Our time in Nicaragua begins with a visit to a man named Alberto. He has spent over 40 years carving the stone around his secluded home. It was a truly unforgettable experience.
Tuesday, February 6th (cont.)
Try as they may, Nicaragua just couldn’t keep me out of their country. Fortunately, the rest of the country would be much more hospitable than the border. I set sights for the first major city from the border, Esteli.
The countryside of Nicaragua seemed to contrast quite starkly with what I had just experienced in Honduras. The soil is either much better or it is much more well utilized. There were all sorts of crops, tobacco probably being the most common.
My place for the night would be Hostel Sonati. I had reserved a bed there since I knew I may be asked for it at the border (I was). The place has a really neat “eco” feel and the staff were very welcoming. As always, the most important thing is a spot for Annie.
I had left El Salvador that morning and I was already full of yearning, wondering when I would eat my next pupusa. It just so happened that there was a Pupuseria across the street. I took this as a sign that I should eat there. 🙂
Wednesday, February 7th
The original plan for the day was to get some work done in the morning and head to Granada in the afternoon. New readers to this quality publication should know that my plans are usually quite fluid.
This ended up being a day for making new friends, which I guess is a pretty good use of a day.
Deyrin and Trina (below) both work at Sonati and were very interested in my trip. Deyrin was also eager to practice his English with an American. One of the points of emphasis was the subtle pronunciation difference between “beach” and “bitch.” 🙂
I’d met very few Americans in Central America so far. Between Chiapas, Mexico and Honduras, I think the number was just three. Upon entering Nicaragua, that switch flipped back on. It was kind of nice to meet some people who had heard of Nebraska.
In the evening, I met Steve from the London borough of the Enfield (home of the world’s first ATM, of course). I actually knew where it was since I’d camped there with my family on our 2011 Europe trip. Though he was a fan of the soccer club Arsenal (the rival to my favorite team, Tottenham Hotspur), he was otherwise a decent fellow.
As we were talking about plans for the next day, a gal from Maryland suggested going to see this guy in the middle of nowhere who had done a bunch of rock carvings.
Suddenly, a light went off.
Let me back up:
In late 2016 I stayed the night with my friends Tricia and Riley in Nashville (place 42 of 92, I stayed with them on this trip too). Astute readers of this quality publication will recognize them as being members of my rough and tumble biker gang:
Tricia works for the video division of Lonely Planet. In 2016 she had shown me this piece that they were working on of a man named Alberto in rural Nicaragua who carved lots of stone structures. Knowing my “Everywhere” trip was probably going to happen, I made a mental note to visit him on my way through.
That note got erased and I forgot all about it until I was here in Nicaragua. I just so happened to be in the city that was the best jumping off point for visiting Alberto and his creations.
Sorry for all the words. Tomorrow is much more interesting.
Thursday, February 8th
I decided to give Annie the day off. I had been wanting to experience the epic adventure that is Central American public transportation and this seemed like the perfect day for my first time. There’s only one bus that goes passed Alberto’s which leaves at 6:30am. We had to leave the hostel around 6.
Steve and I were joined by Cecile from Paris. She was a great addition to our team. The three of us would go on to conquer many adventures this day.
First, the bus.
The last time I was on a school bus, I was being rousted awake at 4:15am by a confused French-Canadian in Schefferville. This experience was much more pleasant.
Though it was only about 10 miles, the ride took around 45 minutes. I was kind of glad that these punishing roads were not getting a shot at this story’s heroine. The ride cost 20 cordobas, about 65 cents. The bus was old but it was quite clean, especially given the dusty route that it takes each day.
We arrived and disembarked from our metallic monstrosity.
Another group from the hostel had also taken the bus, so we got to see them throughout the day too.
Here is the route. I’m pretty sure this is the location.
To get to Alberto’s place, you basically just keep going down. You begin with a great view.
Go through some gates in a cattle pasture.
Pass by some coffee plants
Suddenly, I saw the man himself. I recognized him from pictures. Alberto was striding up the hill. I asked to make sure it was him and told him that I was really excited to see his creations. He responded humbly and just told us which way to go. I was a little sad that it looked like he may be leaving for the day, but I was glad to at least have had a chance to meet him.
