Isla de Ometepe - The Limit of Physical Endurance

Trip Start Aug 16, 2003
Trip End Apr 21, 2004

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Where I stayed
Villa El Paraiso Resort

Flag of Nicaragua  ,
Saturday, March 13, 2004

From Granada we were delivered to the ferry terminal at San Jorge on Lago de Nicaragua after two reasonably short bus rides via the town of Rivas. As we pulled up to the edge of the lake, we could not help but be struck by what a stunning centrepiece Volcan Concepcion, and to a lesser extent the adjoining Volcan Maderas (which together make up the Isla de Ometepe), make on this huge body of water.

Dan and I, together with a number of other backpackers and several locals, clambered aboard a small boat and found a place to sit on the flat roof. As soon as we set off, we quickly realised that this was going to be far from a smooth crossing. The boat was tossed around like a toy for the duration of the hour long crossing as we struggled to hang on to whatever we could grab to save us from simply sliding over the edge of the roof - there were certainly no railings to save us from the churning water below when the boat tilted up to 45 degree angles and beyond! Poor old Dan had to concentrate very hard on telling himself that avoiding seasickness was mind over matter!

Glad to arrive at Moyogalpa, the main town on the island of Ometepe, we checked in to what was billed as the classiest hotel in the area, according to our trusty guide book. However, when we opened the door to our room, we thought that the authors must have been playing a joke on us. The tiny, airless room had cobwebs hanging thick from the ceiling, paint peeling off the walls, scabby bed linen, one of the most disgusting bathrooms I've ever seen and to top it off there was no water. Reluctant to stay for even five minutes, we decided to leave even if we couldn't get our money back - luckily though we did.

A quick look around the charmless town told us that we probably weren't going to have much luck finding anything better, so we decided to catch a bus to Santa Domingo, a beach area located on the narrow isthmus between the two volcanoes - if our guide book was to be believed we would find a couple of resort type hotels there.

Sweaty, tired and covered in dust, we both felt a long way out of our comfort zones as we trundled along the rocky, pot-holed riddled roads at an excruciatingly slow pace in the old, clapped-out bus. The sights of pigs, chickens, mangy dogs and scrawny ponies trotting out into the road were a common occurrence and we couldn't help but thank our lucky stars for the comforts we have at home when passing the local dwellings. Two hours later, just as the sun was setting and we were starting to lose our patience and senses of humour, we at last arrived at our destination.

We couldn't believe it when we were told that there were no vacant rooms available at the Villa El Paraiso Resort. So we walked down the road and our prayers were answered when we managed to get a room at Finca Santa Domingo. Far from homely, the room was at least slightly cleaner than the previous one. Starving, we wasted no time in getting a meal and decided that a couple of beers might 'help take the edge off'.(Dan, 2003).

Neither of us slept well in our stuffy room with no window and a noisy fan which was pretty ineffective at cooling us down, so after breakfast we walked back to El Paraiso and were delighted when we were able to book two nights in a lovely cabin, complete with porch and hammock.

Feeling much happier and settled in our new, comfortable surroundings, we decided to go for a walk along the beach and then inland to find the petroglyphs (rock carvings) which were supposedly in the nearby village of El Porvenir. After walking for over an hour and a half we were still no closer to finding the carvings, and feeling myself burning in the scorching mid-day sun, I decided to head back to the welcome coolness of our air-conditioned room. Dan, on the other hand, was determined that he wasn't going to return until he'd found what he'd came for (doesn't sound like him at all?!).

Eventually, Dan did find the petroglyphs, after he was pointed in the right direction by one of the locals (by this time he'd walked several kms further than he needed to!) By the time he arrived back, he was exhausted and declared that the carvings really hadn't been worth the effort! What a shame!

We enjoyed a few drinks later in the afternoon and worked on the itinerary for our travels in South America. After a very good meal at the resort, we settled in for a fairly early night feeling much happier than we had done the previous evening.

Dragging ourselves out of bed when the alarm went off at 6.45am the following morning (how we're ever going to manage getting up for work every morning when we get back, I don't know!), we had a quick breakfast before being picked up for our hike up Volcan Maderas.

After being dropped off at Finca Magdalena at the foot of the volcano in the village of Balgue, the three of us - Dan, me and our local guide (I'm ashamed to say that I still don't know his name!) began our climb at 8am.

By half past, Dan and I were panting hard as our guide sped ahead at a formidable pace. I was incredibly relieved when Dan eventually asked to stop for a breather! As we continued, struggling to keep up with the lithe 26-year-old who constantly seemed to be just out of sight, it became apparent that Dan was finding the going particularly tough. With only occasional, very short rest stops (it seemed that the guide wasn't keen on breaking his pace - indeed I don't know if he even knew the meaning of the word 'rest'), Dan was unable to recover sufficiently each time before continuing and was feeling more and more unwell. Suffering from a dodgy stomach for a few days previously, and after his mammoth walk the day before, he simply had no energy left and was feeling very sick.

