March 8-10, 2008
Ometepe Island was just a hop, skip, and a jump from San Juan del Sur, and was, in fact, visible from the main highway when I first entered Nicaragua. However, the large island that was made from two volcanoes wasn't a very touristy place for some reason. Unlike San Juan del Sur, it was totally devoid of nightlife. It was so dark I needed a flashlight to walk around, even when we weren't experiencing one of the frequent blackouts. And there were warnings of water shortages, despite being located on the biggest lake in Central America. It was my kind of place.
One day I rode buses around the island. Life moved very slowly and traditionally with farmland taking up most of the flat area surrounding the volcanoes. There were lots of hiking trails to check out the wildlife and bits of remaining original swampland. Just the thought of a volcanic tropical island located on a huge lake sounded exciting, and the culture and wildlife made it even more worthwhile. I couldn't understand why more tourists didn't visit it.
My Ometepe challenge was to climb the Concepcion Volcano. Several people warned me to take a guide because of the high chance of getting lost for days. I didn't see how you could get lost on a volcano because you just walk back down if you can't find the trail, but I caved and hired one. Indeed, the trail was easy to follow, but it was still nice to have a guide to point out the animals and plants of the forest covering the volcano.
Along the way, we saw lots of wildlife, especially howler monkeys. Sometimes they would surround us in the trees, staring at us with their beady eyes, screaming at the top of their lungs and swinging around the branches to intimidate us without any sign of fear. Mixed in with the monkeys were birds the color of the Nicaraguan flag making several varieties of beautiful calls. A huge tree had been chopped down illegally with an axe so as not to attract the attention of the authorities. Some of it had been hauled away to build a house, but most of it was left to rot. I could tell conservation was a priority, until it meant that a human couldn't have a dwelling for himself.
I was told I couldn't climb all the way to the top because the volcano was in the middle of spewing out noxious fumes. Indeed, when we got to 1000 meters, I began to smell the sulfur. However, we ran into a large group of disabled Europeans who had ridden to that level on horses and had been camping there and filming a documentary for the last five days. They were continuing higher on a rope, but that's where I had to stop. I didn't mind too much, though, because the cloud cover got too thick to see anything at that point and the view from where we were was spectacular.
My other big news is that my shirt collection is officially rockin'. Not too long ago, I only had two shirts, and life isn't very interesting when you're wearing half the clothes you own on any given day. But then I scored a shirt from some hippies in Colombia, I won a dressy shirt in a poker game in San Juan del Sur, and I completed my collection on Ometepe by buying a Hawaiian classic from a guy in the street who had gotten it off the Goodwill ship, fresh from the United States. Now my shirt collection is five strong and life couldn't get much better.
The photo album for this entry is here.