Prologue to Ometepe
Once again I have an awful lot to say about things and Ometepe is no exception. I have a lot to get off my chest. In fact this is a tale of two halves. Hang on to your seats and enjoy part one of the journey.
Caught up in a Mexican wave of tourism fever
Anyone who knows me will know that I’m really not that fussed about tourism. After a while one leaf in a botanical garden begins to look very much like the next, one monument is much the same as the other. I’m in Nicaragua wanting to see the country through the people rather than through excursions. I leave touring to the people around me.
However, we had a long weekend and after several weekends of torrential rain and being holed up in Granada I too got tourism fever. It started to listen to a murmur that said you’ve got to go to Ometepe by the time we got to the long weekend it was a roar in my ears. GO TO OMETEPE. I was going to Ometepe or there’d be MURDER. That’s where I should have left it – right there: an idea, a thought, a concept. I should have taken two aspirin and lay down in a darkened room. But, oh no, I thought I’d dabble in the drug of tourism. After all, what’s the harm in visiting yet more volcanoes and scaling more unwalkable tracks? It could be exciting, maybe an adventure would be thrown in. Something to write about. So, I went to Ometepe which is said to be the world’s largest island to be found within fresh waters. Bully for Ometepe.
On the crest of a wave
To get to Ometepe you can take a ferry from Granada but there are very few each week and only a single crossing on the day the boat sails. Another option is to go by ferry from San Jorge which is about an hour from Granada. We opted for the second route. We being: myself, Teresa and the young 20-something Sara. Rather than catching a bus we paid Mr Big who has several modes of transport in Granada. I don’t mean Mr Big in the Sex-and-City way but in the old-school-wheeler-dealer-geezer-with-his-fingers-in-lots-of-pies way.
The crossings between San Jorge and Ometepe were probably the highlights for me as there were beautiful views of the island’s two volcanoes – Concepción and Maderas. The thing about Nicaragua is as well as plenty of lakes and waterways there are also umpteen volcanoes – some of them active.
Tales of the sweet-talking 4×4 tour operator
We fell for the words of a guy at a tourism office at San Jorge. He offered us a fabulous 4×4 trip (to be known from this point onwards as the F4x4T) around Ometepe on the Friday. The terrain is extremely difficult to get around in many parts, especially after rain.
We’d go to both parts of the figure-of-eight island taking in the two volcanoes, Ojo del Agua – a place where you can bathe in the waters which have therapeutic qualities (and there was a woman there in the water with a bar of soap!!!), Charco Verde, la Cascada de San Ramon – wow, it was going to be amaaaaazing. You can see where I’m going with this can’t you?
That weekend was a long one: literally and figuratively. Lots of volunteers and tourists were heading to Ometepe. There aren’t many hotels on the island so we perused the guidebooks and discovered that there was a highly recommended hotel but Teresa’s guidebook gave two hotels one called Ometepe and the other called Ometeptl. We opted for the latter as both guidebooks gave it the thumbs up and said there was a swimming pool. Hey, we could dip a toe in the pool before heading off on the adventures we had planned. We arrived at Moyogalpa which turned out to be a couple of streets and a ferry port and very little else. I’m a city girl, a townie and I’d used all my reserves to deal with Granada. Mind you, this hub of activity known as Moyogalpa did have an Eskimo icecream parlour which is a must anywhere in Nicaragua. A man approached us and insisted on showing us to the hotel Ometeptl. Having just battled a throng of people trying to sell us tours and taxi rides as we stepped off the ferry we were a little dubious. It seems Lester, as he was called, was not a conman. The guidebooks were the con.
Hotel, motel, holidaaay innnnnn
Hmmm. I decided to re-read the actual text of the guidebook. Apparently, the hotel we’d chosen was at the top-end. The top end of what exactly? I’m not quite sure. The top end of a very long bottom, if you ask me. I’d say it made a hotel in which I stayed for a diarrhoea-stricken 12 days in Nigeria seem on a par with that 7-star number in Dubai. Note to self: the guidebook will be relegated to standby toilet paper. Having said that, it’s not even up to the quality of the toilet paper here which is as good as any First World country. To be fair, the man who ran the hotel was lovely and he did his best to cater for us but once again I had been carried away with optimism.
Where it said colourful I assumed it meant colourful and yes-you’ll-be-happy-to-lay-your-weary-head-on-the-sheets-and-place-your-flip-flopped-feet-in-the-shower kind of colourful. Oh dear. For a start there was no way I was going to do any yoga on those floors (more days when my yoga practice would become a mental rather than physical one). Heaven knows what kind of creature would have been joining me for savasana. I never recovered from the Ashtanga yoga mouse that joined me for a session in my flat in London. Believe you me, I moved out at the speed of lightning and took up Bikram yoga years later.
