Before I go on, I should let you know that there will be no photographs for a while. I lost the battery charger for my camera, and it is a highly specific one (you have to take the battery out and plug it into the charger). I even met another guy who had a similar camera (both Canons) but the model was different and my battery wouldn’t fit the charger. Ah well.
So I’m going to have to try painting instead of using photographs. Although it’s going to be particularly difficult here, since yesterday was probably the most photogenic day of the trip. But I’ll get to that.
I woke up in Boaco with the wild idea that I wanted to go horseback riding. I’d read of a nearby town called San Jose de los Remates, rarely visited by tourists, where I could rent a horse if I asked around. So I grabbed my bag and went to the bus station.
There are times on this trip when I am glad to be alone, because that means I don’t have to apologize to anyone for dragging them into one of my dumb plans. Most of the trip to San Jose de los Remates had me feeling that way. It’s not that far from Boaco—maybe 50 or 60 kilometers. But you wouldn’t have known that from the bus ride. Dirt roads, gravel roads, barely existing roads. A twenty minute stop for guys to throw wood on the roof. Multiple U-turns in places I didn’t think it was possible for a bus to turn. Slow ascents of steep-graded roads. And no fewer than three stops to check the engine.
That 50 kilometer trip took three hours.
So by the time I hit San Jose, I was feeling pretty damn stupid. I decided I was there, and there was no way I was turning around and going back, so I might as well make the most of it. Besides, the surrounding countryside looked very pretty. It was already almost 3:00, and sunset wasn’t far, but I wanted to get on a horse, so I asked around and was directed to the mayor’s office.
There are no hotels or hostels in town, so I asked the man I met there—Jorge—if he could help me find a place to stay and a guide and a horse. He made a phone call and told me to come back in an hour, then directed me to the house next door, which turned out to be his house. His wife Celia set me up in a room that I think usually belongs to their son, and I came out in the living room to spend an hour conversing in my abysmal Spanish with Celia, her two children, and her mother, who was quite fond of the pictures I brought out.
I went outside to find a man named Villaron and a horse with no name waiting for me, and we started up the mountain. As we neared the top, the rocky path gave way to a lush green meadow with a view that stopped my heart. You go through a day where the travel is much harder than you expected thinking, “This had better be worth it.” And then it is. It’s worth the trip and a dozen more just like it.
From the meadow, which might have been the greenest spot I’ve seen in Central America, I looked down across a valley to a set of green-covered mountains sitting in golden afternoon light. I held up the horse for about five minutes just staring with my mouth open. I actually said “thank you.” Not to anyone in particular. Well, maybe the horse. It was an astonishing view, and it wasn’t over yet.
We continued on into dense forest hanging over a coffee farm and I started to hear a sound like tires on a wet street. I left the horse and followed Villaron on foot up to a beautiful waterfall that shook off the mountain like silver hair. There was one shaft of light cutting through the canopy and it landed right on the water, making the whole thing shimmer. After a few minutes, Villaron asked if I wanted to see the view from the top.
This was not an easy climb. We had to stop for breath twice before we made it. Then we had to pick our way along slippery rocks until we hit a cave-like opening in the foliage, and I realized we were right at the precipice of the waterfall. The drop was easily eighty feet.
But the drop isn’t what’s impressive about that spot. It’s the view of the valley beyond. When I saw it from the meadow I didn’t think there was a better place to see it. I was wrong. From the top of the falls, sitting on the rocks, you could just look out forever. The vista seemed twice as large, and other mountains had crowded in to be part of the picture. The sun was a bit lower on the horizon, so the whole thing had the feel of a dream, or what one imagines a great painter would use for their interpretation of heaven. Everything stood in just the right place, from the shadows creeping up the valley to the crater yawning up between the mountains and indicating the geologic violence that once made this place what it is today. The whole valley, the town and everything, felt like a gift. And I said “thank you” again. This time to Villaron.
We got back to town just as dark was creeping in. Celia made dinner of cheese soup with these fried masa and cheese balls in it, tostones, and salad, and I went off to bed just as the rest of the family got home from church. And I spent the night in the home of a family I’d only met a few hours before in a town that barely registers a blip on most travellers’ maps. And I fell asleep feeling like the luckiest man in the world, with another “thank you” sitting on my lips.