Day 14 – last week
Santa Cruz, Ometepe, Nicaragua
Today was our first full day on Ometepe, the volcano island in the middle of lake Nicaragua. It’s a beautiful island, and the side we stayed on was very windy and the lake was really wavy. Women clean their clothes in the lake, it’s such a back-to-basics place. The windiness turned out to be a good thing, as one night when the wind dropped we were attacked by an army of mosquitoes, their lucky day.
Anyway we survived our first night in the very basic hotel and ha a plan to cycle to a waterfall about 10km away. I calculated in my head that if y 3km journey to work takes 20 minutes it should only take an hour to get there, taking our time. Three guys, the American Jordan, a French Canadian and Belgian Koon decided to walk to the waterfall. Suckers, we thought. We told them we’d wait at the bottom of the waterfall for them. Off we went on our bikes and about halfway there we finally caught up with them. Yeah, it was a tough ride. Hilly, rock, hot and sunny and we both had problems with our bikes – mine had a spiky pattern on the handlebars so my hands were burning with pain and Emma’s had a hard seat, so we were both complaining a lot!
Then we saw a view of one of the volcanoes, the clouds hanging over the top like a Mr Whippy ice cream. Perfect view. Then we had another hour or so of riding to go! So when we saw the other side of the lake and realised how much nicer it was (calm, view of both volcanoes, piers out into the water) we had to stop for a little swim. It was so gorgeous and made the rather tiring journey worthwhile, plus we only had a few more minutes to go till we were at the waterfall. And then a Canadian guy at the lake told us we had another half-hour of cycling, then it’s a 3km walk uphill to the volcano. Urgh.
We pressed on though, but were getting pretty hungry at this point. When we finally go to the entrance to the waterfall we saw the guys again – it took the same amount of time to cycle as it did to walk… We paid our entrance fee and started the uphill walk to the waterfall. About three minutes in we passed a restaurant (with a cat) so we went in and ordered $4 peanut butter and jam sandwiches while the boys went on ahead. The sandwiches came out and they had a centimetre of butter, then a teeny lump of peanut butter in the middle and no jam. It was on the menu as having jam so god knows what they thought they’d written on the menu, When we asked for jam she gave us a squeezy bottle of something orange and a knife so we could spread it. We had to make our own $4 sandwiches. We scraped the butter out, spread the jam and took a bite. Nasty. We agreed we wouldn’t pay, took a big bite for sustenance and complained. She didn’t take it well. We walked out still pretty starving.
So we started on up the hill, and five minutes later passed a man on his way down. “Is the waterfall far?” “Yeah it’s really far and really steep the whole way.” He looked us up and down, pausing to look disapprovingly at our flipflips. “Good luck.” Not believing him, we persevered. We’d cycled all day for this waterfall and we wanted the payoff. It couldn’t be that far – surely waterfall pools aren’t high up? We finally passed the 1km mark after what felt like 2km. Then the 1.5km mark. Then the 2km mark. This is hours later by the way. Then we passed a German couple who told us we had an hour left to walk and that it got more uphill and the dirt track turns to just rocks. “You won’t make it in flipflops.” Of course like idiots we carried on. It got steeper, hotter, rockier. We sat down on a rock to think about what to do. We’d come so far, but was the waterfall really worth it? I’d been spoiled in Cuba, but it felt like we’d come so far for nothing.
We decided to stop. We turned around with more relief than we’d expected and headed down. Not far from the bottom we bumped into an English couple and they asked what we asked – “Is it far?” “Well, we gave up after 2.5km, put it that way.” They turned on their heels and came back down with us. So we sat in the same restaurant (Emma and I couldn’t go in, we’d caused enough trouble in there) and waited for the guys. About 30 mins later they turned up raving about the waterfall. But you couldn’t swim in it, which cheered me up a bit. By now it was about 4pm so we had about 2 hours before dark. Emma and I had no intention of cycling back, we were going to thumb a ride or find someone with a truck. After a swim in the lake of course.
The boys set off at a rapid pace as they were walking the whole way. We ended up back at the lake and asked in a hostel if someone had a truck. Yes, just ask in the other hostel. We went and asked and they said the guy with the truck would return in an hour or so. We decided to ask around more (learning the very useful word for truck along the way) and found a couple of young guys who knew someone with a truck. Great! We followed them to the place with a truck… It was the same hostel as before. But this time we were told the guy would pick us up in 10 minutes. Half an hour passed and nothing, so we started asking around if anyone knew they guy.
