Next Stop: Nicaragua 2009

Isla Ometepe
Introduction | Los Guatuzos | Los Sabalos and the Rio San Juan | Isla Ometepe | Corn Islands | Granada

Isla de Ometepe. Ometepe is an island -almost two islands- located off the western shores of the vast Lake Nicaragua. It is the product of two volcanoes the jut spectacularly out of the water -Conception and Maderas. They say at one point in history, the volcanic islands were likely separated by water, but by the time the Nahuatl tribe, chased down from Mexico by the Aztecs, arrived on the shores of Lago Nicaragua and saw the two great volcanoes of which they had dreamed, the islands were connected by the low laying fertile stretch of Volcanic soil that still connects them today.

Volcan Conception

To get from Granada to the island of Ometepe, we caught the chicken bus from behind the market, after stopping briefly for some bananas and fruity drinkable yogurt stuff. Some helpful fellow with a French accent, seeing we had packs on our backs, pointed the way to the bus yard, and before we even reached it, a man passed yelling “Rivas, Rivas,” which was just about as good place to head toward as the alternative, the alternative being to catch a bus bound for the Costa Rican boarder and getting off at the rotary between Rivas and San Jorge. (Pronounced San Whore-Hay). From either spot you then need to catch a quick cab to the San Jorge docks to catch the ferry.

We were able to get seats on the bus just in time, as the seats quickly filled up followed by the aisle. Rivas also being the jumping off point for San Juan del Sur -the most popular resort destination in Nicaragua - there was a smattering of surfers on the bus as well. One of them, the guy in front of me, sat alone with his feet and backpack on the seat as women and children stood, and I had a flash back to middle school and the school bus and this just about put me over the edge. I was an instant away from giving my seat up and demanding he shove his lanky ass over and let me sit next to him, when a well dressed Nicaraguan man beat me to the punch. With miserable pomp and circumstance, the guy got up, allowed the man to sit next to the window, and then rested his head on the back of the seat in front of him. I got the feeling that his whole clan was hung over, which was certainly their right. They had British accents and the other two couples that were traveling with the guy in front of me were flopping all over themselves, trying to find a comfortable position to rest -which is admittedly difficult in a Blue Bird school bus if any of you recall. The Nicaraguan man who now sat in front of me as well, tried with a huge warm smile to make a little friendly small talk with the pained Brit, but he didn’t respond at first, as if he didn’t hear and then when the man tried again, he snapped “No Entiendo” which was probably true.
As the bus filled a handful of vendors plied the aisles selling cakes and gum and baggies with different colored liquids in them, and miracle medicines -each belting out the names of the products they offered of, I the case of the medicine, reciting a lengthy and loud monotone diatribe of the benefit’s to one’s health the medicines would produce. A old limping and blind beggar also came aboard and dragged his bum leg down the length of the bus. One hand held a long harmonica to his mouth, on which he played a cheerfully sloppy melody over and over again, the other hand, gnarled into a tight cup of arthritis, he held out for any donation he might be given, which he got quite a few of, I’m happy to report.

As the aisle filled up, and packed in, stout woman in a worn pink apron and her daughter, sucking a pink liquid out of a baggie with a straw, became positioned in front of me. The woman had a chicken dangling by the bound feet in one hand, and the chicken and I were virtually nose to nose. Hanging in this way, the chicken was extremely well behaved…I almost thought it was dead at first, but I knew better because a chicken is best kept alive until you are ready to eat it, and sure enough it blinked. As the bus got going, the chicken got a little more curious about me and I got a little more curious about it and we began to check each other out, him craning his neck to raise his head a bit and get a better cockeyed view, and I leaning a little further back so as to avoid a potential eye peck. The chicken was a brown orange with a black beak and rubbery-red comb on his head. I thought his break and feet were both almost reptilian, and my mind wandered back a million years to when all us creatures had much more in common. Now that I eat chickens I took a deep look into his eyes, I felt compassion for this future roast, even respect, as he silently winked a look of understanding in my direction. Could I cut your head off and bleed you and gut you and scald you and pluck out your feathers and then chop you up and grill up your different parts -perhaps leaving a few pieces in the freezer for a future meal? Yes. Yes, I think I could.

Ferry to Ometepe

The chicken busses stop wherever someone is waiting along the route and does the same for anyone that wants to get off. It is not fast, but eventually it gets you to where you want to go, and at 2:00 PM we arrived in Rivas. Before we even got off the bus we had a taxi ride to the ferry docks of San Jorge, which we shared with another backpackers and a Nicaraguan guy that carried a cardboard ‘shell oil” box tied up with twine. We got to the docks just in time to buy tickets and catch the 2:30 ferry, on which we sat downstairs in the cabin and watched a collage of music videos from the 70’s and 80’s on a small television, including, ‘Venus’ by Bananarama; ‘Bille Jean’ by Michael Jackson; ‘Staying Alive‘, by the Beegees; and ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go Go” by Wham.

Volcan Conception

The ferry ride took about an hour and the lake was a little choppy. We saw more than one green face stagger by toward the bathroom door. Fortunately for Jen and I, neither one of us gets sea sick. Once on Ometepe, we opted to pay a little extra for a rickety and totally stripped down Toyota pickup truck to take us to San Domigo, a little town centrally located on the strip of land that connects the two volcanoes. The alternative would have been catching a bus to Altogracia, waiting a half hour and hen catching another bus toward Volcano Maderas, jumping off in Santa Domingo. We got a nice clean little cabina at the Paradiso, a very nice -fancy by island standards -place on the water which Eli and I had spent a couple nights at last year. It is in the perfect spot to get to anywhere on the island, they are known for their good food and they offer bike rentals which we have decided would be the best way to see a bit of the island. The ladies at the bar claimed to remember me from last year, which, recalling the combination football playoff win and birthday that we celebrated there, does not surprise me.


