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Published: April 16th 2016
Million Dollar View
Over almost the entire island towards Volcan Concepcion, from the top of Volcan Maderas. This is what three hours of hard yakka gets you.
I really need to stop partying the night before travelling. Being hungover on a crusty, creaking, seen-better-days, cargo-barge-cum-passenger boat is never a good idea. Although I have probably had worse boat rides
, I was really wishing for it to be over near the end.
The dirty brown water of the lake – I’m not sure why the water is so dirty but it is – had quite a lot of swell for a lake. It is probably due to the high winds but there were some decent waves you wouldn’t expect to see on a lake that were buffeting the boat.
Canadian Carter, Aussie Aidan and I had taken all the easy options from Hola Ola Hostel in San Juan del Sur, to Hacienda Merida on Isla de Ometepe; a taxi to San Jorge, the boat, and then once on the island, an US$8 shuttle to directly to the hacienda
. It saved us two hours on board a chicken bus along a long, rocky road – and I don’t mean the sweet kind either. I will have to take a chicken bus at some stage in Central America however!
was beautifully located right next to the lake, complete with
Visions Of A Sunset
One of many sunsets over the pier at Hacienda Merida.
a concrete pier from which you could jump (carefully and slowly) off into the lake for a swim, but from which you would always watch the impressive sunsets over the lake.
There was plenty of grounds and space in the place with a restaurant and dining area where you would eat all your meals and drink all your beers (that would again, rather dangerously, all go on your tab), and plenty of hammocks including quite a few doubles, where you could chill out or take an afternoon nap.
On our first full day on the island, we decided to rent bikes and ride to Ojo de Agua, a clear, natural swimming pool a little inland. Complete with a bar, restaurant, a Tarzan swing and a tight-rope, it was the perfect place to chill and play around like you were a kid again. While playing with all the actual
The Tarzan swing reminded me of the one I did in Paraty
, although nowhere near as high or long. It still stung a bit on impact though, as I dropped some sweet bombs.
We then went to Playa Santo Domingo, a nice stretch of beach on the isthmus
Ojo de Agua
A natural swimming pool with clear, refreshing water.
connecting the two volcanoes that essentially make up the island; Volcan Maderas and the bigger, more imposing Volcan Concepcion.
In truth however, the sand wasn’t that nice and the water was dirty, shallow and warm – like really warm, like lukewarm bath water. The water right next to our hacienda was cleaner, although not by much.
The bike ride itself was tough and it was rough. So rocky was the road that the handle bars were shuddering almost the whole time – enough for me to open up a couple of blisters on my hand without even realising it.
Also tough and rough was climbing Volcan Maderas the next day.
Aidan and our guide Simeon – guides are compulsory for this eight hour trek after tourists kept getting lost and dying up on the volcano – accompanied me although it sounded a bit too tough and rough for Carter.
Merida – the small village we were staying in – is right at the base of the volcano, so it was the more convenient of the two volcanoes to climb. And looking at the steep, exposed summit of Volcan Concepcion, which would take 10-12 hours to climb, we figured
Playa Santo Domingo
Main beach on Ometepe although in reality it wasn't the greatest. Volcan Concepcion is in the background.
that Maderas would be tough enough.
It promised to be tough and rough and so we went up prepared with enough water and food. The only comparable hike I did was climbing Parrot’s Peak on Ihla Grande
. And to be fair, the conditions here were similar to the conditions on that climb. It was also maybe the toughest hike I have ever done – so if this was going to be anything like that, then this was going to be a challenge. I had already climbed one volcano just over a week ago
and had done a couple of relatively challenging hikes recently in South America including Machu Picchu
, so I was hoping I was already quite well prepared.
In the event, I could’ve done with more sleep and my legs were already tired from the bike ride the previous day – this was before we had even started. So it was fair to say it was fairly tough going at the start.
Unlike an English girl doing the trek with us however, I persevered and plodded on – almost walking mindlessly upward like a zombie. Only the Spanish I was talking with Simeon was occasionally distracting me from my goal of just continuously walking.
As we got higher, a cool breeze blew through
At the top of Volcan Maderas. Unfortunately, the lake was too dirty to swim in but we did get to see clouds rolling in over the top of it. Cool.
the canopy and like Aidan said, it was almost like hiking in air-conditioning. This made things easier.
Where the two other English girls with us gave up at the first mirador
– about halfway up – our group of three soldiered on into the most challenging part of the hike. For the last hour, we were pulling ourselves up some of the steepest terrain – in places by rope – by literally climbing. It was muddy as well, making things slippery and just that bit harder.
