The rhythmic pitter patter of homemade tortillas became a familiar finale in the 6:00 am farmhouse chorus. Accompanied by the yee-haws of donkeys, the sharp cock-a-doodle-doos of roosters and the steady mooing of cows, our morning alarm was reminiscent of a child’s favorite storybook.
Life on the farm was far from glamorous. My sneakers were caked with manure and desert dirt; my favorite shirt smelled of soiled cow milk; my hair knotted with puppy drool and who knows what else. But my heart was filled with a bountiful love for the simple life.
Somoto Canyon is a hidden gem in the far northern region of Nicaragua. Its obscure location has protected it from the rampage of the Central American tourist trail. However, adventure junkies and city escapers alike continue to find refuge here. The river offers breathtaking canyoneering opportunities and the surrounding landscape is ideal for rock climbing, horseback riding, and trying your hand at farm work. I learned about the canyon through an episode of Naked and Afraid (go ahead, laugh at me) and knew immediately that I wanted to check this place out for myself. With clothes on, of course.
So, there we were. Dropped off via chicken bus in the middle of nowhere. The morning before our arrival I had secured a room at a farm, Finca Mejia, and was told that someone would meet us at the trail head to walk us to the house. Well, apparently we were at the wrong end of the trail and after aimlessly trying to figure out where to begin our walk, a local finally got a hold of the cousin of the man who was meeting us. Davíd, in all his cowboy glory, came around the bend atop a donkey and told us he would take us to the farm. We thanked him endlessly and followed him into the canyon. We walked awhile, then some more. Then the sun set and we kept walking. After almost an hour and a half of walking up steep sandy trails in our flip flops, with our packs haphazardly swung on our backs, we arrived exhausted at the farm. It was pitch black at this point so after brief introductions and a home cooked meal, off to bed it was!
The aforementioned farm ensemble woke us bright and early, so we pried open our still sleepy eyes and wandered aimlessly out into the farm. I was summoned by the tortilla crew to join the assembly line and Luke joined the boys in more manly activities like touching cow udders and poking donkeys. Just as my amateur tortilla fingers began trembling from overexertion, breakfast was ready! We got down on some serious gallo pinto, fresh cheese and fried plantains; a meal, in one variety or another, that we’d come to know very well over the next few days.
With bellies full of breakfast, we had a lazy morning puttering around the farm childishly exploring our new environment. We met the new puppies (cue high pitched squeals) and learned how to feed the cows. As the heat became unbearable and inescapable we joined the other travelers, who would quickly become our good friends, on a trek to a nearby swimming hole. This is when I knew I had found my happy place. Rivers delight me more than anything else on the planet, and this particular gentle stretch of meandering water was just as magical as I had hoped. We hopped, skipped and jumped our way up the shore of the river until we reached the perfect spot for a dip – a jump rock! 20ft above the deep green water, we all took a turn tip toeing to the edge, peering over, and exclaiming with joy as we jumped. I couldn’t help but grin and giggle as I came up for air in this wonderland of simple pleasures.
The sun began to set as we worked our way back to the trail over the now familiar exposed river rock. Between the moments of focusing on my footing and trying to regulate my heavy breathing, I found myself having brief flashes of timelessness; everything just stood still. The golden sun reflecting off the stark white canyon walls, the emerald green water clambering with life, our shadows shortening with each passing second- in that moment, I needed nothing more.
The following day we partook in more hands-on farm activities. The highlight being milking cows and making fresh cheese from the milk! After a brief instructional preview from the boys, Luke and Jordan, I grabbed my first udder an pulled away. Nothing happened. I went over to watch Davíd, the man who walked us to the farm, and took mental note of his highly successful process. I readjusted my grip, focused on the squeeze, and pulled again. A drizzle! It practically evaporated before it hit the bucket, but it counts! I eventually got a steady stream going for a few minutes but gave up once the baby cow, tied to its mom leg, started gnawing on my ear with impatience. I won’t go into the nitty gritty detail, but milking is no easy task. The sound of Davíd, with his smirk, rapid firing milk into his plastic bucket still taunts me to this day. You win Davíd, you win.
Our final day at Finca Mejia we opted to partake in the highly anticipated canyoneering tour with Daniel, one of the many sons who lived on the farm. As my Seattle luck would have it, the day was overcast. But our pale skin welcomed the break from the baking sun and we made the best of the chilly experience. Elaina, one of the other travelers, joined us on the tour and was our valiant underwater photographer.
We started out by scramblinging around in the shallow waters, but quickly found ourselves submerged and doggy-paddling our way through marvelous stretches of winding river and towering canyon walls. Daniel’s son, Jazziel, who was maybe 10 years old, took the lead and was sure to point out every single jump rock. With the help of his outstretched hand, we climbed each one and said quick Hail Mary’s before leaping into the unknown depths of the ever so welcoming water below. Side note: the older I’m getting, the less agile I’m becoming. I slapped my arms on the water every time I jumped and felt my heart rate skyrocket as the height of the rocks progressed. Maybe I’m just becoming less naive of my mortality?
My favorite moment of the 3-hour excursion was actually during a tranquil swim through the lower part of the canyon. I was getting a little worn out from all the furious doggy-paddling so I turned over onto my back and did the awkward upside froggy kick to propel myself downstream. In the midst of my gracelessness, I became completely aware of my ever perfect surroundings. Looking up at that tiny sliver of blue sky between the narrow canyon walls was both mesmerizing and humbling. I vividly remember the echoed sound of my breathing, the only sound I could hear, as I submerged my ears just below the surface of the water. My inner monk made an appearance as I felt an overwhelming sense of zen run through my veins.
My amazing experience in Somoto was a multi-faceted affair. The farm, the family, the friends, the canyon – it was all perfect. I will remember this place for it’s serenity and its wildness. Thank you Somoto for all your gifts!