Ometepe Island, Nicaragua: After the intense heat of Leon and Granada, I caught a bus and ferry combination to Ometepe in hopes of finding cool island breezes and getting off the grid for a few days. Ometepe, an unspoiled refuge in the middle of Lake Nicaragua, is an island formed by two separate volcanoes. Concepcion lies to the north, Maderas to the south, and they are joined together by a thin isthmus in the center. Concepcion (the one above that looks like a perfect cone) towers to an impressive 1,610 meters and is still considered an “active volcano.” The last strong eruption occurred in 1977, but the volcano continues to emit ash explosions and emergency evacuation routes are still signposted around the island. Sister Maderas Volcano sits to the south and reaches to a shorter 1,394 meters. Though both slopes are popular hiking routes for avid trekkers, it was much too rainy during our stay to tackle either summit.
A lonely figure-eight road circumnavigates the island; some parts are paved, others are riddled with pot holes and broken boulders. There are no stoplights, and I don’t recall encountering many stop signs either. There is more of a “pause and check” sort of system for the slow buses, mopeds, bicycles, pickups, horse carts, and cow herds that circle the island.
We chose to stay at Zopilote Lodge, an eco-hostel all the way down on the south island. The local bus dropped us off on the road outside of Zopilote’s property and pulled away in a cloud of dust. Then thunder cracked, and it began to rain – I mean, the heavens opened up and it poured. What followed was a rather wet, uncomfortable hike as we tromped another 30 minutes with our backpacks up the slippery, forest path to the lodge. Mud-soaked, irritable, and shivering, I barely raised an eyebrow when told that our “beds” would be hammocks. For $4 a night, I didn’t complain, though I was a bit cranky when the wind switched directions at 2 a.m. and blew the driving rain directly into my hammock, immediately soaking everything I owned.
And I soon learned that things don’t dry well in the tropical jungle.
Bicycling Ometepe Island: Luckily, the sun was shining by 6 a.m., and I took advantage of Zopilote’s complimentary 90 minute Hatha yoga session. Refreshed and loosey-goosey from stretching, it seemed like a great idea to continue the day by bike riding around the island. I teamed up with two German girls, and for $5 we rented some run-down bikes from the man at the bottom of the hill. Then away we went!
Now Ometepe Island is a fairly hilly island, and our bikes did not have working gears. The brakes actually only performed about 12% of the time too. Though we managed to cycle to the top of most of the hills (with a lot of pain and a few curse words), I will admit that I dismounted and walked my bike down the slopes of the steeper hills for fear of sailing headfirst into the pavement. There are some things even Adventurous Ashley will not do.
That being said, since I wasn’t preoccupied with giving myself a concussion, I had the perfect opportunity to take plenty of photos of local life around me.
Under the cloud-covered peaks of Conception and Maderas, we followed the winding road through Santa Cruz, Playa Santa Domingo, and up to Altagracia, passing banana plantations, pasture land, and lake-shore beaches..
It was a peaceful setting. Cows, horses, and pigs walked down the main road, grazed in thick grasses along the roadside, or even snoozed in the middle of the street. Roosters scurried through dirt yards, children played games with sticks and rocks, and locals cycled by, their rickety units loaded up with coconuts, pigs, and chicken crates.
Small villages dot the island, and we passed a handful of small schools and one room churches. Sweet scenes like this awaited us around every corner. This boy was cutting his horse’s tail and paused to give us a charming grin.
Most of the friendly locals make a living from farming, fishing, and tourism. This man was the local mechanic in Santa Cruz, and he obviously loved his blue truck.
I’m still amazed at how many women I see washing clothes in the rivers, lakes, bays, and water-filled ditches around Central America. After hand washing my own clothes for a mere three months, I am selfishly looking forward to using a washing machine upon arriving home. Meanwhile, these industrious women frequent the same watering holes to clean enormous piles of home goods and clothing every single day. They certainly live a simple, yet highly infectious, way of life.
My bicycling trio arrived back at Zopilote at 5:00 p.m. with sore legs, sunburns, and soggy clothes from the rain showers we encountered later in the day. Needless to say, we thoroughly enjoyed (and deserved) taking advantage of pizza night at our hostel. Though the light rain eventually gave way to severe thunderstorms (and another wet night in the hammock), I believe we had an excellent first day on Ometepe Island.