Monday, October 1, 2012

Visa Run Day 2: Watch your step-pe on Ometepe

DISCLAIMER: Alison here . . .  I’m writing a series of guest blogs covering 9/30-10/7 – the dates where Nick, Minh and I joined Vic on his visa run to Nicaragua and the journey through Costa Rica back to Costa de Oro. 

Date: Monday 10/1/12

Location: Nicaragua -  San Juan del Sur & Ometepe (Volcanic island in the middle of Laka Nicaragua)

Word of the day: Super Mercado: a large grocery store (think super market) that plays awesome 80's music while you shop through isles of things that are more solidly accompanied by cartoon mascots, brightly colored and awesomely flavored than any food in your home country

Nicaragua Fact:  The last time the volcano on Ometepe threatened to erupt was in the mid-90's. The government predicted the eruption and sent boats to evacuate the island. No one got on a boat. No one evacuated. And no one was injure or killed.

7AM wake up. Vic is an early riser and our human alarm clock. He politely began making more and more noise starting around seven so Nick and I would wake up and hit the road in time to make the ferry across Laka Nicaragua to Ometepe for our hike that day. Totally works and we are on the road with plenty of time!
We stop at a Super Mercado on our way out of town to pick up breakfast and snacks for the day. We get some cereal and milk (mile comes in a BAG here!) to eat out of Tupperware before the ferry as well as some crackers with chocolate, grapes and water to keep us going on the island. Side note – the super mercado played the BEST music! We shopped to Final Countdown by Europe and a few other 80’s power balads. It really got us PUMPED UP to pick our Nicaraguan cereal.
Make the forty-five minute drive to San Jorge to catch the ferry to Moyogalpa where we will began exploring Ometepe. In San Jorge, we park the car and eat our cereal. Delish.

We walk over to the guide to purchase our tickets and he explains some good options for us to get around the island when we arrive and the things we can see. We settle on a tour that includes a car to take us around the volcanoes and will stop at a waterfall hike, hot springs and some good vistas – pending that we have time to do all of the above. We are in!

Drink some café in town (instant coffee – not great; we were spoiled on Mombacho yesterday) and then board the ferry with tickets in hand. The ferry is a one-hour plus trek across Lake Nicaragua to the volcanic island of Ometepe. Ompetepe includes both a large and small volcano and rises picturesquely from the stillness of the fresh water lake. On the ferry, it looks even more beautiful that it did from the mainland as we are now surrounded by water on all sides. Clear skies promise a nice day as we sit on the top deck and enjoy the sun and some easy conversation. 
We the ferry docks in Moyogalpa, we instantly see a man with a sign “Bienvenido, Victor!” and we know we made the right call. We climb in to  the tourismo van to start our way through the town and eventually the more obscure parts of the island.

The town of Moyogalpa is cute. The guidebook describes it as the “nerve center” to the island and the description seems fitting. There are many restaurants, food vendors and shops near the ferry port and lots of people walking around. As we wind through town – we see many houses and lots of children in their school uniforms running around . This quickly fades into the green country side with fewer buildings and no people.
It’s clear just how small a place Ometepe is when our driver slows at the side of the road to pick up a woman who was walking along the shoulder. He gives her a lift with us a couple kilometers down the road and drops her off. Volcanic island commradery. 
Another crazy thing about the drive was the evacuation signs we pass. I have seen these in Florida - for evacuation in case of hurricane - but these signs were indicating routes to take in case of volcanic eruption. And there was a tiny picture of an erupting volcano on the sign! I'm just thinking - this whole island is a volcano. There's no evacuating if this thing blows (see fun fact of the day).
After some windy roads and a good portion of the time on some very bumpy roads, we arrive at the base of the trail we will hike to  to the waterfall. We start our way up the arduous hill - led by our guide who walks up the at a pace I reserve for level surfaces. 

Once under the tree line where the forest begins, the hike is beautiful. The path through the rain forest that covers this side of the volcano is full and lush. We hike through a gorge formed by a river that can clearly flood but is a nice healthy trickle today. We step in the puddles and cool our feet as we walk and look up and the cavern walls. 

If yesterday's hike was tough - today's is near Olympian. The path is almost vertical and requires clever foot placement on rocks and roots that are stacked like steps. This time I don't even feel shamed for the few breaks I need. 
When we get to the top - the reward is clear and loud. The waterfall is the tallest I have ever seen. It's not the mass of water that falls down from it but more the distance and the scenery it covers. 

The waterfall pools at the bottom and as hot as we all are from the hike - we immediately jump in and swim underneath the falls. 

The water is cold and we wade through it to stand underneath the waterfall. The water is falling such a great distance that it hits us with a force that could induce headaches but mostly just seems entertaining. We make a few in-the-watefall videos with Vic's GoPro camera (silent prayer those files survive the great American laptop repair of October 2012). Very fun.

After playing in the walls, we start the hike back down in our bathing suits. Down is obviously much easier than up but not without it's challenges. There is much less demand on cardio but a higher demand on balance and foot placement as we descend the rock/root stair case. 
These are areas in which I am not so well-equipped. To the surprise of no one - I wiped out. In the middle of the beautfiul canyon. But the only injury sustained was a scrape to my thumb. Thanks to all my years of practice spontaneously falling - I come out of the incident nearly unscathed and we descend the rest of the volcano and back to the car successfully. 
At this point - we realize that we have spent so much time in the waterfall that we will need to go straight back to Moyogalpa without a stop at the hot springs. Worth it. Touring the other side of the small island affords us a gorgeous view of the larger volcano. We stop for pics. 

