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Many Adventures of a Nomadic Poet A young poet with Asperger's makes travel his passion, and away he goes...

Isla de Ometepe and my return to Granada

NICARAGUA | Tuesday, 10 November 2009 | Views [2104]

Riding in the back of a ute, I was making my way toward "The Great Sultan" as Granada, Nicaragua is called. It is Nicaragua's colonial jewel, much like Trinidad is to Cuba. Two year ago I was here, and two years later, I'm back! Getting dropped off shortly before Granada, I managed to thumb a lift in the back of a van the rest of the way. Hitching in Nicaragua? Am I crazy? When you travel, you really have to put your fears aside. Standing on Calle Real Xalteva, I wanted to go book a bed at Hostal Oasis, the same hostel I stayed at a couple of years ago. CouchSurfing is too difficult in Central America. After living in New Zealand for more than a year, travelling around Central America is rather tricky because I don't speak nor understand enough Spanish to talk to people and then possibly them inviting me to their homes. I was a little bit short on money but when I got to Hostal Oasis, they told me I could pay after my stay. For only $8 I get a nice, clean bed in a great setting. Last night in El Coco, Costa Rica, I paid $9 for a dilapidated room that was dirty. Hostal Oasis is my favourite youth hostel! When I travel around places like New Zealand and Australia, I absolutely forgot about staying at hostels. Anyways, I put my stuff away and then chatted with a pretty girl named Ashley. She's living in Costa Rica working as a yoga instructor. Costa Rica is a nice place but I wouldn't want to live there. New Zealand is the place I want to live! After awhile I decided I wanted to go for a stroll. I got a hot dog at a nearby street stall and then strolled around Parque Central and then to the Iglesia de la Merced. This iconic church is over 400 years old! Tonight I was hungry, and I was willing to use my credit card even though I'm in substantial debt from my surgery because: I'm in search of some tasty food after the ubiquitous blandness of Cuban street food. I still have a bit of the bad aftertaste of croquetas and peso pizzas. The food alone may put me off from another trip to Cuba (not literally). When I went to Jimmy's Rib Shack, they were closed but Jimmy told me about a restaurant behind the cathedral. When I went their, their spaghetti was rather boring but better than what I had in Cuba. There was a woman sitting at a table across from me smoking, and when I asked her politedly not to, her husband got upset with me saying it was the smoking area. However, smokers need to be considerate of nonsmokers regardless. All in all I ended up paying almost $10 for mediocre food and rather poor service because the waiter didn't do anything about the woman smoking. Walking back, I was pondering what to do tomorrow. Last time I missed out on Las Isletas and Isla Omotepe so I'll visit one of those two at some stage. As much as I'd love to visit every country in Central America, I've been thinking about skipping Honduras and El Salvador because I want to be back home in time for Thanksgiving and I'm doing the overland route home. Back at the hostel, I made a cup of tea, relaxed in the hammock and played by Nintendo DS. Tomorrow I'm still unsure of what I'm doing but I might wander around and reminisce. For some reason I always seem to end up back in placed I've already visited (New Zealand, Australia, Nicaragua, etc.). The following day I met this gorgeous German girl named Lenya. When I told her I was going to Isla de Ometepe she told me she was on her way there as well, so I thought it'd be fun for us to go together. We did that. First we went on the internet for a bit and then got a cup of coffee before I paid my bill. We walked toward the bus stop and the bus to Rivas was leaving in about a half-hour or so. 20 córdobas was a bargain on a retired school bus as we made our way toward Rivas. From there we had to take another bus to San Jorge to catch the boat. That was another 10 córdobas and then we each had to pay another 10 córdobas as an "island tax." Out on the middle of Lago de Nicaragua it's like we're out at sea. The water is fresh but it's the only lake in the world with sharks living in it. Scientists have determined the sharks are bull sharks that swam upstream, rather than a separate species. Bull sharks are the only shark that can adapt to both fresh and salt water. The indigenous name for Lago de Nicaragua is "Cocibolba" meaning "sweet sea" Isla de Ometepe has two spectacular volcanoes: Volcán Concepción and Volcán Maderas. My plan is to climb both of them! An hour later we were in Moyogalpa, Ometepe's