Quesnel couple treks through Northern Nicaragua

Quesnel couple treks through Northern Nicaragua

Chris and Heather Hartridge are avid cyclers and hikers and share their travels with local readers

In our last story, we were enjoying the sun and surf of Las Penitas Beach on the north Pacific coast of Nicaragua. It would be our last look at the Pacific as our next destination was to be Matagalpa in the mountains north of Managua.

We took a bus ride to Matagalpa from the city of Leon, just inland from Las Penitas. Local, or “chicken”, buses are always an experience in Nicaragua. On board, it was an oven. The ‘conductor’ came around and sold us our tickets but he forgot to mention the two-person bench seat we were sitting on was actually for three people. It didn’t become apparent until the third person came and asked to sit down. I was up against the window on my left, my knees were under my chin because the floor was raised up under our feet, and Heather was very cozy with the nice young Nica lady on her right.

When the ‘autobus’ leapt to life, we backed out into a blistering cacophony of air horns. The symphony was courtesy of our bus saying – “OK we’re backing up!” and other buses acknowledging with their own horns. To create a shrill crescendo, the taxis started in with the beep-beeps. It was all kind of crazy and one of those things that really should put a smile on your face and little chuckle under your breath.

Matagalpa was a jumping off point for us as we headed north. We stayed a few nights and then headed up to San Rafael del Norte. This quaint little town is surrounded by small farms (fincas) and their incredible coffee plantations. It’s also the starting place for tours deeper into the mountains.

We arranged for an expedition to the “Cascadas Verdes” or the Green Falls. We really had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. In a four-wheel drive Toyota pickup called a Hilux, we were transported far into the hills, across streams and over rough mountain roads. We stopped next to a river and met up with a young man who would be our walking tour guide into the Volcano Yali Natural Reserve. His name was Marlon.

The hike started straight up, and up, and up. We adjusted to the chore and enjoyed the volcanic rock mother nature had supplied as steps. Within 15 minutes we arrived at the first set of falls. After walking up, we then had to go down, via a jungle trail, clutching the hillside. At the bottom we idled up to a lovely set of falls and marvelled at the tropical beauty.

The feeling of accomplishment welled up inside and we were so glad we came.

“Wow, that was great! So… should we return to the truck now?”

“No. Esta mas!” There’s more!

Marlon was right. We kept going up, and up and up. It became a major climb. We stopped for water every 10 minutes or so and before long we passed by a sign. “Finca Modelo – Cascadas Verdes – Proprietario – Alejandro Mairena,” Marlon’s grandfather. We found ourselves walking into a corral with a saddled horse waiting there. We muttered to each other that yes, we could ride no problem. The horse wasn’t for us. It belonged to Marlon’s grandfather – Alejandro.

There we met all of Marlon’s family and were invited to have a cup of coffee – from their own coffee plantation. It was very tasty!

After coffee, we were ushered through a back gate and descended to the edge of a mountain jungle stream where Marlon and his father, also named Marlon, proceeded to guide us through the most incredible Nicaraguan back country tour one could ever hope for.

Rubber boots would have been nice as the mud was ankle deep at times, and the stream crossings barely had enough stepping stones – but we said to each other, “Suck it up Hartridge, this is your day – enjoy!”

The tour took us under immense natural bridges of volcanic rock, along narrow trails hugging the tropical hillsides, into a bat cave, through forested areas where we were cautioned to not touch the trees because of espinas – thorns that could lead to infection, and all the while… we were climbing.

And then.. there it was. With a wave of arms like they were introducing a famous poet, Marlon and his dad brought us face to face with the falls, La Reina – the Queen.

She was breathtaking. We had to bend our necks backwards as far as they could go to see the top. She created beautiful patterns of water as it cascaded down her face which we learned was the sheer face of a volcano.

We felt an overwhelming sense that this was the best day of our two-month tour so far. What a fantastic adventurous feeling!

Since then, we’ve stayed on another privately owned organic coffee plantation and witnessed the raw coffee beans being roasted over an open wood fire. We’ve also done a lot more hiking in the hills around Jinotega and Matagalpa to witness the incredible views from the tops of the surrounding mountains.

After our time in the north, we made our way to the busy and crazy capital, Managua… only for one night. From there it was a plane ride to the Corn Islands off the east coast in the Caribbean! We’ve stayed for a week on Big Corn Island and this coming Saturday we’re taking the panga over to Little Corn Island, where we worked 15 years ago. We can’t wait to re-connect with old friends and… make new ones!

We thank the Observer and Annie for allowing us to share our Nicaraguan adventure with you. If you’d like to see more photos, please visit our blog, https://quesnelbikers.com.

Chris and Heather Hartridge are residents of Quesnel who share their travels with local readers.