After Leon we spent a few days in Granada, relaxing and taking in the city. From there it was a quick jump to Isla Ometepe. The largest freshwater lake in Central America, Ometepe is a budding outdoor adventure paradise. Visited but not overrun by tourists, Ometepe maintains is “wild” feel. Dominating the landscape Volcan Conception and Volcan Maderas provide hiking, animal, birdwatching, and even swimming. Combine that with the lake shore, lake kayaking and even a wild monkey island, and well, you see why we had to spend a few days there.
Heading to Isla Ometepe via ferry we disembarked in Moyogalpa and quickly scrambled onto a chicken bus towards the village of Merida. Two and a half hours later we found ourselves at Hacienda Merida, an Eco-friendly, sustainable development focused inn along the west side of the lake. Checking in we were greeted by Simeon, a guide from the local tourism cooperative who cajoled us into hiking Volcan Maderas the next day. Unable to pass up an opportunity to climb another volcano, we singed up for the climb. Cautioning us not to drink and to get a good nights sleep Simeon left us until the next morning. Needless to say after all day traveling by overcrowded chicken bus and the slowest ferry imaginable, we needed beer and headed down to the local commedor for dinner and some brew.
Thinking we might actually beat the roosters to call in dawn, we left the Hacienda around 6:30am prepared for an 8-10 hour hike to the summit and back. Since the volcanoes basically are the island, there isn’t much flat terrain and we spent the first hour gradually climbing through agricultural fields. Heading into the canopy the trail became exponentially harder and we often found ourselves climbing up muddy tree limbs precariously balanced on their roots. Huffing and puffing like couch potatoes going up the stairs, we were challenged by the hike, heat, and humidity. Literally dripping with sweat, we continued to breathlessly ascend the volcano. I’m not sure if it was the rapid speed of the guide, he told us he climbs the volcano at least three times a week with tourists, the heat and humidity or the previous nights beer, but I felt incredibly out of shape for the first time in a long time. Before traveling both of us exercised daily and participated in adventure races and extreme sports. Three months of rice and beans has clearly had an affect on our bodies.
Easing up a bit as we got to the summit, the trail continued past the summit towards a Laguna. All of our huffing, puffing and sweating were rewarded by beautiful views of the Laguna from the summit. Resting a moment, we broke out some snack and chatted with the guide before heading back down the volcano. Nothing good lasts for long, especially in rainy season and before long the afternoon sky opened up on us and we found ourselves hiking down in a river of mud. One thing we’ve learned being in Central America during rainy season is that post afternoon shower the jungle is alive with all sorts of creatures. Almost back to the agricultural fields we spotted Capuchin monkeys interested in playing or at least looking at us. Calling to them with a series of kissy noises and what sounded like Donald Duck calls, Simeon got a few of the curious ones to come closer to us and we watched them leap through the trees above our heads.
Continuing down the mountain I made a few friends of my own, unfortunately they were not the cute furry kind. No my friends, I formed a bond with the Chichicaste plant, infamous for the painful blisters that form after you come in contact with it. Needless to say I found the plant by accident. I may not be allergic to poison ivy, oak or sumac but I am certainly not immune to the charms of the Chichicaste plant. Hauling myself down the volcano, Simeon proceeded to point out every single poisonous plant on the way back down and warning me about each one. Finally, soaked, exhausted and each of us hurting in our own way, we collapsed in a pill of mud in front of our room unable to move for at least ten minutes.
Healed from my encounter with the Chichicaste, but still exhausted we decided to take the next day easy. Closer to Volcano Conception, the pools of Ojo de Agua (eye of the water) were an incredible place to rest our weary bones. The two pools of varying depths, naturally filled with river water, were downright cold and refreshing after the jungle. Things being what they are though, we miscalculated the money we brought with us and found ourselves without enough cash to take the bus back to Merida. Doing what any good independent traveler would do, we hitched a ride in the back of a utility truck to the nearest town and walked the 8 km back to Merida. Turns out our lack of money didn’t matter. Not a single bus passed us the entire way back to Merida -we would have been waiting over two hours for the bus anyway.
Crawling into bed to once again torrential downpour, we slept like logs. Heading back to Moyogalpa the next morning our bus abruptly stopped about 10km from the town. Herding us out of the bus like cattle, the driver pointed to the road ahead and told us we’d have to walk to the connecting bus. The torrential downpours we keep talking about? Well they had triggered a massive landslide overnight that covered everything in it’s path with mud, volcanic rock and debris. Eventually we made it to Moyogalpa, and in a panicked rush, caught the ferry and made it back to the mainland.