Sunday, 24th August
We got up hot and sweaty with Granada not letting us lie in comfort. It also didn’t help that there was a power cut in the night that had not been rectified so the fan stopped working in the night and wasn’t able to cool us down in the morning. I got up and proceeded to find a shuttle-bus that would take us to San Jorge, where you get the ferry to Isla de Ometepe from. We had heard about this Ometepe place from a guy in the Antiguan hostel and he raved about it so we thought we should check it out. Ometepe is an island formed by two volcanoes rising from Lake Nicaragua, it is the largest island in Lake Nicaragua and I think the largest island within a freshwater lake in the world although I could be wrong. The two volcanoes of Concepción and Maderas are joined by a low isthmus to form one island in the shape of an hourglass. It has become a popular stop on the tourist trail through Nicaragua for it’s natural beauty, hiking, wildlife and laid back atmosphere.
After some searching and bartering with travel agencies I got fed up with their smiling and insisting that their price could not go any lower so in the end I just booked the bus through our hostel who had been good to us. There are a lot of agencies here, like Guatemala, who set about trying to make as much as they can from you. I understand this, of course, but some of the travel here is quite dispropotionally over-priced. The shuttle-bus to San Jorge, an hour journey, is $15 each in a 10-seater bus. I know that does sound cheap but when you compare it to the journey from Managua to Granada in exactly the same type of vehicle was $1 you can see my frustration! This seems to be the land of transport cost inconsistency. Anyway, I booked the bus for 1:30pm so we had some time to kill. We went out for breakfast then stopped by the launderette where we had our laundry done the other day to pick up a purse that was left in the laundry bag. Kirsty had left it in there for safe-keeping and I had failed to check the bag like I usually do before dropping it off at the laundry. Luckily my garbled Spanish alerted them to this fact and they retrieved the purse. In the process of looking for the purse that we didn’t know was definitely in the laundry at the time I found the money that I thought I had left in the Flores hotel room. So, all in all a positive you could say albeit via negative means, if that makes sense.
We had some hammock naps then was told our bus was ready for us half an hour early so we jumped up, grabbed our bags and took our seats. Air-conditioning in this one, a luxury. It was about an hour to San Jorge on the shore of Lake Nicaragua and we paid our dock fee of US$0.50 each before finding out we had just missed a ferry and had to wait another hour and a half for the next one. That wasn’t so bad though and in this time we managed to sort out our accommodation on the island and transport to the hostel through a guy in the docks. The journey aboard the ‘Ferry Che Guevara’ was a nice ride and an hour of steady, smooth steaming towards Isla de Ometepe with the view of the twin volcanos through the window. We arrived and our ride was there as promised so we jumped inside another mini-bus for a 45 minutes ride to the village of Santa Cruz and our hostel for this night at least – ‘Hostel Santa Cruz’. That night we read, thought about what we night do here and survived two power-cuts. We have arrived in yet another town with not much clue as to what one does here but we’ll see to that tomorrow.
Monday, 25th August
We had a lazy morning here as the scenery and surroundings encourage. A lot of people here go on hikes, climb up volcanos and sail or paddle somewhere on the lake but to be honest we are not here to do any of that energetic stuff. It’s just nice to be in around nature and out of a town or city. We have amazing views down to the lake and up to the volcano from our hostel and are quite happy taking these in and going for the occasional walk about town. Santa Cruz itself is no more than a kiosk selling drinks and a couple of houses. After coffee and breakfast at our hostel we set off for Balgue, a town further along the road, only 2km away or so. This is where we intended to stay but we weren’t organised enough to sort out accommodation before we came so ended up in Santa Cruz. Anyway, we set off on our walk and passed by pigs, horses, dogs and chickens all roaming the roadside verge for food. It feels very rural here. Balgue itself is not much bigger than Santa Cruz and after checking out a hostel there we are very happy with where we are even if it costs a bit more than we would usually pay but then the view is worth it I think. Balgue is closer to the lakes edge and we stopped at a roadside shack for a coke and rest and cool-off with pigs and chickens bustling about around us right on the lakeside. We wander how they know hows beast is whose. Especially the chickens that don’t seem that easy to tell apart. The ‘beach’ here is volcanic and so a dark gritty sand, not that appealing and think we may opt to swim in the freshwater swimming holes inland rather than the lake itself.
On the way back we stopped at a cafe (‘Cafe Campestre’) that wouldn’t be out of place in Daylesford or Borough Market. The menu was mouth-watering and they served up a range of meals all prepared using ingredients from their kitchen garden and farm. We had a couple of smoothies, a dahl and chilli con carne served with maize tortillas. We have made a note to come back to this place, it was totally unexpected but totally delicious. There are shacks serving up snacks and drinks here and there but we haven’t seen a place like this for a while, maybe going back to the States. I guess it says a bit about those that frequent this island and what they are after. We haven’t seen any ‘moon classes’ or ‘crystal workshops’ but plenty of organic farms and ‘eco-lodge’ hostels.
Once back at the hostel we snared the rocking chairs with the best view of the lake and volcano and set about not doing much whilst watching the sun go down. The bird-life here is amazing. I am not normally one for birds but they do impress here. I have my binoculars with me and spent a good hour or so watching the native bird-life. This is apparently a haunt for ‘twitchers’ and I managed to get sight of a woodpecker and a blue-tailed magpie. As the sun disappeared over the horizon we could see a lightning storm in the distance before heading to bed.