Tales of foodie, sports loving Aussie expat in the Netherlands.

Offline in Ometepe

December 3, 2017/Nicaragua

I’m not sure where or when I first heard of Ometepe. I like to think that I chanced upon it myself, perhaps while roaming around the Central America region on Google Maps. (Does anyone else do this? I love to zoom into foreign lands, mouthing the unpronounceable village names and nearby landmarks, all from the comfort of my couch. No? Okay then…) Take a look at it yourself. Go on, type it into your browser. You’ll see that it’s an island… in a lake… on a very narrow stretch of land between the Pacific and the Atlantic.

In Nicaragua.

At the time, I’m pretty sure that if I was playing a word association game, the only word I would blurt out after ‘Nicaragua’ would be ‘contras’. That wouldn’t really count for much, particularly as I’m almost positive that I missed that lecture in my Global Conflicts class and have never really understood anything about it, except that apparently Ronald Reagan was a bad guy.

But then we were going to Nicaragua. We’d had such a good time in Mexico the year before, we decided to venture further south for a another dose of Latin America. And so I added a couple of nights in Ometepe to our itinerary.

Ometepe isn’t off the beaten path – it’s actually a small detour from the Gringo Trail, between Granada and San Juan del Sur – but a lot of travellers do skip it or squeeze it into a daytrip. The problem wasn’t getting there, it seemed, but rather getting around once you’re there. So we diligently caught a chicken bus to Rivas and shared a taxi with a Swiss guy to the ferry dock in San Jorge. Confidently, we bought our ferry tickets and waited for the ferry.

Only the ferry – how we pictured it and how it was depicted on our tickets – never came. Instead we were faced with a tuna can death trap. It looked like something you’d see on the nightly news, reporting on a tragedy from a far-flug part of the world.

We were now in one of those far-flung parts of the world.

Paul and I looked at each other. Our Swiss mate came trotting up. “I think that’s what we’re taking!” he exclaimed. “That’s not what it looks like in the pictures…”

What could we do? I couldn’t look at Paul, because I knew he was freaking out. We tossed our backpacks onto a pile twice the height of me, accepted our life jackets and tried smiling. Everyone was wearing the life jackets, so we followed suit. And as we made our way across the lake, with a lot more waves than I normally associated with lakes, I was thankful for that life jacket. Water came past our ankles and two dudes had the sole duty of pumping out water for a whole hour. We kissed the ground when we disembarked.

Paul and I didn’t talk about it until we were in the transfer van to our guesthouse. “Once it was up to my knees, I was jumping out the window,” he confessed.

“That was nothing,” the American behind us remarked. “You should have seen the conditions out to the Corn Islands.”

We promptly threw him out of the van and continued our journey.

Islands always seem bigger once you’re on them. Ometepe certainly is one such island; although its longest stretch is only 31 kilometres from tip to tip, it can take you over two hours to traverse that terrain. It’s got something to do with the two big fat volcanoes that take up much of the interior of the island; the inactive Volcano Maderas and the larger, fiery Volcano Concepción. To get around, you’ve basically got to go the long way around the coast.

After our floating huts on the River Kwai, Ometepe is probably a close runner up to the most remote I’ve ever been. We didn’t want to stay in the main town of Moyogalpa – that didn’t seem like it would be in the right spirit of things – so I booked us into a little guesthouse between the two volcanoes.

There was nothing nearby. I mean, truly nothing. We had just a little bit of power and no hot water, but that really wasn’t a big deal in the heat. But it had the views. Oh my God, did it have the views.

Dreams are made of this.

We didn’t do much on that first day, except drink Toña beer, swim in the pool (the guesthouse owner seems to go from one building project to the next), relax in the hammocks, munch on rice and beans and lap up the views. You could hear the birds at night, and they were what got us up the next morning, too.

The next day we rented a motorbike in order to see more of the island. Thankfully Paul had already had practice in Vietnam so we were off and running pretty quickly. The day was pretty much perfect; a few walks to lookout points, butterfly spotting and checking out Santo Domingo Beach.

But the real highlight was something as close to an oasis as you can ever hope to find; Ojo de Agua.

Fed by a stream originating at the Volcano Concepción, this natural pool was the perfect way to cool off after a day of dirt roads and sticky heat. I’m sure some spend the whole day there. If we had another day on Ometepe, I’d probably do the same.

But we were to leave the following day. We spent out last night on Ometepe with more of the same; rice and beans, Toña and a volcano sunset view.

To me, Ometepe is at that perfect stage of tourism development. It’s a bit of a controversial one, however. Note that I said ‘tourism development’, not simply ‘development’. There’s no hot water and only one sealed road, so I’m sure the locals would love those luxuries we take for granted. So I’m not one to decry development. On the other hand, it keeps a lot of other tourists away. I didn’t really see any rubbish on the beaches or have any touts plead for my business. The woman who asked for honey mustard dressing at a nearby lunch table was given a short, curt ‘no’. It’s not for the party crowd – Ojo de Agua doesn’t host pool parties – that’s all kept for nearby San Juan del Sur.

It was just nice and pure. We were entertained by butterflies, for God’s sake. I could be wrong, but the level of tourism seemed to be balanced just right; offering enough jobs for locals, but not detracting from the natural beauty and rhythm of the island.

But there was just one thing. That bloody ferry. We returned to the ferry dock in Moyogalpa the next day, silently praying for the big ferry to take us back to the mainland. Our Swiss friend was there too, doing the same.

It was big. It was smooth. It was glorious. And with that, I reckon Ometepe is just perfect.

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