Isla de Ometepe, visit to a place without paradigm

Sometimes traveling brings up alternatives you have not forseen. Accept them, follow the path of the unknown like I did in Nicaragua, exploring Isla de Ometepe with two adventurers from NZ and UK. It was one of the most exciting parts of my travels in Latin America and I learned to accept, that you have to adjust to what is possible and make the best out of it. Sometimes leaving the path, refusing your plan brings up new opportunities which are more valuable than what you planned primarily.

It is May 1st at 6:00 am. Conrad, Sam and me sit at the center of Playa Gigante, waiting for the daily bus back to Rivas. Normally it should leave at this time… Seems like the 1st of May is a holiday in Nicaragua as well. There is a bus which is not locked and two hammocks hang around inside, and the guys decide to claim them and make themselves comfortable. Not even two minutes later another guy steps into the bus and tells us to get the fuck outta there. He is angry and tells us, the bus is private and there will be no service to Rivas today. Fuck it, we could have spent the morning surfing and have left later…!

Some nice people of the village help us out, they call Omar, the local taxi driver, who works all the time, if you demand him to. 30 minutes later he is there, tells us immediately he has to pick up another girl, “una chica muy hermosa”. It is common in Nicaragua that the left over spots in a taxi are filled with people. She is a nice girl and Sam, me in the middle and her have to share the back of the car. Conrad is the only one of us speaking proper Spanish so he gets the front seat. He is the tallest of us anyways. Omar is communicative, tells us lots of stories and when he drops the girl in Rivas, he continues talking to the family where he drops her off. You should always plan ahead when you travel, since that happens a lot over here – it is quite comparable to my experience with our driver back to Panamá City from San Blas. Plan enough time to get from one place to another, not that you miss your plane or ferry!

There we are, in San Jorge where all the ferries to Isla de Ometepe leave. An hour later we have boarded and are on our way. A fresh breeze goes over Lake Nicaragua, which is actually impressively big for a fresh water lake, looks a bit like the sea! The island will be our destination for this day, and it’s still quite early. The boys want to catch another ferry in the evening, making their way into the backcountry of Nicaragua. I want to continue to Granada the next day. So far the plans…

When we are in San José del Sur a lady starts to bend our ears, wants to lure us into her hostel. She tells the guys there won’t be a ferry for the next days to the backcountry and there won’t be the direct ferry to Granada, because of the holidays. Of course we don’t believe her, we assume it is just a trick to lure us into a three day hostel stay. But we negotiate with her that she takes us to Altagracia on the back of her pickup truck. It is just $10, or 250 Córdoba for quite a long ride. The boys learn from some other locals that the lady was right and there won’t be any service this day. So we continue to Santa Cruz by bus, where we stay at a small, family run hostel, close to Playa Santo Domingo which looks like a carribean beach.

We rent some bikes and start to cycle around. It is very hot, the sweat rinses, the landscape is impressive and our destination is the Ojo de Agua – the eye of water. On our way we see some monkeys and several beautiful birds. The landscape is dry, the vulcanos Conceptión and Maderas arise masterful over the island. After half of an hour we are there and this place has some mysterious charme. A statue reminds of the days long time passed, when the land was still populated by Nahuatl indians. Lots of paradise birds fly around, vulcano Conceptión seems to be close and the water of the natural pool is turquoise and very refreshing. The whole place has a peaceful atmosphere. There are many local families enjoying the dip in the pool, which is replenished by an underwater fountain. The day flies by in a snap and the guys meet a girl, they already met somewhere else on their trip. It’s a great experience to travel with those laid back dudes.

At night Conrad and me attend a party in another hostel around. He met another guy in the afternoon, who he knows from back in the day and we are having a good time at this party. The plan is that the boys continue their trip to Costa Rica the next day. The party is crazy and fun, all the guys are dressed up like ladies albeit from Conrad and me. I meet an interesting guy from former West-Berlin, who travels since 16 years without a break and who lives on Ometepe since over one year. I find myself totally destroyed in a hammock and when someone jumps on me, I have the feeling I should go home… I decide to follow the guys back to Costa Rica, I want to give it a try to meet up with Dani, before I have to leave Latin America, there is not much time left anymore…

The next morning I contact her. She is really curious, as I am, to meet up in Costa Rica. We don’t know where yet, we just know we will meet this evening. I propose to meet up in Cañas, tell her I will be there around 3:00 pm, if everything will be going smooth at the border. She tells me that she leaves immediately to make it on time and that she is going to wait at a friends house until I arrive. This is the most adventurous part of my trip – I somehow wonder about myself since I have to catch my flight from Managua in four days – I am exited, let my plans go, enjoy doing it. I just follow my instinct and the will to devote the next days to adventure. Before our ferry leaves back to Rivas, we enjoy breakfast together.