The F4x4T delay
Remember Lester? He’s the man who appeared at hotel the instant we arrived – a bit like Mr Benn (1970s, BBC TV children’s animation As if by magic, a shopkeeper appeared…”). He talked of the F4x4T and we were giddy with excitement. He explained that because of the elections there’d be no buses around the island on the Saturday so it was better that we did the tour then instead of on the Friday. He suggested we took in Altagracia on the Friday. Sara and Teresa suggested that we took a bus to Museo el Ceibo first – something to do with ancient artefacts – and then head to Altagracia.
In and out of the museum
The best museum I’ve ever been to was the Egyptian Museum in Cairo – I was blown away by how advanced the Egyptians were in the times of the Pharoahs – needles made of gold, operations and adjustable beds!
But a continent away in Central America El Museo de Ceibo is allegedly a must-see – at least that’s the impression I got. I’ll tell you now, it had a lot to live up to. We got off the bus and walked down a dirt track which went on for miles. Half an hour and several more buckets of sweat later we were there. Actually, there are times when I think I don’t need to fret about not maintaining my Bikram practice to its London heights – Nicaragua is one big sweatathon.
Three or four members of staff were standing around an empty finca-type structure. Roofs are a scarcity in Nicaragua. Open plan has a different meaning.
There was, of course, a bit of a to-do on arrival. I’d said I believed there was a $5 entrance fee. Teresa said she believed it was free but added that she wouldn’t be paying a bean and we could go inside and she’d wait for us to report back to her on our return (comedy actress needed to play Teresa in the film – maybe Tina Fey). The entrance fee was $4. Teresa refused to pay. Teresa debated with the staff for about 10 minutes and then continued the debate with myself and Sara for another five minutes. We were then distracted by a very interesting documentary/promotional video on Ometepe. Another highlight because it showed us the delightful adventures we could have on the island. Buoyed by the film and the fact that there was at least another hour and half before the next bus we paid the $4 entrance fee.
It was nice enough. Not the Cairo museum by any stretch of the imagination. One Pre-colombino pot blended into another and I was relieved when it was done and dusted. I did feel for the guides, though. The low-season must be quite boring for them and the poor things have to deal with stroppy foreigners to boot.
The metropolis of Altagracia
My Spanish must have been on a different plane during this trip because I had the firm belief there was something to see in Altagracia. The distinct impression that it was a place worth visiting. I took my glasses on and off several times before stopping to polish them just in case the foggy lenses were clouding my vision. It turned out to be even less lively, if that was at all possible, than Moyogalpa. When I re-read the guidebook (please note I did a lot of re-reading of those pages that weekend) I noticed it actually said that Altagracia was more of a stop-gap or base-camp for those people climbing the volcanoes.
Let’s face it neither myself nor Teresa were planning anything adventurous. She came to Nicaragua with mops and I arrived with anti-bacterial wipes. I suspect Sara would have scaled a mountain or two if she’d had the chance and the equipment. A dander around the block and some food was all we could achieve in this little town. We ended up eating at a training-restaurant – that’s the only way I can think to describe it. There were students who were practising serving one another. None of us got the same answer to the same question about what fish was available. Unfotunately, I opted for the fried fish fillets – not the best option.
The crazy woman of Altagracia
While we waited an age for our food I learned a new word – zumbado/zumbada which means crazy. Why? Because the Crazy Woman of Altagracia arrived at our table. She was American and had probably been a rock chick in her day. She launched into a very bizarre story about hurting her leg in some incident with a canoe, getting liquid (read alcohol although she didn’t say the words) into her computer, everything being expensive ie a $7 a night hotel, and something about a friend (a rock bloke in his day). When I asked her where she was from she was extremely evasive. We then had a disagreement about the casino influence of the US but in the same breath she told me there was no love lost between her and the USA. I never got to the bottom of her self-imposed exile. Probably a gangster’s moll or maybe she was hiding from the IRS.
We decided to give here a wide berth but bumped into her again at a dilapidated church we had decided to look around. She told us what we thought were mouse dropping were bat droppings. Bats’, mice, rats’ excrement, neither Teresa, Sara nor I were going near it. I saw Zumbada again in Granada a few weeks ago. I hid.
Black is not so black and white
No, I did not like Altagracia. Worse still a bloke who seemed to think he could speak English said: “Where are you from, Black?” I erupted into a shuttle launch and told him (in Spanish) that if he was going to use English he needed to use it properly and not to address me in that manner. I then complained to a lovely woman who was standing next to me at the bus stop. She agreed. I believe she agreed freely. This woman was a very beautiful serene being for whom I instantly felt deep compassion. She was involved in workshops with other women in the area and could have done with some funding to set up the craft cooperative she talked about. I hope the support comes her way.
Part two: singing in the rain, why 4×4 didn’t compute, the waterfalls, beaches lemons and fishermen that weren’t and more including calling time on the Nica Libre.
To be continued…