Pic 1. On my way to Ometepe with Adam & Rebeca.
Pic 2. After a four-hour steep hike, we are rewarded with a misty view and added pride.
Pic 3. Soaking our sore muscles in the natural spring waters of Ojo De Agua.
Pic 4. Food, drinks and volcanoes make a perfect day.
Pic 5. Views on Ometepe were unreal.
Pic 6. Badly re-enacting our actions in case of an eruption.
Pic 7. Any adventure is better in the company of good people.
Pic 8. Getting our cowgirl on in the fields of Ometepe.
Pic 9. Just can't stare at volcanoes enough.
Ometepe, an island in a lake, with two volcanoes. What?!
~ A mesmerizing week of adventures ~
By Laura Bijnsdorp
I had been in San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua, for about a week now and had indulged myself fully in rum, food and time on the beach. Adam, a good friend that lived in San Juan Del Sur, had been no help in curbing any glutinous actions. It was time to see a bit more of Nicaragua.
To my delight, Adam was able to take the weekend off so he, and his co-worker and friend Rebeca could join me for the first few days at my next destination: Ometepe. Ometepe, I had heard, was an island in a lake that arose due to two volcanoes. What?! I had to see that of course!
Thus on a Friday afternoon, Rebeca and I jumped into Adam’s mud-covered truck and headed to the ferry about two hours’ drive away. At the ferry terminal, we were cramped onto a rusty barge along with as many other trucks (one that was transporting a horse) and cars possible. The ride might’ve been uncomfortable, but we were so mesmerized by the two volcanoes that we were nearing we didn’t feel one bump made by the waves.
Lake Nicaragua, the same lake that the Spanish conquerors called the “fresh water sea” because of its sheer size, rises the island Ometepe. The name Ometepe means “two hills” in the native “náhuatl” language. The island measures 276 square kilometres and it houses two majestic volcanoes connected through a small strip of land.
After we had settled into our hostel in the port-town and had had a quick pre-dinner snack, we went on a mission to find a tour-company that could take us up one of the volcanoes the next morning. Both volcanoes would take a full day to ascend and descend, with each having its own extra obstacles besides a steep climb. We had chosen to concur Maderas, which we had heard had an impressive jungle, whereas Conception was drier.
We had not taken into account that our late arrival to Ometepe, also meant that we could not find any tour companies that would make the climb with us early the next morning. Slightly defeated, we headed to the sole bar in town that looked lively. As I was standing at the bar waiting for a double-mojito, a young guy called Milton started up a conversation with me. At first, I wasn’t very receptive as I was in no mood to be hit on, but I quickly realized he wasn’t hitting on me, he was trying to sell his services as a guide!
Without being pushy, Milton showed me pictures of his guided hikes up the volcanoes, and I explained to him that we wanted to climb Maderas the coming morning. Finding out we had our own transportation, he agreed with a big smile. After introductions, we cheerfully left the bar for an early night to prepare for the long day we had ahead of us.
5:30am is never a great hour to have to rush. But as agreed, we met Milton at the truck and started driving towards the starting point of our hike.
The first hour of the hike, I was in high spirits. The incline wasn’t too steep and Milton stopped frequently to tell us about a number of plants and animals. We even tasted “termites,” which surprisingly had a bit of a fruity taste. “They have vitamin C – good for survival,” said Milton, after which he told us a story about hikers who got lost and died hiking unguided up Maderas.
“A bit silly!” I thought to myself, as I assumed you just would always have to head down, trying to find your way on a small island with two volcanoes. But I would soon retract my careless thoughts, as in the hours to come, we slipped, tripped through mud, ducked and weaved through branches and were enveloped in mist as we got higher.
I just wanted it to end. But despite a little voice that said, “You can just turn back;” I knew it would be worth it to reach the top. A little over four hours later, muddy, scratched and sweaty, we did! Downside? There was so much mist we could not see a thing! Upside: I was so very proud of myself!
After chowing down a few peanut-butter sandwiches, our warm-bodies started to get colder and colder in the misty air. It was time to head back! Normally, the way back would be quicker, but because we had to take care walking through the mud and avoiding branches, it took us another four hours before we could drink a well deserved ice-cold beer at our new hostel for the night: El Zopilote.
El Zopilote, an organic permaculture farm that doubles as a hostel and restaurant, was located about a 10-minute pretty walk from the main road. The dubbed “hippie haven” was a great place to stay. I enjoyed the outdoor-atmosphere and fresh food immensely. I did, however, have to suppress either laughter or sarcasm directed at a number of pretentious characters the hostel attracted, who felt the need to voice their spiritual connection to nature and strangers a bit too often.
We had arrived at El Zopilote on the perfect night and our long day was not just rewarded with an ice-cold beer, but also with a pizza-party that the popular hostel hosts twice a week. Munching away with satisfaction underneath the stars, I already knew I’d stay longer than expected in Ometepe.
Taking it easy the next day, we drove to Ojo de Agua, a natural spring pool filled with crystal clear water from an underground river that comes from volcano Maderas. The swimming hole is rimmed with cement to form two separate swimming areas where the water gets renewed constantly by the spring that emerges from the bottom of the upper pool. It was the perfect place to relax and enjoy a rum-filled coconut!
Adam and Rebeca had to go back to work, and although I had first planned to catch a ride back to the mainland, I needed to explore more of this magical island first.
I was sad to see my friends go, but lucky for me, another great group of people was kind enough to include me in a few of their island adventures. Stephanie, Roger, Claire, Marco and Tim were each solo-travellers who all had their own stories to tell. I was again reminded how inspiring travelling could be, not just because of the new experiences, landscapes, food and cultures, but because of the wide-range of people that you meet. Some you might’ve never befriended in your usual settings and some you would; but either way, it is comforting and motivating to spend time with people who value travel as much as you do.
Besides sharing stories, together we saw some amazing sunsets, got lost in a intimidating thunderstorm on a hike, laughed uncomfortably on a chicken bus, enjoyed walking-trails through forests and along the lake, ate some creamy pasta and tasted some of the best kombucha ever.
The week flew by, and it was almost weekend once more. Adam and Rebeca would be waiting at the ferry dock for another adventure in the morning. I just had to catch one more good look at Ometepe’s volcanoes! I had seen a sign that offered horseback riding for just $7 an hour. I was happy that Annie, another fellow traveller at El Zopilite, who had the talent of making anyone feel at ease, wanted to join me.
Zach, a Nicaraguan with a face that looked younger than his 30+ years, told us he had been handling horses since he was nine years old. Initially helping his dad with farm work, he now mainly used his cowboy skills to take tourists like ourselves on trail rides, showing them a different perspective of Ometepe.
After all the hiking I had done in the past week, it was a treat to see the scenery in an easier manner. My horse was lovely, and he seemed to know his way easily up the path, taking a bite here and there of the surrounding brush.
We crossed through jungle, past wheat-fields and rocky terrain. Finally dismounting our trusty steeds to walk the last 10 minutes up the base of Maderas volcano, ending at a perfect viewpoint of Ometepe island and the ever-impressive Conception volcano.
I must admit that although Sint Maarten will always be my favourite island in the entire world, Ometepe possibly now stands second on that list. Next stop? The pristine Laguna de Apoyo and Bustling Town of Leon.
Follow Laura’s travels every Saturday in the WEEKender – The Daily Herald or on instagram: laurasxm.