Isla Ometepe, NicaraguaMarch 14, 2017 in Nicaragua
A couple of gross ferry rides, volcanoes, motorbiking on a horrifically shoddy road and the most free range animals I've seen in a while.
The team travelled from Granada via chicken bus, ridden in true local style this time - standing most of the way for the hour or so trip. It's not ideal being packed in the aisle when people are getting on and off, nor when vendors are pushing their way through trying to sell food and drinks, but it did have the perk of not sticking to the seat in the heat. We had such a quick changeover between buses - the staff on our first bus knew we were heading to Rivas so as soon as a bus came up behind us that was heading that way, they stopped the bus and chucked us and our bags off before we could blink. For the first time our bags were thrown on to the top of the bus before we could have a say in the matter. We were already moving again and then we were told we had to pay extra for our bags to be on the roof, bit of a stich-up but there was nothing we could do at that stage. The bus took us directly to San Jorge port where we quickly realised we were in for a rough boat trip to Ometepe. It was the most swell I've ever seen on a lake, at least a metre or so. Somewhat reluctantly we piled onto the lancha (a two storey wooden boat) but gratefully took the life jackets handed to us as we boarded. We were all very relieved to be on land again an hour and a half later, that's for sure. Albeit with wet feet from the leaky boat.
Isla Ometepe is an island in the same Lago de Nicaragua which Granada is perched on the edge of. It's essentially made up of two volcanoes, with a couple of little towns and settlements around the outskirts of each. Volcán Concepción is active, stands at 1600m and is almost a perfect cone shape with traces of magma still visible. The slightly smaller Maderas is now dormant and covered in bush. It's a beautiful sight, like no island I have seen before!
Ometepe was the point at which we parted ways with our two trusty companions Rich and Cat, who we have been travelling with since Cancún - roughly six weeks. Mike and I were having a shorter time at Ometepe due to a tight schedule in order to meet other pals in Costa Rica and therefore we ended up staying in different areas of the island. Cheers team for an awesome few weeks of adventures :)
Mike and I stayed on the Concepción side of the island near the ferry port, at Life is Good Hostel. Life was good there actually, it was a pretty relaxed place to stay and the staff were super friendly and helpful. Not to mention the food served there was awesome, all locally sourced and organic too. And they had the cutest wee dog called Macho, who of course was the complete opposite of what his name would suggest.
Not long after we arrived, we asked the hostel about hiring a scooter for the following day. Our time on Ometepe was limited to one afternoon and one full day so we figured this was the best way to see as much as possible, instead of tackling either of the volcano summits - both of which were strenuous, full day affairs. If we had more time, it would have been on the cards but also the Volcán Acatenango hike is going to be tough to beat. Roads on Isla Ometepe are minimal, there's essentially just one that goes the around each volcano with a join in the middle, but the quality of said roads is variable. We were talked into hiring a dirt-bike as opposed to a scooter for ease of travel and more access to the rough roads, and before we knew it Mike was out on the road having a quick lesson on how to drive a manual bike. After passing the test, (which was really just driving 100m down the road and back) and with time to spare, we hired the bike for the night as well so we could get to Punto Jesus Maria for sunset.
Punto Jesus Maria is essentially a sandbar that at some points of the year, juts out up to 1km from the mainland. Only 7km down the road from our hostel, it was definitely worth the short trip to this popular spot. It was a calm and relaxing place to watch the sun disappear for another evening, and if you walked out far enough and looked back to the island, it gave a stunning view of both volcanoes.
We were a bit slow getting going the following morning, a couple of weeks of crap sleeps in the heat and many hours of travelling are definitely taking their toll. Once we got going though, we managed to cover a lot of ground. We circumnavigated almost the entire island, which amounted to a good few hours of driving, partly due to a large proportion of the roads being unpaved on the Maderas side. Even though we had a dirt-bike, the suspension on our particular bike was somewhat non-existent so it was rough on the old backside and on Mike's wrists and hands.
We made a few stops along the way, the first of which was to Ojo de Agua. This is a natural spring filled by an underground river that flows from Volcán Maderas. It's been supplemented with concrete walls, presumably to try and preserve it from collapsing. It's a good spot for a refreshingly cold swim and a bit of people watching, particularly in the form of a Tarzan swing and some interesting dismounts!
We continued around the island and there's barely any buildings or anyone around. Aside from loads of free range animals that is. We saw many horses, pigs, cattle and chickens, all either just walking on the road or closeby. Every now and then we'd reach a small settlement of houses, or even just singular houses on their own. There did seem to be an abundance of schools on the island, given the lack of civilisation otherwise, so who knows where all these children come from! Otherwise it was just nature; trees, flowers and many, many banana plantations. The heat and the rich soil from the volcano must provide some great growing conditions.
We stopped at local comedor just on the side of the road for lunch with no menu, no English speaking but it was surprisingly some of the best food we've had in Nicaragua. We had the "plato del dia" which is the plate/meal of the day, which is generally just a meat with rice, beans, salad and sometimes plantain. We both had chicken which literally tasted like it had come from KFC but without the dripping oils. Yum!
We continued round the Maderas volcano, back to the join in the land between the two volcanoes. There's a nice stretch of beach here which was perfect for a fruit juice stop and a bit of respite for our backsides. We popped in for another refreshing dip at Ojo de Agua on our way back to the Concepción side and ran a few errands in the Moyogalpa town before we had to return our bike at nightfall.
It was fun having a bit of freedom for the day with the bike, reminiscent of our time in Asia where we had one in most places we visited. We enjoyed being amongst nature and animals and although we still did a bit of travelling in a sense, it was still relaxing - well for me it was! Mike perhaps not so much, as he had to concentrate a lot on which part of the road was best to drive on as opposed to being able to look around and see the scenery.
With this we bid farewell to our short time in Nicaragua. I enjoyed this country but much like El Salvador, I struggled to find a true sense of identity in its culture. Maybe if we had more time we could have visited more rogue places and perhaps this would have made a difference, who knows.
Hasta la proxima, Nicaragua. Hasta pronto Costa Rica and our new travel companions, Em and Shorty!Read more