A death defying experience
Trip Start Aug 09, 2009
28Trip End Mar 16, 2010
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Getting to Isla Ometepe meant getting a ferry from San Jorge to Moyogalpa, the main town on Ometepe. We arrived at San Jorge with about two hours to spare and got chatting to a local from Ometepe. His name was Eduardo and he proudly claimed that his name was in the Lonely Planet as one of the more reputable guides for climbing volcanoes on the island. We mentioned that we were thinking of climbing Maderas - this being the smaller of the 2 standing at 1392 meters above sea level. Eduardo poo pooed this idea, saying that Maderas was actually tougher due to the fact that you pass through thick jungle and a lot of mud, mud to your knees in fact. There is a lagoon in the crater of Maderas and when we asked Eduardo if we could swim in it he said no, apparently a tourist had gotten stuck in the mud a while back and now swimming was frowned upon
Each armed with 3 liters of water, food and sunscreen for the days trekking we departed Moyogalpa at 6am for the National Park. We arrived a little before 7am and Louis, our guide went through some general information. Firstly, watch out for a thorn tree with wicked looking spikes, the spikes contain fire ants, which will sting the hell out of you if they bite you. This tree was called the Bull Horn Tree due to the fact that the spikes looked like bull horns. Simples. The other thing to look out for was stinging nettles. For obvious reasons. We walked along a farm road for about 40 mins, minding the horse poop and cow poop along the way. Jules decided he needed to do a poop too and disappeared behind a big tree whilst we sat and had a break. One of the greatest things about backpacking is your lack of discretion when it comes to bathroom needs. Everyone discusses their stomach bugs, their diet ruining their gut, everyone has a story about doing a poop somewhere weird. Its all part of the journey. You get used to it.
We eventually reached the jungle, spotting some howler monkeys almost immediately
By this stage we were already sweating. The day was going to be another hot one and it wasnt even mid morning yet. We reached the base of the volcano, still surrounded by jungle. Luis said that we could stop for a break every 100 meters. That sounded like a very short amount of time before a break, but after the first 100m I realised why. This bugger was steep. Really steep. We were taking big steps up at times, still clawing our way through jungle. Those 100 m felt to me like 100 miles and I couldnt wait for the next break. Another 1500 or so to go.
When we had started out Luis had asked us if we wanted to go to the top. We all agreed that we did, whats the point in climbing a volcano if you cant get to the top? Apparently you could stop at 1200 meters if you wanted to, but we felt we were fit enough to take it on.
We got out of the jungle at about 900 meters. The sun was beating down on us at this point, with just a bit of bush and grass around us. I made the mistake of looking up and seeing a hell of a lot of volcano still to climb. My legs were already aching.
We stopped at 1200 meters which is the first lookout point. You could see all the way to the Pacific Coast. The lake was beautiful in its calmness and looked so inviting. We were already making plans for a swim when we got back. Luis asked us again if we wanted to go to the top, we agreed that we did, after all it was only another 410 meters, how bad could it be?
Another 200 m up and we were cursing
After a quick team photo - we had decided to name ourselves Team Sweaty Calzone after the night befores carbo loaded calzone pizzas - we continued up.
What follows is probably the hardest and most dangerous thing I have done in my life. Sorry Mom and Dad!
Those last 210 meters up took a lot out of us. First one to fall was Julian, scrabbling against loose rock sending one flying. He grazed his leg. By this stage the angle of the volcano was so steep we were literally climbing, no longer walking upright. I didnt know if I was going to be able to do it. The volcano suddenly looked a lot bigger and higher and the crater looked further away. I started talking aloud to Gordon. "Come on help your sister out here" I mumbled over and over again, grasping at rocks with my fingers, my legs aching from hauling up my body, sweat pouring down my body in rivulets. Alan was behind me, he slipped a bit but righted himself. I felt like I was climbing a massive mountain but without the added safety and luxury of ropes and clips, and with no climbing experience.
We rested at 100 meters from the crater
As we started up the last 100 meters I felt asthma-like symptoms clutching at my lungs, its fingers squeezing every breath out of me. I couldnt breathe, but was in a pecarious place to rest so I kept on at it, panting. By this stage we had also reached the sulphorous smoke that welcomes you on an active volcano. It rose out of the rocks and surrounded us. Luis scared us a little by saying that he had not seen so much of it coming out of the rocks before and told us to hurry. Hurry? I was barely able to move at this point! My body felt like it was on fire, I knew I was close to passing out from heat, exhaustion, and my lack of being able to breathe. Al was shouting at me from behind to just keep on going, encouraging my every step. Dots floated in front of my eyes. I was already crying. Suddenly I could see through the smoke at Julian and Lyndsey standing looking into the crater. Luis was close enough to grip my hand and half pulled me up to him, my legs now completely jellified. My arms however still managed a vice like grip on Luisīs and I managed to haul myself up those last few meters.
I burst into tears as soon as I had reached the top
The strangest thing up on that crater were the bugs. These bugs were unlike some we had ever seen before, maybe mutated from breathing in all that sulphur. They flew around us, attacking us at times. We couldnt wait to get back down!
Luis wasnt keen on staying a long time at the top. He suffers from asthma and was making noises about going to the hospital when we got back down for some oxygen. We werent sure if he was joking but he had a scarf wrapped around his face and we didnt want to risk a volcano with no guide so we started on the downward journey.
