Carving the Cliffside: The Quest For Nicaragua's Elusive Sculptor

Esteli, Nicaragua

Alberto Gutierrez, an 80 year old sculptor/hermit, might be one of the most interesting characters I’ve met during my travels.

Alberto spent 3 hours each day carving the cliffside on his farm. Since the carvings are etched onto the mountainside in his farm, it’s not that he could sell them. Why would he do this?

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The carvings of Alberto Gutierrez, Nicaragua
The carvings of Alberto Gutierrez, Nicaragua

Why indeed

Legend has it Alberto was once an alcoholic. When the alcoholism started to go out of control, he went to a priest for guidance and was told that he should pick up a hobby. So he picked up a chisel and started carving.

35 years later, he was still carving.

If his carvings is not a good enough reason to convince you to come to visit, Alberto also happens to live in one of the most beautiful parts of Tisey Natural Reseve. There’s a great view a lush valley below from the cliffside where he worked.

With his simple worktools: a hammer made out of rock, 2 chisels, and a file, it took him 1 year to carve a cave out of the hillside that he turned into a shrine.

His carvings consisted of mostly animals and famous people of Nicaragua. But I also saw a helicopter, an elephant, and a myriad of other things. He had a story for every piece of carving he had done. I wish I knew more Spanish so I could understand all of the stories he was telling me.

Orchids grow out of little notches he had carved out among his carvings. I’ve lost count of the many different types he had growing in his farm. He knew the name of every single one of them.

As we walked, he talked non-stop, pointing out different orchids and plants, his sculptures, and the surrounding natural beauty. “Es bonito, es?” I nooded. It was hard to disagree.

It was hard to imagine that up until 2004, this chatty old guy with bushy white hair and beard would run away and hide from visitors. He now seemed to delight in showing off his works and farm to visitors.

Alberto showing his carving method

A shrine at Gutierrez' farm that he carved out of a mountainside

Alberto Gutierrez, a sculpture in Nicaragua

Alberto Gutierrez and a pineapple fresh from his farm

A parting gift

On our way out, he handed me a fresh pineapple as a gift. How do I know it’s fresh? I saw him pluck it off one of trees on his farm. It was delicious!

Meeting Alberto Gutierrez was one of the unexpected highlights of Nicaragua. I’m glad I seeked him out as I really enjoyed getting to know this eccentric character, his carvings, and his farm.

The journey to get to his farm is also an adventure in itself (see below). I hope that if you’re in this part of Nicaragua, you stop by and see him. I really think it’ll be worth your time.

Who’s the most interesting character you’ve met during your travel?

How to visit Alberto Gutierrez

How to visit Alberto Gutierrez from Esteli

From Esteli, take a bus to Tisey from COTRAN Sur (6:30 am and 1:30pm). Either ask to be dropped off at the the entrance to El Calejate or Eco Posada. If dropped off at Eco Posada (where you can get lunch/buy drinks, etc), walk for about 10 minutes until you see a wooden sign that says “El Calejate” – the name of Alberto’s farm. Walk through the rickety wooden gate and keep following the trail downhill passing what feels like private farms. Soon you’ll see a wooden sign, “Bienvenidos A Galeria Escultura en Pierdas”. Cross over the wooden bar, and start calling out. If nobody answers, that means Alberto is showing off his sculptures to other guests. Keep following the trail towards the back, climb some steep steps, and you should see the carved rock soon enough.

Entrance fee of 10 Cordobas is weakly enforced.

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19 Replies to “Carving the Cliffside: The Quest For Nicaragua's Elusive Sculptor”

  1. Hi,
    I visited Alberto and interviewed him for a book I am writing on Health in Nicargaua, I am actually looking for a few more photos of his work. Is there any chance you would share a few photos I could use in my book? Specifically I am looking for one where you can see his work on the side of the mountain along with the hiking trail and the woods in the background.
    Thanks,
    Dan

  2. Como Nicaragüense siempre es grato leer cosas tan buenas y positivas de mi país y mi gente. Muchas gracias por el artículo!!

  3. What an amazing gift! I haven't made it to Nicaragua yet but I would love to meet Alberto when we do. The most memorable character we have met traveling would have to be Leroy of Memphis. He found us at Earnstine and Hazel's and will pay for any jukebox song you like if you'll sing it for him.

  4. Looks like such a chilled out place/area. I don't know why I never made it to Esteli. If I manage to get back to Nicaragua -might be worthwhile- then I'll make it a point to get up there.

  5. Hi Jill, this is amazing! Seeing these spectacular mountain sculptures is incredible but meeting their creator is something else. What an inspiring story of healing and what a great legacy he will leave. I'd love to meet him one day and see his sculptures for myself. Great post.

  6. Wow! Those carvings are beautiful! I guess if you have passion and talent like his, it's hard to stop. What an interesting and unforgettable character. How did you ever find out about him? It's wonderful that those carvings will be around for a very long time for many people to enjoy.

  7. This is a real story of someone who successfully turned his bleak past into a more promising future. Thanks for sharing the story Jill! This might inspire more people to be happier with their lives.

  8. Alberto is a wonderful sculptor and inspirational too – not trying to become rich, just carving because he can't not carve. Lessons to be learned here. Glad you found him and introduced us. 🙂

  9. I love this story, so inspirational! And definitely makes me want to visit:-) In Japan, I met some great locals at karaoke bars, who were excited to practice their English, and singing with them was one of the highlights of the trip!

  10. These photos are incredible and Alberto is an amazing artist. This mountainside will be a treasure for visitors to Nicaragua for years to come:)

  11. I have seen this guy on another travel blogger's post. Fascinating story. One of the many reasons travel is so awesome. You just don't meet many people like this anywhere.

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