Wednesday, April 22, 2009

La Isla de Ometepe

Friday we made the much anticipated trip to Ometepe. Ometepe is an island in Lake Nicaragua that contains two volcanoes. One is active (Conception) and the other is inactive (Maderas).

We left at noon and drove for about an hour and a half to San Jorge/Rivas. From there we boarded a ferry to Ometepe. J.B. and I thought it was funny how similar the process was to the one we go through when going to Peaks. The ferry carries cars as well as passengers, but that day there wasn't a large number of either. Before leaving we watched boys jumping off the nearby dock into the water, something that the kids do on Peaks. The ferry took just over an hour to reach Ometepe. The ride was a little choppy but nothing like what the smaller ferries experience. The port at Ometepe was fairly busy and we caught a local bus to take us to the hotel. We thought the bus would take about 40 minutes, but 2 hours later we arrived at the stop closest to our hotel. Despite the length, it was an interesting ride. We got to see a good amount of the island - most of which is filled with plantain fields. After you leave the port area, houses are fairly spread out except for a few other "towns".

We were pretty tired and hungry by the time we arrived at the bus stop. Unfortunately, we had a 20 minute walk uphill before we actually got to the hotel. The hotel grounds were quite lovely and had impressive views of both volcanoes, although Conception, the active volcano was just in front of us. The sunsets were quite amazing.

The room we had was basic but clean. It lacked certain things like a mirror and hooks to hang clothes or towels, but I think we had a better room than the others. While theirs were newer, they lacked the character of ours and had a few more insect visitors.

One drawback to the hotel was the food. It wasn't the best and we were missing the great meals that are served at the Mariposa. The other drawback is that the hotel is a bit remote and it was difficult to get to other areas without either taking local transport which was infrequent or pay a huge fare for a taxi.

After eating and turning in early, we got up early for breakfast and planned the day. Four of us decided to rent bicycles and visit the town of Merida. This was a bit of a doomed venture. We should have known this when the bikes the hotel rented us lacked things like proper brakes. After Andrea fell off her bike trying to stop it while going down the drive, we decided to try renting bikes from a shop that Greg had seen on his morning run. We walked about 20 minutes in the hot sun until we reached the spot where a family was renting bikes. After several minutes where they found bikes, put air in the tires and adjusted seats, we were ready to go again. During this time, one of the women also put oil on my bike chain. She looked completely shocked when I handed her a wipe for her hands which had gotten rather oily. I thought it was a better solution than the rock she was trying to use, but maybe not. :-)

We headed out down the road but once again ran into a brake problem. Not only did my breaks sound like a sick elephant, but they really didn't work too well and the back wheel kept fishtailing. After a bit of discussion, J.B. and I went to change the bike out. The woman at the place had a discussion with her son which resulted, I'm fairly sure, with me getting his bike. The brakes seemed ok, but after going a bit, I was getting a little nervous as I really needed to squeeze them before the bike would stop. I decided to keep going - bad decision. After a stop to decide which way to go, we opted for our original plan of going to Merida. We had just gotten past the bottom of our hotel drive when I decided to give up. The roads we were riding on were incredibly rocky and very hilly. I felt like each time I went down one, I was going to fall of and break something. So being a wimp, I told the others to go on without me. J.B. took pity on me and decided to abandon the trip as well. I can't say we were in the best of moods at this point, but we decided to return the bikes, go have lunch and resort to plan b, whatever that was. We returned the bikes (I'm sure the family thought were were completely insane) and walked back to the hotel. 20 minutes in the hot sun and going up a steep hill didn't exactly improve our moods, but we figured we'd be ok after lunch and a drink. While the lunch was some bizarre combination of white rolls with something suspiciously looking like baloney, at least the rum and beer was good. After a bit of discussion, we decided to walk to the beach and go swimming. This turned out to be a good idea. The beach was another hot 20 minute walk, but once we were on the sand, there was a nice breeze that cooled us off. The beach at the end we entered didn't have many people, but standing in the surf were 3 horses. We regretted not bringing the camera as the sight was something to see. We walked for about an hour along the coast of the lake. During the walk, we saw some other tourists, a few wild turkeys, more horses, a few herons and the blue jays that are popular on the island. We stopped at a nice restaurant and had a drink and tried a shrimp "cocktail". After this we walked back down the beach and to the hotel. By then the others had arrived. Andrea and Greg told us about their day. They had a really good lunch at a local restaurant and had enjoyed the town they went to but said the bike ride really had been rough. It was probably good that I backed out when I did!

The next day we decided to go on a hike to a spot called Mirador where you can get a great view of that side of the island. Mirador is actually part of the inactive volcano, Maderas. The hike wasn't very long, just over an hour, but it's a fairly steep hike and much of the time you're directly in the sun. The landscape was interesting though as in several places, you could see huge lava rocks that were formed when the volcano erupted. The hike was certainly worth it though as the views were really great. You could see both sides of the lake as well as Conception.
On the hike down, we saw some petroglyphs from Pre-Columbian times. The carvings are in relatively good shape and you can still see much of the images.

We left around 2:00 on Sunday after a lunch that took well over an hour to prepare. Paulette gave the staff a few pointers on how to run a hotel. :-)
The return trip was a lot quicker as we rented a taxi to take us to the dock. The ferry ride was a lot more crowded with families and people who had spent the day in Ometepe. We were met at the dock in San Jorge by Paulette's daughter, her friend and the driver. Andrea was planning on leaving us to head to San Juan del Sur and had just missed the last bus, so we offered to drive her to a hostel near the bus station. Just as we pulled through the parking lot at the bus station, Paulette spotted a bus that seemed to be going towards San Juan del Sur. We urged the driver to follow the bus and try to get it to stop. He took on the challenge driving right behind the bus and flashing his lights. After a minute, this seemed to work and the bus slowed down. Paulette yelled out the window asking if the bus was in fact heading where we thought it was and lo and behold it was! We made a quick goodbye and Andrea rushed out of the car. I'm sure she was very happy to have been able to get to San Juan as planned rather then spend the night near the bus station.

The ride home was uneventful aside from a stop to buy watermelons. There was the cutest puppy in the world there. He was so tiny and cute and playful as he nipped at your toes. He barely fit in the palm of my hand. Needless to say, he stayed behind. Foxy would have been jealous.

Overall, it was a nice visit, but I think next time we'd stay somewhere else and stay longer so we could see more.