. Before we boarded the boat a 15 year old lad reassuringly took our names and ages down on a piece of paper and off we 'sailed' into the crocodile and shark infested waters of Lago de Nicaragua. To make the journey that little bit more pleasant we got sat at the back of the boat (after clambering over huge sacks of rice and around motorbikes), directly in the sun and right behind the exhaust pipe...we spent the next hour getting sunburnt and inhaling some obnoxious fumes that made us all feel sick. Nevertheless the views of the island and the two huge volcanoes that have created Ometepe (which means 'between two hills') were breathtaking. We couldn't face squeezing on to the already packed, boiling hot bus that was waiting in Moyogalpa to make the 2 and a half hour journey to the other side of the island, so we opted instead for some chips and a cold drink in a nearby cafe. After cooling down and chilling out we decided in the end to spend the night in Moyogalpa and crack on with our plans for Rally De Ometepe. We spent the evening watching a spectacular sunset over the lake - relaxing by the dock and dangling our legs over the edge. This soon changed when a very concerned local man explained to us in spanish that we should get our feet out of the water immediately as the whole area was swarmed with alligators and started to make exaggerated actions to depict an alligator grabbing us and dragging us into the water. We moved back from the edge pretty sharpish.
Rally De Ometepe - also know as hiring a very battered 1987 Toyota Land Cruiser for $10 each and spending the day exploring Isla De Omepete on what have to be the worst roads in Central America
. At 6.45am the next morning we were armed with a jeep that was falling apart at the seams, and we set off for our day of off-roading. The novelty of how bad the roads were soon wore off, and we spent a maximum of 2 hours throughout the 10 hour day on anything close to resembling something worthy of driving on. A lot of the roads were in fact rocky riverbeds and only passable at certain times of the year. However, Ometepe is a beautiful and unspoiled part of Nicaragua and it was well worth the bruises to really get off the beaten track here. The two volcanoes, standing at each end of the island like bookends, are called Concepcion (1610m) and Maderas (1394m) - Volcan Concepcion is still active and last erupted in 1957. The lava flows between the two volcanoes are what have created the isthmus that makes up the island. Farming is a major part of people's lives here and there is a wide variety of things growing due to the fertile volcanic soil. It was great to see so many traditional villages and so much natural productivity...huge fields of crops and fruit, animals everywhere, bright-eyed children and smiling happy Nicaraguans armed with machetes and all having a good laugh at us lot in the jeep. We stopped at an organic coffee plantation to perk us up mid-morning that was surrounded by wild flowers and butterflies of every colour imaginable.
We were having a great time in the jeep and as the land around the east of the island became wetter and muddier the puddles got deeper
. Easy Dan! We knew without doubt that the day wouldn't pass without a drama of some kind, so it was a relief really when we got completely stuck in the mud as at least this meant we hadn't stacked the jeep or hit any roaming animals. We tried to roll, push and dig with our hands but it was no use - the back wheels just kept spinning and the jeep was sinking further and further into the ground. The crowd of locals began to gather and help by levering the wheels out of the mud and pushing rocks underneath the tires to give us a platform to drive on. We began to moan that the guy we'd hired the jeep from should have told us that 4-wheel drive was no longer an option and didn't work. After about half an hour or so we began to panic a bit about how we were ever going to get out of the mud - all of the good ideas had been exhausted and even with 6 of us pushing we couldn't get it to move. Another vehicle had not passed, so we were all really relieved when we could hear a truck coming along the road in the opposite direction and were sure that they'd be able to pull us out. A big macho looking dude jumped out of his truck and into our driver's seat, told one of our helpers to twist the locks on the hubs of the front wheels, and proceeded to casually drive the jeep out of the mud with all 4 wheels gripping exactly as a 4-wheel drive was intended to do. A bit embarrassing really that between an optician, a psychologist, an engineer and a mechanic (ahem) we could not figure this out. Never mind, everybody was very happy to see us on our way (surprisingly enough), once we'd helped rebuild with rocks the bog of a road we'd created so that Mr Clever and his truck could pass it. We had a picnic lunch by the edge of the lake and bid a sad farewell to our good friends Sarah and Phil who were going to be staying on at Ometepe for a few nights longer than us. Thankfully the road back to Moyogalpa was a paved one and the rest of the afternoon was relatively drama free, with the exception of a poor cow that had been electrocuted by a falling power cable and was being dragged out of the road by 20 or so villagers. We spent another relaxing evening in the town of Moyogalpa and got an early night in preparation for our journey to Costa Rica in the morning.
So after cleaning the kitchen and watching Phil master up a mega omelette using some of last nights left overs, the four of us jumped on a bus heading back to Rivas. It was a very civilised bus ride as chicken buses go, with plenty of room and some serious power ballads being blasted out of the speakers including Bryan Adams, Phil Collins and Sinead O'Connor - good job none of us were feeling broken hearted this morning. From Rivas we made the last bit of the journey to San Jorge in a cab, and from San Jorge caught a boat to make the crossing to Isla De Ometepe. Before we boarded our boat we sat and marveled at a wreck of a vessel tied to the pier, completely over-loaded with cargo and people, and we expressed our relief that we didn't have to go on such an un-seaworthy heap. We should have learnt by now not to be so smug in these situations and were soon informed that the very comfortable looking ferry that had just pulled in was not intended for us at all and that the over-loaded un-seaworthy wreck was in fact the boat that was going to take us across the 15km to the island