Ometepe: Isla de dos Volcans

Trip Start May 12, 2009
Trip End Sep 29, 2009

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Flag of Nicaragua  , Rivas,
Thursday, June 18, 2009

     Lago de Nicaragua is a huge body of water. It is known as Cocibolca to the people of Nicaragua, and serves as a spiritual center. The water is dark and seems dirty. Not dirty as in polluted, but full of volcanic sediment and decaying plant matter. There are still a few sharks left in the lake, too, although the Somoza regime of the last so many decades allowed thousands of them to be fished out. It is a fresh water lake, yet has sharks. The Spanish translations of fresh water is dulce, which literally means sweet water. I like that phrase better than the English.
   Several islands dot the lake, but Ometepe is the major one. It is made of two volcanoes, and an isthmus formed by their lava flows. Concepcion is still active, though Maderas is dormant. Maderas now has a green lake full of all kinds of minerals resting in its crater. Ometepe means ¨two volcanoes¨ in Mayan or some native language (Nauhatl?), since that is the dominant feature of the island. It is amazing to take the ferry up to it at dusk. It seems surreal.   In fact, finding the island fulfilled a Mayan prophecy of finding twin volcanoes in a sweet water sea.
   All of this was neccesary just to orient you to the place and the space I am in. I have been staying with a local family- a couple, a preschool girl who likes to play with my hair, school age boy who likes to play marbles, and a preteen girl taking classes in cosmetology. It has been so comfortable staying them. They have a spare room with a large, clean bed with crisp sheets and I am provided with an electical fan I can point straight at myself to keep the insects away at night. The room locks. It has a window. It even has a shelving unit where I can lay out my water bottles, soap, sunglasses, ect. I feel like this is so luxurious! (I am especially crazy about the clean sheets, after where I had been staying before this!) There is a family of iguanas that live in the rain gutter.
   Now I must backtrack. On one of my first days here, I was staying in a dorm with a guy named Yannick from France. Actually, we were the only two in the dorm, aside from all the bedbugs. He said he was planning to climb Volcan Concepcion tomorrow, would I like to come?
   We chatted with some other people, and pulled together our team. It was Yannick, 28, from France, speaking French, English, Spanish. He has been traveling the world for four years- Australia, Thailand, South Africa, London, California, Guatemala. There was Jose, 26, from Mexico, speaking only Spanish. Also, we agreed to hire a guide because of the technical spots near the top and dangers associated with sulfur and carbon monoxide gasses from the active volcano. The guide was Rafael, 28, speaking Spanish a bit of English. Finally, some guy from Holland, Marcus, 18, invited himself to join. His main language was negativity, and he spoke it fluently in a few languages including English but only a bit of Spanish.
   We began the assault on Volcan Concepcion at 7am. We loaded up with provisions and caught a moto-taxi (three wheeled contraption that was not meant to hold 5 people, but it did...!) to the trailhead. We passed teams of oxen, motorcycles, and mango trees. The first hour of hiking was mostly flat and rocky as we wove between fields to reach the actually cone. I noticed immediately how the dirt was pitch bag and incredibly rich. Since Marcus was so negative, and also reluctant to practice his Spanish, I tried to ask the guide questions about the land in Spanish when I could. This kept the conversation in Spanish, and Marcus pretty much zoned out. The guide told me about how sesame seeds are a huge cash crop around here. Since it is an island, it is important to have something that will not double in price when shipping is added on the ferry. Sesame seeds are perfect for this, and are grown in fields all around the island.
   We entered the jungle after about an hour. The climb got steeper immediately, and we were welcomed by the howler monkeys. It is crazy that a thing that little can make a noise so big! The boys amused themselves by hooting at the howler monkeys, and the monkeys called back. We also found black and red caterpillars, and a huge ceba tree. I thought I was pretty clever as I leapt onto the ceba tree and started climbing it. Rafael, the guide, was smirking but I had fun climbing out on a big limb. Then suddenly, the burning... hormigas! The ants thought the ceba was great for climbing, too! I jumped down and did a little dance known as ¨"ouch, ouch, get it off me!" and we moved on.
   The climb got tough and sweat was pouring off my face, more from the heat and humidity than anything. Being from Colorado, it almost tricks me. When I am sweating, I assume I am working hard. But here, you may be dripping sweat just walking along leisurely in that jungle!
