Thursday, May 5, 2016

Four Wheelin' On The Island Of Ometepe......Nicaragua

Our adventure in Nicaragua continues as we headed out to see another must-see, the Island of Ometepe. One of the largest freshwater islands in the world Ometepe island was developed from two volcanos rising up from the lake many years ago.  The two volcanos Concepcion and Maderas are joined by a piece of land in the shape of an hourglass.  The island is nineteen miles long and just six miles wide and might just have more pigs, cows and horses than people, or so it seemed to us.

While there are many myths about Ometepe one of the most memorable is the one about two young lovers from opposing families.  This Romeo and Juliet type of story ends badly when the two lovers each slit their wrists since they can't be together.  As she's dying and falls back her chest rises up and forms the two volcanos that represent the two hills of the island. In the native language the word "Ometepe" simply means, "two hills," or perhaps two boobs in the case of the myth?

First we had to pack a bag and head out by foot very early in the morning on Monday to the bus station here in Granada. Although Granada isn't all that big it boasts of having four or five bus stations, or they're called.  The one we had to get to was smack in the middle of a busy, congested marketplace full of bikes, cars, and pedestrians so trying not to get run over was a tricky. With buses pulling out and barely scraping by the nearby vendor stands it's quite a sight to witness.  The so called bus station that looks more like a parking lot with a few buses in it is a congested mess.  On the streets nearby local vendors were setting up their stands selling prepared foods, produce, clothing and just about anything else one might need.

We boarded a "chicken bus" for the town of Rivas which is where our journey would begin.  Although I'm not sure why they call them chicken buses it's either because you can't be chicken to ride 'em, or maybe because there are sometimes chickens riding on the buses.  Since we boarded the bus at the station we managed to get seats but still had to wait a while as the bus filled up. Even though it was early in the day it was hot inside the bus and before long we started to glisten with sweat. 

The bus driver seemed to change personalities along the way as he went from driving like a bat out of hell to driving like the little old lady from Pasadena.  Eventually after an hour or more of sweating we landed in the town of Rivas.  While still on the bus several pushy men came aboard targeting gringos, there was only one other couple besides us, offering us taxi rides. He suggested that we share a taxi to keep the cost down and while we were all for that the other couple seemed to have other ideas.  Once off the bus the pushy taxi driver suggested we stop to shop at the local kiosks.  Being the impatient type that we are we declined shopping, decided not to look for other gringos to share the taxi with and asked the taxi driver to just take us to the port already.

So we climbed into yet another dumpy, dirty taxi, with torn seats, no air conditioning, windows rolled down and headed from the town of San Jorge to the port for the ferry. While we've been on ferries in Texas that were clean, organized and well kept this was not the case here in Nicaragua. We were approached by yet another pushy man who guided us to the ticket booth to purchase our tickets.  Then he asked us where we'd be staying on the island and when Clyde mentioned that we had no reservations yet, the man insisted that it was very important that we reserve a room NOW.  He asked if we wanted to stay in town or near the beach and offered to make the reservation for us.  We opted for a room in town so he quickly phoned a hotel and offered us a rate of $25 for a private room with a private bath.  When we requested one with an air conditioner the price went up to $35 which we were fine with, at least being able to cool off after a day of sweating.

Our Ferry Awaits

Follow The Crowd

Once on board the ferry we found ourselves in a room in the bowels of the boat full of rows of metal seating. We found a seat before they were all taken since we'd be on the boat for an hour or more of slow travel before we reached the island. Oddly enough there was a tiny television screen showing a movie, a sort of Latin version of a dirty dancing type of movie.  While I was silly enough to expect a place to buy drinks and food onboard, I was lucky enough to find a teeny, filthy bathroom.  The three level ferry did offer seating on the top outer deck, but we figured it would have been even hotter up there since it offered no shade from the hot, morning sun.

Inside The Bowles Of The Ferry

A Volcano In The Distance

Eventually we made our way off of the ferry to find more pushy taxi drivers offering to take money from tourists.  When one driver asked our hotel name and we said, "Los Ranchitos" he kindly told us it was only a short walk of three blocks away. The front of Los Ranchitos was cute with a restaurant made of bamboo, a pressed dirt floor all decorated in island style. In the back near the garden were the hotel rooms which were very basic but would serve the purpose for just one night.

Los Ranchitos Restaurant

Cool D├ęcor.....A Tree Trunk Made Of Cement With Bottles Stuck Into It

A Pressed Mud Floor

We checked in and dropped our backpacks off before heading out to explore the island.  Too big to explore by foot there were plenty of places offering to rent scooters, motor bikes and quads to go exploring.  Since neither of us has ever driven a motorcycle we were unsure about the idea of renting one.  Add to that the fact that Clyde didn't bring his drivers license with him from Panama so I thought that I'd have to do the driving. The safer option was to rent a quad or four wheeler that couldn't be tipped over and was safe for exploring the back roads.  And according to the woman that rented us the quad, it was no problem that Clyde would be doing with driving without a drivers license in his pocket.  The vehicle was registered in my name using my license and when asked what to do if we were stopped by police she said, "just say you switched out drivers and it will be ok." So off we went exploring the island with the help of a map given to us by the rental agency.

