Ahhh Isla de Ometepe
La Isla de Ometepe is, arguably, Nicaragua’s most popular tourist destination, and after spending a weekend on the island I know why: It. Is. Awesome. Definitely worth the approximately ten hour trip to get all the way from Matagalpa to Hotel Villa Paraiso on Playa Santo Domingo.
There are only a couple of ways to get to the island from the mainland; I opted for the one hour lancha from the little town of San Jorge, and spent most of the ride chatting with a seasick Nicaraguan tattoo artist who travels around with all of his needles and other tattoo-ing equipment to give tattoos to people on the fly. Sounds slightly unsterile, but what do I know?
Ometepe is an island in Lake Nicaragua (the largest natural lake in Central America, it’s huge!), and has a volcano on either end. Volcan Concepcion is an honest to goodness active volcano, complete with toxic gases, occasional sputterings from inside the crater and, as recently as 2010, full blown eruptions. The other volcano, Volcan Maderas, is smaller and no longer active. Below is a picture of Concepcion from the less-than-sturdy and probably highly dangerous lancha that I took to the island (thank you, Mom and Dad, for making sure I grew up to be a strong swimmer):
I was greeted by a jolly man named Harlan at the docks, and he drove me the 45 minutes from Moyogalpa to Santo Domingo. After a looong day of busses, more busses, taxis, ferries, and more taxis, I was ready walk around a bit!
Sunday started bright and early with a motorcycle tour of the island:
My buddy Horacio was an excellent guide, and if anyone out there is looking for someone to show them around Ometepe, he’s your guy. Contact information: +505 827 7714, email@example.com. Don’t speak Spanish? That’s ok! Horacio speaks perfect English.
We started out visiting a variety of petroglyphs – 5,000+ year old drawings etched into volcanic rock. This one is a calendar, and if you look closely you can see the face of a monkey in the center of the circle:
We continued to cruise around and see more petroglyphs; they are scattered all over the island, and the islanders are totally used to wandering by rocks with ancient sketches etched into them like it’s no big deal. That’s some classy graffiti!
It may be kind of hard to see here, but this one is of a human figure, with an X across the front of the body. This, I learned, represents a human sacrifice. Horacio told me that the ancient tribes of the island regularly sacrificed young virgins – girls and boys- to the various gods that they worshipped (god of corn, god of fertility, god of the sea, etc.). Apparently it was a huge honor. I learned about human sacrifices at the other volcanoes I have visited here, and was told that, at Volcan Nindiri, for example, the sacrifices were typically just chucked right into the volcanic crater. On Ometepe they preferred decapitation. Tomato, tomahhto. Personally, I think I’d pass:
We also visited some slightly newer (if you consider 3,000 years old to be new) statues representing the local tribes’ gods and goddesses. Ironically enough, they are now situated right outside of the Catholic church in Altagracia. I’m sure the Pope would just love that.
Next up was a stop at a roadside house, where an 80-something year old woman has been brewing her own homemade rum for practically her entire life. Unlike most of the rum I’m used to, hers is fermented from rice and corn, and both smells and tastes like fire. Before tasting her brew, I took a moment to play with a friendly monkey that hangs around their house:
Horacio and I both had a bit of the rum, which was poured for us out of this green gasoline container (not kidding):
After trying it I realized how fitting it is that she keeps it in the gas can – it tastes like straight up ethanol, and could probably be a viable alternate energy source. I would also like to comment on the irony of pulling off of a terrible dirt road to take a shot of what is, essentially, Nicaraguan moonshine, and then getting back on the motorcycle and continuing down the same terrible dirt road. Noted.
Post-rum we popped by a local baseball game to root, root, root for the home team:
Next up was Charco Verde (translation: green puddle), a volcanic crater that is now filled with water. Legend has it that a medicine man from back in the day lives in the water, and can change into a crocodile at will… we didn’t see him, but I’m sure he’s there!
By this point we were pretty hot and dusty from tearing around the island on the motorcycle, so when we arrived at the Ojo de Agua, I thought I was seeing a mirage:
The Ojo de Agua is a glorious natural spring that is fed by a stream coming straight from the volcano. The water is cool and refreshing and absolutely clear. It was fantastic to swim around and beat the heat for a little bit. Plus, the water apparently has all sorts of fabulous mineral properties. I’m sure people would pay lots of money for water of that caliber at a spa somewhere, yet we got it for free. Hooray!
On the way home we had fun watching some monkeys well, monkeying around. There are all different types on the island, including big black howler monkeys that make the weirdest sounds ever – kind of like a mix between a bark and a growl. The little guys with the white faces are a bit more chill; they just make a cute little chirping sound, which I loved.
After braving the eight hour return trip, I am back in Matagalpa ready to keep moving along with my work for Pencils of Promise. This entire experience has been incredible, and, as I’m sure all of you out there have noticed, I am very happily adopting PoP’s work hard play hard philosophy.
Case in point: This weekend my sister and I are heading to the incredibly-remote-yet-oh-so-fabulous Corn Islands, which are located way off the coast of Nicaragua in the Caribbean. As always, there is more to come from your MBAdventurer… stay tuned!