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Travel Journal


After a cold and rainy night I woke up after sleeping for only a short period of time. It was probably the coldness (it was less than 20°C, at least 10°C difference with Managua) and the uncomfortable position in the hammock. Waking up in the middle of the rain forest with frogs and monkeys making noise on the background does compensate for the lack of amenities, though, and I was excited about the coming day, because we would be exploring the jungle and search for basaltic rock formations.

We had a locally prepared breakfast and it was still quite early when we left to further penetrate the forest by boat. I was surprised when I saw that Manuel took a bunch of bamboo sticks in the boat. After asking what they were fore, he laughed at my conclusion and told me these were sugar canes which would basically form our lunch.

Again we amazed ourselves during the boat trip. The number of trunks and stones increased, and the water was even shallower. Hilario guided the boat again, and Manuel intuitively followed his instructions to avoid getting stuck in the narrow river.

Nature was even more abundant further upstream, and we saw again many birds and other animals. Here the Dutch couple proved to be excellent bird spotters, and thanks to them we saw many birds we would have otherwise probably missed. Among the most spectacular birds were a group of toucans that passed from one side of the river to the other side, high above us.

We got off the boat after about an hour traveling upstream, at a place where Hilario once lived. There was nothing left of his house, except for some small, wooden remains that once formed the foundation of the house. Manuel stayed in the boat and the rest of the group entered the forest. We were immediately in the middle of the rain forest. Lush vegetation, a high humidity, and muddy trails characterized the first part of the hike. There was a small path that the Ramas used, but this was so infrequently traveled that it was partially overgrown by plants and Hilario had to cut our way through with a machete. At one point he even lost the trail but this time Enrique came to the rescue when he found a passage to the original path.

We hiked the hill that was locally known as Cantagallo, and underway nothing but spectacular nature prevailed. We saw several of the same red dart frogs, as well as another dart frog species that was green and black. We heard the animal sounds around us, but it was hard to spot the creatures in the dense forest. Birds often sat high in the trees, far away from the forest bottom where we walked. We did hear a magnificent bird species – macaws – but we were unable to locate them We did see a large mountain crab, and Hilario furthermore explained us a lot about the trees and plants in the forest, and how the Ramas use the flora and fauna for food, medicines, and construction of their small houses. The knowledge that these people have of the forest is impressive.

Despite the experience that we had close to San Juan del Norte when we hiked the forest over there, this area was pretty much mosquito-free, and we had no problems whatsoever during our hike with any insects (except for a huge ant that almost bit me in my leg). We did see some beautiful insects, including giant, colorful dragonflies.

It took perhaps an hour to hike uphill. Close to the top there was a small gap in the vegetation and we could see hectares and hectares of pristine forest below. The path, which was not as overgrown as before, brought us to the other side of the hill, where we found the first rock formations.

These rock formations were mentioned by Enrique, who had visited them before, and it was one of the attractions that we had set as a target during this jungle visit. According to a very limited study that had been done (using photos), scientists had identified these rocks as a natural phenomenon, but human influence appeared to be present. The rocks appeared to be carved or cut by perhaps some ancient tribe who used rocks as building materials. We could only speculate, but it was definitely interesting to find these unusual rock formations in the middle of the forest.

We explored the different rocks and we had a break before we started our return hike to the river. Again we enjoyed the natural setting and we kept looking for some other fascinating animals that also live in this forest – like ant-eaters, deer, sloths, or perhaps even a jaguar – but we had no luck. Hilario told us he had often see these animals (even the jaguar), and if you stay in the forest long enough you can easily spot one.

Nevertheless we returned satisfied to the boat – after about 4 hours of hiking – where we told Manuel what we had seen. We ate the sugar cane, which tasted very sweet (as can be expected from sugar cane), and then returned downstream. Again it was a wonderful trip, and now we saw several alligators on our way back! Some disappeared when we came close, but this angry-looking fellow did not even move when we took pictures. We also saw many lizards that sat in the trees above the river, who would voluntarily drop into the water when we approached. We were not sure why they did this, but it was at least funny to see.

At around 4PM we returned to our base camp, and it was the perfect moment for a refreshing swim in the river. Hilario said that we could safely swim right in front of the hut, and after we were assured that those angry alligators do not attack people we entered the fresh water.

The temperature was great for swimming, and the river was surprisingly deep at this point – about three meters. The current was quite strong but not as forceful as what we experienced at Sábalos.

It took not long before the sun disappeared and the nightly jungle sounds returned. We chatted some more with Hilario who told us about the times when he and his people could freely live here, and how things changed in the last couple of years. He also told us that the river temperature did not use to be as high as it was right now. Unfortunately, the supposedly-protected forest of the Indio Maíz Biological Reserve is being cut further inland by illegal wood-traders and large-scale farmers. Three years ago the water temperature started to rise significantly, and it has not been going down, because of the illegal activities taking place westward of the Rama settlement. I found it amazing to find out that the authorities are putting in a great effort to remove the Ramas from the forest while the large-scale logging creates a far greater impact on the ecological balance than the sustainable methods of living of the Rama Indians.

We had another locally prepared dinner, including a tasty indigenous dessert that the Ramas make using plantain and coconut, and we prepared for our last night in the forest.