La Isla de Ometepe. We'd been hearing about this island for quite some time and were excited to finally check it out. It's about a three hour bus ride south from Granada to the town of Rivas, where you then catch a ferry over to the island. We opted to minimize our travel time and costs and hitchhike instead of catching another chicken bus to get us there. We packed up, grabbed some bread, bananas, and peanut butter for a road snack, and began walking to the outskirts of town towards the highway. Once on the “highway”, or main road rather, we put our thumbs up and stuck our arms out, hopeful for a friendly driver and a pickup truck to come along. It didn't take long before a couple pulled over and invited us to hop in the bed of their truck. Success. We tossed our bags in and cozied up in the tiny space. The open air and sunshine were a great change from the confined spaces of the chicken buses we'd been hauled around in the past couple months (though I love and miss them dearly now).
We arrived in half the time a bus would have taken and after the couple dropped us off we began walking the 7km. towards the ferry. We had offered some cash to our drivers and they looked horrified that we even tried. “Noooooo!” the woman exclaimed, pushing the money back towards us. Lovely. Before getting to the ferry, the same couple drove past again, pulling over to once again give us a lift. They had gone to visit with family but were headed to Ometepe as well. They proceeded to then drive us to the town we were staying in once on the island; saving us even more money and time. Such gems they were.
Ometepe is quite the island, formed by two volcanoes rising up out of the water. It's situated in Lake Nicaragua, Central America's largest lake. Maderas & Concepción are the two volcanoes that are joined together by a low, narrow strip of land, creating an hour glass shaped island.
The first known inhabitants of Ometepe came from Mexico, the Nahua Indians, and later the Niquirano Indians came. There are still traces of their presence here in the form of Petroglyphs that can be found on the Northern slopes of Volcán Maderas. We visited these and there's not much left at all, but visible glyphs are there on small fragments of rock that lie around in what feels like a garden of sorts. The oldest date back to 300 BC.
After the Central America region was conquered by the Spaniards, pirates began prowling the waters of Lake Nicaragua. They ventured into the Lake from the Caribbean from the San Juan River. The pirates made the island their refuge and were quick to steal the islanders women, food and livestock.
Despite being a freshwater lake, Lake Nicaragua is actually home to an interesting array of species. Sawfish, tarpon and SHARKS being some of them. Although first thought to be an endemic species to the lake, it was later discovered that the sharks found in the lake were actually bull sharks - which have been known to enter freshwater elsewhere in the world. It was discovered they have the ability to jump the rapids of the San Juan River, almost like salmon.
We rented some bikes from our hostel, rather a local woman's home with a spare room and a few beds, and cruised around the island. It had a very “lakey” feel to it. Like northern Michigan or weekends at the cottage. It was quiet and serene, breezy and sunny, and we pretty much had the road to ourselves, except for these guys. Monkeys could be seen all over the island and would come pretty close, curious about their equally curious observers.
We went to “Ojo de Agua”, or the Water's Eye, a natural freshwater spring in the middle of the island between the two volcanoes. We turned off the main road and headed down a dirt road lined with mango trees. Never in my life would I have dreamed I'd have mangoes readily available like I have on this trip. They've always been my favorite fruit and many of the places we've gone you can simply find them all over, free for the taking. Perfectly ripe and plentiful, I've been in mango heaven for months.
The water here was refreshingly cool and incredibly clean. Upon entrance they tell you you'll leave looking and feeling like a new person, thanks to all the minerals from the land and water. Aches, pains, everything will wash away with the water. I think my hair felt smoother...?
No matter where you were on the island, you could always see the picture perfect peak of Volcán Concepción – considered the most perfectly formed volcano cone in Central America. It reaches high and stands at 1,610 m., making it the world's highest lake island.
The sun sets behind it, casting it's massive outline against the pink and orange tones of the calm, evening sky.
We played some Euchre, sought shade, and hoped for a strong breeze as we waited for our bus to take us back to the ferry. Onwards to the South! San Juan del Sur was awaiting us.