It was a sad goodbye that we paid Laguna de Apoyo. We all packed up our bags, and some of us our hangovers and regrets over lost phones. It was time to move on yet again.
Ometepe island was the one major destination in Nicaragua that seemed to come up again and again from other travellers. It was the must see/do of the country. Thus, we all had rather high expectations heading there. We made our way by shared taxi to the port town of San Jorge, near Rivas. We walked down the pier heading towards what looked like a safe and reputable ferry.As we lingered near the ferry, looking hopeful and expectant at the crew onboard, they merely shook their heads and pointed to the left. We followed their point and our gaze settled uneasily on the rickety vessel that would be our ferry. We paid the small fee and were herded on to the lopsided boat. We had to leave our bags atop and I sent a silent prayer up that it would not topple off into the depths of Lake Nicaragua as they didn’t secure anything down. We sat on the floor of the roof, being that there was no room elsewhere. Sarah and I took turns putting sunscreen on each others exposed and vulnerable backs. An old local man brought out his cellphone and began chuckling while filming us. I wasn’t quite sure if he was being creepy, or just thought it was hilarious how us gringos always had to be slathered in sunscreen.
A crew member advised us we had to go below, so we descended into the cabin area below deck and I stifled a groan as I saw how packed it was. Me being at the end of the line, only my travel mates were lucky enough to get the last three seats on the boat. The only space left to sit was on a slight platform that housed the raucously convulsing engine. I sat down and coughed as diesel fumes fissured out next to my face. Welcome to the chicken bus of ferries! The boat rocked and swayed precariously for the hour trip over and I thanked the gods that I wasn’t susceptible to motion sickness; the tight quarters, undulating waves and strong odours were enough to make the strongest of stomachs quaver.
When we got off the ferry and were joyfully reunited with our still intact bags, we sought out a cab. We met a few people on the ferry heading to the same area, Santa Cruz, and us so 7 of us piled in- three in the truck bed with all the bags, the rest in the cab of the truck. Sarah, Kajsa and I gladly hopped in the truck bed, brought out our harmonicas and drums and played atrociously on them the whole 45 minute cab ride, laughing and smiling as the sun beat down on us to welcome us to the island.
We hadn’t booked a hostel in advance for once and it was a mistake. There weren’t too many nearby, and the one we got dropped off at was full. With our burdensome bags and the intense heat, we weren’t feeling like searching the island, but we also weren’t willing to pay for more cabs. We split up, each going one way on foot, while one stayed with all the bags, in search of accommodation. We ended up reluctantly going to Little Morgans, which was known as a party place and didn’t have great reviews, but our options were limited. The place was okay, but it had a major fly issue that made the common area unbearable. We had a little cabana all to ourselves, with it’s own little outhouse and outdoor shower. The grounds were getting pretty run down however and needed some serious TLC to bring it back to life. At least the food was good and decently priced!
We started talking amongst ourselves and other guests to try and work out a plan. Us girls decided we would attempt to hike the infamous Volcan Concepcion. We had heard from some friends of ours that it was challenging so we were a little trepidatious. I hadn’t slept in two nights, a frustrating bout of insomnia had decided to plague me. I made myself a deal- if I got a decent sleep tonight, I would get up at 4:30am with the girls and hike the volcano. If I didn’t sleep, I’d have to bail out. I laid awake almost the entire night, of course. I was really bummed out, as we had gone and got snacks the night before and were all prepared for the big day, clothes laid out and all. I was looking forward to a massive workout and a challenge. But it was not meant to be. I know my body and my limits and knew I would end up either pushing myself and getting sick, or having to stop part way and come back down on my own, holding up the group. I bid Sarah and Kajsa the best of luck and sadly saw them off. I went back to bed and was able to get an hour and a half of much needed sleep.
Richard was surprised, albeit happy to see I chose the path of enlightenment and decided not to put myself through agony just to a climb a mountain! We decided we would rent bicycles today and venture to Ojo to Agua, a refreshing and alluring natural pool a few kilometers down the island from us. We tested out a few bikes, found the best ones we could and set out on our way. Things were going fine, until about halfway there my bike starting making strange grinding sounds that were rather concerning. Things started to wobble a bit and suddenly my back tire locked up and I had to stop. The bike was completely broken! We had seen a bike rental shop just a minute or so back so we walked it back asked if they could fix it, but they advised us that it was broken. I ended up leaving the bike there, locking it up and renting another more reliable bike from this other shop. And we were off again!
