December 5, 2017
Time finally came to pack our bags and leave sunny San Juan del Sur and to move on to our next destination.
We headed out to Ometepe, and island composed of two volcanoes. The island sits in the middle of lake Nicaragua, the largest lake in Central America. Oh, and the lake is full of fresh water bull sharks, just to make your afternoon dip even more relaxing.
Getting to Ometepe
So essentially, to get there you go to a little town San Jorge, and you make sure you are there on time for the Ferry. If you’re lucky, you’ll get “El Che”, a nice Che Guevara themed ferry, which will take you there in a little over an hour of uneventful sailing.
If you miss the ferry, you might be stuck using one of the “Lanchas”, small boats that some people refer to as “The Vomit Comet”. The waters of the lake can get quite choppy, so the lanchas essentially guarantee you that you will get to the other side completely wet, and a few pounds lighter.
Once you’re on the island, there’s essentially one road. We had to get completely to the other end of the island, but luckily for us, it was on the part of it that was just recently paved. So we jumped onto our trusty chicken bus, and headed for Balgüe, the tiniest town in the middle of nowhere. There, we stayed on a farm turned eco-lodge by a very lively British man who moved here 13 years ago.
Hammock time is epic here. You’re far away from everything, you can see the lake, which looks like an ocean given how it’s humongous side. You can hear the neighbouring Howler Monkeys screaming like crazy — you can really disconnect here.
Every morning, two local ladies come, and cook you the most amazing breakfast using ingredients sourced from the farm.
The Richest Man in Ometepe
Our host Ben is a man of many stories. Which was great, because when you travel to a place where you don’t speak the language very well, you don’t get to converse too much with the locals, and the language barrier really prevents you from getting a good feel of the culture of the place.
Ben gave us a primer of how Ometepe works: the island, until recently, was almost exclusively ran on agriculture. It still mostly does, although tourism has been increasing at an incredible rate in the last 5 years.
If you live in Ometepe, and you have some money saved up, you don’t put it in the bank: you invest in cattle. Hence, your wealth in Ometepe is measured by how many cows you own!
There is this man, who is essentially a legend here. He owns more cows than anybody else. A lot more cows than anybody else. He’s essentially the Godfather of Ometepe.
The man is also known to be the father of about 70 children on the island. One could assume this man knew how to party.
Two years ago, he passed away. When the news of his passing spread through the island, over 200 people came forward saying he was their father, and deserve a part of his estate.
The matter has gotten so complicated that a council of 35 people has been established in Altagracia, the 2nd biggest city on the island, to analyze the claims to the fortune and figure out this situation.
Mo’ cows, mo’ problems
Let’s Hike a Volcano!
Going to Ometepe and not hiking one of the two volcanoes would be a shame. You’ve got two choices: Concepción (1,610 m), a majestic and perfectly cone-shaped active volcano, or Maderas (1,394 m), which is swathed in a cloud forest and has a mist-shrouded lagoon in its crater.
Since we were already on that side of the island, we chose to hike Maderas. Plus, we get to hike in a cloud forest, an experience that is getting scarcer due to climate change.
So we meet with our guide in the morning. We’re hiking with two american women, and a german guy who heard that we were hiking 5 minutes before we left, and decided to join us, with his running shoes and his 1L water bottle.
You’d expect such a steep hike to be a series of switchbacks, slowly going up the mountain.
Not here. Here, they don’t fuck around. Our guide heads into the jungle, and we hike in a straight line, right to the top.
Halfway through the hike, you enter the cloud forest. A mystical fog wraps the forest, the temperature goes down a few degrees, which was nice. And it gets muddy. Real muddy. I’ve never been this thankful to have brought my hiking boots, even though they take a lot of space in a backpack. Our german friend pretty much ruined his shoes, hiking in ankle-deep mud.
Now, here’s the thing. This is a cloud forest. After 4 hours of hiking, our Abel guide Abel says: “We’re here!”.
Yep, not quite the dramatic reveal. You don’t really get any views at all during the hike, because the top of the volcano is covered in clouds. We took a short break, and started 3 hours of descent, again in a straight line.
The clouds moved out for a short moment, and gave us a small victory, a breath-taking view of Concepcion, the other volcano across the island, with it’s near perfect cone-shaped cloud hat.
The whole hike took over 7 hours, so we made the next day a well deserved break in a hammock.
We’re now back in Granada, re-organizing the upcoming leg of hour trip due to some unexpected circumstances. More on that in our next entry!