rather unpretty port town. There is a nice church at the top of the main street and the island is much more commercialized than other island's of its type. Other islands I've travelled to like Great Barrier Island (New Zealand) and Isla Amantaní (Peru) are so uncommercialized with no ATMs, main electricity, and Amantaní doesn't even have vehicles! However, all these luxuries don't diminish the beauty of this spectacular island. Lenya and I booked beds at Hospedaje Central for only $3 a night before we went for a stroll. Tomorrow I wanted to hike up Volcán Concepción, and the guide was at the hostel. A guide is recommended for walking up both of these volcanoes for safety reasons. I went to the internet café for a bit and got a hot dog before walking back to the hostel. When I asked her if she wanted to go to dinner later, she suggested that we can eat cheaper at the hostel. Traditional Nicaraguan food was on the menu. The food is often talked about as being bland but almost nothing can compare to the blandness of Cuban food. Before we gorged ourselved, we met with the guide. Tomorrow we have to get up at 5:00 to set out for the trek, and we had to each pay $5 up front. For dinner, Lenya ordered the vegetarian plate and I ordered the chicken plate, and we agreed to split it so we could each try some. It was really good, and a lot better (and cheaper) than getting pizza. What a day! From colonial buildings to towering volcanoes, it's all amazing. Nicaragua really is so much better than Costa Rica! I'm sure I've said that before but I'm saying it again. At night I drank heaps of free tea in the hostel.

Wow, what a day! Exhilarating is the best way to describe it. Lenya and I awoke when my alarm went off; I only slept about two hours last night. However, I was ready for the hik up Volcán Concepción. Our guide was there, so we got our sandwiches out of the fridge and we were set. We put all of our stuff into Lenya's small backpack so her and I took turns carrying it. Joined by two young men from Canada, we caught the bus for six córdobas and I was excited! Most of the public buses in Central America are "retired" American school buses; some of thm are painted in a rainbow of colours while some remain classic yellow. Once we got off the bus, we began our trek. The first hour or so we walked on flat yet rocky ground. In the deep jungle of Isla de Ometepe, we watched spider monkeys and white-faced monkeys as they jumped from tree to tree. What a majestic sight! It was hot and steamy enough that I took off my shirt. This year I've been on so many great walks, from New Zealand's Kepler and Rees-Dart Tracks to Nicaragua's Volcán Concepción. The drawback this time is that I didn't have my hiking boots. When we reached approximately 600 metres I carried the backpack. Sweating bullets I walked with all my heart. Shawn, from Canada, guessed last night that I'm probably the most physically fit in the group but I'm not sure if I am. One thing is for certain: I'm burning off some of the fat-loaded Cuban food that I ate. It took us only 1 1/2 hours to get to the lookout at 1000 metres. The deal last night is that if we only went to the lookout point we'd pay $10 and it we got to the summit it'd be $12.50. We wanted to go further! The wind was so powerful that we had to hold on tight to everything! Lenya nearly lost her sunglasses. The view is breathtaking! Life isn't counted by how many breaths you take, but by how many moments take your breath away. We stood there in awe for like 10 minutes and then we headed up and up and up. The ground is rocky and it's a perfect slope. I was really taking a lot of falls and I even cut my hand (not badly) when I slipped on the red volcanic rock. Let me talk a little bit about what I've learned about volcanic rocks. Rocks formed in the interior are plutonic. Obsideon is an example of a volcanic rock. Granite is a plutonic rock. Excitedly I scaled the mountain, gazing across Lake Nicaragua to the mainland and almost to the Pacific. Snapping photo after photo and climbing like I was climbing Everest, I was excited about making my way to the top. 200 metres or so from the summit we stopped for a minute. Our guide told us it's a bit more dangerous because the rocks are smaller. I must admit I'm a bit embarassed from all the falls I took today. Higher we went, and before we knew it we were at the summit. Mist covered the summit and our stuff was getting wet so we didn't stay too long. Incredible! I've reached another summit. Fifty metres or so down the volcano, we stopped for lunch. It turned out they put mayonnaise on my sandwich so I didn't eat it. It would be nice if I was told exactly what's on food because there are a lot of