In the morning we met our local guide, Jaime – a small guy with a big machete who lived most of his life on Solentiname. We met his friend and artisan Louis when we picked up some supplies that Jaime had stored at Louis’ house. When we discussed our planned hiking route with this other Solentinameño (inhabitant of Solentiname), he recommended taking another route which would take less time. Jaime, however, was not familiar with these trails, and fortunately Louis was willing to be guide for a day and join our group. The first thing he did was send me back to the hotel to change my brand new shorts for a pair of pants. Soon, this turned out to be very useful advice.
We had two places that we wanted to reach during the hike: something called ‘El Peñon’ and a wetland area. ‘El Peñon’ means ‘the huge rock’, and this is the highest point in the whole archipelago. All of the local people that we asked about this site were familiar with it, but few had recently visited it. Tourists visited this attraction even less, as even the most basic infrastructure lacks: there is no trail, there are no organized hikes, and there is few information about the hike available (obviously, our goal was to gather information about this activity so soon more about El Peñon can be found at ViaNica). The wetlands are located further than El Peñon on the shores of the island. The idea was to first climb El Peñon and then descend to the wetlands before heading back to the hotel.
The hike started with a small trail through a dry, hot forest. So far, shorts would not have been a bad idea. We ascended and descended a small hill, and entered another type of forest that was more humid and had no real trail. The guides told us about the animals that can be seen here, including many bird species, deer, and snakes. They also told us that this area becomes greener but also muddier during the raining season. After we crossed this area, we had to climb through a fence of barbed wire to enter a more open field with bush and palm trees. From here we could see the hill that we were to climb, still quite far away.
It was on this trail that Jaime and Louis became excited because somewhere along the road there would be some surprise. When we reached a certain point, this surprise turned out to be a fallen palm tree. Not very spectacular on the first sight. Closing in on the tree, we saw it was partially cut open, and some white liquid filled the artificially created hole. Jaime and Louis invited us to try ‘Chicha de Coyol’: liquor of the campesinos (peasants). This is a natural liquid found inside the trunk of a certain palm tree (Coyol). After chopping down a tree and cutting a hole, this liquor will fill the opening without any further human intervention. Campesinos living in areas where the Coyol grows, chop down a tree every now and then to provide them this free, tasty liquor. If there is no more Chicha de Coyol in the original hole, they simply expand the hole and more liquor will come. Quite a nifty system!
We could obviously not miss this opportunity to try Chicha de Coyol, and through a hollow plant stem we drank some of this 100% natural liquor. It was very sweet but tasty, and both Jaime and Louis also drank a bit before we continued our hike.
We crossed the bushy field and it became clearer and clearer why shorts were not a good idea. Lacking a real trail, we sometimes hike through the buses and spiny plants. Even with a long pair of pants the spines sometimes painfully penetrated my skin, so this would have been a tortuous tour in shorts.
At some point, we reached an empty riverbed inside the forest, and we used this path to ascend the hill. While walking in this riverbed, Louis gave us some survival instructions. Not only told he us which animals to eat in the forest, but at some point he also cut off something that looked like a dry, dead tree branch. After cutting it, fresh water dripped out of the wood, great to lessen your thirst.
It took about half an hour to ascend the riverbed. We reached a large rock formation that functions somehow as the water source for the river during the raining season, according to the guides. From this point, the real ascend would start. It got steeper and now there was no real trail or riverbed to use. Fortunately, the vegetation was not very dense and although it required more effort than before, it was not a problem to get closer to the top.
We saw the view improve as we reached higher levels. Most of the time there were too many trees to have a good view, but not far from the top we could already see some of the huge lake and several of the other Solentiname islands.
Then, about three hours after we started our hike, we reached El Peñon: several huge rocks, partially overgrown by large tropical plants, located at the highest point of the island. We had to find a way to get on the largest rock, which took some effort because plants and trees blocked the access point that Jaime and Louis normally used. We could, however, jump from a rock on the other side to the main rock, and at that point we had finally reached the summit! And what a view! We could oversee the Mancarrón Island, and we saw the neighboring islands in all their splendor right below us. We also saw the mainland and the guides told us that on a clear day you can even see Ometepe Island, 60 kilometers northwest of Solentiname. They also showed us the wetlands that we would visit next, which could also be seen from above. After enjoying the site and taking many pictures of the stunning view, a big raining cloud heading our way triggered our departure. We now took another path that would lead directly to the wetlands. Again there was no real trail but Louis would try to find a path and his machete was used whenever the plants and bushes were too dense to walk through.