Ojo to Agua was fantastic! Ometepe was stifling hot and the fresh, crystal clear cool waters were more than inviting. We locked up the bikes, paid our $2 entrance fee, stripped down and jumped right in. The water was divine. We swam around, watched people attempt slack lining, watched people swing off the rope swing in what looked like slow motion, drank cool coconut water and read our books. We spent a few hours at this little refuge from the island heat, savouring the clean, cold water before hopping back on our bikes to make the journey home and meet up with our mountaineers! The bike ride back was a bit of an adventure- I dropped the second working bike off, and picked up the broken one. I walked it for a while and then decided to hop on and attempt to ride it broken. It was scary and slow going; loud clanking and grinding sounds were my constant companion, and the back tire dragged half the way. Richard had to stay behind me to warn me in case the wheel decided to suddenly fall off. We made it back without any casualties and then began the negotiation of getting my money back. I knew it was doubtful, but I had to try. They had sold me a broken bike, endangered my safety, I had to pay to use another bike from another company, and I had to cut my day short and trudge their bike back to them. In Canada, a company would undoubtedly offer their sincerest apologies, refund my money, and likely give me some kind of further compensation. However, this was not Canada, it was Nicaragua, and we had learned in our short time so far in this country that people here like to rip you off every chance they get. So my advice to you- do NOT rent bikes from the little booth that is stationed on the main road just at the turn off for Little Morgan’s. We saw them renting out scooters and motorcycles as well that looked or sounded like they would endanger peoples lives.They bicycles were total crap anyway, the bike I got from the second shop was far superior.
We met up with our mountain conquerors for dinner, swapped stories of our days and made plans for the next day. The girls wanted to check out Ojo to Agua, and Richard and I wanted to hike up to San Ramon waterfall on Volcan Maderas so we parted ways again. We all decided we would rent scooters for the day and meet up later. Kajsa and Sarah shared a scooter and Richard and I got our own. It was my first time on a scooter so I was slightly nervous, though I’d driven a motorcycle before so I knew it would be easy! Richard was slightly (okay exponentially) more nervous. He had tried to rent one on a previous trip and didn’t make it out of the parking lot before the renter said there was no way they were letting him take it out since he nearly crashed it in the parking lot. I pumped up his confidence letting him know he had it all under control this time, and we took off to cruise the island in search of our waterfall!
I fell head over heels for the scooter life in an instant. The rush of the world and wind flying past you as you cruise on the winding dirt roads was incredible! I would stop now and then to let Richard catch up and we would exchange huge smiles (well, mine was huge, Richard’s was slightly forced and nervous, but he loosened up the longer we were out!) and laughter. I slowed down so I could really take in the sights. Up until now, Ometepe hadn’t impressed me. Our hostel wasn’t great, the location we were staying in was mediocre and while Ojo de Auga was beautiful, we just weren’t smitten with the island yet. But setting out on the scooter and seeing what island life was really like changed everything. Island life is sluggish and lazy. People take their time because the heat slows everything down. Everyone is relaxed and happy. We passed by tiny little villages and houses, and everywhere we looked there were horses roaming freely, cattle crossing streets, chickens dashing wildly out of your way and piglets scampering around and suckling at their mother’s teats on the side of the road. Children run around with the animals, entertaining themselves. Life is good, and life is slow. The island seen this way shows how beautiful it is, how simple life is and how happy the people seem. I had a permanent grin plastered to my face as I cruised through the island appreciating its beauty and its people. Being on that scooter made me feel overwhelmed with elation; I was so happy to be exactly there, present, in that moment in my life, appreciating how amazing my life is.
We finally made it to the base of the waterfall right in the heat of the day. I tried to buy a coconut ice cream at the gate as they had advertised on their chalk board, but the blender wasn’t working (this confused me, as I wasn’t sure why you need a blender for ice cream, but I digress). We began our hike, and were told it would take about 3 hours round trip. About a minute into the hike I knew we were in trouble. I had hiked San Pedro Volcano in Guatemala and it was extremely challenging for me- but this was something else entirely. There was no breeze. Not even a hint of one. It was noon, the hottest part of the day and the sun was beating down savagely on us with no sign of shade in sight. I had my water bottle and Richard had half a bottle. We were drenched in sweat immediately and gasping for breath- the hike itself was not strenuous but the heat was quite literally suffocating. Luckily I couldn’t have been with a better person to endure the hell we were venturing into. The only way to deal with the agony of the heat and effort was to laugh about it, and laugh we did! After the first few minutes of silence, where we were undoubtedly both screaming inside our heads ‘WHAT THE HELL ARE WE DOING? WHY IS IT SO FUCKING HOT???!!!” Richard finally broke the silence. We were waking through a beautiful corridor of trees and he says “My god… is this… hell? Are we walking through the gates of hell? This must be hell!” I burst out laughing, partly because it was funny but more so because he was right and I momentarily worried if he was right- it sure felt like hell. Each breath we took in burned our lungs and chest with it’s torrid dryness. Laughing made me gasp and made breathing even more difficult, but I couldn’t stop.
