Driving Around in the Middle of Lago de Nicaragua

Trip Start Jan 20, 2004
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Nicaragua  ,
Sunday, April 25, 2004

No, our van hasn't developed amphibious capabilities, but we are currently driving around in the middle of Lago de Nicaragua....so to speak. To be more precise, we are exploring the Isla de Ometepe ("between two hills") - an unspoiled island originally formed from the flowing lava of two separate volcanos. It is a sparsely populated ecological haven, and offers a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of the mainland. The lake, also known by its indigenous name of Cocibolca ("sweet sea") is the third largest in Latin America, and is reputed to be the home of the world's only freshwater sharks

Having driven to San Juan del Sur for one more beach experience before leaving Nicaragua, we were again quite disappointed with the overpriced or uninspiring facilities on the pacific coast. Thus, we decided that a short diversion to a lakeside beachfront would be in order. Our trusty Lonely Planet Guidebook advised us to purchase ferry tickets an hour before departure, so to be on the safe side we arrived at 8:30 am for a 10:30 am scheduled sailing......six hours later we were ready to embark. Then came the delicate task of reversing the van up the rickety ramp and maneuvering it to within inches of refrigerators, bananas, roosters, and other exotic and varied cargo already on board. A tempestuous one hour trip - due to exceedingly high winds - brought us to the island shores at the foot of still-active Volcán Concepción, and from there we made our way around the gravel road skirting the island.

Camping is generally not a recognized form of accommodation in Nicaragua, but we were fortunate enough to find an enchanting, family-run lakeside resort with camping facilities. Attempting to find the ideal spot to situate the van, we soon found ourselves up to our axles in soft volcanic sand. Not to worry - we were parked under a giant ceiba tree, facing the horseshoe bay that provided shelter for egrets and cormorants, with Volcán Conceptión directly behind us, and Volcán Madera to our left. Digging ourselves out was something to be left for a later day.

Being the only guests at this modest resort, we had the added bonus of getting to know the owners, and hearing about how they had developed the property over the past few years. They have planted all manner of fruit trees and now produce luscious mangoes, papaya, guavas, avocados, oranges, limes, and quince for family and restaurant consumption. A grove of banana trees provides some additional income for the family of four, including two beautiful four-year-old twin girls. The tall thatched dome that provides welcome shade for cool drinks and meals is currently being renovated, so watching the progress of the thatchers at work, interspersed with frequent dips in the lake constituted the extent of our daily activities in such an idyllic spot.

Backtracking a few days, we should mention that we couldn't resist staying a couple of nights at "Another Night in Paradise" in Granada, at the north end of the lake. Not only was the guesthouse delightful with its bright latin colour scheme, but we also enjoyed meeting the interesting characters who seem to congregate there. Donna Tabor, an ex-Peace Corps volunteer, hosts the guesthouse and is capably assisted by Sergio Canudas, a Mexican chef who settled here seven years back and is currently developing a banana farm (much to the delight of the local monkeys). Together, they have established and operate a School of Culinary Arts for street kids, and Donna had also previously founded a Women's Centre in the town. If you're interested in this kind of volunteer work, and have some time to lend a hand, Donna would love to hear from you at donnatabor@hotmail.com. Granada is a delightful colonial city with a nice warm climate, which we dubbed "Rocking Chair Capital of the World!"

If you're a physiotherapist looking for an adventure, you might consider contacting Mary Beth Aretz at mbaishome@yahoo.com She recruits North American physios for month long training/mentoring sessions with Nicaraguan counterparts. No financial compensation is provided, and living conditions are fairly basic - sleeping on the floor with scorpions reportedly in abundance.....but the experience could be truly exhilarating. Mary Beth has decided to "think outside the box" and ask Bill Gates for some financial support, so who knows what the future of the project might see!

So, back to the present. With a car-jack, our handy Trailhead folding shovel and a few boards, we easily dug ourselves out of our sandy predicament and were able to explore the remainder of the island. By the time we had finished, a thick layer of fine volcanic dust rendered the van almost unrecognizable, so after once again negotiating the lake crossing on El Ferry de Ometepe, we decided that a major "clean-up" was in order before heading for the Costa Rican border.
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