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Published: October 27th 2013
Isla de Ometepe
Volcan Concepcion (left), Maderas (right)
We ended up staying another two nights in San Juan del Sur, and find ourselves back here after visiting Isla de Ometepe for 5 nights. Ometepe is an island made up of two impressive volcano's in the middle of lake Nicaragua, Concepcion and Maderas, the later which we climbed. The journey to get there involved our first chicken bus ride, a taxi, a ferry, another chicken bus and finally one more taxi. The chicken buses are so called because sometimes you could find yourself sitting next to someone carrying a chicken. They are old 1950's and 60's American school buses, and are usually done up with crazy graffiti and flashing lights on the outside, and decked out with a good sound system on the inside. Most have extra large mufflers attached and the sound of the massive engine can be heard long before they come into eyesight. They are also the most uncomfortable things to ride in, especially if you have reasonably long legs. The buses were built to fit school children, and it takes something akin to a yoga pose to fit into the tiny seats. They are efficiently run by two guys who man the front and back doors,
politely herding people and their luggage on and off, and signalling to each other and the driver by a series of whistles. When they stop to pick you up, the bus is still slightly rolling and you have to quickly run to the back of the bus with your backpack and pass it up for storage in the back section. Then when you get off, you have to once again run to the back of the bus, usually to find that they have already unloaded the backpacks, and then with a roar and a big plume of exhaust, they are off again.
When we got off the last bus, we had an hour and a half wait for the next one to take us to the eco farm that we were staying at. Soon big dark clouds formed and loud thunder started growling, and reverberating off the two volcano's. A taxi driver approached us, and it did not take much convincing, or haggling to get in. The walk up from the road to the eco farm was a good 15 minutes up a hill across deep red, rich, and slippery volcanic clay-like mud. Just as we had made it
up to reception, it poured down and this would become the norm for our stay on the island, with heavy rain and thunder in the afternoon, clearing in the early evening, and then bucketing down again late in the night.
The first days were spent lazing around in hammocks, reading books and watching the myriad of butterfly's and hummingbirds dart in and out of the spectacular garden. As the soil is so rich, and its the rainy season, everything is in flower, and it is remarkably green. We made up for our sloth-like behaviour on our last two days by climbing a volcano and then hiring bikes to ride to the lake and hiring kayaks to explore the Istian Canals.
The walk up Volcan Maderas, was one of the toughest we have done. At nearly 1400m, it took 4.5 hours to make it to the summit, and 3.5 to descend. Initially it was through fields of rice and beans, the Nicaraguan staple diet, and then through forest, easing into Jungle and finally transforming into a magnificent cloud forest near the top. The top quarter of the Volcano is usually covered in deep mist, and it is incredibly wet.
The bottom two-thirds are also very slippery and it wasn't long before we were covered in mud, and absolutely soaked in sweat. It was like we had walked into a shower fully clothed, and after a while i gave up cleaning the salt and sweat marks from my glasses and walked up the mountain with blurred vision.
In the jungle section, groups of Capuchin and Howler monkeys inquisitively came close to check us out, before fleeing to further far flung trees. It was beautiful jungle, but the cloud forest was stunning. Moss and ferns covered the ground, and lichen 10cm long covered every branch and trunk of the trees. The Volcano has been dormant for a long time allowing the dense forest to grow into a wonderland. Reaching the summit was a bit of an anticlimax, as it is just a patch of mud in the middle of the forest. However, from there you descend into the crater where a lake has formed and thousands of frogs have moved in. Mojo made an attempt to go for a swim, but deep mud and lots of tadpoles turned her back.
The walk down was treacherous, requiring all concentration to
not end up with an bum imprint in the mud. It was like ice in patches and we would slip nearly half a metre at a time. In the distance big booms of thunder sounded ominously, and as we neared the bottom with aching knees, it rained heavily. Soon a river of water was flowing down the mountain where the path had been, and it became ever more slippery, with water so deep it overflowed over the tops of our shoes. Mojo had a couple of stacks, caking the remaining parts of her clothes in mud. With 10 minutes of the walk left, the skies cleared and the sun came out, bloody typical. The beer at the end was one of the tastiest i have had.
Not down with punishing ourselves enough, the next day we hired bikes and traversed to the other side of the island over a muddy and rocky road. On Ometepe, expect to see more animals on the road then people. Herds of cows walk down the middle, horses and pigs graze on the lush grass by the side of the road, and chickens constantly scuttle from one side to the other. From the other
side of the island we hired kayaks and paddled up to the Istian river, an intricate floodplain and swamp near the small stretch of land that joins the two volcano's. Snow Egrets, Heron's and hawks patrol the area, as the water is teeming with fish. Howler monkey's growl from within the big trees on the edge of floodplain, as the big gnarled roots grow up out of the ground in an attempt to find some stability. As we arrived at the beginning of the wetland, so did the rain. Taking shelter under one of the big trees we did our best not to get wet, but still got soaked. After a while it turned into light rain and we made our way out of the covers and explored the canals that weaved in and out of patches of mangroves. Ducking under a few branches would take you into a new river to paddle down. In a couple of hours the rain cleared out and the sun came back and the river became alive again, with birds appearing from nowhere. From the top of the river we just sat back in our kayaks and let the current take us downstream quietly
It is a crying shame that just recently approval was granted to build a canal across Nicaragua, straight through the lake. It will for sure have some impact on this unique environment. I guess along with it tourism will take off, so come see Isla Ometepe before it is too late.
The original plan was to head to Granada for a few days, but quickly changed our minds to come back to San Juan del Sur. Elisa, who we had walked the Volcano and kayaked with was heading this way, and of course Brendan was still here. A fellow partner to commit some rum crimes. Nearing the end of our trip, the want to go and explore something new is waning, replaced with the desire to relax and talk gobshite with friends, and just chilling out in a familiar environment. San Juan fits that bill perfectly for us.
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