Isla de Ometepe
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After descending down from the highlands of Monteverde and the simplicity of life in those foggy hills, we spent a wildly hectic day of travel as we descended the rain soaked hillside and caught a series of buses to the Nicaraguan border. That was essentially chaos. Our second case of thievery struck in the form of my digital camera gone from my pocket, but it was out of battery and on the fritz anyway, so an excuse for a new camera emerged from it I guess.
Our liaison across the border became an entrepreneurial 12 year old boy who directed us through all of the proper channels and passport documentation and lines. He led us through a “shortcut” hole in a chainlink fence to the other side of a dusty barrier wall, and pointed us to our correct bus north to the town of Rivas. This was sketchy. It was way sketchy. I was beyond uncomfortable seeing as we were freshly robbed and entering the second poorest nation in the western hemisphere (behind Haiti) while being escorted by a child with obviously his own agenda. Amazingly it all worked out as planned, and we just barely made our connection in Rivas to the port to catch the last ferry of the day to Isla de Ometepe in the center of Lake Nicaragua, the largest body of fresh water in all of Central America. On the taxi ride across the island to our lakeside hotel (recommended to us by our taxi driver), the spirit and hospitality of the Nicaraguan people became immediately apparent as our taxi driver had his wife and daughter accompany us on the evening journey, and in Spanish we conversed of life and love and the high hopes for the future of Nicaragua. Mired in political chaos for decades by the Sandinistas, the majority of the Nicaraguan people now seem to possess a hope for the nation that, with tourism at its core, will revitalize the nation into the grandeur it hasn’t experienced since the Spanish colonial days where the cities of Leon and Granada flourished under newfound Latin American riches.
Once on Ometepe, we relaxed in the hammocks on the shore of Lake Nicaragua (which you would think was an ocean if you didn’t know any better…also home to the only fresh water sharks in the world) and feasted on rice and bean platters while observing exotic birds seated in the shade of nearby palms. We took a ride late in the day on rickety bikes rented from a hotel next door and encountered the depths of poverty down a dirt road that doubles as the main highway. Entire generations crammed into 1 room mud shacks all burning banana leaves out front to fend off the near constant mosquitoes. 7 year old girls drive malnourished mules back from the banana fields with bundles of sticks for firewood and a crop that didn’t yield as strong as hoped for. Finally at the end of the road, of all things, we encountered a rodeo. And wouldn’t you know that our camera had died. Hundreds of people gathered in a makeshift arena to watch liquored up men make meager attempts to sit atop a steer from a local ranch. There wasn’t much actual roping or riding going on, but it was definitely a happening social event and there were some good tortillas being served, so I naturally indulged. All in all it was a very telling bike ride and an incredibly eye opening experience. It’s weird to think that as I write this right now those people are huddles somewhere on that rural dirt road.