Despite the heat, I kind of liked Leon. Everything was a little run down and a little dirty. Tattered not out of neglect but out of use.
In a few days I’ll be heading up north to learn a little bit more about the great neighbor of ours: Canada. To be more specific, the Ontario and Quebec regions.
Ontario: Explorer’s Edge
Explorers’ Edge is the Ontario region of Algonquin Park, the Almaguin Highlands, Muskoka and Parry Sound. On this trip, I’ll be exploring this wilderness area, 2 hours north of Toronto, by every possible means:
– On a mountain bike
– On a paddle board olong the Muskoka River
– On a canoe exploring Hailstorm Creek in Algonquin Park
– On an ATV on trails around Parry Sound
– On a sea kayak around Georgian Bay
It will be 3 days of water and dirt activities. It should be fun. Kate from Explorer’s Edge assured me that we have a good chance of running into wild moose near the park, which I really hope would happen. Not in the literal sense of course. That would be bad. For us.
Afterwards I’ll be making my way to Montreal by train where I’ll be picking up a rental car. It’s roadtrip time!
Quebec’s Eastern Township region
Quebec’s Eastern Township, or ‘Cantons-des-l’Est’ as it’s known by French inhabitants, is known for its collection of picturesque villages that dot the rolling countryside. There lakes and mountains that promise an abundance of outdoor activities.
It will be a 4 day road adventures of off-key singing, horse back riding, hiking, canoeing, sleeping in cute B&B’s all with a beautiful country scenery as a backdrop. Just my kind of road trip.
In case you’re curious about where the Eastern Township is located, the map below should give you an idea. It’s about 1 hour east of Montreal and stretches all the way to the Vermont and New Hampshire borders.
The Cities: Toronto and Montreal
After all the activities in the countryside and the wilderness, the cities would make for a nice change of pace. Other than to attend TBEX (a travel conference), I don’t have any plans for the cities just yet. I’ll be Couchsurfing and AirBnb-ing and I’m hoping my hosts would provide some tips on what to do in town.
Maybe you have suggestions?
It seems that every year we end up with some sort of a theme to our travel. Last year, the theme was water (lots of beaches and at one occasion, hundreds of whale sharks).
We’ll be crossing the Canadian border at least 3 times this year, so it seems that this year’s theme will be ‘Canada’.
I think it will be awesome and we’re off to a good start. Don’t you agree?
Ontario and Quebec Adventure
These experiences are partially hosted by Explorer’s Edge and Quebec Tourism.
There were times during this El Hoyo trek that I thought I must be crazy. Not only was I doing this willingly, I actually paid to do so.
You can’t escape tortillas when traveling in Nicaragua. The Nicas eat them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Nicaraguan tortillas are made from corn flour and are quite thick. For breakfast, I’ll use it to scoop up my gallo pinto (beans and rice) and scrambled egg, I’d place a little (ok, maybe more than a little) slice of cuajada (salty cheese), and add a dash of chili sauce and fold it in half quesadilla style.
One common roadside snack in Nicaragua is quesillo: a string of mozzarella-type cheese with pickled onion, doused with watery sour cream all wrapped in a thick tortilla. It’s a little bit of an acquired taste.
I stopped for breakfast one morning at this tiny market in Matagalpa and I saw these 2 women chatting while making tortillas. Their hands were a blur as they took a pinch of dough and smack it flat with their palm. “Smack-smack” – flip, “Smack-smack” – flip.
Another woman was grilling them on top of a wood fired stove.
I ask how many tortillas they make every day.
“Mil” – 1000. And this is just a tiny stall in a tiny market.
They sure love their tortillas here in Nicaragua.
Alberto Gutierrez, an 80 year old 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?
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.
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, the Nicaraguan Hermit
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.