Return to Central America - Winter 2011

Hitchhiking on a Horse to Visit a Hermit

click photos to enlargeAlberto the Hermit There was only one more bus going up the mountain for the day. It wouldn’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 “attractions” 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 on…

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 “Get the hell OUT!” I got out.
The road was covered in rocks and was far from “car friendly” so I can’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 guys… 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 wasn’t very far by noon or 1 pm I’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 hadn’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 woods… 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 shouldn’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. I’m sure he was thinking something along the lines of “yeah right you big fat gringo, you aren’t getting on my child size dirt bike!”

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 go…

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 “Wow, I can’t believe I am about to do this” and then stuck out my thumb. The guy started laughing but pulled up next to me and explained through gestures that he didn’t have a second saddle. “Whatever” I thought, “people ride bareback all the time.” 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 they’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 “good Samaritans” 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 Alberto’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.

View from Alberto's Cliff
My time with Alberto really taught me a new appreciation for simplicity, and while I don’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 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.

  1. Danielle

    Alberto sounds so interesting! Glad it was worth the journey to get there. Great post 🙂

  2. Kelly

    So cool Matt! I can’t believe you hitchhiked bareback on a horse! haha. Classic! Your photos are amazing. That one of Alberto really caught me.

    1. Matt

      Haha, the horse part makes for a good story but was not that fun for me… Thanks for the compliments on the photos, Wes did a great job editing that first one!

  3. inka

    I think your dedication and perseverance to see Alberto was rewarded by that last truck driver who took you all the way back. One of the best stories I have read lately, in fact, I read it twice.

    1. Matt

      Inka! Thanks so much! Yea, that last driver was my saviour! To get back to the road I had to hike up quite a bit and was not looking forward to anymore walking so I’m very thankful that guy came along.

  4. Lisa

    What an amazing journey. I love the photos. What a gift to see that.

  5. John in France

    Absolutely enthralling story Matt. I’d say there is a bigger story if you had been able to have longer with Alberto!

    1. Matt

      Yea, he was definitely a very interesting guy. His house was like 10 feet by 10 feet and he had written his name all over the sculptures and his house. A little out there maybe, but an interesting guy.

  6. monette | fliptravels

    wonderful story! i look at alberto in the stunning picture and i feel like he’s got years of stories to tell. 😀

    1. Matt

      He basically talked non-stop the entire hour that I was there. I wish I could have understood more but I got quite a bit from him.

  7. Grace

    Amusing post! Alberto looks like he’s straight out of a Pedro Almodovar movie. I wonder what he was thinking when you took this photo. I’d love to see more of his art if you have pictures of it…please?

    1. Matt

      I’ve got a few more that I’ll post in the coming weeks!

  8. Christine

    What an awesome experience! Sounds like you really lucked out with the hitch hiking that day. And the photo of Alberto is fantastic!

    1. Matt

      Thanks so much! Yea I was very lucky, especially with that last truck!

  9. Adam

    Haha, great story. I can just picture you walking along with a thumb out as the guy and his horse approached. Hilarious.

    1. Matt

      Haha, this will definitely be something I’ll think back on in the future and laugh about.

  10. Glen

    wow, what a great story and an interesting artist!

  11. Jillian

    Wonderful story and really, really great picture. Glad you got a ride down though, I can imagine how sore you were after riding bareback!

    1. Matt

      Yes, I was exhausted and not looking forward to the walk down at all. That guy really saved me a lot of trouble!

  12. Laurel

    Very cool adventure, Alberto sounds like he was worth all the effort. So glad the hitch hiking eventually worked out for you.

  13. Ted Nelson

    Incredible adventure to get there. It definitely sounds (and looks) as it was worth it. This reminds me of a time I had to hitchhike in Thailand. I got a bus to the gates of a national park. the ranger at the gates told me the campsite was 13km. My guide book failed to mention this fact. I started to hike and the first car sped past me, but the second one picked me up and drove me all the way to the camp spot, so I had an easier time than your escapade.

    1. Matt

      Hitchhiking can really save you at times like these. There would have been no way I made this trip without the hospitality of all of those people.

  14. Christy @ Technosyncratic

    Great story – what an adventure! And the photo is really awesome; the edits Wes made certainly perked it up a little, but the original was impressive too. 🙂

    1. Matt

      Wes did an AMAZING job on the edit and really inspired me to practice my editing skills!

  15. Donna

    What an adventure – just wish you had a picture of yourself on the horse!

    1. Matt

      I really wish I did too but I was busy trying to stay on!

  16. connie

    Matt. what a great place to see,wish I could have been with you, not on the horse HAHA

  17. joe

    Matt See you are having a great time, this story is really neat .keep the stories coming as I really enjoy reading them

  18. David

    Matt Are any of Alberto’s carvings in wood or on trees?
    The carvings and painting in the rock look awesome.

    1. Matt

      If you can carve it or paint it, this guy does it. Trees, pieces of wood, rocks, the side of his house. Everything!

  19. Darlene Brown

    Matt it looks like you are having fun . i sure would kove to have seen you on the horse. the story is awesome keep up the good work

    1. Matt

      Thanks a lot!

  20. Andrea

    Great story! I’ve never hitchhiked anywhere, but sounds like you had a lot of locals who wanted to help you get there. The horse part was great!

    1. Matt

      Yea, if it weren’t for the locals there I never would have made it. I’m just lucky they were so kind.

  21. @renedw

    I’ve always joked about wanting to become a hermit. Alberto makes it an art! Go him! Thanks for sharing your Great experience, Matt!

    1. Matt

      I don’t know if the hermit life is something I could handle, but this guy embraced it.

  22. Amy

    What a great story! Sometimes the hardest journeys result in the best pay offs.

    1. Matt

      So very very true!

  23. Melissa

    All I can say is “WOW”…awesome pictures and your descriptions of your travels are amazing! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Matt

      Thanks so much and thanks for reading!

  24. mikeyz

    did alberto speak english? how well? or are you becoming fluent from your travels?!

    1. Matt

      Nope, he didn’t speak a world of English, and no I am far from fluent. But I’m trying! I’m going to spend a lot of my down time between trips working on my Spanish so we’ll see how that goes!

  25. Cathy Sweeney

    Another great travel experience for you! You’ve met such interesting people like Alberto and that nice truck driver at the end of the day. Really nice shot of that amazing view.

Comments are closed.