. Ometepe is shaped in a figure of eight, with each loop of the eight having it's own volcano, Concepcion and Maderas. "Volcan Concepcion" is a really classic conical volcano shape and is still active , meaning you cant climb up higher than about 1000m, whilst "Volcan Maderas" is extinct and covered in vegetation and cloud forest making for arguably a more interesting climb up to the 1400m summit. Spent the first day in Merida taking it easy, enjoying the jetty and the hammocks before on Wednesday I hired a mountain bike and biked to a nearby biological station from where its possible to hike to the 110m high San Ramon waterfall. This turned into a harder trek than I was expecting, especially as we were planning a more restful day before taking on the Maderas climb the following day .... definitely further than the 3km it was supposed to be to get there (some "latin american distances" being quoted me thinks) and all uphill in the searing Ometepe heat. After about 90 minutes hiking it was a relief to finally reach the waterfall, which was somewhat lacking in water but just about had enough to take a cold natural shower underneath it to cool down. On Thursday myself and the two guys with whom I came from Granada, Bill and Martin, took on the 7-hour round trip to the summit of Volcano Maderas. This turned out to be the hardest volcano climb I have undertaken so far (this is my 4th volcano in Central America) due to the unrelenting gradient (no nice plateaued sections for easier walking) and the heat and humidity which leaves you literally drenched in sweat from the start at 7.30 am
. Towards the summit you are almost on hands and knees trying to haul yourself upwards and clinging onto trees and other vegetation for support. Apparently many groups taken up there by the local tour guides dont make it up there and give up along the way, but the spectacular views at the top make all the struggle and effort worthwhile. We saw a hidden lagoon nestling away in between the cloud forest covered slopes and a marvellous landscape view across Ometepe's coastline and the other volcano, Concepcion. Alas no howler monkeys along the way though as some other people had seen on their way up the day before. Arrived back at the hostel a total body wreck - exhausted, sore legs and back, bitten, scratched and red from the sun ... but these sort of expeditions I find an immensely rewarding part of my travel experience and they make the down-time lazing in a hammock even more appreciated! The major down-side to conquering Maderas was that I managed to break the LCD display on my digital camera on the way down by bashing my leg against a tree with the camera in my pocket :( ... luckily it still takes photos using the viewfinder instead of the LCD display so I will have to try and manage like that in the short term but longer term I will have to bite the financial bullet and get another one if I can't get it repaired somewhere in a reasonable timeframe. Been trying to stick to the budget on this trip so things like this are really annoying but I guess looking at it philosophically its somewhat inevitable at some point in a long period of travel
. On Friday the other guys left for the Corn Islands which are quite a journey across to the other side of Nicaragua on the caribbean coast, whilst I decided to stay one more day in Merida for some more mountain biking before heading onwards to Costa Rica. I shrugged off the sore legs from the previous day´s volcano climb to bike 15km to Santa Domingo beach and back on the Friday - I wanted to get out and see some more of the island and a mountain bike is a pretty good way to do it. The roads on Ometepe are pretty dreadful, however - potholed, bumpy and covered in a volcanic dirt which blows up into great dusty clouds every time a bus or truck comes past ... luckily you do tend to encounter more animals and locals on mountain bikes than vehicles ... but still by the time I got back to the hostel I was knackered and filthy dirty. Ometepe has been a really wonderful stopover but it´s become time to move on again so Saturday morning I was up early to go to Costa Rica.
Finally moved on to escape Granada´s grasp, catching a ferry to the volcanic island of Ometepe which is situated in the middle of the vast Lake Nicaragua and is apparently the largest freshwater island in the world. Enjoyable 4-hour ferry ride from Granada to get to Ometepe with views of the two volcanoes as you approach the island and a picture postcard sunset just before we docked. Stayed at a hotel for one night in Altagracia, the little town where we arrived at the port, as it was too late to get a bus to Merida where we were planning on staying. Not a lot to warrant hanging around in Altagracia, however, so we got up early and caught the first bus down to Merida, which is in the southwest of the island, on Tuesday morning. Stayed at a pretty nice hostel situated right on the lake shore which apparently used to be a ranch belonging to the former president Somozo Garcia before the Sandinistas confiscated it. It has it's own little pier / fishing jetty which was great for diving into the sea, clear views of the volcanoes and watching the fabulous sunsets with a cold Tona