We went in the ornate entrance:
We were greeted by Alberto’s brother who requested 20 Cordobas (65 cents) for entrance. Though we weren’t completely sure who he was, we just gave him the money and continued on. After passing Alberto’s humble abode, the carvings began.
Alberto had a dream, 41 years ago now, that he was supposed to start carving on the rocks by where he lived. He didn’t know anything about art or have any special tools, but he just started carving. His masterpieces are still under construction.
Soon we reached the big rock wall where the majority of his creations are carved.
Every step is worthy of another picture.
You know the drill. Time for me to shut up and let the pictures talk.
I don’t know if I can say that these creations are great artwork, but I don’t think that’s the point of visiting here. For me, the point is this: Alberto felt he was supposed to start carving. I’m sure at some point doubts entered his mind: Why am I doing this? Who is ever going to see these creations? Does it really matter? Alberto was able to silence these questions and continue his work, one chisel at a time. That’s the lesson, for me at least.
As our trio began to exit the area, we bumped into Alberto once again. He was using a homemade broom to clear leaves off of the path.
It was a fortunate meeting since he led us on a tour of some more of his creations. It was windy and he often talked with his head turned from me, but I probably caught about 50% of what he said. Besides his creations, he seemed just as excited to show the natural wonders of his land.
At one point, I asked him about the tools he uses. He glanced into the adjacent bushes and pulled out a set of his tools of the trade.
So….a rock and some re-bar with the ends flattened out. With enough creativity and patience, any tool is the right tool for the job. 🙂
His demeanor was so refreshing. Even at the age of 77, he seems to posses a youthful exuberance and a constant sense of wonder at the beauty that surrounds him. Despite having thousands of visitors each year, he welcomes each one as if they are his first. His only demand is that you sign his guest book.
We each gave him 100 Cordobas (about $3) and bid him adios. I told him that I would be returning in ten or so years and that I want to see many more sculptures. It was a true honor to meet him.
Steve, Cecile and I were nowhere near done for the day. We walked further down the dusty road to a little dead-end town called La Garnacha. We stopped into the only comedor (cafe) in town and had a confusing brunch. At first we weren’t sure if they were open, then we weren’t sure what we were going to get. Thankfully we got enough food to carry us on through the rest of day.
There wasn’t much to see in the town, but there was an overlook point that was spectacular.
Of course the picture does not do it justice. 🙂
We walked back towards where we were dropped off initially. A dude, a bloke and a mademoiselle wandering through the countryside of Nicaragua. That sure sounds like the beginning of a joke. I really enjoyed my time with Steve and Cecile. We had lots of time to talk about all sorts of subjects. I believe that one of the true values of travel is meeting different people from different places with different ideas.
We stopped at a neat little place for some refreshments…
…then continued to hike up to another viewpoint.
My long arms often earn me the job of “selfie taker.”
There was only one return bus for the day, which was scheduled to pass us at 3pm. We had about a 90 minute wait, during which Steve tried to hitchhike a couple of times. We probably should have elected Cecile for this task. 🙂
Our same bus from the morning arrived right on time and we headed back to Esteli. On the way, we got to have a true Central America bus experience. Two pigs, which had been riding on the roof, were unloaded at one of the stops. Getting them from the roof to the ground was quite a task.
Back at the bus station:
According to Cecile’s phone, we logged over 30,000 steps on the day. What a day it was!
There was some confusion about reservations back at the hostel. Apparently a large group had booked most of the beds, but they never showed up. Steve and I slept out in the courtyard. It was $2 cheaper, so that was worth the mosquito bites.
Friday, February 9th
Time to hit the road again. First, Annie got some more tattoos.
Cecile, ready to sign:
More new friends from Quebec:
Emma from Chicago, along with Steve. I decided it was time to put my sign back on.
What a wonderful welcome to Nicaragua! The visit to Alberto’s place is an experience that will continue to impact me. There are so many lessons to be gleaned from a man like him, perseverance chief among them.
Keep chiseling, everybody.
Realtime updated: Ah… Costa Rica. Oppressive heat and oppressive prices. Two of my favorite things. 🙂 I’m actually having a great time time here. I’m currently stationed near the park of Manuel Antonio. Happy Valentine’s to Annie and all!