click photos to enlarge There was only one more bus going up the mountain for the day. It wouldnâ€™t be returning in time for me to catch my 3 pm bus out of town. I had two options; miss one of the most talked about â€œattractionsâ€ of Esteli, Nicaragua, or attempt to find some other way to get up the mountain. I chose the latter, and at 10 am, merely five hours before my bus, I began my trip to visit Alberto.
Alberto is a hermit and an artist who lives in the mountains outside of Esteli. He has spent decades carving and painting a cliff, and the end result (technically it is still in progress) is over 80 meters of carvings wrapping around the side of this mountain. As you can see from the photo above, it is truly an amazing sight, a sight that I almost missed out onâ€¦
My initial plan was to attempt to convince a cab to take me up the mountain, but that went down in flames pretty quickly. A guy drove me to the foot of the mountain and refused to go any further, no matter how much I offered him. I kept asking and he started to get a bit annoyed and simply stopped the car and pointed ahead as if to say â€œGet the hell OUT!â€ I got out.
The road was covered in rocks and was far from â€œcar friendlyâ€ so I canâ€™t say I blamed him for saying no. From the missing bumper on the front of his car, it is safe to assume maybe he was turning this trip down based on a past experience.
I made a quick stop in a small store to grab some water and double check my directions. The guys there told me Alberto was between seven and thirteen kilometers. Thanks for narrowing it down for me guysâ€¦ I made the decision that I would try to hitchhike up as far as I could go, and walk whatever else I had to. If I wasnâ€™t very far by noon or 1 pm Iâ€™d just turn back and try to make my bus. It was 10:30 am, and with a winding road in front of me, I began to walk.
After about 20 minutes I realized this plan had a really good chance of crashing and burning. Not only had I not been picked up by anyone yet, I hadnâ€™t even seen a single vehicle pass me. I was drenched in sweat, covered in a layer of dirt, and walking in mid-day heat up a freaking mountain to go visit a guy who lives by himself in the woodsâ€¦ It was starting to sound like not the brightest idea.
A few minutes later a motorcycle rounds the corner, giving me a slight glimpse of hope. Actually, I shouldnâ€™t really say motorcycle because that gives the wrong impression. Instead I should say child size dirt bike. Giving me a ride would basically require this guy to let me wrap myself around him in order for me to stay on the bike. With a sheepish grin I made eye contact with the driver and stuck out my thumb. He smiled and wagged his finger at me. Iâ€™m sure he was thinking something along the lines of â€œyeah right you big fat gringo, you arenâ€™t getting on my child size dirt bike!â€
The second vehicle brought me more luck. It was a pickup truck already full of young men hitchhiking as well. They took me about one kilometer before they turned off on a different road. It was only one kilometer, but that was one less that I would have to walk. Eleven more to goâ€¦
I hit another dry spell and walked another kilometer before anyone passed, and then I heard something behind me. I turned and spotted a man riding a horse, and leading a second horse with no one on it. As the man came closer I thought to myself â€œWow, I canâ€™t believe I am about to do thisâ€ and then stuck out my thumb. The guy started laughing but pulled up next to me and explained through gestures that he didnâ€™t have a second saddle. â€œWhateverâ€ I thought, â€œpeople ride bareback all the time.â€ He helped me up and we continued the climb, all the while I prayed to the powers above for a saddle to fall out of the sky.
One kilometer and a very sore backside later and my second ride was leaving the road as well. I recognized the area from a trip to a waterfall the day before, and walked another kilometer to the entrance of the park where a waterfall was located hoping maybe I could catch a ride there. As I approached I saw four different vehicles parked in the parking lots. I figured that out of the four at least ONE had to be going up or maybe willing to go up for a little gas money. I waited for about fifteen minutes and the entire time the guy working the entrance of the park tried to buy the knife I had on me. Even after I told him how much it was and where he could get it in town he relentlessly kept asking. I started to consider using the knife for the first time right about then.
Soon a group of people began walking up from the park. I recognized one of the couples and asked if one of the cars was theirs. They said they were with a guide and his family but theyâ€™d ask if I could squeeze in the car. It took some seat swapping and some lap sitting for a few members of the family, but they were able to squeeze me in, making me person number nine in the mini SUV. I was extremely thankful for the ride, as they were able to take me ALL the way to Alberto, that is, if we could find Alberto.
After quite a bit of hunting and stopping to ask for directions, we found the path that would eventually lead me to Alberto. I said goodbye to my â€œgood Samaritansâ€ and began the one kilometer walk downhill to meet my hermit. The next hour I would spend with my mouth wide open as I walked with Alberto through his gardens and onto his cliff. The photo at the top of this post shows you the beauty of Albertoâ€™s creations in greater detail than I could ever explain. And to make things even better, 180 degrees around from that view was this amazing lookout point of the valley below.
My time with Alberto really taught me a new appreciation for simplicity, and while I donâ€™t think I would ever like to live like that, I can definitely see that it can be a rewarding and amazing lifestyle. I headed back to the road with two hours until the departure of my bus, and thirteen kilometers to go. Just a few steps into my trip a truck came rumbling along. I thumbed it, the driver pulled over, and then proceeded to drive me the entire thirteen kilometers to the bottom of the hill. Instead of dropping me at the bottom of the mountain where I would take a taxi, he drove me all the way to my hostel leaving me over an hour to catch my bus.
*Note – The first photo used in this post was edited by Wes from JohnnyVagabond.com. The photo was included in his new series “Travel Photo Tune Up” and you can see the detailed “how to” post for photo editing from Wes here.