Those first 200m took us about 2 hours. The skree was insanely slippery. None of our shoes had any grip (Julian had managed to buy some tennis shoes the day before and Lyndsey had loafers on). Every inch you stepped you were sliding and we kept dislodging big rocks that kept sliding down
As I mentioned we kept dislodging big rocks. One in particular was quite a big size and hurtled toward Julian, then deflected on another rock and came straight for Alan. Both Al and I panicked as he was standing in front of me and if that rock hit him he would go flying into me and we would both fall. The rock was coming straight at him. He braced himself and the rock luckily hit my backpack which he was wearing on his front (he had taken it from me when I was struggling up the volcano!) That backpack probably saved his life. Or at least prevented him from a few broken ribs.
I have to admit that at no point was this particular journey fun for me. I felt a lot of frustration that I couldnt just get up and walk, I was tired and thirsty and sore from my cuts. I was so frustrated that at one point I picked up a rock and hurled it into a canyon, just to try and vent a little
We eventually made it down, all very sore and tired. Our toes had particularly taken a beating as the downhill was so steep and even now my big toenail is bruised from the impact. By the time we got to the van it was dark. The hike had taken us over 11 hours. None of us spoke in the van on the way back to Moyogalpa, we were just too tired. We just wanted to get some food, draw some money and get a ride to Charco Verde - our next stop for the night. Unfortunately drawing money wasnt that easy for Al, firstly his card got swallowed, then spat it out again when I gave the machine a massive kick, then the process was so slow that it didnt actually give us any money. Luckily the security guard went and called a woman in the bank who was still there and she stood with Alan whilst he tried again, this time it worked perfectly. She also called the bank to see whether the first withdrawel had gone through. Luckily it hadnt. Still, this was not something we wanted to endure after what we had been through that day already!
We eventually arrived in Charco Verde and rested our weary bones at Hostel Chico Largo. Al and I ate a delicious pasta and then went back to the room to dress my wounds. We all felt pretty sorry for ourselves
The next morning we all limped to the lagoon that Charco Verde is famous for. Unfortunately it started raining quite heavily and we had to turn back a way in, but what we did see was quite beautiful and very tranquil. We had decided to head to Santa Cruz, a bit closer to Volcan Maderas so that we could do some Kayaking and maybe see some petroglyphs in the area. We packed our things and headed down the dusty road to get a chicken bus. We met the nicest local on the bus who informed us that we would have to go to Altagracia where the bus terminated and then get another bus about 2 hours later to Santa Cruz. Altagracia is the town where the ferry to Granada leaves from, on route from Costa Rica. We camped out in the central park and took it in turns to see the sights around the area, namely the lovely old church opposite.
We eventually reached Santa Cruz after the best chicken bus ride I have experienced in Central America. The bus was held together by rusty pieces of metal, but it cranked the reggeaton up loud and we sang along to the songs, improvising the words we didnt know. The back door was also open, allowing Julian to stand and stick his head out just like the taxis back home! We laughed the whole way to Santa Cruz.
We had been recommended a place to stay at by some people that Julian had met in Columbia
But back to our kayaking experience, or rather, the lack of it.
As mentioned we were pretty excited to do the kayaking on the river. There was the chance of kayaking alongside crocodiles and all other sorts of interesting species. Al was just dying to do some kayaking and we had missed opportunities from Panama and Costa Rica. We jumped (ok, well hobbled) out of bed that morning and put in our breakfast order early as the bus was leaving at 8.30am outside the hostel in the direction of the kayak company.
We never made the bus. Our breakfast order took over an hour to make despite the fact that we were the only people eating. We saw the bus making its way past us just as we were served our eggs
We eventually reached the company, only to find out that the kayaking was $20 each and not $20 for the kayak as aforementioned by the hostel owner. We told the kayak guy that we had been told it was $20 for the kayak but he firmly stated that he was charging us $20 each. If we had known this before we could have made provisions, but with only one bank on the island and that being in Moyogalpa we had limited funds with us, besides that bank machine was pretty temperamental from Alanīs experience and we didnt want to draw from there again. We could have paid the money for the kayak but then we risked not having enough to leave Ometepe on the ferry to Granada and would have to go back to Moyogalpa just to draw money again. I explained this to the owner when we sat alone at a table whilst the other swam. His response was that he could charge $20 per tourist because he knew tourists could afford it. This comment really did not help my mood, every backpacker knows that there is the local price and the gringo price but to have it said to your face just takes the cake. We had already decided that we couldnt do the kayaking but after mentioning this comment to the group we all decided that there was no way we would even contemplate coming back to do it with him. He lost 4 fares that day due to his comment.
A local farmer told us that the next bus was not till 4pm. It was only 11.30am so we had to walk the 5km back to the hostel
We caught a bus to Altagracia that afternoon and spent a few hours in the park again, trying to figure out how to get to the port. Luckily Jules and Lyndsey flagged down a truck with Tourist Information written on the side and the lady in the truck kindly offered us a lift to the port. She even arranged for a woman who runs a cafe at the port to cook us a meal and let us sit on her porch until the ferry left at midnight that night. We spent the rest of the evening playing cards, watching the most incredible sunset and fighting off mosquitos. We also ate one of the most delicious meals in Nicaragua, fried chicken with rice and beans and fried cheese, all cooked to perfection and for only 40 cordobas each, a bargain!
Midnight saw us boarding the ferry, struggling to find space to put our things, let along find a place to sleep on the five hour journey. We spent an uncomfortable night sleeping on the floor and on benches, looking really travel worn by the time we got to Granada the next morning.
Ometepe had provided us with amazing scenery, unbelievable physical pain and tests and we had met the most friendly locals so far out of the whole trip (not including the kayak guy). We had swum in the most amazing lake and seen awesome sunsets, however we were looking forward to Granada and its colonial charm and when we walked off the ferry that morning we couldnt wait to find out what Granada was all about.