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In Nicaragua, travel to the rainforest is one of those unforgettable experiences. The Indio Maíz Biological Reserve is a protected natural reserve in Nicaragua, in the southeast corner of the country. The notion of going there held immediate appeal but would it be worth the trek?
- More jungle – I know I have a gypsy soul but I am coming to the realization that it is seriously intertwined with my jungle soul.
- More wildlife – Very tempting.
- A tent on a platform – I can do that!
- A dugout canoe trip up the Rio Bartola – I am not paddling. How cool is that?
Decision made – it warranted exploring. Em, my daughter and I were committed.
Nicaragua: Travel to the Rainforest
The town of El Castillo is a great starting point for any adventures into the Indio Maíz.
It is a town with no cars and no wifi. There is lots of boat activity]
and gorgeous birds in the mango trees!
Spend a morning exploring El Castillo and its 17th-century Spanish fortress.
El Castillo is situated on the Rio San Juan right above some wicked rapids. For many years, these rapids and the fortress protected the Spanish ports of Granada and León from English explorers and pirates. Today, it still provides a challenge.
Journey to Base Camp Bartola
We were picked up in El Castillo at a designated spot to start our boat journey. It poured for our 30-minute boat trip down the Rio San Juan. As we turned into the tributary, Rio Bartola, the weather changed.
As you enter the mouth of the river, there is a checkpoint as you can only visit the Indio Maíz Biological Reserve with a guide.
We travelled a little further up the Rio Bartola until it was too shallow. Time for a boat exchange. Fillippe, from Base Camp Bartola, was waiting for us with a dugout canoe. I can’t tell you how guilty I felt about my heavy pack as our guide poled us up the river. At times it was incredibly shallow so we got out and walked on the shore.
The river was gurgling, the trees’ branches arched over us, monkeys peered down from treetops and kingfishers flitted up and down past us. A glorious serving of tranquillity.
When we arrived, there was a steep climb up! As I started the vertical ascent, I cursed my deadweight of a pack. “No books next time, Alison,” I thought. The path was slippery and my feet slithered in my sandals. I gritted my teeth, “I can do this, I can do this.” When I reached the top of the path, Em smiled at me and said, “ You’re an animal, Mum!” I’ll take it.
Our steep climb was rewarded with a lovely view of the jungle, a fresh coconut to revive us and our accommodation. It was perfect: a hammock and a tent overlooking the jungle.
Any stay at Base Camp Bartola includes all meals and two activities per day. So without further ado, we set off on a short hike.
Over the two days, we did two hikes, a bird-watching walk and made chocolate. Pilar, our guide, spoke little English but handily helped us spot wildlife. It was a muddy two days – we traipsed through primary forest with towering trees, rested at a waterfall, saw howlers monkeys, capuchins, spider monkeys, toucans and scarlet macaws.
With the humidity and the mud, I started referring, with great fondness, to our experience as “Boot Camp Bartola!”
The hike to make chocolate was exceptionally muddy. Not for the faint of heart. Em needed to be pulled out when her boots got totally stuck!
Making chocolate from local cacao beans was a highlight. We hiked straight up to a lady’s house on a hill and into her kitchen.
cooked cacao seeds, peeled their skins when they were piping hot,
ground them in an old fashioned meat grinder (reminiscent of my mother in the kitchen) and then cooked the ground beans with milk and sugar. The remainder of the chocolate mixture boiled for quite some time and eventually was patted and rolled into chocolate balls
The people that run Base Camp Bartola were just lovely and so eager to please. Rosario and her daughter cooked for us every day. Only after trekking to the chocolate house did I realize that they walked a solid thirty minutes through the mud to get to the kitchen to cook for us. Not only was Rosario a great cook, but she was also the teacher at the school.
I had asked Pilar if we could take an extra trek over to see the school. Even though it was not in session, (school holidays in Nicaragua are in January), I was curious to see it. I loved seeing the school with its sign that reads, “En mi escuela NO hay bullying.” (In my school, there is no bullying)
Read about another Nicaraguan jungle experience at Los Guatuzos Wildlife Refuge
In Nicaragua, travel to the rainforest and experience Base Camp Bartola. It is life at its simplest – fresh air, exercise and good food. Add in a wake-up call of birds and howler monkeys and there it is – the perfect recipe to reconnect with nature, to notice stillness, to remember to breathe.
The Community that operates Base Camp Bartola is a co-operative of twenty- seven families that farm coffee, sugar cane, corn and bananas. When we were there, many of the men were away working in Costa Rica picking coffee beans as there are few job opportunities, given the isolated location of their community. In the last few years, the co-operative has been offering eco-tourism packages. They hope to use eco-tourism to support their infrastructure and generate employment in their own community. There is also a growing awareness of the value of the jungle for sustainable tourism which has led to fewer trees being cut down.
Nicaragua: Travel to the Rainforest
Base Camp Bartola:
directly: https://www.facebook.com/indio.maiz/info or firstname.lastname@example.org
through: Nena Lodge and Tours in El Castillo
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