condiments, etc. that I don't like, and it's difficult for me. For now I was snacking on crackers. Coming down was even more difficult than going up. We could see so much! Moyogalpa is a little speck from the volcano. The guide offered to let me use a rope to come down the most difficult part, even though I was a bit embrassed. Last year on the Inca Trail I fell only once, and it rained almost the entire time. As we got closer to the lookout I decided I wanted to walk the rest of the way alone (without the rope). Maybe I was enjoying the view too much that I was falling a lot. This is the type of place I could sit and admire forever! We made it to the summit in really good timing so we had more time to relax and admire the view. When we got to the tree line I carried the pack again and I kept lagging behind everyone else. My knees were hurting a little from walking down; remember...Inca Trail. Monkeys jumped, blue butterflies flew, and I slowly walked past banana trees as we finished this fabulous walk. Ahh, was that amazing or what? It wasn't even 1:00 yet. In the guidebook it said it's about 10-12 hours return up the volcano but we did it in seven hours. The bus came at the perfect time. Minutes later we were back in Moyogalpa. It felt great to sit down and rest. A nice cool lemonade was even better. A cool shower was so invigorating! A massage would have been overindulging but I didn't have that option. The attendant, a French guy, picked on me for taking a shower after I checked, but why does it matter to him? Lenya ended up not wanting to stay another night on the island. I wanted to stay at least another night on the island but not in Moyogalpa. Annoyed with that guy at the hospedaje, I definitely didn't want to stay there again. Lenya and I walked toward the dock. We stopped at the internet cafe so she coulc check her email, and then it was time to say our goodbyes. Lenya is a sweetheart. It's a bit of a novelty to have fast internet on an island. Online, I called Pete, Joanna (in Fox Glacier) and a couple of others before helping a computer-illiterate gringo access his email. Then I was ready to leave for the other end of the island. The bus was on "island time" and I thought about hitching but the "school bus" showed up at roughly 4:30. The bus was packed but that's Central America for ya. Making sure I had food to share, I shared some of my crackers with a local sitting next to me on the bus. That's what you do when you travel: share. When you look after others you'll get looked after. For more than two hours I rode on the bus to the other end of Isla de Ometepe. It was dark, and I got off the bus with a group of Spanish girls, stepping deep into a puddle of mud in the process. They were staying on a farm called El Zopilote. With no torch, I broke one of my jandals and tore up my feet a bit. It was a long walk up stony stairs and with achy legs it can feel like an eternity. Upon getting there I immediately realized this place is a lot like Shiloh & Lani's house in Motueka. When I went up to reception it was a bit of a pain because they wanted to see my passport so I had to walk all the way back to the kitchen for that, then they wanted a 200 córdoba deposit and then I had to run back again for that. Jandals don't fare well on the uneven concrete paths, and my toes didn't either. Tearing up both of my big toes walking back and forth I was in a bit of pain. The hammocks were full tonight so I opted for the dormitory for $5 a night. I'm not sure how many nights I'll be staying here; I know for sure I won't be climbing Volcán Maderas tomorrow because my legs will be aching. When I'm in a communal area and people are smoking, it really annoys me so I make the excuse that I'm allergic to it. However, when I'm polite with people most often I get rude remarks. The owner of the farm, who is Italian, had to ask everyone to not smoke in the kitchen area. Smoking is a filthy, disgusting habit, and it's bad enough I have to watch them do it so I should'nt have to smell the end product. The rest of the group were making a communal dinner and a young man named Clinton, who calls himself "Paz" said they'd share with me. If I had known I would have brought some stuff to contribute. This Israeli guy was really getting on my nerves; he got upset when I asked him to not smoke in the kitchen area. Ultimately the group didn't make a plate for me but someone let me have some of their beans. It was better than nothing. Tomorrow the owner will be making organic pizza in the woodfire oven here on the farm. Everything here is re-used or recycled. Organic lemonade, hazelnut spread, and another organic products are sold on the farm. Oh my God, I feel like I'm back in New Zealand!