Guys, without your adventurous and laid back spirit influencing me, I might never have deviated my path of travel, you taught me a valuable lesson just by letting me come with you, thank you. It was great traveling with you and I hope we meet again some day in the future!

Surfing el paraiso en Nicaragua!

Nicaragua is different from Panama and Costa Rica. There is barely any trace of tourism and the people are very nice. Playa Gigante is a great place to visit, but you should go there to appreciate the sports and underwater life, not for partying. The Nicaraguans in the village still live very traditional – I hope you show them the necessary respect when you go there! The kids are great surfers and I bet we will see some of them becoming pros.

An hour after my arrival at the Playa Gigante I have done all the check-in. For my sake I am able to pay up my stay and the food I consume with my credit card – since I don’t have too much cash on me anymore due to the cab ride – this feels like lots of money when you are used to get a full dinner for around two dollars. I will stay the next two nights in a hammock, in a high room without air condition, for seven dollars a night. That’s great and actually what I was looking for. I get a locker and place all my stuff, get me a big bottle of Toñar, a Nicaraguan beer and chill out. It’s a most peaceful mood and the sun sets over the Pacific.

Dani writes me on WhatsApp and we have a lively English / Spanish conversation while the night takes over and the rum starts to make me tipsy. I enjoy a local dinner for pilgrims, which is just two dollars and very tasty. From time to time the power goes down and up again. When it is totally dark I decide to have a swim, naked, it’s awesome! When I lie in my hammock later I can hear the roaring “thunder” of the Pacific, it’s powerful, and a great experience to fall asleep like that.

It’s around 5:30 am when I wake up the next morning. I walk around and take a closer look at the beach. There is not much, mainly just the beach which is most beautiful. My breakfast are cereals with fresh and tasty fruits from the region. I could really get used to this, although I have never really been into breakfast!

I try to rent a surfboard but the guy tells me that there was a group of Americans the last week who broke three of his boards and he doubts my skills and is obviously worried that he will lose just another board. I guarantee him to stick to his advice and that I am a pretty good snowboarder who knows about the dangers of those action focussed sports and that my surfing skills are acceptable for doing it just as short as I do (it will be my 12th time). He agrees to rent a board to me after lunch, says that the surf will be better in the afternoon anyways. So I go snorkeling for the time in between and what I see totally overwhelms me. The current is strong and I have to struggle to get close to the cliffs. Again I really regret not to have a GoPro. There is a mooray eel feasting directly on the cliffs without any fear. It is a white mooray with black spots, one I have never seen before. Different kind of fugu is swimming around, the ones with stings and some without. I see some really colorful and big emperor fish and so many more animals in those 45 minutes it’s unbelievable! The only thing I miss are colorful corals, there are basically none – especially if I compare my snorkeling experience from San Blas – but what I see is new and the fearlessness of those fish is sapid. For my dislike I swim into several nettles of jellyfish, it hurts pretty much…

Lunch is the pilgrims food again, Gallo Pinto with fish. Easy going, good, cheap. And I receive my board thereafter. It is 8’2”, a little bigger than the one I had in Santa Catalina. I follow the surfer dude, who rent the board to me, and two of his buddies. One is a local Nico (male Nicaraguans are called Nicos), the other one a shitfaced American from Colorado – shitfaced because he is already hammered at 1 pm – which I dislike – he is funny, tho. But that’s how they are on vacation and that’s why I chose to skip San Juan del Sur. The surf is not as big as expected, but some bigger waves of 2 m come in and it’s lots of fun to ride here. I basically spend the whole day surfing and later the day I get some company of Matt, who I met already the evening before. He has a very short board and is at the same level as me. We get along very well and while I have a break I start building a sand castle, which arises the interest of some ladies at the beach who come by one after another to ask me what I do there. Being infantile sometimes is just a great thing to do! 😉

On my way back to the hostel I see a scenery I would have loved to take a picture of. But for the respect towards the Nicas and Nicos I don’t do it. A family of six people, the parents very young, live with their animals in a very small hut. The garden is muddy, pigs are lying around, the chicken is going all over the place, and their horse is feasting.  A little baby Nica is sitting in kind of a bucket, having a bath looking at us while we pass by. It’s such a different world, but taking pictures of them is disrespectful so I continue to get my camera just to take some pictures of the beautiful evening at the surfer beach, which is the next bay to the one the hostel is at.