Someone did, and just as we were walking to this guy’s house, Jordan runs through the bushes and into the clearing! They’d all been so worried about us back at the hotel that he’d literally run the whole way back to find us. We were very grateful for the concern and effort. Eventually we found the guy with the truck, who of course had no knowledge of our existence and who decided he wanted $20 to take us back. No choice… One good thing was that I got to ride in the back of a pick-up truck and look up at the stars, which were all on show that night, it was incredible.
Got back to the hostel and everyone was mad at us. Kind of stupid to be mad as we’re not stupid and they’re not our parents. By the way this is 6pm. So we just went to bed.
The next morning we decided to go down to the Ojo De Agua – Eye of the Water – a natural swimming pool. All of us from the hotel walked down there together – Me, Emma, Wolf, Koon, Jordan, the French-Canadian guy and a New Yorker we picked up along the way. It was a good 45-min walk. The pool was nice and we had a lovely day eating food, drinking cocktails and paddling about.
Then we walked home and realised for the first time during our stay on Ometepe that the wind had dropped. This, it turns out, is a very bad thing. We had to keep all the lights off in the building and everyone become mozzie fodder.
Today we left Ometepe for Granada, which is a boat, taxi then bus (or in our case taxi II) ride away. Our new buddy Jordan, who we met on the bus to Nicaragua, had been a bit of a pain, and he was still being an idiot when we were on our way to Granada, so we ditched him and shared a cab with an English couple, Ellen and John. Ellen is a sweet girl from Chichester and John is a hippy. They were really nice. And the cab ride was the best. After the Abba album ran out the cabbie started looking through his CD collection. I caught a glimpse of a Britney Spears album and pleaded him to put it on. John almost threw himself out the window in protest. Just one song, I promised. The song finished and as promised the cabbie started looking through his Cds again. When I saw the Backstreet Boys I nearly had a fit, and this time the girls joined me. John got out his portable speakers and stuck them to his ear while we sang loudly and badly (ok it was just me) to many of the Boys’ greatest hits. As we were pulling into Granada town we were just finishing the popular hit ‘Get Down’. There was a kid hanging around wanting to show us round some hostels, and while he did so he kept singing ‘Get Down’. Everyone loves the BSBs.
After seeing about 3 or 4 awful hostels we finally came across our dream accommodation – the Backpackers Inn. It sounds awful but it was so gorgeous – a green courtyard in the middle, clean rooms, nice staff, and massive kitchen a chef would be envious of (and John is a chef – yes he was envious), hot water, and best of all, a toilet that you were allowed to flush paper down. We had only planned on spending one night in Granada but ended up staying 5 because it was so nice there. The only bad thing was the church bells – they started at about 5.30 am and went on for ages and rang every 15 minutes – very very loudly. Lie-ins were just a stupid fantasy. Also, Granada has this weird advertising method – people drive normal cars around blaring pop music through a PA and shouting messages, very loudly, all day. Annoying just slightly.
During our time in Granada we mainly went food shopping in the market, cooked yummy food (well John did) including a BBQ and went to the dentist. That’s about it. Granada is a gorgeous city, and I’m not normally a fan of cities. It reminded me a lot of Trinidad in Cuba.
On one of our days in Granada we decided to get our teeth whitened. We wouldn’t have normally but it was so cheap. And the dentist was really sweet. He told us, no coffee, no cola, no tea, no red wine for a week (which ends on Saturday 12th…).Then we saw him the next night when we were out for dinner (Mexican with mole sauce if you were wondering) on Gringo Street – he popped up behind us saying ‘no coffee, no cola’, he was very funny. When we were getting our teeth whitened he had the TV on channel Animal Planet, so we spent a lot of time trying not to laugh while our mouths were being held open. While Emma was having hers done on the TV was a scene in which a monkey peed on a lion. Brilliant.
On another morning in Granada a new Nicaraguan friend we’d made came knocking at the Inn so take us to see the care home for the elderly he works at. It was great to meet all the people there because seeing us was quite exciting for them, and they have life pretty hard so it was nice to make them feel better for a short time. The place was pretty grim, the wards like a WWII hospital and one mentally ill woman was locked in a shed-like toilet for hitting someone. Not pleasant. It also stank of wee, so it’s good to know it’s the same the world over! It made me think of grandma a lot and I realised (well I knew already) that she is staying in such a nice place. It made me want to do something to help them and when I get home I’ll try to do something. The boy who showed us round asked for nothing, which was quite refreshing. It was a sad experience though, a real insight into the real, non-touristy Nicaragua.
