Ometepe Island with the fab 5 and the monkeys

Trip Start Aug 03, 2007
Trip End Aug 01, 2008

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Flag of Nicaragua  ,
Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Ometepe Island means "between 2 hills". It is located in the central portion of Lake Nicaragua and the 2 hills refer to the 2 volcanoes on the island: Concepcion and Maderas. Concepcion is considered to be active. We took a ferry to get there...based on its appearance, we hoped it would make it the entire hour to get to the island!
We made it. Once there, we boarded the bus with the plan to go to a beach area called Santo Domingo but changed our minds after meeting a fellow named Jeff from Seattle. He and another couple from France were on their way to Charco Verde, a nature reserve on the island. Since he seemed to be a wise traveler and I had some interest in that area of the island, we decided to change plans and follow them. We are so glad we did! They were a fun crew to spend a couple days with.
A bit about our friends: Jeff is traveling in Central America after having been in Venezuela with his choir from Seattle who goes to countries to learn more about them (mostly countries who are not in great relations with the U.S. at the time). He was in the Peace Corps in Africa in the past and traveled the world at that time. We loved hearing about his past travels, getting suggestions about what to do and what to avoid in Costa Rica, and gaining from his knowledge of birds. He brought binoculars which were great on our hike through the nature reserve. Domi and Benjamin, from France, are the first travelers we have met who have a similar itinerary to us. They are traveling a total of 11 months with 3.5 left to go. We enjoyed looking at their web blog (written in French, however) and getting ideas about what to see in South America. In all honesty, I think they are the first Europeans we have met who do not smoke (not a judgment or an exaggeration...just the truth!) James and I have also found that although there are many couples traveling together, most of them are not married. In fact, so far we have not met another married couple!
Ometepe Island was a peaceful change from mainland Nicaragua. The place we stayed, Charco Verde, consisted of a restaurant and housing and thatīs it! It is right on the lake and beautiful. The lake is not the best color but warm and refreshing regardless! A couple minutes from our housing is a walking trail through a forest area and this is where we encountered the howler monkeys. We stumbled upon them, at least 15 or so in the trees. It was amazing and the closest I have ever been to monkeys in the wild. They did not seem bothered by us as long as we kept a reasonable distance. The howler monkeys are the ones we heard when in Tikal, Guatemala, the ones that sound like lions when they want to...a deep, guttural sound from the throat. James is pretty good at imitating them, although he doesnīt quite have the ability to project the sound the way they do. We stayed and watched the monkeys for about 30 to 45 minutes. Some ate, some slept, some peed (almost on us because they were directly overhead), and some played. They use their tail as if it is a 5th is so much fun to watch.
The island is also famous for thousands of year old petroglyphs which are drawings carved into rocks depicting humans, animals, birds, and geometric shapes, especially spirals. We couldn'tīt find out too much more about them as there was no written information about them and our tour guides, sweet as they were, couldn'tīt tell us much more then what we could see. About our "tour guides"...they were actually a group of 4 kids. The oldest was supposedly 20 years old however she seemed to have a cognitive disability (perhaps mental retardation) so she seemed to us to be younger. The others were about 7-14 years old. We stumbled upon them when we got dropped off the bus and started hiking to find petroglyphs. They live in some of the nearby homes and wanted to accompany us. We had a lot of fun with them as they were playful, friendly, and seemed to enjoy being with us. It was so typical...the girls wanted to be in the photos we were taking and be near us while walking, and the boys were more shy and climbed trees and messed around with each other. As much fun as it was to be around time, it was also really difficult too. Having seen their tiny little home, spent time with one of the girls who wasnīt wearing without shoes the whole day (not sure if she has them), hearing that they are not in school, and imagining the life ahead for them without opportunities to see the world or even leave the island....that was rough. There was some debate among us adults as to whether we should compensate them in some way for being with us (although we had not asked them to)...many people here expect money if they help you. We thought about buying them a drink but didnīt have the opportunity to do so. Ultimately, James and I gave them each a coin which is hardly any money, but at least something we could share with them. It has always been hard for me (tris) and james as well, to see people in serious physical need and keep walking past them. I have had a few opportunities in life to buy or share a meal with someone on the street, and that helps me to feel more comfortable in that I can provide something beneficial, not just money that may be used to support an addiction. We see a lot of people in need here on the streets, and it always upsets me a bit and makes me feel uncomfortable.
We walked a lot that day because it was a Sunday and there was about 1 bus running on the whole island that was rarely near us. We rewarded ourselves with a swim in the pool formed by natural spring water. They even had a rope swing for good olī swinging fun. On the way back to our home I left my hiking shoes-my only closed toes shoes- at the bus stop. After a hectic trek back to find them 15 minutes later (the trek including jumping off the bus, borrowing some peopleīs bikes and pedaling back to the bus stop), they were gone. A sad day for me. Hopefully they will get good use somewhere on Ometepe.
Before leaving Ometepe we heard about the category 5 Hurricane Feliz headed for Central America. At first I felt a little panicked as the map showed this gigantic storm headed towards Nicaragua. Fortunately it was moving north and we were headed south so we were out of harms way, however unfortunately the destruction it would cause meant people were going to be devastated. After spending a month in Central America and seeing the types of housing that exists in small rural communities, we have a better understanding for what a hurricane do, and how it can literally devastate an area. We definitely saw that in the U.S. with Katrina and it seems like it happens here all the time. Thank you for thinking of us and praying for our safety!
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