Hola from Nicaragua
So it’s time to go on to Ometepe. Ometepe is a volcanic island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua (Latin America’s biggest lake) which has a volcano on each end. The largest Volcan Concepcion and the smaller Volcan Maderas. Ometepe has also made it to the short list for the new seven natural wonders of the world.
We caught our shuttle at 5am. It would normally have been 8am but due to the petrol blockades we had to try and leave early before they’d set up for the day. Hence, we arrived at the ferry before the gates were open. There were 5 of us so we sat and had a coffee and then boarded the 7.30am one to Ometepe. We climbed up to the top open air deck and watched as the lorries and cars were being loaded on. Apparently in the past many a ferry has sunk at this stage. Nearly there and some seagulls decided to join us on route so that they could catch crisps being thrown at them by the tourists. We arrived at Moyalgalpa and were immediately accosted by the minibus driver wanting to take us. For $5 each we could get to Santa Domingo in an hour rather than more than double that time on the local bus. Despite the strike the buses are still running here although we did encounter a blockade of rocks across the road which the driver had to move. Santa Domingo is the nicest part (well I am on a holiday budget at the moment !!) Most backpackers head to Merida but I have to say we have the best beach.
We checked in to Villa Paraiso and for an extra $3 got a fab room with view of the beach, patio, TV etc etc and unlike the other room I looked at it´s midge free. It appears that a small amount of money goes a whole lot futher here. I bumped into a guy I’d met in Colombia a few weeks earlier – it still freaks me out that over a continent you can just randomly bump into people. Auntie and I sat on the patio for a bit with some tea and watched the elegant looking blue magpie jays (pictured above) perch on the rail just in front of us. After a spot of lunch (the food here is great) we decided to explore.
We’d decided to go to “Ojo de Agua” (eye of the water) a natural lagoon down the road but on the way we came across a little tourist office and stopped inside. They had a little wildlife trail which you could walk on so we decided to do that instead. My aim was to find Auntie monkeys as she’s never seen them in the wild. Completely unprepared but armed with binoculars we walked on the very uneven volcanic rock path – flip flops weren’t exactly the best footwear !! After battling the initial swarm of midges we came across various birds, lizards and squirrels. I even saw an Agouti. The path was very up and down and we´d ticked most of the birds off the list but no monkeys (although I was sure I could hear them). It was starting to get dark so we sped up to make out way out of the park. Then I saw them. There was a whole troop of howlers. They were hanging out on the old canopy ride platforms as if to say “we’re ready to go where’s our guide ?”. Then in front of us we came across a Capuchin, he really did´nt like the look of us and broke off a rather large stick from a tree. He just looked at us and then dropped it but then got another. We decided to leave the monkeys in peace and went back to the hotel for dinner.
The next day we’d booked an island tour to leave at 9am. I just wanted to get an idea of what was on the island so that we could then decide how long we wanted to stay. You can of course climb either of the volcanos here, it takes either 6-8 or 10-12 hours depending on which one you do. Don´t think Auntie’s up for that but to be honest I haven’t met anyone who really enjoyed doing it anyway. After my traditional breakfast of gallo pinto (rice and beans to you !!) we headed out. The one and only bad thing about Villa Paraiso is that they try to charge you extra for an English speaking guide and never in all my trip have I come across that. So I asked for a Spanish one, which turned out to be Juan Antonio from reception and he spoke amazing English – result !! He also liked getting out of the hotel so it was a bonus for him.
First stop was El Porvenir, some 2000 year old petroglyphs etched in the hills. All I´m saying is lots of circles. We got to walk amongst some great trees and plants and Auntie who is a bit of a gardening buff was thoroughly enjoying herself despite the heat. I have to say it feels like Nicaragua is the hottest country in Latin America, but apparently it was 40+ degrees in January. Next stop the museum which talked about the formation of Ometepe and has some great pottery examples from the old tribes. Then Chaco Verde. This is also described as one of the most beautiful spots on the island but I have to say I preferred Santa Domingo. We went for a stroll down by the lagoon and saw some river turtles and trees full of parrots then it was time for lunch. I was still full from the mammoth breakfast so just had an ice cream. After lunch we headed to Punta Jesus Maria which has a stretch of beach leading right out in to the lake and is the nearest point from Ometepe to the mainland. Lots of ingenious fish were leaping out of the water to catch the midges. You get a great view of both volcanosat the same time from here. We were now really at the end of the tour but as Auntie had been so engaging with Juan Antonio he asked us if we’d like to experience something more local (not on the tour) although it may be very different to our culture, I of course said we would !! Secretly I think he was not in a rush to get back to work but all the better for us..