The night comes fast and it’s already my last night here, since my plan is to continue to Granada, from Granada to León and there to meet up with Eric, a friend from Florida to do some vulcano boarding…

There is an open mic session this night at our hostel and I get to know Conrad from England and Sam from New Zealand, who hung out the evening before with Matt already. The four of us have a good time and the boys tell me they want to continue to Isla de Ometepe early the next morning. And of course I’m in…

The way to Nicaragua

Traveling longer distances and making the border is always an adventure in Latin America. When you plan to leave Costa Rica via La Cruz don’t forget to buy the tax to leave the country. It’s interesting to see all the vendors in the border area and you can change your money on the streets or get yourself your lunch from one of the vendors…

It’s 6 am in the morning while I enjoy some scrambled eggs, the bus to Tilarán leaves at 7 am, like always very early and it’s the only bus of the day. The managers of the hostel El Tucan speak English and gave me some advice how to continue the trip. From now I am on my own – without Stefan who speaks fluent Spanish – expecting to meet few people who can speak English, so gestures and my little knowledge in Italian and some words in Spanish should hopefully help to get me to my destination this day. I plan to reach Rivas in Nicaragua and want to continue to Playa Gigante the next day for some decent surfing, with the first bus of the day.

The bus is on time and I meet an American and a Canadian from Alberta, who I already met a couple of days ago in Panamá City. The guys have different plans. The American ran out of money but does not want to return to the USA, so he is looking for a job in the Tilarán area for some work on a farm, the Canadian guy wants to make his way to the beach of Costa Rica.

The ride is sloppy and for some time there is no pavement and the bus goes over a dirtroad. It’s an old school bus from Canada and I open the windows and enjoy the great fresh air and the stunning views over Costa Rica‘s highlands. I fall asleep several times, it’s like in a crib and as if you are cradled the whole time. The little Tica who is riding the bus with her dad seems to enjoy it as well. This kid already knows how attract and entertain people. Very cute.

When the bus reaches Tilarán I’m somehow disappointed since I saw on the map that there should be some big volcanos but I didn’t see them on the way and I can’t see them now… but there is no time to further think about that anyways. The bus to Cañas is already waiting to leave and I hop on. “¿Para llegar a Cañas?” The bus driver nods and replies with a short “Si”. And there we already go. Another two hours later I’m in Cañas and just five minutes after I hit the Panamericana I flag down my first bus to continue to La Cruz, close to the border of Nicaragua. The country changes a lot. It’s very dry here and there are lots of plantations along the road. It’s like in a dream to see all this going by. Around two pm I’m in La Cruz and find my way, mainly with gestures, to the next station where the busses to Peñas Blancas stop. This is the town on the border, Maxim told me to go this way and I’m glad for this information since it would not have been easy to find it on my own.

I pass the border walking, but don’t have the tourist leaving ticket, so I have to return to a little house on the Costa Rican side of the border to buy a ticket for ten dollars that grants me eligibility to leave the country.

There is lots of traffic (mainly pedestrians) at the border and lots of people try to sell food and drinks, merchandise, cloth and other goods, like hammocks. As soon as I pay my twelve dollars of taxes to enter Nicaragua, I’m allowed to pass a simple gate into the country and immediately find the bus to Rivas. It’s much louder here. Very busy indeed. All the people who try to sell something yell what they offer, repeatedly and the whole time. Even the bus drivers yell where they will go after departure. What I immediately recognize is that the Nicaraguans look totally different than Costa Ricans. They are much darker and look more like Indios.

Around four pm I’m in Rivas and since everything worked out so great I decide to take a cab to Playa Gigante which costs around 20 dollars. At five pm and some never ending discussions with the cab driver, who decides the negotiated payment is too few – four km before we are actually there – in a wild mixture of Spanish and English, I’m there. Have not expected to do this all in one day and am happy about it. Time to relax!