After a little while we passed a tree with a name I don’t recall, and here Louis stopped the group to eat lunch. It was a very natural lunch in the form of crushed seeds that came from the tree. It was not a lot, but it probably contained a bunch of vitamins and minerals. That’s how they tasted at least.
In the following two hours we somehow made it to the wetlands. We had to mostly descend the high hill, but we also ascended and descended smaller hills along the way. We had to walk through thick forest and open fields. We had to cross rivers and climb fences. All in all it was tougher to get to the wetlands than to El Peñon using the routes we used. Nevertheless we made it, and we were able to explore this other natural area.
The wetlands were not as wet as I expected. During the raining season, the guides said, the area where we walked is flooded and the settings change dramatically. The muddy bottom of the wetlands was now dry enough to cross, and we could walk up to the shore. Very tall grass-like and other bushy vegetation flourished here, and the area was nevertheless quite impressive. The wetlands are a refugee for many animals, and birds, turtles, and alligators live here in abundance. The turtles come here to lay their eggs, and the Jaime and Louis found us a nesting site and dug up some eggs to show them.
We explored a small part of the area, but time constraints forced us to move on. These wetlands are best to visit during the night said the guides, when alligators can be seen easily from a boat. We decided to head back to the hotel, because there was still a very long hike in sight and we would have only a couple hours of sun left. We had to take another trail to get back directly to the hotel, located at the other side of the island. However, the lush vegetation made it impossible to use the trail that Louis had in mind, so we had to walk along the coastline to find another trail. This was not as easy as it seemed, because although the muddy bottom seemed to be dry, some areas were still wet and that meant you’d easily sink into the mud.
When we were walking along the coastline, trying to avoid getting stuck into the mud, Louis showed me a large beehive somewhere in a shrub. Hundreds of bees were crowding the hive to collaborate in the complex bee society. This was something quite beautiful, I thought, and I asked Louis if it was possible to take a picture. He thought it was no problem, as long as I kept my distance. Here a communication problem arose, because whereas Louis interpreted ‘keeping your distance’ as ‘stay at least a meter away’, I felt he meant to stay at least 30 centimeters from the hive. I slowly moved closer and closer to the hive, with Louis cautiously saying “Do not get too close, do not get too close”. Getting a little closer, Louis repeated louder “Do not get too close”, and it was about three seconds later that I saw all the bees in the hive suddenly become ‘activated’, and fly in my direction! I concluded it was time to run, and Louis came to the same conclusion. Jaime and Róger, walking a little ahead, heard the conversation and when they heard us take off they also felt running away as fast as possible was probably a good idea. And that’s how the four of us raced down the coastline with a swarm of angry bees behind us. Fortunately they did not pursue us for long, and miraculously nobody got stung.
After this minor event we continued our journey and we reached a quite muddy area. Here it was hard not to sink down into the mud, and both Róger and I got stuck several times. The guides were better in walking these mudfields, and told us to simply try to run in order not to get stuck. I tried this and it actually worked quite well. When Róger tried to do the same, he unfortunately sank away too deep and fell right down on his knees in the mud. Funny for us, muddy for Róger.
After a while we reached a trail that would lead to the other side of the island. We were now again walking through the lush vegetation, but this time there was at least a trail. The hike was nice but we were getting tired and hungry. In the same way as he had fixed us lunch, Louis got us a nice afternoon snack from a mango tree. Although they were not completely ripe, the mangos tasted pretty good and our first hunger was satisfied.
It was two hours after we left the wetlands that we reached a small community. At the same time, the sun was rapidly disappearing behind the horizon and this would pose a serious problem because it would be completely dark and that would mean that it would take much longer for us to get to the hotel. However, Jaime knew somebody in this community who had a boat, and he went to the man to discuss the possibilities. After we discussed a price the man was willing to take us to our hotel for around $6, which seemed quite reasonable to us. The boat had some sort of very old diesel engine, but it worked fine and we slowly made our way over the water to our hotel. After this twenty minute boat ride the sun had already disappeared and the people from the hotel were already wondering where we were.
It was the end of a very adventurous day exploring some of the less frequently visited but very spectacular attractions in this region.