What I really needed today when I woke up was a nice, refreshing dip in the magical waters of Lago de Nicaragua. This is my third day on Ometepe, and let it be magic! A cuppa for breakfast sounded like a great way to start the day so I got to that. When I light a manual stove I don't like to use lighters because I always burn myself with them; I prefer to use matches. Well anyways, I went up to the reception and chatted with this gorgeous French girl named Silvia. She's a real stunner! At 38 she's travelled for 13 years straight. That is a REALLY long time to travel. The longest I could go is probably three or four years. With my journal and a guidebook I decided to make a run for the lake. A dip would be so refreshing. First I stopped at a tienda and got a few snacks before reaching the lake. Ahh, the water was so warm. With no fear of getting eaten by a bull shark I simply relaxed for the most part in this magical lake. Lake Nicaragua and Lake Titicaca: I've been to both and I've been to the islands on both, but the lakes are at different altitudes, different climates, and in different hemispheres. Why am I talking about Peru while I'm here? I don't know...I just like to talk and talk about my travels. For more than an hour I swam peacefully in Lake Nicaragua's magical waters. Upon getting out I got the perfect photo of the two volcanoes. When I got back to El Zopilote I was disappointed to find out that there is no pizza tonight because not enough people wanted it. It really upset me and I told Silvia that I was going to stay somewhere else tomorrow. The atmosphere of El Zopilote is amazing but there is so many problems, or so it seems. After chatting with Silvia I decided to keep staying here. Since another communal dinner was being planned I decided to walk down to the store even though it was almost dark and get some spaghetti, tomatoes, and an onion. None of the tiendas here seem to sell tea bags, which is a bit disappointing because Daniel (El Zopilote's owner) sells them for 15 cents each when I could probably buy a whole box for around $1. Walking back in the dark with no torch I got lost along the way, taking about 10 minutes to get back on track. Everyone else decided they didn't want spaghetti so I decided to hone my cooking skills and cook for myself, making my own spaghetti sauce. I'm not the best cook in the world but I want to learn. My friend Sylas in New Zealand has autism yet he is an absolutely fabulous cook. According to my friend Elly in Whitianga he makes the best pizzas. Anyways, joining us tonight is a young man from New Mexico named Averice. He's been living on the island for a few months now. Like me, he gave up a conventional career of being a chef to travel and cook for those he meets on his way. He made some really good spaghetti sauce that blew mine straight out of the water. As a result I ate really well tonight. The Israeli guy was starting crap with me again; we just don't get along for some reason. Anyways I can't let it bother me. An English guy sitting across from me told me he wanted to use the internet but this is the type of place to get away from computers. In Cuba I realized that the internet doesn't have to be there all the time. I went almost two weeks without it while I was there and it actually felt great (though it didn't feel great to my father because he was worried sick about me). It give me time to focus on Cuba and not on YouTube, just like here I'm focusing on Isla de Ometepe. Some of the group got back from Moyogalpa really late today; they made a run for there just to visit the ATM. In the last guidebook I looked at there were no ATMs on Ometepe but that must've changed since then. All in all it was a great dinner tonight and I definitely feel better about staying here tomorrow. Tonight I wanted to sleep in a hammock but they're full again; tomorrow most of the current group is leaving so I'll have my chance. After dinner I helped with the dishes and then made a few cups of tea. I haven't drank any Red Bull since coming to Nicaragua and I don't drink as much tea as I did in New Zealand. The next possibility for pizza is Saturday night so hopefully enough people say they want it. I'm not sure when I'll walk up Volcán Maderas. I might even save it for my next trip down here because I have to come back in 8 months to get my dental work finished. As the stars had the energy I drifted off to sleep...

