Any traveler who has ever set foot on the strikingly surreal island of Ometepe knows all too well the trials and tribulations of the journey to get there. This is especially true if your goal was an early arrival.
Our passage to Ometepe started at approximately 5:45 a.m. in San Juan del Sur. After catching the first bus to the hub town of Rivas, we had to scramble to get to the ferry in San Jorge just as it was boarding. Our vessel, FERRY EL CHE GUEVARA, was jammed packed with standing room only. The metallic human transport vessel stepped on the gas the minute we set down our bags, thrusting us straight into the full strength of a powerful northwesterly wind.
The ship almost felt like it was testing the limits of its buoyancy and quickly began turning smiles, thrills, and laughter into discontent, sea sickness, and eventual vomiting. It seemed like every kid around us began throwing up, and most had brought little towels specifically for this situation. The morning rain storm didn’t help matters. The thunderous applause from the ominous clouds that shrouded the cone tops of both volcanoes swirled ahead of us, hanging close to the contours of each massive mountain.
Then, like magic, the clouds were slowly unzipped by intensely purified rays of light. The green hills of Ometepe’s lush, rain-forest covered slopes became illuminated in vivid color. When we reached the dock, there were women waist deep in the lake washing their clothes on homemade stone washing stations, which was a good sign that weather should clear up.
We had to kill about two hours before the one bus that morning was ready for departure. I remember that one woman boarded the bus with a perfectly crafted homemade cake smothered with yellow frosting. Within 20 minutes, the bus’ ancient suspension jarred by the bumpy, unpaved roads proved to be too much force for the frosting. What started as small fractures in the cake turned into canyons with each pothole. Almost two-and-a-half hours of bumps and stops, we stepped back onto solid ground and into life on Finca Zopilote.
A bus turned into a coffee shop was parked at the entrance and offered us fresh coffee, snacks, homemade bread, and jewelry. After a little meet-and-greet followed by a 10 minute walk uphill along a lush jungle path, we arrived at the reception hut. We settled into the top floor of a wood and bamboo cabana, which was partially open to the jungle, allowing visits from a variety of strange insects—including a gigantic bug that appeared to be mix between a tarantula and a scorpion. It open-jungle environment also provided good acoustics for a soundtrack scored by nature.
The finca itself claims to be a self-sustaining eco hostel/farm, but we noticed most the work is being subcontracted out to locals instead of maintaining the farm from within. The finca is populated with an immense amount of lush jungle plants, has composting toilets, provides fresh well water, and practice self-sustaining farming techniques with working opportunities available with a two-month minimum.
After getting settled, we walked to the empty beach nearby for some afternoon sun. This little stretch of shore offered up stunning views of both volcano peaks—a rarity this time of year. A wide lake beach with a volcano on each end can provide hours of entertainment! Tiny bushy plants were sprouting up everywhere in the sand, as miniature waves crashed on the shore’s edge. We left just in time to catch a sunset that silhouetted Concepcion, the larger of the two volcanoes, and eyed it inquisitively from the lookout tower perched on top of the hostel property later that night.
The next morning we were intent on renting bicycles and riding around the island to see the huge waterfall that exists deep into the forest of Volcan Maderas. We teamed up with Carmella, a Floridian we had met the day before, and found some wheels. The road immediately disappeared as soon as we set out, turning from hand-placed pavers to a wheel-packed, cobbled dirt road. The road would get pretty intense wherever hills lived, turning a casual but bumpy bike ride into a white-knuckled, loose-knee, tuck-and-prey-for-a-smooth-bottom event.
There were several instances when I was convinced that there was a 50% chance of me getting tossed over the handlebars. After you surpass a certain speed in these conditions using brakes carries an almost certain guarantee of road rash. There were a few little tiny congregations along the way, with houses on either side of the only road near the water’s edge. Banana farms and cornfields entered and exited our field of view while we skimmed past cows grazing right next to our tiny path along the road’s edge. Eventually, we found the entrance, gathered our breaths, and entered the park.
It began to rain as soon as we set foot into the thick of the woods. After about two hours of stream-hopping, climbing, and occasional intense spurts of hiking, we came upon a 200 foot waterfall that was teeming in mossy green plants on all sides. Life was clinging onto every crevice around the air born mist and coated with a thin film of water that glistened in the light. All the water fell into a small, refreshing pool before emptying out into the small rocky stream below.
The wind coming off the falling water chilled us to our bone as our sweaty bodies turned into fully covered goose-bumped shells. Our two-hour walk back was topped off with a grueling, two-hour bike ride that sent our legs into early retirement.
We only had two nights on Ometepe Island, but the experience was enjoyed to the fullest. A visit to Central America’s biggest lake to see this unique twin-volcano island is a must for any traveler passing through Nicaragua.
Dan Rajter is a travel writer and photographer currently traveling south from Mexico with the goal of ending up in Argentina. His website is www.theadventuresofadr.wordpress.com