A trip through Nicaragua just wouldn't be complete without a stop at Isla Ometepe; the island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua that is formed by two volcanos. Its not far from Granada and a full bus and short taxi ride later we were at the boat docks and climbing aboard the "lancha": Spanish for 'small boat'; compared to the larger and faster ferries which also make the crossing.
The boat putt-putted across the lake at a ridiculously slow but steady pace and after an hour dropped us in the tiny town of Moyogalpa...we'd made it. Well, almost... we still had a sweaty shlep down the main road and left another 500 meters.
At last we rolled into Hostel Soma where we were greeted by a loudly barking dog and our long haired German host: Sven. We quickly dropped our bags in our room and then headed for the covered and fan-cooled common area to hide from the mid day heat. We helped ourselves to a couple ice cold Toñas and settled into a game of cards. We couldn't be bothered to move much from that position until the sun began to drop and with it the temperature.
That night we cruised the strip which is about 10 spots trying to decide where to eat. We went back and forth and finally settled on an Argentinian run spot that we had walked past already like 4 times; slightly awkward to cruise in after passing them up so many times.
Dinner was pretty good; we went with burritos; Gina's veggie burrito was jammed full of curried vegetables; not what she'd expected, but definitely good!
We got back to the hostel just as the lightning storm got serious; it was dumping rain within a few minutes of us getting back. Great timing. We hid out in our room...under the fan and listened to the rain and read our books till it was time to sleep.
Not long after we passed out we were awoken to a hot, sweaty room...the storm had knocked the power out and had taken the trusty ceiling fan with it. We laid there sweating for a few minutes, before peeling ourselves out of bed and heading out to the patio. The rain had stopped, although the lightening was still flashing in the distance and it was nice and cool out there, but unfortunately there weren't screens on the windows so if we opened them we were subject to an invasion of mosquitos and other needlesome creatures of the night. We were just starting to panic when the power kicked back on...our blessed ceiling fan has again moving air around the room and thus the room was habitable again.
We woke up in the morning to the rain still coming down in sheets. We were glad we'd decided against hiking the volcano that morning as the guide had wanted. The volcano was covered in dark storm clouds, plus the volume of water coming out of the sky would have made a walk to the corner store a miserable proposition; let alone a several hour steep hike through rain forest. Screw that!
We had breakfast and coffee and watched as the storm eventually petered out. By about 10am it had stopped raining and the bikes we'd ordered had been delivered. The plan was to take on the island on two wheels; exploring some swimming holes and maybe a few little mellow trails.
We hit the road about 10:30am and although the bikes were a far cry from what one would consider a serious mountain bike, they appeared road worthy in a patched together and jerry- rigged sort of way. But we were rolling...
We got to our first stop: Punta Jesús María; a nice swimming spot not too far from our hostel. We laid out our beach gear and enjoyed the sunshine and a swim in the lake's warm water. Luckily there were no encounters with the Lake's most notorious (and fearsome) residents; fresh-water Bull Sharks! Needless to say; we didn't swim too far out!
Eventually the sun dipped behind a big cloud and we took it as a sign to head on. We road down the paved road and explored down a few dirt roads looking for other beach spots or a little restaurant to maybe eat some lunch, but didn't find much. Eventually we came across a little town where we found a hostel/restaurant where we order a 'tipico': black beans and rice with fried eggs and we washed it down with a cold Coca Cola from the fridge. Now we're living 'Nica-style'.
We'd just began the ride back towards our hostel when I felt something funny with the bike...a few peddles further down the road and I figured out what was the issue: the left peddle fell completely off the bike. Sweet; 8 km from home and only one peddle. I can assure you after a maddening 8 km of trying to ride/ walking/ sweating that bikes were indeed designed with 2 peddles as a matter of necessity, not just a desire for symmetrical aesthetics. Long story short; we made it back eventually, but you can imagine that I was not a happy camper by this point and decided at about kilometer 5 (which was an uphill stretch) that there was no way I was paying for that damn bike! In the end we paid for Gina's bike, but I got mine for free...although not without having to argue a bit with the guy.
