Stranded on the island, Ometepe: The best of Nicaragua
Ometepe is a small island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua. The island is home to twin volcanoes. The two volcanoes are known as Volcán Concepción and Volcán Maderas, aka Fire and Water. With a base of 16 kilometres, Volcán Concepción is an active volcano on the northwest half of the island. Its last eruption was only in 2010! On the opposite side of the island, on the southside is Maderas, which is kinda the calmer, more laid-back younger sibling of Concepción. Maderas is also an active volcano, however, its last eruption was 3000 years ago! Maderas is surrounded by a lush rainforest and on its summit, a crater lagoon has formed where you can swim, pretty cool hey!
To get to Ometepe, I knew I had to take a shuttle from Grenada to the ferry point in San Jorge. At this point, I was still very much at the beginning of my trip and really had no direction whatsoever, so most of my directive was coming from what other people were telling me and of course, the information provided by the hostels. I had heard about Ometepe and wanted to go, so I walked around Grenada to see if I could find where to book the bus. A few days before this, I had got chatting to a local guy called Manny who organised various excursion, so I headed up to Main Street to find him to ask him what time and how much. I found him instantly, in fact, he found me... I could hear him calling my name from a block down before I could even see him!
He said there was a bus leaving at 10 am and 12 pm. It was now 9.45 am and all my stuff was still at the hostel which was 8km away. I wouldn't have had enough time to get there and back so I said I'd take the 12 pm. I then went to the ATM to get some cash. As I came out, I could hear Manny calling me again, as he ran across the road, waving his hands in the air. He was shouting to tell me I could get on the bus that was leaving now. He had arranged for the driver to take me back to my hostel to pick up my bags and then the bus would take me to San Jorge. Manny, you absolute gem!
I have to say, I just found all of the local people in Grenada so kind and hospitable. I was there prior to the 2018 - 2020 protests, so I have no idea what state the country is in now, but I send my love and compassion out to all Nicaraguans.
The ferry ride over to Ometepe was about an hour and a half. Because of the size of the volcano, it didn't look too far away, so we all questioned why it would take that long, but as soon as you reached the other side and looked back at the mainland, you could see that it looked much further away then we initially thought.
I arrived in Moyogaupa, which is a town on the north side of the island, and took a tuk-tuk to my hostel, which was called Hostel Life is Good. The hostel was a quiet and cosy place about 5km from the main town. I must add the main town was nothing more than one street of restaurants and shops.
It's a big island, it takes around an hour and a half at least to get from one side to the other and the only way to get around is by moped, scooter, or quad. By now you must have gotten a gauge of the kind of person I am, so you will know the same thing that I know... and that is, I cannot be trusted to handle any of the said modes of transport without supervision, so I decided to hire my own personal tour guide! I don't think that is a real thing, by the way, I happened to ask a couple of local guys outside the moped shop if I could hire a driver with my moped and one of them jumped up and said he would do it. Anyway, to cut a long story short, it turns out I hired the local alcoholic, and by 10 am he was on his third beer, which I obviously was not ok with. I had to tell him off and like a naughty schoolboy, he hung his head and apologised and of course, didn't have another drink for the rest of the day.
My last day in Ometepe, we had a power cut at the hostel. I was planning to leave the island in the afternoon and asked the owner if he knew the ferry schedule. He told me that due to high winds, only two ferries would be running today but no one knew what time they'd leave.
So I quickly packed up all my stuff and checked out. I was surprised to find that for two nights accommodation, laundry, a beer, one rum and coke, a slow-cooked beef meal, one bottle of water, and coffee had only cost me $19! I paid for the hostel and asked them to book me a tuk-tuk to take me to the ferry. I'm so lazy and my bag was so heavy that I couldn't be bothered to do the 15-minute walk down.
When I got to the ferry port, it was packed full of people. Some had been waiting since 8 am for the ferry. The ticket office was closed so no one could buy tickets. After asking many people, I found that because of the wind, there may or may not be one running. So I sat and waited anyway.
If I am honest, it didn't feel all that windy. I remember thinking to myself, the locals should take a trip down to Bognor Regis on a normal day... they'd soon see that the winds they were experiencing were nothing more than a light breeze, but evidently, at that point, the issue was more on the other side at San Jorge and because of the shape of the harbour and it would have been too dangerous to land the boat... is that what you call it? Park it? I have no idea. It did also really pick up late in the evening, the wind was howling outside my hostel window.
I had waited all day only to be told that no ferry was going. By now most people had already given up hope and gone off to find a bed for the night. Most of the hostels were fully booked by the time I had left the port, I was holding out to the bitter end, like a numpty but I managed to find a room at the Hotel Casa Familiar. It was very basic but the bed and pillows were comfortable. The power was out on the island for the whole night, which meant no wifi, no cold beers, and no street lights.
The power did come on briefly for about 10 minutes which gave me the chance to hop online to message my mum to let her know I was safe. Only a few restaurants were open, I guess they were the lucky ones running on a backup generator, however, with that being said... still the beers weren't cold!
I had an early night, after setting my alarm for 4.50 am. There had been talk about a boat possibly leaving the island at 6 am or maybe 5.30 am, or maybe not at all - welcome to Latin America, no one really knows what a schedule is. The wind howled throughout the night and I was 'lucky' enough to be sharing a dorm room with a 'snorer.' The loud nasal noise was coming from a couple, however, I am not sure whether it was the girl or the boy that was making the horrendous sound!
I woke up at 5 am, quickly washed and dressed, and left the hostel to go to the ferry port. It was pitch black outside and still no power. The hostel was only a 5-minute walk from the dock, so with my huge heavy backpack, off I trotted down the hill. When I reached the port, there were already a lot of people there waiting.
The locals had parked two big lorries by the entrance of the port, which was normally just an open walkabout space, I assume this was to keep people in a 'queue' of some kind, rather than just rushing in a huge mass. This was a great idea... until the drivers decided to turn on the engines and pretty much gas the entire crowd out! I have no idea why they would do that, my only thought was it was a ploy to weed out the weak. The smell was so awful and strong and my eyes were burning, tears falling down my cheeks. Refusing to lose my precious spot, I used the top flap of my 'front backpack' to cover my nose and mouth.
I have no idea what it would feel like to be an illegal immigrant, but I would imagine this setting was pretty close. I will tell you why - picture this... it's dark, hundreds of people are gathered at a ferry point, crammed behind two big lorries, trying desperately to get on a boat, no one had any idea what was happening but you got the feeling that at any moment, the masses of travellers would start running towards the boat.
It didn't quite happen that way, although it wasn't far off. Once people had bought a ticket, they did run as fast as they could to the boat to ensure they were on and getting off the island! I queued for an hour and a half to get my ticket and I most definitely felt like Charlie as I waved my 'golden ticket' in the air, skipping to the boat.
It was so much more dramatic than it should have been, it was like a scene from a movie where there has been an alien invasion or a virus outbreak (is that inappropriate to joke about?) and people were desperately trying to flee ground zero. I mean, yeah there was an active lava volcano behind us but it wasn't about to erupt or anything, but that is human nature for you when we feel threatened or trapped, we panic.
I had spoken to some people, who had flights home to catch, most missed those flights and had to pay for another in order to get back to their motherland.
When the ferry finally left the port at 7 am, I looked back at the dock and saw there were still lots of people queuing who hadn't made the boat. I felt awful for them and hoped there would be another boat to take them that day. All in all, Ometepe was a lovely place to visit and I recommend allowing yourself a few days to explore the island, and of course, allow for any high winds that may impact other travel plans!