When we boarded the ferry to Omotepe island in San Jorge, we didn’t know what to expect. Yes, we had done our usual ritual: googling and asking other travelers about the island but this somehow didn’t help much. There were unfortunately too many contradictory opinions (‘it is great’, ‘it is boring’, ‘so many things to do’, ‘not much to do’… Guys were you all on the same island?!) so we decided to jump on the ferry with no expectation. One thing was sure: we had read about the island’s two volcanoes, Concepcion and Maderas and we were keen to conquer at least one of them. Concepcion vs Maderas or when you have to decide between active vs dormant, risky vs safe(r), dry vs (very) wet, view vs not much of a view. We guessed that once on the island, we would ask people around to take our decision but while approaching the island, it became obvious. A glance at the two guardians of the island and we knew: we would climb Concepcion. It was standing high and mighty over us, almost like daring us to come up. We could not NOT accept the challenge. I’m sorry Maderas but in all honesty, you didn’t stand a chance with us, even with your tempting lagoon.
Our ferry ride was smooth (I know, I know… How disappointing not to have any mini catastrophe to report) and since we were allowed to ride on the top deck next to the captain, we arrived in a happy mood in Moyogalpa… We easily found a cheap place to stay and quickly organized our climb for the next day as the forecasts were looking good. It would have been a shame to conquer a 1’610 meter high giant and see… nothing. We got up at 4:30 am, ready to defeat this arrogant giant. We entered the park and after paying the mandatory fee, we followed the trail to the forest. We were welcomed by a family of howler monkeys that seemed to warn us: turn around now or be ready to face the consequences. The aggressive howls followed us for a while, threatening, loud but then suddenly faded. I want to believe that they had decided we were worth to climb the giant and let us go through, wishing us good luck. The trail was flat and easy before we started going up on a moderately steep path. We happily reached the look out within 3 hours where a wonderful view over the lake Nicaragua (also know as Cocibolca) was waiting for us with green parrots playfully flying around.
I felt a bit cocky and started to wonder why people needed 10 to 12 hours to hike this trail and karma being a bitch, I regretted my cockiness 30 minutes later when the trail turned into an unstable path – one of those with lose lava rocks and sand. I struggled to catch my breath as M and our guide were litterally flying up. After an hour or so, fighting not to fall backwards, resisting the strong winds that kept challenging my balance, I started to doubt my own sanity: what was I doing here? Was I going to make it to the top? I daydreamed about standing up straight and simply let the wind carry me down all the way to the lake. It was so tempting. But instead I grabbed a rock, and another and another and kept pushing myself upwards. At some point, I glanced up to assess my progresses, hoping to be soon reaching the summit and what I saw left me angry and exhausted. Even though I had been climbing up for so long, the top wasn’t getting any closer. M probably felt my despair and he waited for me, reaching out with his hand and pulling me up. The wind was so strong, I could barely hear him but the 4 simple words that came out ‘you can do it’ which he repeated again and again and over again, carried me to the top (I would have preferred he would have carried me instead but oh well). After 4 1/2 hours we had made it and we were standing at the top of the island. What a spot for a picnic, the senses of humility and achievement were overwhelming as I knew I wouldn’t have made it without M’s support. Going down was even tougher as the path was unforgivable: a wrong step and you were falling down on very sharps rocks. We couldn’t wait to reach the look out, especially after a man stumbled and broke his arm a few meters away from us. We luckily reached the bottom unharmed, with only a few cuts to remind us that we had been on a challenging volcano hike! We were still high on adrenalin, walking fast, following our young guide closely, when suddenly he jumped and I realized with horror that a snake had bitten him and was making its way towards me. I panicked, jumped back, missed a step and heavily fell on a stone. I was scared, hurt but never stood up so fast in my life. The snake lost interest and fled into the nearby trees. The guide started to laugh at my face and I started to laugh too, holding my painful butt cheek. Luckily, our guide was wearing jeans and the snake only attacked him because our guide literally walked on it. What an end for a strenuous hike: panic, laughs and a bruised butt and all that free of charge! Let me tell you this, I couldn’t get out of the woods fast enough!
I called Ometepe a two-faced island because this is a place where challenges could meet leisure and we loved it. After conquering Concepcion, we wanted to chill and explore the island. We discovered Santo Domingo, Altagracia and Santa Cruz, small villages that appealed to us for different reasons. Betwen Santo Domingo and Santa Cruz, we enjoyed strolling on the peaceful and deserted beach, witnessing the sunset and some pretty impressive lightnings. Ojo de Agua was perfect to recover from the hike and a lovely treat to our sore muscles. Altagracia was particulary special to us because we met two Nicaraguans brothers (with Salvadorian blood) who shared a dinner, few cervezas and humble yet funny life stories with us. We ended up staying 4 days on the island and we could have surely stayed a bit longer if we would have rented a scooter as San Ramon and Merida were a bit harder to reach with the chicken bus. Ometepe reconciled us with Nicaragua and the locals did apologize for the assholes from the big cities who take advantages of tourists. Ometepe did more than giving us an active and lazy time, it also gave us an emotional attachment we will forever have with the people of Ometepe!
Time to hit the road though to check out our last Nicaraguan destination before crossing to Costa Rica: San Juan Del Sur.