Posted by: HelenRortvedt | 16 April 2006


I have found my paradise. I just returned from a week on La Isla de Ometepe and it’s hard to imagine a more wonderful place right now. I had the great fortune to be able to spend Semana Santa on the island with my old friend, Andrea, who has been teaching in Honduras this year. We had an awesome time together. We met up in Esteli (to cut her journey down a bit) last Saturday, and headed to the Island on Sunday.

Ometepe is special for so many reasons–not the least of which is the fact that it is the world’s largest island within a freshwater body of water. It is volcanic in origin, and its two peaks (Concepcion, 1610m and Maderas, 1394m) dominate the geography of the island. Local legend says that, thousands of years ago, Lake Nicaragua did not exist, nor did any of the islands within it. Just a fertile, uninhabited valley. There were waring tribes that lived along the edges of the valley and a young maiden from one tribe, Ometepetl, fell in love with a warrior from a rival tribe. Their forbidden love, a la Romeo and Juliet, caused them to flee into the valley, but Ometepetl’s father sent his warriors out after them. They decided that the only way for them to be together was in death, so these star-crossed lovers killed themseves and the heavens swelled with grief and it began to rain and rain and rain until Lake Nicaragua (the largest lake in Central America) had been filled in. Ometepetl’s breasts swelled and became the twin peaks of the island and her lover became the Isla Zapatera, just outside of Granada. Her father and his warriors also perished in the flood and became the Isletas of Granada and the Solentiname archipelago in the southern reaches of the lake.

Legends aside, this island is truly special. It’s unique geography, geology, biodiversity and culture are truly enchanting. Starting from the boat ride across the lake from San Jorge, it is impossible not to fall for Ometepe. The northern (Concepcion) side of the island is significantly more developed than the souther (Maderas) side. There is a paved road that goes (almost) the whole way around the base of the volcano and connect the two port towns of Moyogalpa and Altagracia. Andrea and I spent our first night on this side of the island, near the Charco Verde nature reserve. On Monday afternoon, we hitched a ride to Altagracia and then caught a long, bumpy bus ride to Merida, on the Maderas side of the island.

Merida is a very small community, with an incredible view. Right on the western edge of the island, the sunsets are amazing and the views of Concep are impressive. We swam a lot and hiked a bit. On Wednesday, we moved the other other side of the mountain and found ourselves at Finca Ecologica Zopilote, an organic farm owned by some Italians. We had our own thatch roof hut, complete with a ladder and trap door entrance. It was excellent. On Thursday, we hiked up to the crater lake of Maderas…a steep, muddy, beautiful, muddy, four hour, muddy journey. And did I mention that it was muddy? Ridiculously so. At one point, the mud actually claimed my shoe and sucked it off of my foot! I retrieved it, but these shoes are never going to be the same. It was a tough hike, but SO rewarding. After the final descent into the crater (which was quite treacherous…there are some people who say you should not attempt the decent without proper ropes and climbing equipment…we just had our local guide and a lot of luck!), we relaxed on the shore of the lake for about an hour, eating lunch, and enjoying the cool mountain air. The decent took just over 3.5 hours…slow going because of all the mud and the steep trail. We arrived back at Zopilote, exhausted, around 3pm…after a 6am departure. We had earned our dinner that night!

Friday was Good Friday, so transportation competely shut down on the island, but that didn’t stop Andrea and I from hitching a ride all the way from Santa Cruz (on the Maderas side, just a few kilometers walk from where we were staying at Zopilote) to Moyogalpa. We arrived in just about 2.5 hours, after hitching two different rides. People on the island are so welcoming, friendly and helpful…especially when there are no busses running!

We left the island, regretfully, on Saturday afternoon and headed back to Managua. Arriving in Managua after dark (yuck), we took a taxi directly to a cheap (bizzare) hotel. We got some good local street food, but resisted the temptation to wander around beacuse it was a bit of a sketchy neighborhood. Many of the things you hear about Managua actually are true…

Andrea left early this morning, and I made my way back to Granada, where I will refuel, before setting off tomorrow afternoon on the overnight ferry ride to San Carlos, where the southern tip of Lake Nicaragua meets the Rio San Juan. In San Carlos, I plan to meet up with Hadley Robinson, who will be coming up from Costa Rica on her way home from going around the world!It should be a whole different kind of adventure in this remote, watery part of the country. Can’t wait! Don’t think I will have much internet access from the Rio San Juan region, but intend to spend about a week down there.

I will leave you with a few pictures from Ometepe. Enjoy them!

Hope this finds you all well. Thanks for joining me on my journey through Nicaragua. It’s been quite the trip… Hard to believe I will be flying back to Chicago in just over two weeks… It’s such a wonderful feeling to feel so at home and so comfortable, yet so challenged and so immersed here in Nicaragua.

Ometepe from the Lake. The boat ride to the island from San Jorge on the mainland is impressive. Concepcion is in the foreground, and Maderas is in the background. Don’t let the angle of this picture fool you, they are both big volcanoes, and Maderas certainly looks a lot bigger from the base and at 6am before attempting to climb it!

Concepcion. This volcano is definitely still active. There are constant sulfur fumes pouring out of the crater at the top, and when they are met by the cool winds off the lake, it forms a perma-cloud at the summit.

The sunset from the hostel in Merida was just unbelievable.

Magic. Clouds rolling over, carpeting the summit of Concepcion. View from the dock of the hostel in Merida.

Travelling in style. When not hitchiking on the island, you can expect to be transported by old school busses…but don’t expect the cushy green vinyl! This bus was stripped down to the wooden, metal frames…as if the road wasn’t bad enough to begin with!

Andrea and I went to shop for some fresh fruit and veggies in the town of Santa Cruz and were met by two hilarious Nica women in their out-of-home shop, and their army of parakeets!

Did I mention that the trail was muddy? And this was just after going up. You should have seen me once we got back down!

Crater Lake of Volcan Maderas. This is true cloud forest. During the last hour of the ascent, the trees were literally dripping wet from being in the clouds. It was a beautiful sunny day everywhere else on the island, but there are always clouds hanging over the top of the Ometepe volcanoes.

Andrea and I at the crater lake of Volcan Maderas.

Andrea and I at the end of our hike to and from the crater lake of Volcan Maderas (looming in the background, of course!)

Sunset over Concepcion from the Finca Ecologica Zopilote, outside of a town called Madroñal.

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