Figure-8 Island

Trip Start Feb 03, 2006
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Trip End Jun 20, 2006


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Flag of Nicaragua  ,
Thursday, March 2, 2006

We decided to leave Granada by ferry and head to Isla Ometepe. Isla Ometepe is an island formed by 2 conjoined volcanoes (hence the figure eight shape) in Lago de Nicaragua (also known as Cocibolca). The lake is really really big, and despite what you would guess from looking on a map, it drains into the Carribean. It is large enough for big boats to float up the river and to the lake (Granada was a major port city in colony-days). The US actually has a treaty to build a canal to the Pacific from the lake, a distance less than 20 miles. However, they only signed the treaty to keep other countries from building such a canal--the US never actually intended to build one there.

The ferry from Granada goes to the town of Altagracia, and takes about 4 hours. Our guidebook said it left a 2, the ferry people said 3, and it finally left the dock at about 4 pm. The roughly 80-foot boat loaded with people and supplies, took a pretty good thrashing on the way to Altagracia. Both of us were pretty nauseous, though there was no actual puking.

From Altagracia, the boat continues for 10 more hours to San Carlos. We were glad to not be on the boat that long.

We spent our first full day riding a motorcycle around the top half of the island. At first, we couldnīt figure out why the busses all took the seemingly longer southern route. We soon discovered that that is the ONLY part of the island that is paved (actually, with paving stones). That part of the road is actually one of the better roads in Nicaragua. The northern half of the road, however, is dusty and pockmarked with HUGE volcanic rock, not much fun at all in a dirt bike. We did see some good things though. My favorite was the guy riding his horse down the road with a large hog slung across the saddle in front of him.

After two nights in Altagracia, we headed to the southern half of the island, to Finca Magdalena, outside the town of Balgue. The bus ride there was a bone-crusher, on a school bus straight out of the 1960s that looked like it had been air dropped onto the island without a parachute. The "road" was really just an obstacle course of boulders and smaller rock that had been mostly cleared of trees and brush.

The finca is a working plantation with coffee and plantains, as well as a hostel. Our Lonely Planet guide said that the finca served "tasty, fresh-cooked meals". LIARS! The food was wretched, by far the worst we have eaten on the trip. Andrew was served a piece of shoe leather, while Jacque got the quite rare chicken. Both with foul-tasting beans and crunchy rice. We ate dinner with a guy who had "noodle-paste with vegetables in a water sauce". The coffee was the only good thing there.

There are two popular activities at Finca Magdalena: climbing the volcano and looking at the petroglyphs. Everyone coming back from the volcano was covered to at least waist-level in red mud, some to arm-pit level. It brought back memories of the hike to Punta Mona, and convinced Jacque that this wasnīt the hike for her. The petroglyphs were easier to access, but in the end not very exciting. They were mostly carved on the tops of rocks, giving them the air of pre-columbian graffiti. Because they were on the tops of the rocks, they were pretty weathered. Perhaps the best part of the petroglyphs were the signs in Spanish that basically said "donīt poke the petroglyphs with your machete".

We met a guy, Paul, at the Finca who is from Sun Valley. He had driven his jeep and dog (Chopper, a search-and-rescue dog) all the way down to Panama, and is now working his way back home. He and Andrew have some mutual friends and acquaintances. Strange.

After Finca Magdalena, we decided it was time to leave the island. On to Leon.
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