After this detour - we run into yet another parade, though of a much more somber nature. Our guide tells us it is a funeral for a local man who took medicine and drank cervezas in the same evening and passed away from the combination. 
The funeral is a bizzare hodge podge of trucks and people. Some carrying drums, tubas and other instruments - playing as they walk down the road. The crowd takes up both lanes and moves at a crawling pace. When it thins out, we realize they are filtering directly into the cemetery. It was sad to see - but touching that what seemed to be the entire town showed up and walked in support of the event. 
We pass through the spectacle and end up in Moyogalpa just in time to grab a snack and board the ferry back to San Jorge where our car is parked. We buy some freshly baked pan con sucre (sweet bread). It's still warm and frickin' delish. 
The ferry ride back is a bit over an hour and we spend the time watching the sun set over the lake with a lightening storm brewing behind us over Ometepe. Gorgeous. 

Once back to our car, we pile in and head for San Juan del Sur. It's about 7PM and we have plans to relax at the hotel before our last Nicaraguan dinner on the beach. At the hotel - we order ceviche and lay around until it's ready. When it's prepared - we step out into the outside bar of the hotel and listen to some tunes on Vic's computer while we eat. Lovely. 

After our pre-dinner number one, we start the short walk into town. We decide to stop for a pre-dinner number two at a window-order place along the way. We each get a taco de pescado and a Nicaraguan VICTORia cerveza. We sit outside facing the street with some solid people watching and eat the most delicious fish taco of my life. 

The people watching is interesting. It's a Monday night - but the town is hopping. People are sitting outside at bars and restaurants and spilling into the streets where they stand in groups having loud conversations. Like a Saturday night in Wrigleyville, Chicago in the summer. 
When we finish our pre-dinner number 2 - we realize it's nearly 10PM and we better get seated for the main event dinner or miss our main course. We settle on a restaurant a couple doors down that has a table along the beach and is still serving food. 
We order pina coladas (my favorite vacation drink - embarrasing as it is to admit) and dinner. I order mas tacos de pescado as I am still on a high from pre-dinner number 2. 

We sit and sip and talk and eat while watching the waves and the beach. At the end of the meal - we are full, happy and tired. We decide to walk back along the beach. 
The tide is low and the beach is empty and beautiful at night. It's only a ten minute walk to the hotel and we arrive safely and happy to hit the hay.
It will be another early morning tomorrow: border crossing day!

  • Waking up early is awesome. But mostly just if you go to bed early the night before
  • Breakfast is paramount
  • Falling down is not a just a "phase" that I will eventually grow out of
  • Despite the above, it's always worth it to run down an empty beach . . . even on a full stomach
  • Nicaraguan cereal
  • Milk (from a bag!) 
  • Ceviche
  • Pina colada
  • Mucho tacos de pescados

Animals: we heard some monkeys on our Ometepe hike - but alas . . .  nothing again today

Something I am thankful for: flying by the seat of your pants. We didn't know what to expect of the ferry or Ometepe - but when we arrived we got all the information we needed from the locals and ended up with a private tour of the island and the waterfall! Who knows what we would have ended up with had we insisted on making prearranged reservations. You gotta just go with it.

Something I don't want to admit:Vic and Nick kept seeing lightening behind me over the top of Ometepe while we were on the ferry. I still don't know if they were just making it up to infuriate me - but after I saw some on the other side of the lake a bit later . . . I became pretty sure they were. And thus even more furious and FOMO-filled

Total Nest I have saved: no turtles yet . . .
Total Nests Poached on my Patrol:  NA
Total Turtle Eggs I saved: 0
Total Baby Turtles I Released: 0
Days of Rain: No rain!
Miles traveled: 66km by car (41 miles) & 34km by boat (22 miles)


  1. Do you ever think about if I was left in this exact place far away from any world I have ever known or occupied, would someone I know ever come along, tag me and "unfreeze" me back into the world. Reading this post was exactly that. I rode that ferry, hiked up that trail, I swam in that exact water fall, hiked back down only to break my flip flop 50 steps into it. I'm happy you guys got to explore Ometepe. Our experience with the natives were much more cruel as they were hitting Sofia's car with sticks and fists as we drove through a block/soccer match party. Glad you made it out alive. Viva Las NICa and VICtoria cerveza. Nice job writing AliGooRo!

  2. Brian!! Love this comment! If we knew we were living your life in repeat, so would have tried to feel the precense :)

  3. I don't know about that alison...if I remember correct,y I believe he ended up Montazuma's revenge

  4. Eek. I didn't know that part. I take it back. We wouldn't have felt the presence - we just would have tagged you in the pictures

  5. You worldly young cusses. Take your parents on a trip one time! Aligooroo never gets Montazuma's revenge... oh wait. I take that back. She got sick (I think altitude sickness though) on a ski vacay to Colorado once. I think she was 11 years old. She got up, threw up at least seven times and then said, "okay, now I'm ready." We skied all day!

  6. HaHa - She skied all day and fell down alot, as I recall. Love the stories and the fact that you've all experienced this place in Nicaragua. Can't wait to read Day 3!