We struggled on, breaking the silence only to comment on how ludicrous the heat was and how we were sure we were dying. Every few steps I would head a pitiful moan of agony from Richard that left me in stitches. Richard stopped at one point and walked towards a tree and said to it “Brittany… what are you doing over there? Why are you so tall all of a sudden?”. The heat was making us quite nearly delusional. I actually fell down laughing in hysterics, struggling to catch my breath from laughing so hard. I laughed until I cried. The tears were streaming down both our faces and in between gasping for breath and laughing we confessed to each other that the tears weren’t only from laughing, but from a strange mix of desperation, fear and agony.
A few minutes later, but what felt like an eternity, I saw a large tree whose shadow actually fell on the trail and we both raced for it desperately. Richard stood directly behind me as we shared the thin trip of shade this wonderful tree offered us, and broke down laughing once again at our desperation. A vehicle was coming down the trail (you could drive up part way, but not with scooters, damnit!) and as it came closer, I bolted for the vehicle and begged them, half jokingly to take us back with them. As my head came near the window I felt the blissful blast of air conditioning and stuck my head inside and half screamed in hysteria, “air conditioning!!!!!” and the car full of tourists burst out laughing- I suppose there is something hilarious about desperation? About half way up, the trail finally offered the slightest bit of shade and a touch of a breeze. It was still unbearable, but we trudged on, the only thing keeping me going was knowing there was a cool waterfall at the end I could stand under.
We kept thinking we could hear he waterfall but it was a trick, a cruel trick. There was a pipe that lead from the top of the waterfall all the way down as a water source for the island, and that’s what we were hearing, tempting us to keep going, thinking it was always just around the corner. I was sure we were close when Richard stops and says the inevitable we had both been waiting for… “Maybe we should go back….” I half screamed at him, “No Richard! We are close, I just know it, we can’t quit now!” And I push us on as he moaned defeat behind me. A minute later we finally run into other hikers who tell us we are close and it’s just around the corner! VICTORY AT LAST! We make the final push with renewed enthusiasm and nearly cry tears of joy when we see the end of the trail and the beautiful waterfall standing tall ahead of us. I looked down at my watch, baffled. It only took us an hour. I was sure it was 3 hours, the way time stretched and slowed down as we marched through the depths of hell on that trail. It was the longest hour of my entire life.
The waterfall was not impressive, I knew this going in (it’s dry season, no falls are all too impressive in Central America at this time), but it was strikingly beautiful nonetheless. We didn’t even take our clothes off, we just dropped our bags and ran straight into the water, whooping for joy and hugged each other. We had quite literally just gone through hell together, and survived! We savoured every moment of that blissful waterfall, Richard filled his mouth and water bottle up and drank hungrily from this blessed fountain of life. We had a fun little photoshoot and chastised ourselves for not bringing a book and a picnic to such a picturesque spot. We wanted nothing more than to linger all the day here, relishing our reward, but we had to have the scooters back by 4pm to catch our cab and get the last ferry off the island, so after an hour we had to leave. The way down would be much quicker, and less of an effort, but we still dreaded it. We soaked ourselves one last time to ensure we were wet and cool and set out. We made it down in about 45 minutes and told ourselves the reward at the end would be ice cream, so we had a reason to go on and not give up and die on the side of the trail. Thankfully the blender was fixed and we ordered ourselves two large coconut ice creams. I’m not sure what was in this concoction other than ice cream and fresh coconut blended into a smoothie like drink served up in a chilled goblet, but I have never tasted anything quite like it in all my life. We practically inhaled the ice cream, and somehow managed to avoid the brain freeze, I think because our brains were so flooded with endorphins from how delectable the icy goblet of heaven was. It made our entire endeavour worth it, it was that good!
We left the park feeling accomplished. We had nearly perished on that Volcano trail, but we didn’t give up, we conquered it, bathed in the rejuvenating waters, made it back down and gorged ourselves on ice cream as a reward. Accomplished indeed! When we got to our scooters there was a napkin wrapped on each of our right handle bars that said “We see you looking pretty!” (a joke from our adventures at Laguna de Apoyo, you can read about here!) and we knew our dear friends had come this way and left us a note. We hopped on our scooters and began the scenic ride home, slightly faster this time. As I was cruising along I saw a scooter rapidly approaching behind me in my rear view mirror, but was sure it couldn’t be Richard, he was far too conservative with his driving. As it closed in, I realized it was Sarah and Kajsa! They bolted past me, laughing hysterically and left me in their dust cloud, chuckling to myself.
We dropped our scooters off, and hopped in an awesome van cab that played hip hop music from the 90’s and early 2000’s the whole 45 minutes ride back to the dock. As we sang along to Tupac and Jennifer Lopez, we filled each other in on our fun days on the island, feeling full of life and fun new memories.
Ometepe didn’t grab me right away. I think we started off on the wrong foot- we picked the wrong area, and the wrong hostel, Little Morgans. But on our last day as we all hopped on scooters and began to have a fun time and see what more the island had to offer it really grew on me. I was reluctant to leave, now that I had fallen for the island, but I know this is one of those special places I would come back to in a heart beat.