Nagrando once fell in love with the pretty chief daughter of a quarreling tribe: Ometeptl. Love between the two was forbidden. Out of pure despair, the two lovers opened their wrists, their blood flowed freely and filled an entire valley. This is what the legend tells. This valley is known today as Lake Nicaragua, one of the largest lakes in the world. Almost fifteen times the size of Lake Constance, it looks like an endless sea when we reach it in the afternoon. Isla Ometepe glistens on the horizon with its two volcanoes Madera and Conception in the evening sun. The volcanoes Maderas and Conception form the Isla Ometepe in the middle of this gigantic lake.
The volcano Conception appears mightily in front of us
We came by bus from the Costa Rican Alajuela near San Jose. A really bad five-hour serpentine bus ride for the stomach (Transporte Deldu, 8.00 USD (approx.7.21 Euro)) to Peñas Blancas, a not very cheap border crossing (8.00 USD (approx.7.21 Euro) on the Costa Rican side, USD 13.00 (approx. EUR 11.71 on the Nicaraguan side) and a more relaxed taxi ride to the ferry to San Jorge (USD 6.00 (approx. EUR 5.41) per person) led to the ferry dock on Lake Nicaragua, where the ferry is already calm in the water.
After about an hour’s drive with the sun behind us, we land at the pier in Moyogalpa and consciously enter Nicaraguan soil for the first time after our somewhat hasty entry (we still wanted to get the ferry). Immediately after arriving in Moyogalpa on Isla Ometepe we are courted by a horde of busy Nicaraguans, but to buy this and that or to sleep here and there please thank you with a smile and make our way towards ours Accommodation for the coming days. We pass restaurants, supermarkets, bars and cafés and quickly notice: Tourism has found its way here. But – and we like that very much – by no means everywhere on the island. More on that later.
“Mauro, Mauro, Mauro” it sounds from afar when we turn onto the courtyard of Casa Mauro, packed with backpacks. Before the owner, his name is also Mauro, of course, can greet us, a cute but damn annoying parrot does it for him: “Mauro, Mauro, Mauro.” Sometimes he also has “Abuela” (grandmother), “Gracias” (Thanks) or various clicks on it. However, this is only sweet as long as it doesn’t happen at night or in a loop. Just so much: Murder plans were drawn up by me on Ometepe in the days, but rejected again for the love of animals …
Without a scooter, nothing goes to Ometepe
Oh, what I was looking forward to riding a scooter in advance! Tried it for the first time on Ko Phangan and learned to love it in Pai, here on Ometepe I can’t wait to go back over the islands with the sun on my face! If you find out about renting scooters on Ometepe on the Internet, you will find that you should actually stop doing so as many landlords are out to tricks tourists (pretend damage, withhold bail, collect passport, etc.) to pull the money out of your pocket. You know that at Casa Mauro and go there a different way: We as guests of the house can rent scooters without a deposit (20.00 USD (approx. 18.02 Euro) per day) and because Mauro has such a damn good day ( or a guilty conscience because he kept us waiting), he also bought us the gasoline.
Ometepe consists of two islands connected by a headland, each with a volcano: Conception on the western and Maderas on the eastern side of the island. An extremely well developed and completely pothole-free main road just invites you to explore this island. While you can comfortably ride a scooter around Conception, you need a quad (ATV) or a motorcycle around Maderas. After we have had a good night’s sleep, we start the day with a scooter. Our destinations today are the beaches of Ometepe, the volcanic mineral spring Ojo de Agua and just a little heat over the island …
Keep your eyes open in traffic
As wonderful as the roads are, as idyllic as this whole island is: there are all sorts of animals on the streets: horses, cows, dogs, pigs, chickens … sometimes alone, sometimes in packs and herds. The people here drive very consciously, but the animals are a problem in traffic, Mauro explains later. Most traffic accidents result from collisions with cows and horses in the dark. For a while, the island police caught the animals and set them back on the hoof for a fine of around 18 USD. However, the horses in particular were no longer worth the bus money to many islanders, and the police station overflowed with horses and cows in such a way that they left it again. Unfortunately, the problem has still not been solved since then.
If you leave Moyogalpa in a south-easterly direction, the Inselringstrasse leads only about a kilometer after the town center onto a wide asphalt track. Yes, exactly, suddenly you stand with your little mop in the middle of an “airport”, the street simply crosses the runway. Regional planes land here twice a week, but the construction of the intersection – which comes as a surprise – is too risky for the larger airlines.
The “airport” of Ometepe …… is right on the water.