Click on the link below to check out
a video we did of our Quad ride on Ometepe

Our journey began in the town of Moyogalpa, the largest village on the island. From there we headed out along the "Route of Volcanos," which could be seen from most everywhere.  We followed along the winding road that passed in between the two volcanos. Volcan Concepcion is still active while Volcan Maderas is considered to be extinct. Yet active or not both volcanos have trails leading to the summit for those brave enough for the undertaking. But hiking these suckers is not easy in the scorching heat for a duration of ten hours round trip, so not something we wanted to do.

As our noisy quad made its way along the road we made our way past quaint little farms, homes, churches and more. Several times along the way we encountered Nicaraguan road blocks consisting of cows, horses and pigs in the road.  We stopped at Ojo de Agua, a natural swimming pool of crystal clear water fed from a local spring.  A nearby sign billed this place as, "Fuente de la Juventud," or "The Fountain Of Youth," so I made sure to splash some water on myself before leaving.

Ometepe is said to have the largest concentration of petroglyphs or ancient stone carvings in the world so we kept our eyes open to find some.  A sign lead us up a rocky road into an area with plenty of petroglyphs to view.  There are nearly 1700 of these ancient carvings on rocks in the area, some more intricate than others.

The scenery around Ometepe was just lovely and resembled the country side of Panama in many ways. Before returning to Moyogalpa we drove through the second largest town on the island called Altagracia.  This picturesque little farming village was represented by religious statues along the roadside.  We returned the quad by 6pm and went back to our room to relax and freshen up a bit before heading out to dinner.

For dinner we chose an Italian restaurant where we dined on pizza. A single female diner sat alone at the next table so my friendly husband began chatting and eventually invited her over.  An elderly woman from Luxembourg was visiting Nicaragua working for a non-government organization.  The goal of her organization was to go into the schools and educate young girls helping them to realize there are options for them in life.  Since young girls in poor Latin American countries tend to think their mission in life is to make babies, organizations like this serve to educate the young ladies as to other choices. And Nicaragua is one of only five countries in the world where abortion is illegal regardless of the circumstances, even in the case of rape or life threatening illness.

Tired from a long day of adventures last evening we retired early for a long peaceful night of sleep.  All was well until the wee hours of the morning when a cacophony of thousands of birds began singing outside our hotel window.  It literally sounded like something out of the Alfred Hitchcock movie, "The Birds," and had us wide awake an annoyed at 5am.

Today after breakfast we headed to the port by foot and made our way to the ferry for our long journey back to Granada.  We watched as the ferry's crew attempted to get a large bus onto the ship without it bottoming out on the deck. Since it was overcast and not sunny we headed up onto the top deck to enjoy the views and breezes. There we chatted with two 30 something twin brothers from Germany who take a yearly vacation together.  Nearby we watched as a young, backpacker type mended his badly bruised arm that was covered with road rash.  Apparently he had rented a motorbike on the island and got into an accident with it, throwing himself and the bike onto the road. While he had to pay for the damages at least he wasn't seriously injured. While he appeared to be just another tourist it turned out he's living here in Granada teaching English on a volunteer basis for a month or so. A native of Belgium we chatted with him about the state of Nicaraguan kids. He said that volunteers like himself were told about the glue sniffing boys on the streets and instructed not to help them out.  Apparently these boys chose to drop out of school and live on the streets thinking it will be an easier life where they can do as they please.  Instead if they would stay in school they would be provided with meals along with an education, but would have to abide by the rules also.

Putting Cars And Trucks Onto The Ferry

And Now The Bus

Ouch....Scraping Bottom

Another Volcano View


In our travels we've met people from all over the world all with different ideas and styles of travel.  During a stop on our four wheelin' trek we stopped for a drink at a roadside restaurant with a hotel on the beach.  We chatted with a husband and wife from Australia, both retired school teachers who were literally backpacking through Latin America.  While this is usually something done by young folks on a small budget these professionals were doing it the same way.  They were staying in dorm rooms at hostels full of beds with shared bathrooms, taking buses and carrying their luggage on their backs.

From the ferry today we opted to splurge on a private taxi from the town of San Jorge all the way to our hotel in Granada.  The 90-minute ride was comfy, fully air conditioned and a great way to see the scenery along the way.  With the start of the rainy season here the landscape is quickly changing from burnt brown to a lovely shade of lush green. After resting up a bit we walked to a large grocery store and decided to stay in tonight and cook dinner.

Surely after partaking in the fountain of youth I'll wake up looking twenty years younger tomorrow and perhaps I'll have to change the name of this blog to, The Old Guy and His Young Wife Travelling......along the gringo trail.

Terry and Clyde are able to "Travel The World House Sitting"  and so can you!  We have created a website to help people who want to learn about house sitting.    Information for both the prospective house sitter and for someone who needs a house sitter.

the New Website                          -->  CLICK HERE

How to Get Your First House Sit -->  CLICK HERE

How to find a house sitter          ---->  CLICK HERE

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