|After a sad farewell to Granada, Nicaragua, we set out to explore the island of Ometepe. "Ometepe" literally means "two hills," and the island consists of two grand volcanos, Concepcion, and Madera, with communities settled at each of their bases. The volcanos are inactive, but it is quite a sight, to see these two ominous peaks looming over life below, knowing the devestation that could ensue if either erupted.
As with most of our travel experiences, we set out for Ometepe without fully knowing what our modes of transportation would be like. Having gotten used to the chicken buses of Nicaragua, we felt pretty confident that we were able to suffer through most anything. The "boat" that greeted us at the port of San Jorge proved yet another challenge. The pictures above will do more justice than these words, but it is safe to say that it was the most precarious boat still able to float on water. The lake was extremely rough this day, and the boat seemed quite vulnerable in the waters, especially as it was continuously being packed with piles of plantains, bags of onions, sugar, and potatoes.. even motorbikes. Apparently all the necessities for island living. People were scrunched in the bottom deck, a dark and nightmarish-ly crowded space that seemed a bit unfitting for any living being. We boarded with trepidation, along with a crew of folks from Holland, Germany and Switzerland. With other travelers, there is a very comforting level of humor that gets created in our interactions that seems to calm the nerves. We all know that perhaps we are truly in for it, but we are all in for it together, and somehow that makes it easier!
Turned out that this boat was in fact going to Ometepe, but it was not the "real" ferry, but more of an independent venture, which the locals seem to depend on. A bit more "borato" (cheap!). Mandy spent the entire two hour ride with her eyes closed, meditating on not getting sea sick. She didn´t see much of anything of the landscape, just held tightly to the tiny little rope on the top deck, with whiite knuckles. The waves were exceptionally big, and the tiny boat was at their mercy. People got drenched, and locals and tourists alike were glancing at one another, all with a slight worry as to whether the boat would survive! The exhuast fumes that poured out of the pipe on the upper deck were actually what became the most difficult to deal with. Even if one wasn´t sea sick, these fumes did some damage to all of our stomachs and heads.
We arrived in Moyogalpa, the main village on the island, and stood in awe of the majestic volcanoes that loomed above us. We hopped right on a chicken bus headed around the island... a ride we thought would be quite short, considering the size of the island, but turned out to be a good couple of hours. The roads on Ometepe were... not quite roads. They seemd to be constructing, however, which was encouraging to see. Without a real idea as to where to get off, and where to stay, we tossed several options around, based on where other folks were headed, and also the ensuing darkness. we wanted to stay at a finca, (farm) written about hightly in our book, but apparently it was an hours walk from the bus stop. We opted for Hacienda Merida, and took the bus to the end of its route, and got off, the two of us and Belle, a woman from California, with whom we had great conversations and shared good company. Arrived just in time for the buffet dinner spread...signaled by the ringing of a cowbell.
"Villages"in Ometepe are not what you might picture. Our hostel was too far a walk from any restaurant/store or any other facility one might need. It took quite a while to get used to the inaccessibility of things.. to know that food was not within reach whatsoever, unless you count the chickens and pigs wandering the roads. We ate all meals at our hostel for the next couple days, got a bit of a sense of the island, and its desolation, and then decided to move on to the Finca Magdalena, which is a working coffee plantation and hostel. We began walking the 50 minute trek with our packs, accompanied by Robert, a canadian man on his way to the finca as well. We were blessed by the passing of a white pickup, conveniently owned by some British folks whom we met in Granada. They had bought land near the finca, and were on their way to check it out. The travel community is very small, you quickly find... especially when everyone has the same Lonely Planet travel book, so you find many folks in the same hostels and eating at the same sodas.
The finca was great-for a couple days. We stayed extra cheap (2.50 each)... the food became a bit intolerable, again, difficult to only have one option for eating, especially when its not that great! Our main reason for staying at the finca, other than thinking it would be pretty cool to experience a nicaraguan farm and working coffee plantation,was to hike volcano Maderas. It is required to go with a guide, and we set out with Felipe, our wonderful guide, and two friends we had met the night before our hike, Cam (Australia) and John (Seattle). We turned out to be a pretty good hiking crew. I suppose the conical shape of a volcano would instantly let on that the hiking is a bit more treacherous and difficult than your regular old mountain... we did realize it, of course, but it was also a bit of a shock. The lungs took a bit of a beating for the first hour or so. The terrain became exceptionally wet and EXTREMELY MUDDY (pictures above don´t do justice). Quite incredible, really. We entered the clouds towards the top, and although it had been a bright and sunny day at the base of the volcano, the condensation felt like rain, and it became quite cold. We descended by rope to the crater lake, which was mysteriously beautiful- and simply incredible to be standing and looking at a lake, inside a volcano. Cam was the only one to brave the murky, cold waters, and we watched and shivered while replenishing ourselves with bread and bananas... and a bit of vegemite, compliments of Cam.
The descent was a bit more difficult than the ascent, as the mud was incredibly deep, slippery and just abundant. Never seen so much mud in our lives. Shoes, legs and pants were entrenched in mud, and one just had to succumb to it.. no sense in even attempting to stay clean. Would our shoes... which we are depending on for the year, ever be the same??!
So, we climbed a volcano, and felt pretty accomplished... and sore the next day. We stayed at the finca one more night... Mandy had had a bad nights sleep, what with the mosquitos, and the TARANTULA hanging out by the bed. (see above). Although the price was right, and we had some aquaintances there, we opted to leave for Charco Verde, and supposedly a nice beach. Hoping for some sun, and a quite place to ring in the new year.
We got neither a beach, nor a quite place for ´New Years Eve. Ended up a a hotel on the lake, which was throwing a "party" (bad buffet dinner,and even worse cheesy american music blasting from the speakers). Tried to converse with Dominic, from Singapore (hysterical little man, traveling on his own) but the music was too loud. We looked at eachother and laughed at our situation, as we picked at our arroz con pollo, listened to Air supply, or something even worse, while intermittenly conversing with Dominic sitting across from us in broken English. Happy New Year!!!
Needless to say, we left our hotel in Charco Verde, on Sunday after the new year.... put on our packs and walked up the dirt road, hoping to find a bus that ran on sundays to take us to Altagracia.. our point of departure from Ometepe. Life is slower than most places on this island.. buses may or may not come, people wait, very patiently.
Altagracia, the capital of Ometepe was another sleepy community... not much to do. We were passing our days simply waiting for the boat to arrive on monday to take across the lake to San Carlos and our river adventure down Rio San Juan. Eating had become a bit of a challenge, for a week on the island, and as we sat on sunday morning eating eggs and ham while listening to the pig squeal outside on the street as it was being caught for slaughter... we knew that our time had come to say good-bye to Ometepe. We did not leave it though, without fond memories, of its kind and gentle people, happy children, and the pleasure that comes from very simple living.