Somehow, probably through sheer force of will, Dan managed to stagger up to the half way point and we collapsed on the bench for several minutes. By this time he was white as a sheet and I begged him not to continue with the remainder of the hike, which was apparently even steeper. Eventually, Dan conceded that he would have to go back down and I decided that I would continue - after all how much worse could it get?! If only I'd known then that the view we got from here of Volcan Concepcion on the other side of the island, was the only decent view we'd get on the whole hike, I would never have put myself through the next few hours of absolute hell...

The guide warned me that it would be quite muddy for the remainder of the journey. A couple of minutes later, calf-deep in thick, sludgy mud, I realised that 'quite muddy' was a serious understatement - just the same as 'quite steep' didn't even begin to describe the terrain that we were now negotiating! As I tried to pick my way from rock, to rock, I invariably kept sliding down into the mud that now completely hid my seriously inadequate, Australian equivalent of Matalan, trainers from view. The guide kept up his ridiculously fast pace and I was fast becoming exhausted. Grabbing tree branches and trunks I had to haul myself upwards using my arms to help ease the strain on my aching calves and screaming thighs! On more than one occasion I almost gave up and begged to stop, but I knew I should keep going and forced myself to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

I was extremely relieved when we caught up with a group of Germans, as this forced the guide to slow down to a semi-reasonable speed that I could just about cope with. (The path, and I use the term very loosely, was not wide enough to overtake on).

Somehow, we made it to the peak at around 11am, and I was so utterly knackered that I didn't really care! There was absolutely no view to speak of, as we were engulfed in thick white cloud (and this was the one blessing - at least it was pretty cool). Suddenly, after a few minutes of desperately trying to control my breathing, we were off again...our final destination was the Laguna de Madera in the crater of the volcano.

The 'path' led us up and down for another half hour until we could spot the laguna way below us, down a very steep face of rocks and boulders. I tried to say that I didn't mind not going all the way down, but the guide didn't understand me and I didn't have the energy to protest any more! So I found myself grabbing the rope that the guide had secured to a tree trunk and began gingerly lowering myself down the treacherously slippy rocks. I had absolutely no idea that the hike was going to include makeshift abseiling and rock climbing and under normal circumstances (ie not suffering from exhaustion) I'm sure I would have refused to undertake such potentially dangerous activities with no safety equipment to speak of.

I made it to the edge of the laguna in one piece and was pretty disappointed that it didn't look very spectacular at all. I was so tired that all I wanted to do was get back down to meet Dan, so rather stupidly I asked the guide if we could carry on straight away without much of a break.

By the time I'd pulled myself back up to the top of the rope, my arms felt as if they were going to fall out of their sockets and once again my aerobic system was barely able to cope with the demands I was placing on it. But we trudged on relentlessly, with the guide at times having to drag me up over the huge, slippy boulders.

I soon realised that my belief that the hike would be much easier on the way down was seriously flawed. As we picked our way down the steep slope, I found it virtually impossible to get any kind of traction at all. As a result I slipped with nearly every step, covering myself from head to foot in mud. On one occasion as my feet flew from under me, I grabbed the nearest tree branch to save me and almost dislocated my shoulder in the process.

Trying to help me, the guide kept grabbing my hand to lead me down, but this just made me feel even less secure - firstly because I was being pulled along quicker than my legs wanted (or were able) to carry me, secondly because I only had one hand free to steady me and thirdly because his grip was so tight that my rings dug painfully into my fingers!

As we continued, on what seemed like an endless journey, I became very worried about my knee joints which were beginning to ache due to the relentless pounding on the uneven rocks. As we descended further, I was frightened that my legs were going to sieze up completely (it was getting harder and harder to even bend them!). Just when I thought I wasn't going to be able to hold back tears of sheer exhaustion any longer I spotted Finca Magdalena - never in my life have I been so relieved to see a building!

My ordeal was over - I had been pushed to the very limits of my physical capabilities and it didn't feel good! However, later on I would recover enough to feel very relieved that I had escaped with no more serious injuries than some minor cuts and bruises!

We did actually see quite a lot of wildlife on the way down including spider-, white-faced- and howler monkeys. But unfortunately I was so shattered that when we did pause briefly to look at them it took all my effort to simply remain standing upright and I had little capacity left for appreciating the animals.

Having been re-united with Dan and given a lift back to the resort, I was dreaming of a long soak in a hot bath. In reality, however, I had to make do with a cold shower which proved to be fairly ineffective in removing the dirt that was caked all over my body. Eventually, having used a whole bar of soap, I managed to scratch off the last traces of mud. It's a pity that my clothes and trainers didn't fare better - they are simply beyond salvation!

Andrea and Dan
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