Oh My, Oh Me! Ometepe!

November 14th, 2015.

Ometepe Island (pronounced oh-meh-TEH-peh), a peculiar land formation composed of two enormous volcanos in the center of Lake Nicaragua. A mere google map search leads to great intrigue. A visit led to even more…

 

At long last, I’d made it across Central America from the Caribbean coast of Honduras to a mere 30 kilometers from the Pacific Coast of Nicaragua. Some good friends, Noah and Kali from Jackson, Wyoming had flown down to explore Nicaragua and spend some time together. Very excited to see them, they’d be my first sighting of any USA friends since Oaxaca. Not a ton of biking was done on Ometepe due to the visitors, I spent most of my time on foot exploring the rich landscapes of the island with Noah and Kali.

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 Ferry terminal in San Jorge on the Western edge of Lake Nicaragua.

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 The ferry was hilarious. An old wooden tug boat type of ship that consistently listed about 10 degrees to one side during the entire crossing, with its fair share of creaks, moans, and groans due its age and poor condition. I walked a narrow gang plank to board, bike in arms, and laid it down by the luggage. No straps, no tying anything down. Just hope that the water wouldn’t be too rough, I guess…

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Given the packed seating area below deck, I figured we’d all eventually get across.

 

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Landing on the Northern tip of the island in the small town of Moyogalpa, I had a 30km ride to the South side to meet up with my friends in an eco-hostel called Zopilote. I was surprised to find the road was paved all the way to the hostel, given rumors of the rustic conditions on Ometepe.

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Following suit with many Northern areas of Nicaragua, the red and black squares signifying Sandinista support speckled the roadside trees and houses.

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Don’t buy birds from those who rob nests. Don’t throw away your trash.

Good signs.

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Following the small signage to Zopilote off of the main road, I was directed by an Australian volunteer to follow the path up the hill to a small cabin where Noah and Kali were renting. It was nearing dusk by this time, and I’d been moving constantly since my campsite on Volcan Masaya that morning. Somehow my friends had managed to move into the highest location on the property, through narrow staircases and winding jungle paths. NOT bike friendly, but so beautiful! I checked in and wedged my bike into the small cabin to be greeted by my friends later in the evening.

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Down the hill a ways, we wandered into the hostel’s cafe for breakfast. Noah and Kali had done me the HUGE favor of carrying down some much needed supplies, including a much awaited replacement camera. This one has odd but fun color preference settings…

 

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Noah with morning cafe in hand…

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Lake Nicaragua is IMMENSE. 160km long and 75km across, it felt like an ocean beach. Just with little bits of land off in the distance.

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 Getting ready to jump in the lake from a rocky beach.

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Later that day, we rented scooters and rode to the gigantic cascade above San Ramon on the Southwest side of the island. A beautiful hour-long jungle hike brought us up to the towering showers.

 

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Accompanying us on the hike was an etymologist who was on break from a research project in Costa Rica. She showed us all sorts of cool insects, including this damselfly, supposedly extremely rare for Nicaragua’s Western jungles. Teaching Kali how to hold it without damaging its delicate wings, she was so excited about her new find!

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She also taught us that termites can be used as mosquito repellent. Seriously. Just reach into one of those huge termite nests in the crook of a jungle tree (make for darn sure it’s termites and not biting ants), grab a bunch of live termites, and smush them all between your palms, then rub the mash of dead termites against your skin where you want to avoid getting mosquito bites. Works like a charm!

 

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That night we rode back across to a long sandbar on the north end of the island for some sunset photos. Amazing perspective to look back at Volcan Concepcion from the tip of the sandbar…

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Noah and Kali had arrived on Ometepe a couple of days before I did and were ready to move on to their final destination in Nicaragua, San Juan del Sur. We made plans to meet up the following day there as I’d stay on the Island one day more to climb one of the two big volcanos, Volcan Madera. Unfortunately hiking either volcano required the use of a professional guide (I really prefer to hike alone or just with friends), but went for it anyway. The problem with guided hikes is often the experience level and walking speed is quite varied, and most would-be clients don’t have enough experience to know if they’re up for the task at hand. So was the case.  A few of us would walk ahead for 20-30 minutes and wait. And wait. And wait. Eventually the group would all reconvene and we’d repeat the process. I don’t mean to sound like an impatient or in-compassionate person, I just really like to go my own speed in nature. Hard to do with a group of 12.

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 Alas, more time to explore the microcosmos of the jungle and learn about various biting insects as they attacked our exposed skin! 

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 The trail narrowed during the climb, eventually leading up a tight drainage to the rim of the crater. A short scramble down the inside edge and we arrived at the crater lake within!

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 A cross between the trash compactor scene from Star Wars and the Swamps of Sadness from the Neverending Story, the crater lake was quite an experience. The low fog limited visibility to only about 20 meters, so we had no idea exactly how big it really was. A couple of us waded in nonetheless, feeling our feet, ankles, and even knees become enveloped by the deep soft mud under the water’s surface. I had to swim parallel to the surface to avoid getting caught on the mud. I figured the water would get deeper further out, but to no avail. The mud-free water was never more than a foot deep, even 100 feet out in the lake! I put my feet down into the mud, and noticed that the deeper i let my legs sink in, the warmer it got! Still some geothermic action down there, I enjoyed the hot-mud leg bath for a while, then waded back to shore.

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Monkeys! Lots and lots of howler monkeys all through Central America, but often hard to see them amidst the thick jungle. This little family was swinging around right over our heads.

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Climbing Madera with a big group turned out to be an all-day event. We still had 1500’ of descending to do as the daylight began to fade into sunset. But a great view!

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I rode back to the ferry dock the following morning, excited to meet up with Tucker Teutch Jr., the father of an old college friend (Tucker 3.0), who graciously offered to let me stay with him until Tucker 3.0 arrived with his Wife Jessica and newborn son (yep, Tucker the 4th). Noah and Kali would also still be there, so lots of great people to catch up with!

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