Leaving San Juan del Sur was difficult, but we were ready for a new adventure—a volcano island in the middle of a freshwater lake. The island is made up of two volcanoes which lore says are the breasts of a woman who wasn’t allowed to love the man she did (very Romeo and Juliet). They died in each others’ arms instead of living apart; the island remains surrounded by her tears (the lake). Her lover’s body floated south and created the islands of Soletiname which is an archipelago near San Carlos. The boat to Ometepe was relatively short and painless even though it was fully loaded with semi-trucks and passengers.
We arrived in Moyogalpa, dodged the crazy taxi drivers offering $30 cab rides and found the bus for 50 cents. Joshua was able to talk to his seat partner and get the right exit where we jammed onto another bus headed to Balgue. We were so tightly squeezed in the back we could hardly move among the baskets of bread, bikes, backpacks, sheet metal, bags full of iguanas trying to escape and raw meat dripping on the floor. In Balgue, in the smallest of small worlds, we ran into Paulette and her daughter Guillermina, the family that runs our Spanish school. We noticed them standing in the middle of the road just as we had to turn up to walk to our hostel, Finca Magdelena. They had made the trip to Ometepe to talk to a man who constructs buildings out of volcanic rock which they are considering for their next addition to the school.
Finca Magdelena, the oldest hostel on the island, is a collective of farmers who run the hostel, surrounding farm and tours of the Maderas volcano. It had been recommended to us by several travelers and honestly, we have no idea why. We hiked the 1km to our hostel up the side of the volcano and were greeted by the smallest coffin room in which we both couldn’t stand at the same time.
Everything about the place was dingy and sad. We immediately left on a walk to regroup. Should we move and carry our bags to a new hostel? Should we suck it up? We decided we could handle two nights. Then we went back for dinner which turned out to be the grossest food we’ve had thus far—sweet wannabe spaghetti. It was definitely not our spot. We went straight to sleep.
We watched other travelers return from the hike of Maderas Volcano covered in mud, tired from the 8 hours of climbing and asked if they had enjoyed it. Most commonly, they hadn’t seen anything through the clouds…several said skip the hike.
(The one cloudless picture we got).
We decided we didn’t need to be any more miserable and instead spent the next day at Ojo de Agua. This beautiful oasis is a natural spring that is slightly contained by a retaining wall. The water is cool but not cold. They had a rope swing. They served drinks.
We soaked up the sun, Joshua played ball with the locals, we ate mango we found on the road. When we walked in to Ojo, I saw a smashed mango on the road. We were walking under huge mango trees. The wind was blowing some, so we figured we could find a few unbroken on the ground to cut up later. Then one came down right on the back of Joshua’s neck, hitting him so hard it split.
A carload of workers saw it happen and cracked up. He lived, which was fortunate because we had to walk about 8 miles back to the farm.
During one of the eight miles we set up a Redshirt picture. It’s not all fun and games.
Leaving Ometepe was much more difficult. There is a ferry twice a week to San Carlos. It leaves Ometepe in Altagracia at 6pm more or less and arrives in San Carlos around 5am. We decided to leave early from Finca Magdelena (why stay any longer than we had to?). We walked with our bags a few km down the road to get breakfast. The place we wanted to go was closed. We sat and waited for a bus for about two hours. It’s amazing how quickly you develop patience while traveling. We arrived in Altagracia around 12pm. We wanted to head to the dock to get information about the boat, buy a ticket and grab lunch. The dock ended up being several more km away than we thought. We asked a woman at a store if we could pay her to cook us lunch because we hadn’t eaten and there were no other options within walking distance.
We spent the remainder of the day waiting for the boat to arrive. We were some of the earliest people aside from an interesting French couple who has been biking around Central America. As the crowds grew, we knew the boat must be getting closer.
We’d heard you have to race on to make sure you can get a seat which is not my style, but I understood the consequences if not: sleeping on the floor of the boat. We pushed past cars, trucks, stacks and stacks of plantains up to the tourist cabin (which is separate from the locals).
We secured a bench. We were surprised.
We didn’t get pressed to share, even though some rows had four people sitting in them. Then the boat started moving. The waves were huge. You could hear the waves slamming the metal so hard it sounded like the boat was tearing in half. We quickly took Dramamine and started chewing ginger gum which I brought for this occasion. As the night wore on, people tried to get comfortable, but between the benches, the rough waves and the noise of the boat breaking, it was difficult. I slept in a little ball on the backpacks. I had bruises on the side of my hips from the metal benches. Joshua ended up…sleeping on the floor.
People found any nook or crevice where they could sleep. It was a sight. People started to get excited when we could see land again. I’ve never thought I’d be so happy to arrive in San Carlos.
Sometimes traveling is not glamorous or even very pleasurable, for that matter.