After settling in, we had a good dinner of fish and salad and rice and fried plantains. I had the ’whole fish’ which was a big and primeval fried tilapia caught that day from the lake. I have eaten tilapia before, but until you see it whole, you could never appreciate what a scary monster of a sea creature it is. It has huge teeth and a spiny beard and a rib cage as well as the usual spine most fish come equipped with. It was a firm meat, but very tasty. Jen had a filet of some sort, which was, judging by its tenderness and taste, of a different species than the tilapia. We drank some rum and beers with dinner and then retired for the night.


Breakfast Birds

Then next day we opted, after a breakfast carefully monitered by the local bluejay population and a dogs, to rent bikes and bike down (and up and down and up) to Merida, a town on the west side of Madreras, where we were told we could take a Kayak trip out of. Neither of us have proper footwear for much hiking, so we figured a Kayak trip would be the perfect way to get into the wilds of the island. We were not disappointed!

Breakfast Dog


On our bike ride to hostel Caballitos del Mar, where the Kayak excursion leaves from, we got to see a lot of the island and the steep ups and downs made for a workout. Our mountain bikes were surprisingly nice, fortunately, so that made the ride significantly more enjoyable than had they been not. At one point the skies opened up and we hid under a big tree to keep dry, which we did with only limited success. Under the tree a little girl on a big bike stopped and asked for us to take her photo. Then she asked to take ours, excited to push some buttons on a digital camera. The picture she took was of our feet, but she was happy with it.




When we finally found Caballitos del Mar, we were met by a friendly young proprietor from Barcelona and a very funny Nicaraguan boy who was to be our guide. (funny = humorous and always joking around…not funny looking or odd). Jen and I loaded into a two person Kayak and our guide (I hate to say I don’t remember his name) in the other. Our paddle took us along the shore of the lake, lined with beautiful flowering trees…the orange flowers called Gallitos (little chickens) for their likeness in shape to chickens….and huge mango trees loaded with premature fruit. There were howler monkeys up in many trees, un-tempted by our guide’s perfectly executed howler calls to respond. A long ways down the shore, we cut up into the river Istiml. And up the river we saw an amazing collection of birds. Hawks, Vultures, Falcons, Herons, Cormorants, wild hens, Parakeets (Big green ones…not their smaller American cousins), King Fishers as well as a bunch of other colorful birds of differing shapes and sizes. In a few spots, various floating plant life dominated the narrow stretches of river and it took a lot of effort to push our way through. We didn’t see and caimans (small alligators) or turtles, but we did see a couple giant iguanas…or some sort of lizard species.

Trees Full of Howler Monkeys

Kayaking 1

Our guide spoke good English and as well as identifying various birds and plant, had a lot of great stories and local myths that he shared with us about the island and its inhabitants. If I had more time, I would tell you how white-faced monkeys got their white faces and howler monkeys gained their white testicles, or what the blue jays speak of behind your back, but I’m afraid that time is something I am running short on right now, so I’ll let these go for now.

Once we returned to the Caballitos del Mar we had a beer and chatted with an American girl who had been staying there a few days on her four month journey north from Panama. Then we jumped back on our bikes and began our lengthy ride back to Santa Domingo.

Kayaking 2

Back at the Paradiso, we had dinner and a bottle of wine. I had a beef dish that our waitress recommended (not listed on the menu, even) and Jen had brochettes de pollo. After dinner we had a drink in the bar and talked with a friendly and tattooed Italian couple, who were on a four month adventure themselves and headed toward Venezuela. Then, well fed, well drank, well sunned and well exercised, we went to bed.
Today we will check out of this hotel and figure out how to kill the day. The details of our plan are a little up in the air still, but the general outline, if all goes well, should really finish this adventure off with a wild bang. At 7:00 PM we will try to intercept a boat that travels twice a week from Granada to San Carlos, a town on the south eastern coast of the lake, near the Costa Rican border. The boat allegedly stops in Altogracia, on the Eastern shore of Volcan Conception. The boat trip, if we catch it, would be an overnight ride that our guide book bills at this windy and very big waved time of the year, as a 10 hour puke fest. When we arrive at 5 AM in San Carlos we will need to figure out how to hire a boat to Los Guatuzos wildlife refuge where, if we are lucky, we will be rented a dorm bed or given a tent at the Centro Ecologico. This park deep in the jungle is reputed to be teeming with wildlife, from hundreds of bird species to jaguars to snakes (including the deadly Fer de Lance) to monkeys to reptiles galore and insects by the millions. They supposedly have different levels of platforms built up into the canopy from which to view the different birds and animals in their natural habitat. We hope to have two nights there and then we will head down the Rio San Juan to an eco-resort called Los Sabos lodge where we will stay for three nights. The Rio San Juan heads all the way out to the Caribbean and is teeming with wildlife all along the way. There is also a fort called El Castillo that is, we have heard, not to be missed. (Pirates form the Caribbean used to head up the Rio San Juan all the way to Granada where they sacked the city time and time again.)
If this all goes as planned we will fly back to Managua on Sunday from San Carlos and have basically two full days in Masaya or Managua…or maybe even the beautiful Granada, before we fly home out of Managua at 2AM Tuesday morning. One potentially unfortunate detail of this next leg of the journey is that I don’t know how much access to internet there could possibly be down there in the jungle. I can promise you, anyway, that I will be looking for it and when I find it, I will most likely have a few stories to share. I have a feeling this final leg of the journey will be most memorable and more than a poquito loco.

Enter content here

Enter supporting content here