50. Isla de Ometepe
To reach Isla de Ometepe we had to catch a bus from Granada to Rivas, then make our way to San Jorge for the ferry. Even before we reached the bus stop in Rivas, taxi drivers had jumped on board and were accosting anyone that looked remotely like a tourist, knowing exactly why we were on this bus. We were hoping another bus could take us between Rivas and San Jorge but, try as we might, we could not find one. Reluctantly, we gave in to the hassling touts and shared a taxi with two others down to the jetty.
The ferry ride over to the island was fairly smooth, physically. Mentally, not so good. Whilst crossing we were aimlessly watching the silent TV, showing the news with Spanish captions. At one point a picture of an erupting volcano popped up, with the words “Volcan Telica” below it. We had been standing on the crater rim of Volcan Telica only nine days ago. Talk about a close call. The next picture on the TV screen was of a different volcano, not erupting but definitely part of the same story. It looked a little familiar. As soon as I turned my head to look out of the boat, it clicked. Isla de Ometepe, a small island in a large lake, contained two distinctive volcanoes. It was stunning sight as we cruised across the water. The view we could see of the island was exactly the same vision as what was being shown on TV, in a story about active volcanoes. I was suddenly rethinking our travel plans.
I know it looks like it was erupting, but it wasn't. Not yet anyway.
Part of the reason I wanted to visit the island was to hike up Volcan Concepcion. As soon as we arrived on dry land I asked around at various tour offices what the deal was. The volcano had become active in the last two weeks so, to my dismay, no one was allowed to hike to the crater. The best we could do was hire a guide to take us to a viewpoint about 1000 metres up. It was better than nothing, so we booked it for the next day. We also learned that Volcan Telica had erupted five times in the past week. Our timing could not have been more spot on.
We stayed in the main town of Moyogalpa, which had almost nothing going on. The highlight for Danny was getting a haircut for the equivalent of A$2.50. Mine was finding organic peanut butter. We did stay in a cool hostel though, which even offered hammocks to rent outside instead of paying for a whole room. As cool as it sounded, I wasn’t sure how well I would sleep in a hammock. The hostel also offered a full restaurant and bar, meaning we didn’t need to venture out into the nothingness that the town provided. There was one downside: at one point we returned to our room to find the door wide open. At that moment our hearts sank, but a quick glance reassured us that nothing important was gone. All that was missing was half a bread roll. We had a suspect in mind: the cat. Must remember to shut the door completely when leaving the room.
The trippy hostel restaurant.
The next morning we were on the bus by 5am and off it again by 5:10am, ready to tackle the lower parts of Volcan Concepcion. It was raining lightly and the dawn was just beginning to break. The first hour or so was along flat trail, passing several howler and white-faced capuchin monkeys. There were birds. Don’t ask me what types. The term ‘jay’ comes to mind.
Our gentle start was followed by a steep ascent, where the humidity and wind also picked up, making conditions less than ideal. As more light penetrated the sky we could see thick clouds above us, and we feared that the lookout we were heading towards may not provide us with the views we were after. We pushed on, hoping for the clouds to break or to possibly climb above them.
Our guide was quite knowledgeable, pointing out gigantic agave plants, letting us sample red flowers that tasted like lemons, and described all the ways the different plant species could be used medicinally. If anything happened to us, I was glad this guy was here.
We reached the viewpoint in two hours, after being told it would take four. We were met with a wall of white in every direction, not being able to see more than 10 metres in front of us. A whole two minutes was spent at the lookout, partially due to the lack of views, but mostly due to the cold winds. We hadn’t experienced cooler weather for a while, and while it was nice for a (short) change, I was eager to escape it as soon as possible. Surprisingly it made me homesick for winter in Australia (I usually hate the cold). I was suddenly missing ordinary things such as my thick dressing gown, fluffy slippers and sitting on the couch under a blanket. My shivering muscles soon reminded me why I was more of a warm weather fan.
We made our way back down the slippery path, watching the clouds and fog slowly lift to reveal clear blue skies. If only we weren’t superfast power-hikers, maybe a view would have been waiting for us. I guess we should have been thankful that we weren’t shrouded in a layer of lava and ash while we were up there.
After a peanut butter indulgence and a nap, we hired a scooter to explore the rest of the island. First stop was Ojo de Agua, a natural freshwater pool in a tropical setting. The cold water came from Volcan Maderas, the other volcano on Ometepe, reaching the spring via an underground river. The colour of the water was stunning, there was a bar on site and if it wasn’t for excessive number of visitors, I could have stayed all day.
Next stop, Finca Magdelena, supposedly one of the best coffee plantations on the island. Danny concurred that the coffee was “good”, which is one of the best compliments the coffee snob will give out. Then it was on to Playa Santo Domingo, a long, dark sand beach on the edge of the lake providing great views of both volcanoes. The water was calm and warm but incredibly shallow, still only reaching knee-deep when I was 50 metres out. It was a strange sensation swimming in fresh water but walking on sand.
The way too shallow lake-cum-beach.
Finally we drove out to Playa Jesus Maria, a short sandbar that jutted straight out into the lake. We were informed by the locals that this was the best place on the island to see the sunset, so I mentally highlighted it with big asterisks to make sure I didn't miss it. Again volcanoes dominated the view, not only on Ometepe but also all the way out to the volcanoes surrounding Granada. It was an okay sunset, not the best, but what was fantastic was having the place almost to ourselves. It was also fantastic that the volcano didn’t erupt.