A brief run down of our conversation (this is in Spanish):
Me: "I don't want to pay for this bike."
Him: "Hmmmm....How many hours did you ride before the peddle fell off?"
Me: Probably 3 hours.
Him: "Ok, so why don't you want to pay for 3 hours?"
Me: "Are you serious?"
Me: "Ok, well...your bike broke when I was 8 km from here. It took me 3 hours to walk it back..."
Him: "Ok, well I'm not going to call the cops."
Me: "Well that's good. I'll pay for this bike, but I won't pay for the broken one."
In retrospect funny, but at the time less so...even though in the grand scheme of things we were talking about $6. Still, even in developing nations sometimes you gotta put your foot down in the name of principle.
The afternoon we showered and made our way back to the covered and fan cooled porch for a cards and Toña session. That night we headed into town again and again had trouble deciding where to eat. After several laps we ended up back at the Argentinian place from the previous night. They must have thought we were crazy (in a good way) after watching walk back and forth for 20 minutes and then settling on their place, two nights in a row.
G's veggie sandwich was filled with the same curried vegetables as were in her burrito the night before. Perfect.
We were up early on our last full day on Ometepe. Call it a premonition if you want, but Gina had been adamant that she did not want to hike the volcano until our last day...and due to this we woke up to clear blue skies on hike day as opposed to the suckers who headed out into the torrential downpour the previous morning. Atta girl, Gina!!
Our guide met us and we hopped on the 7:00 am bus (it arrived at 7:15- Nica time!!) and headed for the base of Volcano Concepción, the taller and northerly of the two volcanos on the island. Our guide, Javier, was a young, but super experienced and enthusiastic dude. He spoke great English and we switched between Spanish and English a bit before we settled into English for most of the day: he was super keen to practice his English with us!
The hike takes about 3.5 hours through rain forest, then thick cloud forest to get to the view point at 1000 meters. We had chosen to go only that far instead of pushing for the summit for two reasons: the summit hike requires a 5am departure which wasn't so appealing; plus, being in the rainy season it's a 25% or less chance of being clear at the top, meaning lots more effort for little reward.
The hike was good, but HOT. G and I were both drenched in sweat almost immediately. We were in the dense rain forest almost till the very end, so thankfully we weren't in the direct sun...but, still that humidity is brutal. My shirt was as wet as if I'd just gotten out of a pool. Sick!!
Javier was a wealth of info about the island culture, geography, volcano, flora, and fauna. I always think twice when booking guides as we've had some less then amazing experiences, but in this instance Javier was worth his price for sure: US$40 for a private guide all day.
Eventually we crossed tree line and the trees gave way to shrubbery as we got our first good views. The wind was whipping crazy hard at the view point and the clouds were moving fast...we'd have clear views one moment and the next we'd be covered in clouds.
We ate our lunch in the protection of a huge bush and hung out on top for about 45 minutes taking photos and enjoying the views. The island laid out in front of us and you could see the lake surrounding us. At times you could make out the mainland in the distance. Javier said we were pretty lucky considering it's the rainy season; his friend had guided the trip the previous morning which we'd considered; after 4 hours of hiking in the rain they were rewarded with a fully clouded in view. Nothing, just white clouds. Sucks for them! Apparently on a clear day in the dry season you can see all the way to the ocean which would be pretty incredible.
The hike down was much quicker and easier then the climb up and in just over 2 hours we had made it back to where we'd been dropped off by the bus that morning. We only had to wait a few minutes for the bus, which was great...by just after 1:30pm we were back at the hostel. Hot, sweaty, tired...but pretty stoked on a great day out.
We thanked Javier profusely and chucked him a little tip before heading for the shower to clean up. We weren't up for much that afternoon as it was un-godly hot...but we did manage to wander into town for a iced coffee that afternoon before we settled back into the covered porch area at the hostel for...you guessed it: cold Toñas and cards. We ate at the hostel that night: veggie pasta that was just OK.
We were in bed early that night; tired from the big day out in the heat...plus we had a 9am ferry to catch in the morning which, after a final breakfast and cup of coffee at the hostel, we did.
Isla Ometepe is definitely one hell of a place.