One night we decided to stay at Laguna de Apoyo, 20 mins from Granada, so we went down with Ellen and John. It’s basically a volcano crater lake that you can swim in. It was awesome. We were told about some hot springs that you can kayak to, so me and John decided to check it out (there were only two kayaks). We were told ‘Follow the edge of the crater until you get to the dry trees.’ We ended up going double the distance and having to pull up and ask at two places before stopping for a third time and asking a gardener. “Donde esta la agua caliente?” “Aqui” – right here. We looked around for a concrete pool, a little rockpool, some bubbles, anything. “Right here?” “Yes right here below where you are standing”(is what I guess he said). So we dipped back into the water and pulled our way along the spiky rocks. Finally the water felt half a degree warmer than the rest of the lake. “This must be it…” Almost two hours had passed when it should have take 15 minute to get there, but it was still cool to kayak on a volcano crater! And in hindsight the hot springs were cool (pun not intended) because it was hot water coming up from the volcano, which is pretty awesome. We spent the night here at the Monkey Hut, where Emma’s bed had bed bugs, urgh.
The next day we came back to Granada and did more of the same… basically nothing, lovely. Then we decided to go to Masaya, a market town with a volcano 10 minutes away where you can see the magma. We did the night tour so we could see the red magma, which was pretty cool although we couldn’t see as much as we’d hoped. We went in a bat cave though, those things are so cute.
That brings me up to the journey to Panama, which began at 5.45am and an 8-hour bus journey from Nicaragua to San Jose. Pretty unremarkable journey – we both slept the entire way. Got to San Jose and went to the Zamoras’ again – it was so nice to see them all again, they really are such wonderful people (and I’m not just saying that because they read this blog!).
Bus to Panama 6 hours 9am
On the bus, two hours in at 11ish, we’re told about a strike taking place among coffee and banana workers which is holding up the road. We stop in traffic (by fluke) next to a river where kids are jumping into the pool. All get off the bus to watch, one guy (from America) jumps in but slides down, not very graceful! I took off my shoes and cursed the fact that I wasn’t in my swim clothes because it’s so so hot and sunny (now about 12.30pm) – so I paddled a bit.
Then, as the traffic had gone nowhere for so long I opened up the luggage compartment and got my bikini out. Then the bus started moving! So close to going for a refreshing dip… The bus only moved about 50 metres though and we waited in traffic for a couple more hours. Sat by the side of the road and knocked coconuts out of the trees. I was quite proud that I managed to get one down and open all my myself – most delicious coconut I’ve had of course! Good fun sitting there cheering on the kids to run up the ridge and just watching the local kids play. Some people sat on the bus but there’s no air con so a little stifling.
Some nice people on the bus, an Argentinian group, chatted to Mario a bit and shared my Nutella with him. An Australian girl who thought the fact that I have a ShePee was the funniest thing she’s come across on her trip so far, a couple of Swiss girls wearing ‘onesies’ – like a top and shorts but all one garment, cursing the clothing for its awkwardness wen trying to pee outdoors (the bus has no loo). Also a Panamanian guy with his two adorable kids, a couple of American men whose Panama book Emma is currently clutching, a Canadian girl married to a Nicaraguan guy and a bunch of other people we haven’t spoken to.
I have a feeling if we don’t get to Panama today we’ll get to know everyone a lot better! It’s been a great experience though, you have to make the most of these situations and I’ve had fun. I’m right now sitting on the bus (it’s moving finally) but we have hours to go… Fortunately Emma and I stocked up on LOTS of snacks last night so we won’t go hungry, plus we thought Steve was joining us today so we bought enough food for three people. We’ll be ok. We have 2 packs of biscuits, a jar of Nutella (now half eaten) 6 bananas, 3 apples, grapes, cereal bars, white chocolate, chocolate raisins, peanuts, caramel popcorn, pizza flavoured tortillas and lots more, I can’t even remember. Steve, you’re missing out!
The bus journey has been great though, [when we’re moving] we’ve seen awesome scenery: palm trees, forests, rivers, small towns, mountains, fields, cows, not the worst place to get stranded. On the move now, but don’t think we’ll make it to Panama before the border closes. Will have to camp out somewhere.
ps, now in Sixaola on the border of Panama for the night as the border closed and we missed it!