“It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.”
― Paulo Coelho,
When Don Alberto was in his thirties, he had a magnificent dream. He was so inspired that he consulted with a priest to see if his dream was possible. The priest gave him wise advise like Paulo Coelho in Brida, “When you find your path, you must not be afraid. You need to have sufficient courage to make mistakes. Disappointment, defeat, and despair are the tools God uses to show us the way.”
Don Alberto was pleased with the advise, and the next day, he chose his sharpest stone-carving tools, which consisted of two sharpened pieces of rebar, a stone hammer, and a metal blade, and trekked through the valley below to find the perfect cliffs to begin his once-in-a-lifetime dream of honoring God, family, and love of nature and animals.
Along the stone paths worn by his daily treks, he planted coffee trees, bromeliads, and orchids that he treasured. Today, Don Alberto’s 40 something years of stone-carving are his tribute and gift to Tisey Estanzuela Natural Reserve outside the town of Esteli that he calls home.
Welcome to Finca El Jalacate, sculptures in rock.
Don Alberto is a spry 72-year-old, with a snow-white afro and suntanned skin with weathered lines etched into his face that kind of resemble his carvings. He attributes his healthy lifestyle to working every day of his life. He said that even when he is sick (which isn’t often), he prefers to carve rocks than stay in his bed. He enjoys visiting the 60 thousand visitors he has had throughout his adventures in rock carving, and explains with joy the many details in his carvings.
We met him in his humble casita ( where he was born), signed his visitor’s book, and chatted a few minutes before heading up the trail to the cliffs. He explained that he works from 6 am to 10 am everyday (even in the rain), then takes a break and relaxes in the afternoon. The day we visited, he commented that he had kidney troubles, but it never stopped or interfered with his work.
The evidence of his religious faith was on every rock along the shaded path to the cliffs.
Along the path that creeped into the heavens, his multifaceted interests were incredible. In fact, my main word for the day was “Incredible!”
One of my favorite carvings is the Twin Towers. Don Alberto told us he has no cell phone or TV, but he does have a radio that he listens to daily. I suspect that is how he receives the world news, although he does have a brother that lives nearby and he is always at the gate to collect 20 cordobas per person for the trip to the cliffs.
Depictions of Christ, crosses of all sizes and shapes, and the birth and crucifixion of Jesus are embedded in the cliffs at every twist and turn.
He showed us the carving of his father on his horse. He has five siblings, only one of which is married. When we asked him if he had a girlfriend, he said that he had a girlfriend once, but somebody stole her.
The cliff stretches some 300 feet, completely covered with his carvings. His work includes anaconda snakes that slither through crevices and cracks, birds, a four-foot tall elephant, jaguars, suns and moons, rabbits, deer, and of course scenes from the Bible.
There are two main levels of carvings in the cliff. Embedded in the cliff, he carved small windows and transplanted many varieties of flowers and bromeliads in the windows.
Many of his images were painted with red, blue, white, and yellow pigments.
Benches carved by Don Alberto line the cliff, where visitors can stop, rest, and reflect on his marvels. He thought of everything!
The accounts I read about Don Alberto vary from article to article. This includes his age, where he was born, and how he began to fulfill his dream. One thing for sure, he is a character! I wouldn’t call him a hermit because he is surrounded by family and definitely enjoys talking with visitors from around the world. Although, he leads a very simple and fulfilling life.
We shared a picnic lunch with Don Alberto at the cliffs. He gummed the grapes we gave him slowly because it looks like he only has one tooth left in his mouth. Then, he tenderly placed the seeds in the ground so they could sprout.
Surprisingly, he smokes! Our guide, Nelson, gave him a cigarette and Don Alberto shared more stories about his life while puffing on his cigarette. He pointed to Esteli in the valley below and explained the contours of the land surrounding his beautiful retreat. He said he goes to church on Sunday, but we didn’t ask him the location of the church.
After lunch, we headed down the narrow path to his little casita. He said he was tired and wanted a siesta.
Don Alberto likes gifts! We gave him some money to buy cigarettes…he laughed. Then, we gave him what was left of our picnic lunch. The Doritos chips were a special treat to him.
It was a delight to spend the day with this amazing man!
The hike back to the road was uphill all the way, but I wouldn’t have missed this adventure for the world! And the view overlooking his lush valley was a treat in itself.
Where in the world is Don Alberto?
Visiting Don Alberto is a process.
By Bus and walking:
Take the bus or a taxi from Esteli to Hospital San Juan on the outskirts of Esteli.Start walking up the dirt road that heads West to the village of Salto if you’re hitchhiking or walking. The trail that leads down to Alberto is about 6-10 miles (10-15 km) from the hospital, with a sign that says “El Calejate”.
From Esteli, take a bus to Tisey from COTRAN Sur (6:30 am and 1:30pm). Either ask to be dropped off at 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. Escultura en Pierdas”. Don Alberto’s brother is sitting on a rock to your right with his little white guard dog. It is 20 cordobas per person to enter. You will pass by Don Alberto’s little casita on the right. Keep following the trail towards the back, climb some steep steps, and you should see the carved rock soon enough.
By Tour and Taxi:
We decided rather than get stuck walking for miles, we would hire a taxi and a guide to take us right to the gate of Don Alberto’s finca.
Tree Huggers in Esteli came highly recommended.
The taxi and driver cost $60. The guide cost $15. The entrance fees to El Tisey were included in the cost, too. We split the cost three ways and it was affordable and comfortable. They also included a tour of La Garnacha, the mirador, and the waterfalls, but there was no water running over the falls, so we opted out of the steep climb to the falls.
The road to the rock carving cliffs…if you can call it a road is about 1 kilometer down a steep and rocky trail, I believe only possible with mules and horses. Wear sturdy and comfortable walking shoes. We took a picnic lunch to share with Don Alberto. Take water and toilet paper…there are no bathrooms, so you find a spot in the woods when nature calls.
This is an adventure NOT to miss!
“Don’t give up on your dreams, or your dreams will give up on you.” — John Wooden.
I learned from Don Alberto that the moment you believe you can’t do it, everything else begins to crumble. Never stop believing! Follow your dreams!