   After 45 minutes of that, Marcus wanted to turn back. He thought he couldn´t do it. Yet, you can´t just let someone turn back and cheat themselves out of climbing the mountain, especially since he would go back alone. We encouraged him to stay with it, just one foot in front of the other. He finally agreed, mostly because he realized we wouldn´t let him turn back alone. After that point in the climb, he was mostly quiet. The sarcastic comments faded off, and we moved the conversation to English at times.
   After about two hours, we emerged at cloudline. Not treeline like Colorado´s 14´ers, but cloudline. We could now see above the clouds. Above cloudline, there were only very low shrubs, orchids, and grass. The view was already incredible. Yes, there will be pictures, when I finally locate a card reader that can read my camera´s memory card! The jungle in the foreground was where we had just emerged. There were shrubs with red berries, honeysuckle plants, and cactus (a type similar to yucca). To the right, there was forest covering the area several hundred meters below us. The forest was a beautiful texture like velvet, in a shade of green similar to fresh cut grass. Eagles and vultures soared above. And below our feet was the primary forest, a dull green dappled with black stretching out for acres / hectares / miles / pick-your-unit-of-measurement in the distance.
    The next stretch was going to be a tough scurry through a field of volcanic rock. It started out as a rocky hike, very steep. It is hard to explain how steep it was, perhaps a 45 degree angle? We were climbing in a vertical world with clouds around us, and black rock below us. Visibility was about 20 feet.
   Then it became steeper and rockier, and I had to grasp rocks with my hands. At this point, it began to rain. The cool rain felt nice: it slicked my hair back and then dripped down my nose. Then, the rocks became warm and even hot to the touch! We were close!
    For the last 100 meters of the climb, we used a rope to sludge through the loose volcanic ash near the crater. I wanted to take another bite of the candy bar in my pack, but decided against it because of the taste of sulfur in the air. I didn´t want to eat a sulfuric candy bar.
   I am so glad I climbed Concepcion. I could have never imagined what I found- crazy bugs! The ground was just crawling with tiny brown spiders. There were also little green beetles, weevils with brilliant yellow spots, and large green "things" with bright green stripes down their black backs. Incredible! Their were ants several inches long as thick as my pinkie finger. I was getting a little nervous about having so many bugs around me. "Be chill with bugs, and they´ll be chill to you", Yannick reminded me. Easier said than done. They were crawling on my legs, not his. Overall, it was a stretching experience... not freaking out with spiders all over my legs is a new accomplisment for me!!!
   Before we turned around to go down I also saw a HUGE beetle-type bug with bright yellow antennaes. It had orange stripes down its back and a bright green underbelly. It looked like it walked through neon construction paint. On top of that, it was probably six inches long and it was fast! I danced around trying to avoid because I definitely did not want to be "chill", or anything else, with that bug!
   The descent was tough. It was steep enough to require the use of my hands going up, and it also needed four points of contact to go down. It was also brutal on the knees. After an eternity, our group made it back down to cloudline. We made it out of the jungle in time to find it was getting dark and their were no more moto-taxis to be seen, so we walked back to town.
  Now for a few general observations:
Ç Gas is going for about four dollars a gallon here, though it is sold in liters.
Ç The news stations are going crazy about the situation in Iran. I wonder what kind of coverage it is getting in the States?
Ç Now that swine flu has spread to Nicaragua, with cases among university students in Managua, the hype has spread, too. On the ferry, someone handed me a "mask" composed of elastic stapeled to a folded-over paper towel. Thanks for the... extra toilet paper?
Also, they have some health officials meet every daylight ferry at the dock. They ask for your name, nationality, and do you have "symptoms"- si or no. It´s an effort, but it is interesting to note that the coverage misses every night ferry. Also, the officials aren´t looking at what people write on the forms. I noticed most people above me on the list gave only their first name, and some wrote "Daffy Duck" or "Shakira" for their name.
Ç I like the word "animal". Since there are so many kinds, I have stopped trying to get all the names, in English or Spanish. Now it is just "animal". From oxen to jays to urracas to vultures, huge beetles to horses to turtles, toads, poison dart frogs, and green forest frogs, iguanas, boar, swine....."animal".
Your cheerful traveler,
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