About an hour bus ride and an hour ferry ride from San Juan Del Sur lies Ometepe, an island that sits in the middle of lake Nicaragua. It’s most prominent features are two large volcanos rising up from it’s landmass.
When our ferry arrived I tried to find some other people headed in the direction I was going, so we could split a minibus. Well I found some Germans who were headed in the same direction, except they wanted to do a little mini tour en route, and they invited me to come along. Well that works for me. Although it is always a little awkward being in a group of non-native English speakers because they all have to switch from their language to English to accommodate my monolingual ass. They all spoke good English of course (you can almost always count on Northern Europeans to speak good English) so it wasn’t a problem. Turns out they were all studying Spanish in Colombia before this, so their Spanish was putting mine to shame, which was slightly embarrassing as it’s their third language.
We stopped at a beach, hiked around a lagoon, and hit up a swimming hole before heading to the town most tourists stay at. What we didn’t count on was every guesthouse being full by this time of day, so after long enough we headed to the next town over and found a place to sleep. The next morning I headed out to find a new place. The Germans were super friendly, but I felt like I had burdened them enough with all the English speaking. The first place I came upon was Casa de Maria, which was run by a seemingly eccentric woman in her 60’s, named Maria obviously. She spoke no English, which I kind of liked, as it forced me to use my crappy Spanish. She showed me to my very basic room, which cost like 10 bucks a night. At some point later that night, after some egging on by the people who had been there for a while, Maria did some twerking moves for everyone. I had found a good place.
Now one of my goals for Ometepe was to hike one of the volcanos. The last couple months living in Chicago I had acquired quite a sizable gut (probably the biggest one I’ve ever had) so I was pretty keen to get in some strenuous physical activity, very likely as punishment for allowing myself to get so fat. Most people say that the smaller of the two volcanoes, Masaya, is more scenic because it has a crater lake at the top. Although I had heard that at the moment it was very muddy, and a pretty miserable hike. Concepcion on the other hand was supposed to be the more difficult of the two, and not as scenic, being that it almost always has clouds hanging over the top. Didn’t matter, I was doing it anyway! I had met a Canadian guy in the guesthouse who also wanted to do the hike, so we woke up at 6am and headed off.
On Ometepe public buses only roll around every hour or two, so it can be pretty difficult to find public transportation. Apparently we had just missed the bus, so hitchhiking it would be. Fortunately we were able to hop on the back of truck delivering bread, which would bring us pretty close to park entrance. 40 minutes later we were greeted by a man with a notebook who had us sign our names and nationalities and pay the park fee of a couple dollars. He also yammered at us for a couple minutes about something pertaining to the danger of not having a guide. I know the vast majority of people take a guide, but I read online it was a well-marked trail, so I figured we’d be fine. I picked up maybe 20% of what he was saying, but whatever. Just like in China, you say a couple words in Spanish, and then bam! You give them an inch and they take a mile!
We headed upwards through the forest, passing a group of howler monkeys, which was pretty cool. We also had some nice views of the rest of the island before reaching the cloud line. As expected we were soon scampering up the rocks in a sea of fog. To be honest I wouldn’t recommend this hike to anyone, unless they were in it solely for the exercise. And there’s a lot better ways to get exercise that won’t threaten to kill your knees or sprain your ankles. It’s steep, rocky, and slippery, and you know the whole time you’re not going to be able see anything at the top. Near the very top it gets really windy and cold, not to mention muddy. I took us about 3.5 hours total to reach the summit. At at the summit the wind is whipping like crazy, so much so that you feel like if you start to lean over, it just pushes you back up. We peered over the crater rim, which gives you some eerie views of the white fog abyss. Originally I had planned on having a nice snack at the top, but that clearly was not gonna happen. It was freezing. Two minutes later it was “okay, back down!” So much effort so little reward!
Then of course there’s the going down part. It was extremely slippery so you had to pay very close attention every step you took, which gets exhausting. Plus I only had running shoes this time around, as opposed to sturdy hiking boots, so I was constantly worrying about turning an ankle on the wet rocks. For a while it was pretty fricken miserable. The trip down involved lots of obscenities and grumbling! Although slowly but surely, we made it down, which took us just about as long to get down as to get up. A solid 7 hours of hiking. But we had done it! Lots of pain and very few enjoyable moments, but we had climbed the highest volcano on Ometepe! Time to catch the bus home!
Of course there was no bus. We sat there for half an hour and then started asking around if a bus was coming soon, which apparently it was not, so more walking, yay! I realized now that the main benefit of taking a guide is the transportation to and from the volcano. It was about 9 km back to the guesthouse, and we didn’t really have any other options, so we set off. After about 7 km of walking we were finally passed by pickup truck with people in the back and got a lift back into town. Thank god.
We pigged out on pizza and chicken that night and hit the party bar later that night. The following day we rented motorbikes and cruised around the island, surviving some of the horrendous roads and a few bike troubles. Fortunately the locals are basically wizards with these bikes. And then the next day I did nothing but lay on the volcanic sand beach. And that was it for Ometepe! It was a pretty laid back place, which was nice after being in SJDS. I would definitely recommend it, but if you’re looking to do some volcano hiking, I would suggest basically any other one in Nicaragua, unless you’re a real glutton for punishment! Next up: Granada! Sorry for the lack of photos!