It was about a five hour ferry ride to Ometepe and I arrived on the island late on Monday, April 15. For some reason there were no early ferries. I spent one night in Moyogalpo, then took a bus to Altagracia the next day. I got a nice room for about $5 a night at Hotel Central, but had to move to a more basic $7 room at Hospedaje Kencho two nights later due to weekend reservations at Central. Arriving just before Easter without reservations complicated things, apparently a lot of Nicaraguans travel on Easter weekend. I got a few hours sleep then got up at 4:15 in the morning to climb Madera, one of the two volcanoes that make up Ometepe.
I knew while I was at Ometepe I wanted to climb at least one of the volcanoes, and I decided to try the smaller one, Madera, 1394 meters high, a little over 4500 feet. I left the decision on hiking the much higher, 1610 meters, and steeper Concepcion for later, after Madera. I paid for a guide the night before. The plan was to start early in the morning; I was ready, the guide was not. He overslept and arrived late, too late to catch the early morning bus to the base of the volcano. However he was a resourceful fellow and he flagged down a passing truck that was driving around picking up scrap food (slop) from local restaurants to feed to the pigs. I got to ride to Vulcan Madera in the back of a truck with buckets of slop. It was a lovely start to the day.
Some pictures from the lower trail, where it is dry and about as steep as a flight of stairs. However the stairs went up for miles and got wet and very slippery. The trail signs said it was a five kilometer hike, which I don't believe. It may have been five kilometers in a straight line from trail head to crater, but it was much further on a meandering trail and took four hours to reach the crater floor. Every time I asked the guide how much further to the top he answered "A little bit more." This went on for hours. The hike inside the crater was especially interesting; in places we were hiking/climbing along a wet, slippery and nearly vertical wall. I had drunk a 1.5 liter bottle of water before starting the hike and carried three more bottles with me; it wasn't enough.
There were only a few places along the trail with decent picture opportunities. Below are pictures of a hieroglyphic stone beside the trail, a picture of my guide on the lower, easy portion of the trail, and a view from about the halfway up. In the upper right corner of the third picture is Vulcan Concepcion, the dot in the upper left is a green parrot:
This is what part of the trail was like inside the crater. The rope was put there by a Swiss backpacker, a hard core rock climber who traveled with his own rope. He agreed the hike was much more than five kilometers. Not all of the inside of the crater was like this, much of it was steeper and didn't have a rope to assist:
This is the "exquisitely beautiful crater lake" described in my guide book. Kind of looked like a muddy pond to me:
I did not take too many pictures during the hike because for most of it I was in dense forest. While I was climbing out of the crater I could see half the pond through a break in the trees and took this shot:
Then I looked down. Big mistake. The sides of the crater at this point was almost vertical, wet and slick. I was standing with my back to the crater wall, the back halves of my boots on a narrow ledge and the front halves sticking out over a drop of about 60 feet. There wasn't much of anything to hang onto, but as I mentioned the wall was almost, but not quite vertical; so long as I leaned against the wall and chose my steps carefully I was fine. This sort of climb is nothing for an experienced rock climber, but I'm not an experienced rock climber. I had managed to climb down into the crater along the same path with no problems, but I didn't pay attention to the drop then. On the climb out I was tired and, after making the mistake of looking down, I became very cautious. I was only about half way out of the crater at this point and still had to manage some interesting scrambles along the side of boulders with nasty consequences if I fell. I took it slow and careful. We were behind schedule and my guide was keen on keeping me moving; I considered his sense of urgency and decided "To hell with him!" We were late because he overslept and I was going to move at a pace I was comfortable with. We got down well before sunset. I was exhausted, covered in mud, and desperate for water. Even though I carried more water than recommended, I drank the last of it with about two miles to go. But I did get to see the muddy pond at the top. My guide got no tip.
The above hike was on Wednesday, April 16. On Thursday I moved to Hospedaje Kencho into a $7 room with unpainted concrete walls and infrequent water for the bathroom. The rest of the day I took it easy, I was worn out. The next day was good Friday and the local people were parading around town carrying a platform with life size models of the Madonna and dead Christ. On Sunday they did the same thing but with a resurrected Christ. Someone was beating a drum as they marched and every few yards they would stop and kneel with there heads to the ground while a priest prayed. They kept this up for hours, maybe all day. The Catholics on Ometepe take Easter very seriously. I was going to take a picture of the procession but after getting the evil eye I decided against it.
Since I wasn't participating in Easter activities I rented a bike with a wobbly seat and toured a bit of the south part of the Ometepe. The first picture is of Vulcan Madera, the one I hiked, and the second is of Vulcan Concepcion, which I decided against hiking. I talked to some people who did hike it and it sounded tough. The third picture is of a White-Throated Magpie Jay, a common character in Central America that collects brightly colored objects. While I was eating at a outdoor restaurant I watched one land on the adjacent table and steal a shiny packet of ketchup. It may not be an exciting story but it was fun to watch. I gave up on the bike ride after a few hours. Try riding a bike with the seat tilted back at a 45 degree angle and you'll understand why:
On Saturday I was able to move back to Hotel Central and got my nice $5 room back. I like having a room with painted walls and a bathroom with reliable water. On Sunday I walked around town and a little bit of the northeast part of the island. I didn't want to deal with a wobbly seated bike again. I stopped by the church in Altagracia, which had a collection of pre-Columbian statues found on the island and a boy showing off his pet squirrel:
A nice view of Concepcion behind the town's central square, and another picture of Concepcion taken from the north.</>
By Monday I had done everything I could think of doing on Ometepe so I caught the ferry across Lago Nicaragua to the mainland. I took a few parting pictures of the island and both volcanoes and one of the beach at San Jorge where the ferry landed. The oxcart there is an actual working model, it is not there to amuse tourists:
From Ometepe I returned to Granada to plan my next move. I stayed in Granada for several days recovering from a fish dinner I ate my last night in Ometepe, which was not what I had planned. Finally, on Thursday I felt well enough to travel to Leon.