Next it was a chicken bus to Rivas to get the ferry to Isla Ometepe. Chicken buses vary from quite good fun to a bit intimidating, Managua was the latter. As always when you get to the station there was a hoard of people trying to take your bags and get you onto their bus (regardless of if you want to go there or not), actually in this case they were helping you find the right bus for a tip
! I think after feeling generally unsafe in the city this was just quite scary, especially as on the taxi ride there we had passed what was basically a massive inner city shanty town. I am sure there were areas like it in some of the other cities we had visited but we had never passed one and this was so close to the centre, to be faced with that kind of poverty is pretty overwhelming - makes me even more sure I want to do some volunteer work before this trip is out.
We got to San Jorge safe and sound and got the 14.30 ferry to Isla Ometepe. Ometepe is basically in the shape of a lopsided 8 with a volcano forming the centre of each o. Volcán Concepción is the biggest at 1610m and is also the active one, it is also a perfect cone. Stunning. We had half considered climbing it but when we saw it we quickly changed our minds! Volcán Maderas is the smaller and less photogenic volcano at 1394m and this we did intend to climb! When we arrived in Moyogalpa at about 15.30 we got straight on a bus going to Balgúe on the other o probably less than 30km away as the condor flies thinking it would take a couple of hours (the infamous guidebook said 1 hour) unfortunately the bus route went the long way round, double backing on itself at least once. 3 hours later we still weren`t at our hotel and the bus had to stop as a lorry at the bottom of the hill had run out of gas and was blocking the way
. In many ways this was a relief as we got a break from the bumpy roads and I got to watch fireflies (for some reason Dean isn`t as fascinated by them as I am). The other plus was there was a French guy on the bus called Sebastian going to the same place as us who could let us know what was going on otherwise we would have been completely perplexed and thought we were in the wrong place probably. There was however the pressing issue of food though, the Finca (hotel/hostel type thing) stopped serving at 8, we still had at least an hours bus journey and 20 minutes walk ahead of us and it was already 18.30. In the end all was OK, the lorry got gas and we just made the finca in time for food and arranged our guide to climb Volcán Maderas for the next day.
Climbing Volcán Maderas is one of those things that sounds like a good idea on paper. There is a pretty lagoon in the cone, its only 5km to the top and it isn`t too tall at 1394m. But unfortunately that is on paper and doesn`t account for mud. It took us 8 hours to climb there and back - nearly an hour a kilometer. 1394m is no where near as high as we have been on this trip but the base of the volcano is at about 60m above sea level, so in actual fact it´s pretty high! We were due to set off at 7.30 but our breakfast didn´t come until about 7.45 so we wolfed it down and then set off with our guide Francisco - first bad move. I ended up taking the lead as the pace was a bit too quick for me while still digesting and it was a really tough climb
. There are signs marking every kilometer and every time we came to one I couldn´t belive it was only a kilometer, it felt at least twice that. We were going through beautiful cloud forest but the `path` was so uneven that you couldn´t enjoy it. The lagoon at the top was pretty but not worth the climb but it was a chance to wash the mud off your legs and have a little sit down. Going down wasn´t nearly as bad a going up - it was far far worse. Mud, Gravity, Steep & Uneven Paths do not mix well - believe me. I fell at least 3 times and my boots, legs and bum were just caked in mud. Our guide was very nice but didn´t really understand his job description as he was either behind us or so far in front we couldn´t see him, although he always seemed to be around to laugh at me on my arse! All in all I was glad to get to the bottom and even the cold showers didn´t seem too bad when I had finally scraped all the mud off! On the plus side we got to see Howler monkeys which always cheers me up! That is the only plus side I can think of - instead of this I think I should have gone to a zoo!
We are heading to Rivas on the mainland tomorrow on our way to Costa Rica and the Monteverde Cloud Forest (& more monkeys I hope).
Dean: Alex paints a bit of a bad picture of the hike (I know that she did not really enjoy it). It was tougher that I expected - the trail was an old (I hope old) stream bed, maybe 1-2 foot wide and very steep in places. It was not what I was expecting in a hike up a volcano but it was an adventure and I wouldn't change a thing about it! I think Alex will have fond memories of it to... ...once the bruises heal!
Alex: Our plan for the next morning in Managua was to go to DHL to FINALY try to sort out our claim. We set off thinking the 1km walk would be safe in daylight but we had hardly walked 2 blocks when we came across our first and last gringo in the city who had just been robbed! Taxi again. DHL was even less successful. It was marked on our guidebook map (grr) but we couldn´t find it, we asked a few people who pointed us vaguely in the direction we had shown them on the map but it never materialised, that said Latin Americans are infamous for not admitting to not knowing where something is and just guessing!