I am cycling to raise money for the fantastic UK based chaity Macmillan Cancer Support. Big thanks to everyone who has sponsored me so far! Justgiving is a quick, easy and secure way to donate online. See my other fundraising page, specific to the Macmillan organized part of the trip

Sunday, 14 March 2010

wandering the mountains ...Tisey and el Salto

Tranquilo - the word that comes up time and again to describe true.

After possibly one of the hardest and longest days cycling to get the long stretch from León to San Isidro, had the complete relaxation of spending the last few days a-wandering the mountain up to the mirador at Tisey just South of Estelí. Had followed up Líz´s tip to visit the fresh yoghurt and bread cafe at la Casita (really tasty stuff), where I met her old friend Dave Thompson. Dave´s a Scot who came out to Nicaragua to do volunteer construction projects 25 years ago, and is now running la Casita which is a farm and his woodworkshop and the cafe la Casita is his exhibition space for finely crafted colourful wooden puzzle models.. He didn´t have any camping, but recommended I head up to Tisey.
The road was seriously rocky and steep and I really struggled to get Peggy to the first lagoon stop 5km in. Met a couple of lads on a moto who took me to the lagoon, deliciously cool after the dusty road struggle. On the way back out the road was still a-fighting, and the back tyre was soon punctured. As I fixed it up a group of three sisters ran up to help me, bringing a pump and oohing at the weight of Peg. That kindness of help in punctures has happened a few times, on the way up from León got punctured on the carreterra and within minutes of having Peggy on her back two young women with huge loads of firewood strapped to the back of their bicycles pulled up and one swiftly took over the process, I was well impressed by her efficiency. Gave them my bag of shells from Ponoloya as a thank you, which they shyly accepted with giggles, they were so kind.

And in another of those serendiptious encounters I had yet another punture on the way down from the lagoon as night was falling, which meant I bumped into Jesse, a fascinating guy from the US who has travelling in his bones and is an hypnotic storyteller & who I´ve ended up having the pleasure of spending the last few beautiful days with. (He´s been part of a photography project for the last couple of years where a group of six artists upload a photo a day to this website, have a look its pretty cool ; The puncture also helped get us accommodation for the night, camping in Herminio´s front porch, a construction worker who travelled all over Central America on horseback ten years ago, he proudly showed us a photo of him mounted onmn his old horse, laughing & pointing out he was lot slimmer then. He had been cycling home from work & stopped to help when I was having trouble pumping the tyre - it turned out I´d only patched one of two holes - and immediately offered his home when we mentioned camping. He found Jesse´s saw and bow instrument hilarious, and followed with singing and playing on his guitar. His teenage son showed us some cool manga-esque drawing and in the morning before leaving I was able to help his daughter with some English homework.
Jesse soon got known as the cerrucha muchacho (saw bloke) by the workers smoothing out the road in our days of wandering up and down the mountain. I don´t know if I have ever felt so blended into the landscape as I did in our days there. As you get to the top, at 1550m the scenery changes to pine forest and looks suprisingly similar towoodland at home. From the mirador at the very top can see miles around, across to El Salvador and Honduras. Saw the sunset up there one night and stayed in a cabin near the sumit where I had my first experience of being cold since being out here when the clouds settled around the buildings and Jesse introduced me to the mentally complicated dice game version of baseball that a friend of his invented.

It was amazing how different the personality of the landscape seemed on the other trips to the mirador, one day it was very bright and sunny, romantically cheerful, the next it was more broody and felt like the backdrop to a fantasy film battle scene. Witnessed my first swarming of bees, saw the same group twice in one afternoon. Jesse was amazing company in his knowledge of the plant we were passing and it felt like the mountains was really looking afer us, giving Jesse back his glasses and head scarf on separate occasions after they´d been lost and leading us to a cattle herd guide to show us the way back to the road one late afternoon, a man who was so calm and peaceful that it got me musing once again on the unnaturalness of our city life separation from nature. The depth of peace we reached in those days of rythmic walking was really profound and to live like that year round must be incredibly satisfying.

The lagoon the moto lads had taken me to that first day turned out to be just the beginning of the swimming. Jesse & I met another local in those pools the next day, Elvis, who took us further along the path to El Salto, the famous waterfall that is listed in the guidebook. It was stunning, very tall, and with no rocks falling down and a cave like space behind it, you can swim through and look out from behind. The tall rocks shadow the water and mean that it is pretty cool, almost cold, so it was a delicious relief from the intense sun... I´ve managed to burn myself into a semi serpent-like state, in that I´ve been shedding layers of skin since Tisey..and that´s despite using factor 50 oops...

Best night up there was camping by El Salto in earshot of the cascada, me with my tent, Jesse and his hammock, a couple of bottles of Flor de Caña rum, a huge grapefruit, Herminio´s wife`s Enchilladas that seemed suprisingly ant-resistant and plently of extra-dry-sun-baked wood stashes to keep our campfire fuelled long into the early hours´to warm us after nightswimming behind the cascada... just grand.
we finally came down from the mountain last Saturday and wandered on into the town of Estelí we passed Herminio´s to pick up Peggy it seemed pretty fitting that Jesse left his cerrucha hanging at the back door...think we both felt very grateful to the mountain for those days. Pure peace... tranquillo.

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