Today I decided to go up to Altagracia, the other sizeable town on Ometepe. As I was walking up the road I sat down and chatted with a nice girl from the UK. She says that the men swarm her in Latin America. Hey, that isn't fair because I don't get the same response from the Latin chicas. There are plenty of motorcycles out here and no laws regarding helmets so I thought this would be my best chance to hitch on one. In places like New Zealand it would be next to impossible to hitch on a motorcycle because most motorcyclists don't carry an extra helmet. While I didn't get that chance, I got to ride in the back of a ute to Altagracia. There I just hung out and walked around the various shops and the kiosks in front of Parque Central. The volcano towers over the town like it's the supreme ruler. For awhile I felt tempted to stop at the internet cafe but this is the type of place where it's ideal to get away from the internet. I haven't had any Red Bull in several days as well. Strolling around town I stopped to get some papas fritas and chatted with these guys who are in the Peace Corps. I'm seriously considering the Peace Corps after I get my M.A. Recently I was accepted to study in Fiji, and the Peace Corps is active in most of the Pacific Islands so I might have a chance to volunteer in that part of the world. Anyways, on my way out of town I got my chance and actually hitchhiked on the back of a motorcycle. After that, a truck full of bananas picked me up, and I rode on top of the load. It was like I was Donkey Kong guarding my banana hoard. Upon getting dropped of I got a snack and then went back up to El Zopilote. Silvia told me that Cara and her partner (from Washington) want to climb Volcan Maderas on Sunday so I may wait until then to climb it. Then again I've been thinking about waiting until my return. For the second day in a row I went down to Cocibolba (Lago de Nicaragua) for a refreshing dip. Swimming in freshwater for me is better because I don't have to wash my clothes and hair afterward. Ahhh did that feel good! Most of the group who was at El Zopilote the last few nights left today. I'm glad that annoying Israeli guy left. He was a pain; it's bad enough I have to watch people smoke cigarettes and I shouldn't have to smell their nasty habit. Earlier I drank Clint's organic lemonade thinking someone left it behind, so I told him to ask for one and have them chuck it on my tab. They've made some delicious cookies and chocolate muffins at the "El Zopilote kitchen" as well. Organic nutella, jams, and other types of organics are available. Despite the problems I had at first I love El Zopilote. Isla de Ometepe is the type of place in which you'll stay a lot longer than you plan. At first I thought I was only going to be here for a day or so but it doesn't look like I'm leaving for at least a few more days. 

This morning I woke up, and I decided on going to San Ramon waterfall. But first, I wanted some brekkie and a shower. The showers here at El Zopilote are basically made out of beer bottles and concrete, and the towel hooks are actually beer bottles! What a creative combination. After I washed up well I made a cup of tea. Despite the fact that Nicaragua grows so much coffee, I don't think the coffee here is good. It's terrible compared to the other coffees I've had, especially compared to Cuban coffee. I brought along my camera and only a dollar or so for some snacks. Few vehicles take the road that leads to the waterfall so hitching wasn't really an option. The bus ride over that way was really long. What shocked me is that when I got to San Ramon it said there's a $3 entrance fee. I had less than a dollar because I didn't plan on shopping, I was planning to visit a waterfall. Using my Spanish as best I could I tried to explain to the ranger that it didn't say anything in my guidebook nor was I told anything at El Zopilote about an entrance fee. He called someone who could speak English. When I explained the situation he thought I was a tourist travelling with no money, but it's not that I didn't have any money, it's that I left it at El Zopilote. Ultimately he told me that he'd pay the entrance fee for me. At that point I told him I could leave $3 with Daniel (the owner of El Zopilote) and have someone drop it off but he told me not to worry about it. The walk up to the waterfall is about 3 km from the entrance, and the last bus leaves the area at 3:30 PM so I had about three hours. Immediately I was walking fast, and jogging for some part of the journey. It was really hot, but I wanted to go and take a refreshing dip under the waterfall. The walk was almost all the way uphill. It took me only about 25 minutes to walk the first 2 km but the last kilometre was the trickiest. Some shade kept me cool a little bit but for the most part I wa sweating bullets. On the final leg of the walk I had to walk along the side of a low cliff, and when I finally reached the waterfall I was like "Ahhhhhhhhhh" as I jumped into the plunge pool. Damn did it feel good! The water thundered from several hundred feet down onto my head, and it was invigorating! It's the best free massage you'll get. There were several other people up