Monday, April 4, 2011
4/4/11 - San Juan del Sur to Islas de Ometepe. 45 miles, 5 hours
Today I am headed to Islas de Ometepe, 2 volcanic islands connected by a narrow ithsmus in the middle of Lake Nicaragua and supposedly a very nice place to be. It is a short half hour ride from San Juan del Sur to San Jorge, the small town on the lake where ferries leave every hour or so for the hour long ride to Ometepe. Aki and Tali are headed there as well and I see the soon after I arrive and purchase a manifesto for my bike for 50 cents. I see Tali and ride up to a tiny boat which is being seriously overloaded with people and a few hundred 5 gallon buckets of vegetable oil and other various cargo. The captain says that there is no way I can get the bike on the boat, and I kind of agree. Instead, there are larger proper ferries here which can transport vehicles and there is one leaving in an hour. Tali and Aki get on the boat, and I wait around for a bit before riding on to the ferry, watching my bike being tied to the side of the boat, and heading to the top floor of the small ferry for a look around. The boat leaves and even from here, the sight of the 2 volcanoes rising in the distance is really impressive, The lake is really rough and I am glad my bike is tied down pretty securely. An hour later, Im on the island at the town of Moyogalpa where Aki and Tali are waiting for me along with 2 German girls they met on the boat. We had previously agreed to stay at a certain place, but the 4 of them were about to hop on a shuttle to a more convenient place, so I said I would meet them there. There is a road which rings the island, but most of it is in extremely bad shape, barely doable even on my dirt bike, so the other folks are limited as to where they can go. 30 minutes later with some amazing riding and views of the 2 volcanoes, and I am at Hotel Istiam. It looks like a really nice place, right on the ithsmus and river separating the 2 islands, but the lady working there tells me that my friends have come and gone to another place down the road, because this place seemed to dead for their liking. I head down the dirt road and see a turn off for the other place, down an even worse road, stop for a barbed wire gate, open the gate, go through, stop the bike, close the gate, up the hill, they are not there having decided that they didnt like this place either, owner has no idea where they went, back down the hill, Do the gate bullshit again and head out onto the road, pretty annoyed at this point. I resolve to just keep going until I find an ok place, but then I see their cab driver and he tells me they were dropped off at a hotel I am right beside. So up the hill, where I find Aki and Tali settling into a room with a 3rd bed for me. 20 bucks a night total for the whole room, not bad at all. I get over being annoyed and me and the 4 others head out for a great dinner at a local spot (really remote and poor out here, very underdeveloped) but the food is great and I end up turning in fairly early, with plans to ride around the island the next day and check things out.
Next morning, have a great breakfast at the hotel restaurant for 3 bucks, with a killer view of the larger of the 2 volcanoes (Volcan Concepcion) in the distance as well as the lake. I am getting ready to leave for a ride around the island when Aki and Tali each decide to rent little motorbikes for the day, so I have some company which is cool. Heading out for a loop of the southern island, the road immediately becomes really really bad. rocks, dirt, sand, its all there. 1st gear riding for much of the day, never more than 2nd gear at any time. Its amazing though, the views of the lake, the volcano always on out right, stopping for a drink and hanging out with some local kids, and I'm actually enjoying the slow technical riding, picking my way through the mess and slowing down to enjoy the scenery and use of all my senses. At one point, a lady waiting on the side of the road with her 2 little boys in their school uniforms wants me and Aki to give them a ride a few kms down the road. It turns into an unintended race, with me finally pulling ahead of Aki and greatly pleasing my little passenger. The highlight/finale of the trip is a trip to the San Ramon waterfall. We go through a gate and ride 3 kilometers up a mountain, before parking the bikes and walking the last kilometer through thick jungle brush. I hate hiking and Im getting bitchy seeing nothing but a dry riverbed, but as we crest a ridge, the waterfall comes into view. It is TALL and falling steadily into a small pool at the bottom, perfect size for a swim. The water is good and cold, feels amazing after the long day riding and hiking and everyone is happy. We head out and I linger back, but catch up with the other 2 on the road back to town. It is getting dark and the headlight on Tali's bike doesnt work. She has been a champ all day on the tiny crappy Chinese bike and she has had enough. She doesnt even want to trade bikes and is through and doesnt feel safe. I cant argue with that, although there are some tense moments between her and Aki. It turns out we are a lot closer to home than I thought, so we leave the little bike, double up and get everyone back to the hotel. Then Aki grabs a headlamp, we double up back and get the bike home. The owners of the bikes end up charging extra for the time, gas etc, and it turns out there is a switch to turn the light on. Damn. (Usually, bikes in the States have headlights which are always on, no switch, so nobody knew). There are some more tense moments while haggling over the charges, but they end up paying and we are all happy with the full day we have just had.
Before dinner, I head down a dirt path to a hotel to use their internet, and I get a message from my neighbor Gabe saying he is on the island, back in Moyogalpa where the ferry lets off. Im surprised and happy, I knew he was coming to Nicaragua but I was expecting to hang out with him later on in the week, maybe meeting up in Costa Rica. Its too late to get him now but we make plans for me to pick him up in the morning. Back to the hostel for dinner and hanging out for a while, before turning in early.
Next morning, I ride out to Moyogalpa to pick up Gabe. The other folks have decided to take a 10 hour slog up to Volcan Maderas. Not my thing at all. I park in front of a random hotel and Gabe walks out. He says there is some shady business going on in the hotel, the cops are all her searching the place because of a sexual harassment charge against the the ex-pat American owner. We go to the ATM and have a coffee, before the cops finally let Gabe grab his stuff. On the way out of town, we see a police pickup truck with some guys in the back. One of them is the owner being taken away. Gabe waves, not really realizing what is happening, which I find kind of funny. Back at out hotel, I see Tali who has quit the hike halfway up. Not really her thing either I guess. Me and Gabe head out to a coffee finca to get a cup of some farm fresh brew, and although the view is amazing, the coffee is INSTANT. We saw Aki finishing his hike on the way to the farm, and when we get back, he is sitting there and tells us that Tali has freaked out and left the island. OK, whatever I guess. Gabe and I then head out to a local spring fed swimming spot called Ojo de Agua, which is great, some of the best swimming this whole trip. Back at the hotel, me, Gabe, te 2 German girls, Aki, and Tali who has returned all kill a couple of bottles of rum and have a grand old time. In the morning we will all be leaving the island. Me and Gabe to Costa Rica at Playa Samara, the 2 German girls to a different beach, and Aki and Tali back to San Juan del Sur. I get mentally prepared for a ferry and border crossing tin the same day and fall asleep itchy as hell from the mosquitos which have been feasting on my ass.