We pulled up at what in England would be something similar to a fete. There were little tents serving food and drinkand quite a few people there. We saw some cows and bulls and some men looking like modern day cowboys on horses. We were at the local bull rodeo. Apparently this happens on one month a year, weekends only to celebrate a patron saint so our timing was perfect. We’d actually had a bit of a storm the night before so the festivities and partying had been cancelled so it seemed that people were even more keen to get going today. I bought our guide and driver a beer and then Juan went to check if it was okay for us to come and watch, after all we were the only 2 tourists there – how exciting !! It indeed was okay so we took our ringside seats. More and more people were gathering around and quite a lot of teenage boys were standing in the ring. The bulls and cows had been herded into a separate pen and the band began to play which meant we were about to start. The first cow wasn’t very cooperative, there was a lot of pulling and grabbing of the tail and I wasn’t sure I actually wanted to watch at all. Generally, I haven’t seen them treat animals very well here (they love cock fighting) and so didn’t really want to watch a live example. Eventually the cow was in position and the volunteer (no prize money, it’s more of a macho thing) mounted her (no comments please !!). Upon release she galloped off and shook him to the floor (he lasted 3 seconds max). As she’d been a bit difficult to begin with the bravado of the teenage boys had disappeared and they’d all climbed up the fence and well out of the way. The rider got up and jumped out of the way. We were told that neither rider nor animal are usually hurt (let’s hope not). The next bull looked like he’d done this all before and calmly was led to the pole for his rider to get on board (maybe it’s just the females being difficult – which of course I can’t imagine would be the case !!). On the off all he wanted to do was go back to the pen holding the other animals, they tried desperately to get him excited with a red flag but he wasn’t having any of it. So the rider stayed on and I’m not sure how they decide who wins but he’d stayed upright for the whole allocated time. Finally for us, out comes Contestant no.3. His cow again is more awkward but not as bad as no.1 so despite the cows best efforts he manages to stay on (see above picture). We left just as the first contestant was going to have another go with a new animal, obviously humiliated from his earlier 2 second effort, it was great to experience a bit of traditional Ometepe life.
The next day is one of relaxation, after all Auntie is on holiday. We decide that it’s time for some sun so after breakfast and sorting out transportation for the following day we head to the beach. The sand is absolutely scorching hot as we head straight into the lake. You can walk out quite far here as it’s quite shallow. It’s weird though as you can’t see any land so it looks like you’re in the sea but it’s really fresh water. There even used to be fresh water bull sharks (still a few apparently) in it until they overfished it for the Asian markets (I blame that shark fin soup!!). Time to then spend a couple of hours in the sun on the most uncomfortable chairs ever !! After lunch we finally made it to Ojo de Agua which was a 30 minute walk away. It wasn’t actually as natural as I imagined but there are two pools and it is fresh water. Auntie Eileen decided to go straight in and I could tell by her face that it was a lot colder than she was letting on. For this fair weather girl that was just not a goer !! However, I had to laugh when an 7 year old local girl was trying to instruct her to put her shoulders under, she’s not one to take orders my Auntie (too used to bossing patients around as a nurse) but she certainly obeyed in this case. On our way back we were bombarded by bats, which amused me as one of the many strange dogs here looked like it had a bat man mask on with it’s markings. Maybe this is where the new bat cave is !! I like bats, I’ve heard there’s a cool bat cave in Guatemala to check out so will have to try and investigate when I’m there.
The following day it was time to leave, we caught the 9am ferry (which appeared to be in danger of sinking due to the overloaded lorry filled with plantains) and then had to wait for the scheduled shuttle to take us back to Granada. I’d have liked to head straight to Leon but the strike is still on so it doesn’t look like we’re going to make it there today. We were with a Canadian girl called Kayla who wanted to go to San Juan del Sur, however the strike has caused a reduction in travellers (a lot have gone straight through) so she decided rather than try and go in a private car on her own she’d come in the shuttle with us to Granada. On the way we had to go through a blockade. It was just the 3 of us and the driver in the minibus. The minibus was made to stop and the locals looked in. They didn’t look very happy but did say hello then just stared at us, to be honest I think the strike is hitting their pockets very hard so they weren’t in the best of moods. They let us pass, but I’m wondering if it would have been so easy if we had more people and some men inside. We dropped Kayla off and checked back in to the Oasis, ooh it’s like a home from home !!
Back in Granada Auntie Eileen has a case of deli belly so we take it easy today. There are lots of hammocks in the hostel so it’s really easy to relax. The hostel offers a free daily 10 minute call so at least she can call home to make sure everything’sokay. We’ve been unable to find a shuttle so have booked Victor (the driver I used before) to take us to Leon tomorrow, he’s still $20 cheaper than everyone else. We go out for dinner to an Asian restaurantbut it’s a bit of a disappointment- I am still craving a decent curry !! When we get back we get chatting to a Scottish girl who seems a bit scared of Nicaragua, I try to reassure her as so far it’s been excellent.
Oh well it’s time for bed, tomorrow we’re off to Leon a bit further North. All I can say is if you missed Ometepe then it was a big mistake !!
Plane = 24, Bus = 117, Train = 2, Boat =22, Sunglasses = 9, Mosquito Repellant = 10, Books Read = 30 1/2, Bags lost and then recovered = 2.
Take care all