As touristy as Moyogalpa may be, just a few meters after the last houses in the village and the dubious airport, it is damned pristine. We meet people on old horses with and without carts, people on a truck with cows (who like to tip over in curves) or in the famous chicken buses in Central America. These are discarded American school buses that are used here as public buses in all countries. They owe their name to the fact that poultry that live once (and less live) are also taken there and that the bus ride can sometimes be an adventure.
If you drive through here, you feel like you are on another planet and in a different time. The differences between Germany, our homeland, and Nicaragua could hardly be greater. Some of the houses hardly deserve the name, the rubbish is burned in the backyards, the dogs stray across the streets, there is no electricity here. And yet, and we like it here so much, people smile. They are happy, hardworking, polite and courteous. They take pictures of us, then we take pictures of them. When a pig almost gets under our wheels, they laugh and wave to us warmly. A warmth that we have sorely missed in Costa Rica and Panama.
Beaches and springs on Isla Ometepe
Even if Ometepe is an island, we are looking for beaches in vain. In our case, this is due to the fact that it has rained so much in the past few weeks at the end of the rainy season (October / November) that the lake has simply swallowed the beaches. In the dry season the sea level drops and the wide sandy beaches appear. The lake is so huge that there are even real waves for surfing and you can’t see any country even on the horizon on the north side of the island. And everything is fresh water, that’s really awesome! We still discover a small remnant of a actually very large beach, switch off the scooter and enjoy the sinking sun in the face at over 30 degrees.
Swinging back on the scooter, a few chickens startled on the street, we roll into the parking lot of the volcano spring Ojo de Agua a few minutes later. For 5.00 USD (about 4.50 euros) entry (steep) you can relax your tense muscles in a volcanic thermal spring and escape the meanwhile 35 degrees, because the spring is pleasantly cool. Unfortunately, however, it is also disappointingly solidly concreted and therefore looks more like an overpriced swimming pool. There are also plenty of tables and chairs around it, which fill up with the progressing afternoon with American tourists, who tend to be a bit loud in groups drinking beer. Still, the pool is a welcome cool down on our scooter ride, and it’s definitely big enough to find its own little corner to relax.
The best for last: We climb the conception!
Of course, we saved the best for last. Already during our trip around the island we looked in awe at the conception, the top of which is always surrounded by clouds, and asked ourselves more than once how crazy we could be to climb up there.
And so we are drowsy at six in the morning with our great guide Danilo and our (later highly esteemed) hiking sticks on the roadside and look towards the volcano. However, before we can get to the base of the mountain, we have to hike an hour through the plains and two hours through the jungle. Already in the jungle it is leisurely uphill, the climate makes us struggling between the dense foliage: Even at around seven in the morning it is almost 30 degrees with almost 100% humidity. On the way we discover capuchin monkeys, spider monkeys and howler monkeys. Danilo casually mentions that there are also snakes here whose bite kills after 20 minutes. And we discover wasps that are so big that their stings in the throat would immediately suffocate us. Thanks for the warning, it’s too late now …
After a little less than three hours of jungle hike, we reach the tree line. The jungle changes into alpine plants and at some point the vegetation ends and it starts to get windy. So windy that even my 80kg or more make me sway more than once. You can hardly even think of quiet photography here: safety comes first.
The path ends here and the loose rubble begins. If we didn’t know exactly why it is compulsory to do this hike with a guide, we now appreciate Danilo even more. “Every step can be your last here if you don’t pay close attention to where you are going,” he tells us in his relaxed, funny way. As with the snakes before, we think: this information the day before, that would be good been nice, right? On steep inclines like this, we take his warning away without grumbling:
Here the air becomes thinner and breathing becomes more difficult. Carefree jungle hiking becomes walking with a stick. Then later it gets so slippery and steep that we have to leave the sticks and continue to pull ourselves up with our hands.
We are now in the cloud layer and can only see a few meters away. The moisture from the cloud settles on the already loose lava scree and makes climbing even more difficult. Well, at least you can’t see through the cloud that we are more than a thousand meters deep behind us. If mom knew what we were doing here …
Then up here the stones suddenly become warm, even hot. Now we also have to be careful where we reach. Our guide shows us the way here too. We are at the limit. I keep buckling because my leg muscles give way and just don’t want to anymore. It smells of sulfur, which rises in the head and nebulizes the senses. With serious last strength, completely soaked and furrowed by the wind, we finally reach the summit after almost seven hours of non-stop hiking and climbing and as if it were a gift from the volcano, the clouds suddenly clear and give the magnificent view over Ometepe, Lake Nicaragua and feel the whole world free …