling. Now, I’d venture to say, we’ve gotten quite good at putting a positive spin on not-what-we-expected situations. There’s just not enough time in the day to complain about what went wrong or what could’ve been. Plus, there’s almost always an unexpected upside.
Take our arrival in Esteli, a small non-touristy city located in the north central highlands, a few hours from Managua. As has been our custom, we got off the bus and took a taxi directly to the first hostel on our list of options. In short, the place was a bit of a dump. Crumbs in the beds. Rat poop in the shower. Plywood walls. The kicker? We actually got locked inside the room. Right. After yelling and banging on the walls for literally 20 minutes, we attracted the attention of a neighbor who sent someone to break open the door with a knife. Classic. Also very funny. Needless to say, we moved to a beautiful, very clean, very homey hostel which was recommended to us by our taxi driver and over the next few days, discovered what an unassuming gem Esteli really is.
Yesterday, we took a day-trip to Somoto Canyon, a huge gorge that was “discovered” in 2004 by a team of Czech and Nicaraguan scientists. Although we were advised that I would have “no problem” navigating the canyon despite not being able to get water in my ear, that was not, in fact, the case. The truth of the matter is that the majority of the time is spent in the deep water. What I came to realize a little too late (i.e. already in the water, sheepishly flailing my arms and legs like a spastic octopus, not getting anywhere) is that swimming is pretty much required. Check out those 100-meter-high canyon walls!
Although I felt like a wee bit of a doofus, trolling around in a canoe driven by an 8-year-old Somotoan while the rest of the folks around were gleefully splashing around and gliding through the water like pros, the experience was definitely worth it. Thankfully, Mark got to ride part of the rapids on the way back to the mouth of the canyon and reports that the exhilarating experience might just be the first of many more to come. As for me, wading through chest-deep water and scrambling over rocks was the perfect way to spend an afternoon . . . and the two feet I managed to “swim” while “floating” on my back were absolutely delightful. Grin.
As a city itself, Esteli is a great place to poke around for a few days, with many unique attractions and, of course, friendly people who go out of their way to say hello, give directions, or send a smile in our direction. On Monday, we stopped by one of the many workshops where you can buy hand-crafted made-to-order cowboy boots specifically crafted for your feet (and, yes, I did purchase said boots. I pick them up on Saturday!). Today, we visited a nearby farm and its adjacent café selling homemade bread, cheese (Camembert! Brie!), and fresh yogurt. We also took a tour of one of Esteli’s famous cigar factories, the recounting of which will be covered in my next post. And tomorrow . . . tomorrow we’re going to do something very close to Mark’s heart . . . a National Championship baseball game—the first time in history that Esteli has made it to the championships. How cool.