Posted by: HelenRortvedt | 20 March 2006

Sea to Summit

Once again, time has slipped away from me. Since I last wrote, I have been practically to Costa Rica, enjoying the beaches in and around San Juan del Sur (just 40km or so from the Costa Rican border), and have been up into the mountains of Esteli, creeping further north towards the Honduran border. Nicaragua is so diverse for such a little country, it really never ceases to amaze me.

Probably the highlight of the last two weeks was welcoming my dad to Nicaragua last Wednesday. He is here with Winrock International’s Farmer-to-Farmer program, and is advising local co-ops and other agricultural groups on ways to get their products into the US market. At least that is what I understand of his mission…

But, I will backtrack a bit, and start with San Juan del Sur. Probably the most tourist-friendly beach in Nica, it actually is quite a pleasant little town. I expected it to be overrun by gringos, and kind of kitchy, but it really has maintained a great small town, Nica feel. I fear for the next ten years, however…property is being snatched up faster than I can type this by foreign investors and you can already see lots of construction zones. The natural beauty of the place, coupled with a quick one hour drive on a great road to the Costa Rican border will surely result in a huge increase in tourism…great for tax revenue…horrible for the environment and local character. We spent a whole day at the beaches outside of SJDS, Majagual and Madera. Majagual is arguably the most beautiful beach I have ever been to, and we were lucky enough to have to basically to ourselves for a few hours in the morning. The pictures don’t even come close to doing it justice. Madera is an infamous surfing beach, and the waves were certainly a force to be reckoned with. With only shortboards for rent, and some pretty huge surf, I opted out of my first surfing lesson and was happy battling the waves on foot. In general, it was a great weekend, really relaxing and full of good food and great company. I have been lucky enough to spend the last few weekends travelling with Samatha, another FSD intern who is working in Masaya. Despite a robbery from my bag in the hostel (only $60), it was a great escape.

The “strip” in San Juan del Sur. Just enough tourist infrastructure for me, although I imagine it will look totally different in ten years…

Sunset in San Juan del Sur.

Bahia Majagual.

Bahia Majagual.

Sam and I on the beach at San Juan del Sur.

We just returned yesterday evening from Esteli. Sam and I met up in Managua on Friday and caught an afternoon bus up into the mountains. The air was noticeably cooler, but we still felt silly for having brought our sweatshirts. I had to remind myself what “cold” means to a Nica… We checked into a modest hotel, but it had a shower with hot water, which is one of the greatest novelties imaginable at this point, so we were happy. We then met up with my Dad who happened to have been in Esteli, etc. having meetings, and he opted to stay the weekend with us. We had a really excellent meal at a new local restaurant/sculpture gallery.

On Saturday (dad’s birthday!) we convinced an unassuming taxi driver to take us up the mountain dirt (rocky) road to EcoPosada Tisey. The journey was a bit more than the taxista had bargained for, and he was constantly opening the door to check his tires. His sighs grew deeper and deeper the farther up we rambled. After an hour long trek, filled with uncertainty, we finally arrived at our destination and were rewarded with news of a local bus that made the trip back down the mountain to Esteli each afternoon around 4pm. We thanked our taxista, Dad tipped him something wonderful, and he seemed quite relieved to set out on his way back down the road.

We were guided around the organic farmlands, the plant nursery, the integrated pest management laboratory, the compost piles, and small (yet comfortable) guest accomodations. We then set out up the hill/mountain (which I imagine is named Tisey, but I could be wrong) and climbed to just about 1500meters through pine forest and cool mountain air. The view from the top was fabulous, and they say that on a clear day (there was a fair amount of smog from Managua when we were there) you could see all the way to Volcan Mombacho in Granada, more than 200km away! We were able to make out the silhouette of Volcan Momotombo, closer to Managua in the distance, however. Our guide, Salvador, was extremely knowledgeable and quite the progressive environmentalist. We returned to the Posada for a great lunch, some relaxation and to pick out some cool plants to bring home to the host families before descending down the bumpy road on the bus that, astonishingly, arrived right at 4pm. Once back in Esteli, we wandered around town and found ourselves in the ecological park, recently established along the banks of the Esteli River. Dad called it way before we saw the sign to prove it: this was a post-Mitch re-development project, built on a floodplane with foreign aid money, and has been turned into a public space with productive land and a pleasant walkway. So, I guess he did learn a thing or two over those 35 years of federal government service! We celebrated Dad’s birthday dinner at a small local Mexican restaurant, which was clearly the hangout/place to be. There were tons of people, and great tacos.

On Sunday, we headed just south of town to an organic farm/restaurant, known for serving fresh-baked whole-grain bread, hummus, lassis, yogurt, granola and other healthy things that I have not seen yet in Nicaragua. It was a wonderful way to end the weekend, and we celebrated Dad’s birthday once again with a horribly sweet Nicaraguan birthday cake. An excellent weekend, and I can’t wait to get back into the mountains for some more hiking next weekend in Matagalpa!

There are still more Esteli pictures to come, but I have run out of time. Check back later, but enjoy these in the meantime!

Dad and I at the western lookout point from the Tisey mirador.

View North from the Tisey mirador.

View to the East of the Esteli valley from the Tisey Mirador.

EcoPosada Tisey. A bit rustic, but charming guest facilities are available here. I highly recommend a trip here if you ever find yourself near Esteli, Nicaragua!

Sunset over the Ecological Park on the Esteli River. “Tranquilo” comes to mind…

Exploring the grounds at “La Casita”, the whole-foods organic farm/restaurant that fed our stomachs and minds on Sunday afternoon. So nice to eat whole grain bread and hummus after months of fried Nica cuisine!

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