Sunday, December 21, 2008
Isla de Ometepe y Costa Rica
There is something about Islands that always attracts me in a very unique way. It is the isolation and the autonomy, the slower pace of life, the tranquility that comes from being always surrounded and protected by water, and the kind of people that settle in such places that are so enticing to me. All the islands I have known (Martha´s Vineyard, St. John, Vashon, Maui, Ometepe) have all left me with a connection to the land and the people there. In some ways i feel like my life in recent years has developed into an island state of being. Tranquility and autonomy are maybe the most important parts of my life, things that help me keep travelling.
La Isla de Ometepe is located in the middle of Lake Nicaragua which dominates the southeastern part of Nicaragua. The island is basically two volcanoes connected by a small strip of land with a road around the perimeter of each. It has become a huge tourist mecca in the country in recent years which makes perfect sense because after the hustle and uber gringoness of Granada (where the ferry leaves from) the island is an escape. Even though there are lots of tourists there is is very easy to not see a single one if you want to.
I chose to head directly for the opposite side of the island from the ports. The paved road quickly turns to a complete shitstorm dirt track that leads across the Playa Santo Domingo towards the Volcan Maderas side of the island. I bumped into two friends of mine, Fernando from Mexico and Toke from Denmark, who directed me to their camp spot, a small very typical backpackers hostel right on the water. It was complete with bamboo huts, thatch roofs, overpriced food, and an open tab which is the enticer to keep people drinking. I have come to know these places from travelling in other places and i usually avoid them. They are usually never owned by locals and are generally backpacker bait. But, we were the only people there! It was really nice actually to have that little tropical place to ourselves. Camping was really cheap and it was right at the base of the volcano which i climbed the next day.
Most people hire guides to go hike up the volcano which sits at 1394 meters, but i would never do that. So i set out under cloudy skies which quickly turned into extreme downpour. Of course i didn´t turn around, hiking up the almost vertical trail through ankle deep mud and water was awesome! I made it up the mountain in a few hours and decended into the crater which has filled with water to form a lagoon, but the visibility was mas o menos ten feet, so i retreated down the hill through dense jungle with bellowing howler monkeys allerting me that i was tresspassing on their turf. The bottom of the mountain is lush agricultural land filled with bean fields, banana plantations, and pasture.
The most amazing thing to me about that island is that it is almost completely self-suffiecient. All of the farms there grow their own rice, beans, corn, fruit, meat, etc. Real homesteading.
From the island i took the overnight ferry to San Carlos which is basically right on the border of Costa Rica. I opted for second class to save a few dollars but i spent most of the night sleeping in a mountain of plantains out on the deck. Inside there are bad american movies being played all night long, my favorite of them was a really terrible movie called the cannibal 3. It was a normal escape through the jungle until the very end when it turns into a gratuitously bloody, violent and sexual film filled with beastiallity and internal organ eating. The whole boat was hysterical. The young boys next to me were in heaven while their mothers were flipping out.
From San Carlos it is a one hour boat ride through the jungle to Los Chilles, Costa Rica. Right away the differences between Nicaragua and Costa Rica are evident. The towns are clean, there are apparent civil services abound, and the people are somehow different too. I think it is pride. The general atmosphere is very proud and happy. Everything costs a lot more here which is hard for long haul travelling, but it just means camp more, drink less.
Yesterday was my first long day on the bike, around 60 miles through rolling agricultural lands. Constant rain kept it cool and the sun broke through to dry me off at the end of the day. I spent the night camped on a beautiful farm 10km outside of La Fortuna which is a very touristy but clean and friendly city.
From here i bike west into the mountains around Lago Arenal and then south to Monteverde. I have realized that my bike is in no way equipped to travel on back roads here which is too bad, but i will be able to put my bike on busses to get me around sketchy roads.
I am excited to actually ride my bike all day everyday for the next little bit, already my body feels great and in shape, yet completely saturated. There is never a moment to dry out here with the constant rain and humidity, but hopefully that will change some in the higher elevations.