We eventually made it up there however, shaving an hour off the average ascent time in the process. The view wasn’t half-bad either, rewarding you with views over the isthmus of the island and Volcan Concepcion on one side, and Maderas’s crater lake with low clouds rolling over it on the other. Unlike Cerro Chato however, the lake here was far too muddy to swim in and there was no way we would be climbing an extra half-hour down to the lake after what we had just been through!
The view was definitely worth the climb though.
Going back down, my legs were losing their strength and I began to drag my feet,
View From The Top
I look over the island from the top of Volcan Maderas.
accidentally kicking rocks and tripping up on tree roots. And just as the last hour of the ascent was difficult, so the first hour of the descent was tricky – maybe the trickiest descent I have ever done. The terrain soon flattened out a bit however, and I was able to characteristically skip my way down the mountain
, using the momentum generated by gravity to propel myself downwards quickly, trusting my fleet-footedness to find the right places to place my feet lightly – given the speed I was haring down the mountain – so as not to fall over, slip or roll an ankle.
While conditions had got cooler as we got closer to the top, the opposite was happening as we got closer to the bottom. The stifling, humid heat had both Aidan and I dreaming about jumping into the lake by the hacienda. It was our motivation, along with the dinosaur-like growls of the howler monkeys in the trees. Our dreams were soon reality when we finally arrived back at the hacienda – there are fewer greater feelings in the world. But I was absolutely knackered.
Knackered enough for me to do literally nothing but chill at the hacienda for the next couple
View From My Hammock
A reminder that life isn't bad right now. Taken while lazing around at Hacienda Merida.
of days. I needed to rest and it was a good opportunity to catch up this blog!
I did however, join Aidan and Carter for a kayak on the lake one evening.
It was pleasant but tiring, considering I hardly ever use my arms this strenuously. I think prefer river kayaking, like I did in South Africa last year
, as you have a better sense of progress and feel like you’re actually getting somewhere. On the open water, you get the sense that you’re not moving at all. The water was calm though – perfect for watching the sun go down on the water, as Aidan and I simply rocked back in our kayaks.
Like San Juan del Sur
and Puerto Viejo
, Isla de Ometepe was proving a hard place to leave. Granada was my next destination but I couldn’t reserve a bed in a hostel there because everything seemed to be booked out. I didn’t really want to show up in Granada sans a reservation, but I think it was more the fact that I really just wanted to stay another day here. I was trapped! It would have to be my last day though – my feet were starting to get itchy.
With Aidan having taken
San Roman Waterfall
Impressively tall, but ultimately pitiful. It is dry season though.
off in the morning, Carter and I bit off a bit more than we could chew on our last day on the island, as we walked from the hacienda to the San Ramon waterfall.
We set off in the middle of the day which perhaps wasn’t wise, and there was little shade on the way there which made things even worse. It almost felt harder than climbing up Volcan Maderas!
The waterfall itself was a disappointment – it was more like a downward spray of water. It is dry season though.
There wasn’t enough water at the bottom to swim, but you could definitely cool yourself off and then wash yourself down under the waterfall.
The height of the waterfall was quite impressive – about 50-60 metres high, I reckon. The journey to get there and back absolutely stuffed me though.
And that was the last thing of note that I did on the island. It has been enjoyable and super-relaxing but I now really needed to move on. But before I do, here are some random observations from my time on the island;
- There is more vegetation on the island than there is on the dry mainland.
Caught at sunset on Ometepe.
I think the island’s soil and unique location creates a unique ecosystem.
- There were a lot of bugs on the island – especially those pesky little flies. You know, those small brown ones that always hang out in massive swarms and seem to go out of their way to try and irritate you as one massive group. Surprisingly, there aren’t many mosquitoes here at all.
- I have come to love dogs during my travels through South and Central America but the ones hanging out at the hacienda were manky, flea-infested, worm-infested and possibly rabid – so I was staying away from these ones. One even followed Aidan and I almost to the top of Volcan Maderas, only to get to the really vertical bit that it could not climb. It then started howling. Sadly. If he’d come all the way to the top with us, I think I definitely would have given him some food. He made a good effort nevertheless!
All the dogs had two names; the one that climbed the mountain with us was christened “Prickles” by Aidan, because he was like a prickle in your foot. Always getting in your way and racing under your
Sunset Over The Pier
One of many from our hacienda on Ometepe.
feet as you tried to climb the mountain, almost making you fall over in the process. And his second name was “Psychodog” because he had the craziest looking eyes I have ever seen on a dog. There was a one-eyed dog I called “Popped-Eye” but whose real name was “Maggie” apparently, and of course who could forget “Scratchy”/”Flea-Dog”. Although they were manky, I will miss these mutts.
After all this island time, I am kind-of looking forward to getting back to civilisation – back to the city…the city being Granada!
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