there as well, including a group of Spanish diplomats living in Managua. For about an hour I swam, got a massage, and took photos before I started to make my way back. That was so much fun: a cool waterfall in a hot environment. Once I passed the 2 km mark, that group of diplomats picked me up when I held out my thumb. When we got back to the gate, they ran inside and got a lemonade, and I got a glass of water because I didn't have enough for a lemonade. With a smile, I thanked the ranger for allowing me in, and we were heading back. I was dropped off at the turnoff and I walked up toward El Zopilote. There were chefs in the kitchen so that's a good sign there was going to be pizza! Silvia told me that we got enough people together to have pizza. I was excited becaue I've heard great stories about their pizza. Hey, but why not? Their pizza is nothing but fresh, organic ingredients. In the kitchen I made a cup of tea and glanced at my Costa Rica guidebook. I'm going to have to go back there in 9 months to get my teeth finished so I might as well make use of time there. When I go back I might climb Costa Rica's highest mountain. Those guys in the Peace Corps whom I met yesterday were joining us for pizza tonight. In Nicaragua I have met so many volunteers and heard nothing but great stories. My pizza was finished first; Yay!!!! And man was it delicious or what! They're only 60 cordobas (US$3.00) but they're huge pizzas. Averice joined us tonight as well. When I was swimming in Lake Nicaragua the other day a dog went sniffing my stuff and I told him to shoo, but I was unaware it was his dog. Averice is from New Mexico but has been living in his friend's house for a few months while he tries to sell. The friend is gallavanting around India: another dream destination because I love the food. I haven't yet visited a country known for it's cuisine (Italy, India, China, Mexico, etc.). Most of the countries I've visited, especially Cuba, the food is rather boring. Nicaraguan food is considered boring but the pizzas at El Zopilote are to die for! Too bad I have to leave this beautiful island. Part of me really wants to go to the Corn Islands but I want to get up to Honduras and eventually back to the U.S. so I can work on my M.A. I'll be heading back to the mainland tomorrow. Gorged with pizza I decided to call it a night as I rested in the hammock. These guys have treated me so well. At first I didn't like it all that much but now I love it! Nine months from now I'll be back to climb Volcan Maderas. 

This morning I was set to go even though I didn't want to leave the beautiful Isla de Ometepe. I overdid my tab and had to pay extra for all the delicious stuff I got here at the organic farm. Daniel told me that Silvia was down by the lake, so I wanted to see her before I left. With all my gear, I was set to go. Walking down the road, I walked to the lake, and sure enough Silvia was there. I must admit I'm attracted to her. She's a gorgeous French girl who's 37 but I like the older women. However she isn't your prototypical French girl in terms of being affectionate. She said she doesn't hug and kiss all that much, except with her boyfriend who's American. After getting her email, I was focused on getting a ride to Moyogalpa. There were very few vehicles on the road today because it's Sunday. It still doesn't compare to Niue where there are no vehicles on the road. Finally I got a lift in the back of a ute after walking for almost an hour. When I was dropped off up the road I stopped at a lakeside comedor for some spaghetti. Breathtaking is the best word to describe the view! Suddenly they put on some music but the sound of the lake was the best music, so I asked them to turn it off. They did, and the spaghetti combined with the lakeview were amazing! When I was hitching again, a man from Managua with his children picked me up. He brought his vehicle over from the mainland; I didn't think there'd be an automobile ferry to the island. He was telling me that he lived in Miami for 20 years before deciding to come back to Nicaragua. It's unbelieveable how many people I've met who've moved back to their respective countries because of the way America has become. In the '70s it would have been unheard of for someone to move out of the U.S. Even in Cuba, I met a good number of people who used to live in the U.S. but moved back to Cuba. He had to turn off shortly before Moyogalpa but he told me God Bless and wished me the best. My next ride was on the back of a motorcycle. Exotic! I've hitched on so many different types of vehicles. And in a way (or at least people tell me) it seems like only I do these things. It's great fun riding on the back of a motorcycle. Back in Hell, excuse me, Moyogalpa, I wanted to call Teressa but the only internet cafe was closed. After searching around I found someone who would let me use their computer for 20 cordobas an hour. I emailed Teressa and told her that I'm alright and that I'd call her soon. Soon after it was time for me to leave the beautiful Isla de Ometepe. Five nights on this spectacular island! I'm warning you, you'll probably stay much longer!


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