Nicaragua - Isla De Ometepe

Trip Start Feb 05, 2008
Trip End Apr 24, 2008

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Friday, March 7, 2008

Hola, Ian here:

After a super chilled and almost day dream like few days on the Corn Islands, it was time to fly back to the mainland. This time we left Managua, heading straight past Granada to a town called San Jorge on the banks of Lake Nicaragua. We would then catch a ferry (or "lancha", more like a privately owned large fishermanŽs boat) across to the geographically unique looking island of Isla De Ometepe.

As our ferry approached the island, it began to look like a scene out of the Lord of the Rings trilogy consisting of two massive volcanos (Concepcion - about 1600m above sea level; and Maderas - about 1300m above see level) covered in dense forests and amazing cloud formations around the cones. WeŽd been given advice from other travelers about a hostel on the south west end of the island called Hacienda Merida, which turned out to be a great place to crash for the next 3 nights. It was located right on the shores of the lake with private grounds, a jetty which you could dive off and swim from, a great restaurant providing all meals at a cheap price, and had loads of equipment for hire (bikes, kayaks, etc). Our room was the "Penthouse" equivalent of all the dorm rooms, and was one of only two rooms located on the second floor with itŽs own balcony (complete with a set of rocking chairs, table, and a hammock big enough for two), private bathroom, a super comfy bed, and direct views of the lake (all for about 6 quid each a night!).

This hostel also put an end to my re-occurring comment to Charlotte about being surprised that weŽd not come across a single South African since starting our travels. On the first night there I met a guy called Matthew and it turned out he was from Durban, had just started kitesurfing and competed at an international level in
you could imagine there was no shortage of conversation over the next few days! In addition we met two great Swedish girls, Anna and Sofia, as well as an American girl also called Anna. We ended up hanging out together for the duration of our stay, enjoying some great evenings of long in depth discussions about the places weŽd grown up in, the reasons behind our decisions to go traveling, and the places weŽd visited so far. It just emphasised to me that the amazing thing about traveling is as much about the people you meet as it is about all the wonderful places you visit!

On our first day, Charlotte and I decided to do a relatively short hike to the San Ramon waterfall on the side of the Maderas Volcano. We hired some bikes and rode the 4 kms to the entrance of the trail, continuing on foot for the remaining 3km ascent. There wasnŽt a breath of wind that day and the temperature IŽm sure had reached over 40 degrees by midday, making the climb to the falls extremely tough going. The worst bit was the last 100 meters or so, which after an hour and 10 minutes of hard slogging up the mountain drenched in sweat, was made almost impossible by the impending 70% incline remaining in front of us. We eventually got to the top and were greeted by the sight of a beautiful waterfall and a cool misty spray caused by the falling water and the winds it generated. We sat in the pools at the base of the falls for about half an hour, soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying the stunning views as well as the cooling effect of the falls, before starting our trek back down.

The guide books had said that this trek should be done as a precursor to attempting the 8 hour hike all the way to the top of Maderas, and that any struggling on this trail should be considered a sign to not attempt it. That evening I chatted to Matt (the saffer) who was keen to do the full hike to the top of Maderas, and then tried to convince
Charlotte to come along. But alas, the beckoning of the swaying hammocks fused with a day of completely chilling out with her new book was far too appealing for my girlfriend. So Anna (the American) decided to join Matt and I, as there was a maximum of three people per guide allowed on the trail.

At 7:30am the next morning, after a hearty Hacienda Merida buffet breakfast, our two young tour guides lead us out of the compound to the start of the trail. The wind was already starting to pick up and there was a pleasant breeze blowing, which was a welcome companion for the start of the climb. The first hour of the hike was mainly along wide paths meandering up the mountain side up towards the treeline, which was where the cloud forest began. Once in the forest, the moist conditions made it pretty slippery from all the mud which combined with the dense vegetation made for slow progress. This meant it wasnŽt always possible to divert your attention away from anything other than where your next step would be. However, the sounds coming from the forest were incredible and served as a constant reminder of what kind of environnment you were hiking through. There were parrots screeching from just about every tree branch, along with the loud bellowing sounds of howler monkeys as they moaned across tree tops in the distance. Those monkeys must surely have frightened the first settlers to death, who heard the loud booming, almost monster like noises, coming from the jungles. I would never have thought such a cute and friendly looking creature could make such a frightning sound! As the incline increased, our guides would stop for us to rest after every 30 minutes of climbing at various look out points so that we could admire the view over the island and the surrounding lake. Eventually after 4 hours of an insanely exhausting climb, we reached the summit. Not quite the exquisite views weŽd hoped for as there was a blanket of cloud covering the top of the cone, but the feeling of achievement and exihileration about getting this far wasnŽt at all dampened by this. It was pretty cold up there and the winds were quite strong, so we only stayed for a half hour or so to eat lunch, before starting our decent. After cooling down completely and resting the legs for a while, I felt more than ready for the descent. However, the first 200 meters down proved to be even slower than the ascent due to the steep cliffs and the muddy conditions. By the time we got all the way out of the forest our legs were quivering under our own body weights. 7 and a half hours later we returned to camp with stories of valour and bravery to all those whoŽd opted out of the climb, or perhaps just had a few minutes to spare. After two weeks of parking my backside on a bus or a beach, this had been the opportunity to exercise that IŽd been waiting for - as well as the experience of a lifetime!

That evening I slept like a baby and in the morning we packed up, said our good byes, and hopped on the chicken bus heading towards the docks. It was probably only about 18 or so kilometers which we covered, but it took almost 2 hours due to the conditions of the roads and the ridiculously high number of stops the driver made to pick people up along the way. Although glad to finally arrive at the docks to get the ferry back to the mainland, it was one of the saddest moments IŽve felt so far when confronted with having to leave a amazing array of wildlife, beautiful scenery, memorable hiking experiences, and above all we made some really awesome friends!
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