Monday, May 31, 2010

Isle de Ometepe - Day 1

Today we feel like we have landed right back on the backpacker trail.  I'm not quite sure when we got off of it but I know that today we are on it.  We were on it for most of Guatemala and then in Honduras, for the most part, we felt like only a handful of backpackers in most of the places that we landed.  I think a lot of backpackers kind of skip most of Honduras, going only to Utila, the more backpackery of the bay islands when we chose to spend so much time in Roatan which tend to attract a different kind of travel.  Since we have arrived in Nicaragua, slowly but surely, we had been getting closer to the trail again. We have noticed more and more backpackers.  We tend to avoid the hostel scene so we have probably missed a lot of it because of that.  Whatever it is, today we landed right smack in it.

It started with leaving the Crater's Edge where we had spent the last 3 days.  Each day a couple of more people showed up:  only us the first night, another couple and a single girl the next night and then an additional guy the last night.  We all left this morning on the shuttle provided by the hotel and headed to Granada.  The couple and girl split off in Granada and we walked with the other guy to the bus stop in Granada to make our way to Rivas.  Rivas is the jumping off point for both San Juan Del Sur, the beach where the other guy was headed and to the Island of Ometepe, where we headed.

As we arrived at the bus for Rivas, we climbed on and slowly but surely other backpackers joined us on the bus.  It was by far the most gringos that we have seen on a bus ever.  99% of the time, we are the only gringos and I think today there were easily 7 other backpackers on the bus with us.  At Rivas, we grabbed a taxi for the short ride to the ferry.  We pulled up to the ferry, bought our tickets and went to a nearby restaurant for a coke to wait for the ferry to leave.  By this point, the majority of the travelers around were gringo backpackers.  Its always a little comforting to be able to hear English being spoken and to see the green covered Lonely Planet Central American on a Shoestring guide books being pulled out and discussed.

As 2:30 approached, we all walked down to the dock and got on the boat to head the short distance to the island.  Ometepe is easily visible from ferry dock and has such a distinct profile.  The island sits in Lago de Nicaragua which is a gigantic lake and the same lake that Granada sits on where we saw the isletas.  This island is made up of 2 volcanos next to each other and the island forms a sort of figure eight around the 2 neighboring volcanos.  From the dock we could see the 2 volcanos rising out of the lake with their peaks hidden in the clouds.  Luckily, the rain broke for most of the day although it was still pretty cloudy all day.

The ferry ride was pretty uneventful.  The boat was painfully slow, but our seat were upstairs and we spent the hour watching Tropic Thunder, listening to the other backpackers and watching the island slowly get closer through the window.  We could tell already that Ometepe is one of those places that backpackers meet up with people who they met in other spots earlier in their travels a lot like when we were in Guatemala running into "old" friends from previous spots.

We arrived on the island in the usual flurry of taxi drivers pressuring us to ride in their taxi.  We always try to shoo them away and take a few minutes to get our bearings before making any decisions.  I figured we would just take the bus which is always cheaper although I had heard that the buses on the island are painfully slow and we were getting pretty hungry.  Mostly we both had to pee so we found a restroom.  As we walked out the bus was just pulling away.  We were willing to wait but a tenacious cab driver really wanted to pull together a group of travelers to ride in his van.  We were coy but eventually we got a pretty good deal with 3 other girls and a couple.

We had him drop us off at Santo Domingo which is a beach area and we had been refered to the Buena Vista Hotel.  I'd spoken to a few people and continually were refered to 3 different hotels on the island which seem to be the big backpacker spots, this one, Hotel Merida and Finca Magdalena.

We checked out a couple of rooms and chose room number one, dropped our packs and found the comedor (small restaurant) next door for some much needed dinner.   After dinner, we came back to the hotel to check out the scene at the hotel and quickly started talking to some US Army guys living in Mississippi.  They had already been here a few days and were giving us the low down on what there is to do around here (hiking, petroglyphs, swimming, restaurants, horseback riding).  Some other people with a plethora of accents started joining the group which moved to the restaurant where we had eaten earlier and then to another restaurant for some drinks and great conversation until later in the night.  Everyone we talked to is moving in the opposite direction as us so we got some great information about places were we will be going and we thoroughly enjoyed hanging out with so many interesting people.  Its been months since we have had a night like this and it was a lot of fun.

I think that most of them will be moving on tomorrow so as usual, tomorrow will be a completely different day.  Hopefully, the rain will be at a minimum but the cooler temps will stick around.

So far this island is really great, rivaling any of the cool places that we have been already.  The hotel sits on a black sand beach and the wildlife is amazing.  On the 1 minute walk to dinner, we saw howler monkeys in the trees and some cool looking big birds with plumes on their heads which I dont think that we have seen before.  I hear that there are sharks in the lake which are unique to this lake although I dont think that the average traveler actually sees them.