Isla Ometepe is an island formed from two giant volcanoes, located in the middle of the huge Lake Nicaragua. It’s big enough that several small towns can be found there. In order to reach this semi-remote island full of jungle, monkeys, beautiful butterflies, and lots of farms, you have to cross the lake on a ferry. The day that I left San Juan to go to Isla Ometepe, I braced myself for Rivas, as I knew I would have to pass through there again to get to my destination. Luckily, two Israeli guys from my hostel were also going to Isla Ometepe and we agreed to share a taxi straight to the ferry dock – which meant that I didn’t need to stop in Rivas after all. Yay!
The very old ferry leaks and creaks for the entire 40-minute ride to the island. The three of us were sitting in the basement of the boat, and as we sailed across, water leaked through the cracks and covered the floor. Not exactly the most easing experience… Regardless, we made it across in one piece. Upon arriving on the island, we hopped in another shuttle to bring us to our hostels. I went to a place called “El Zopilote,” a permaculture farm, hostel, restaurant, and crafts store, located at the base of Volcán Maderas in the middle of the jungle. It’s a huge property. I rented out a hammock there for a few nights – after all the partying I did in Nicaragua, I wanted some time to be alone and relax in nature for a little bit. It was a good walk to get to the hammocks from the main area where folks hung out, played guitar, and ate food. At night, the walk to my hammock was hair-raising in the quiet darkness with no one else around. Being from New England, walking around open jungle in the night really freaked me out because, where I’m from, there are scary animals that prowl around at night that you definitely don’t want to run into, such as bears and coyotes. I was also nervous about sleeping in the hammock area my first night because it’s all open, just with a roof to keep out the rain. I was literally sleeping in an open hammock (with no mosquito net!) in the jungle, and I was a bit spooked. The next day, I asked one of the staff at the hostel what kind of dangerous animals are in the area, and they said the only dangerous thing was tarantulas. So, good news, I wouldn’t run into any huge scary animals that could eat me. Bad news, maybe a tarantula would crawl into my hammock… Despite all of this, the place was quite beautiful. There were plenty of trails and walkways to explore on the farm. The restaurant there took most of its ingredients from the farm. Additionally, all of the showers were outdoors, and toilets were outhouses which the farm also used for compost! Such is the life of permaculture farming. A bit different from what I’m used to, but I could dig it for a few days.
I didn’t get out much when I was at El Zopilote. Mostly, I tried to chill a lot, read my Spanish Harry Potter book, tried to do some blogging, writing, photo editing, while relaxing amidst the trees. But I was kind of in a slump, didn’t feel like doing much, so I didn’t really take any pictures while I was there. A couple days after I arrived, two of my Aussie friends showed up! They didn’t know I was there, I didn’t know they were coming, but it was a nice surprise regardless.
El Zopilote was nice, but it was really out of the way so the three of us decided to move to another hostel down the street, Little Morgan’s. It was located right on the water, and most of the structures were built up like shacks or hand-carved wood. One building, which had three floors, was designed with a lookout point up top where you can see the volcanoes, the surrounding jungle, and the lake.
One day the three of us rented bicycles and rode around the island, past horses, cows, and farms, through jungle while Howler Monkeys were screeching up in the trees, besides some of the most colorful butterflies I’ve ever seen. Eventually we wound up going to Ojo de Agua, a fresh spring whose cool water comes from the nearby volcanoes. It was such a nice swim, especially after biking around in the heat. That day, the bikes weren’t in the best shape, but we managed. I rode around the island with my hands up in the air, past all of the natural beauty, like I was flying. It was all around a good day with good friends. 🙂
On one of our nights at Little Morgan’s, we walked down to the water around sunset. Unfortunately it was too cloudy to see any real sunset, but the sky, ocean, and Volcán Concepcíon looked gorgeous in the blue evening glow.
Although I didn’t do a whole lot while on Isla Ometepe, it was a nice place to unwind for a bit in the middle of nowhere. The island did not totally capture my fancy, but it was very cool regardless. I still can’t believe that an island that big exists inside of a lake!
The day the three of us left the island, we were parting ways. The other two were headed up north to a beach in Nicaragua where they were meeting some of the other Australians, while I was headed to Costa Rica. Leaving the island unfortunately meant that we would have to pass through Rivas once again. I had to mentally prepared myself. I did my research beforehand and told myself no one would take advantage of me. I knew what buses I had to take and in which direction I was headed. I was still scared though! Rivas is so intimidating! In the morning we all piled into a shuttle with other folks from our hostel who were all going to the ferry.
About an hour later, we get off the ferry and decide to split a taxi with another girl from the hostel (the more people in your taxi, the less you pay). The taxi drove us from the ferry to the main bus terminal in Rivas. Before we even reached our destination, the taxi driver was asking us where we were going and trying to sell us a ride in another taxi. I guess taxi drivers gotta support each other. We were all going to different places, and had to explain that multiple times because he was pushy about it. Immediately upon him pulling over at our stop, one or two taxi drivers approached the car, asking us where we were going, again trying to sell us a ride in their taxi. Mostly we just replied, “No gracias,” and tried to ignore them. However, two or three of the drivers followed us as we tried to figure out which buses to take, continuing to interrupt us and pressure us to take their service. The two Aussies figured out their bus within a few minutes, we said a heartfelt goodbye, and then they boarded their bus and waited for it to depart.
Meanwhile, the other girl and I were both going to separate places and still had to figure out which bus was going where and when it would leave. I was going to the border of Nicaragua, called Peñas Blancas. I tried to communicate with some bus drivers and taxi drivers about getting to Peñas Blancas, but it was confusing because they were all telling me different things. It was literally just me alone trying to communicate and negotiate with 4 or 5 Nicaraguan men because the girl I was with didn’t know much Spanish. The taxi drivers mentioned the bus going to “la frontera” which I thought was a different town. I asked if it was close to Peñas Blancas, and they lied to my face telling me it was very far away so that I should take a taxi. I continued trying to get the truth out of them, meanwhile they all interrupted each other, and me, so that they could get my money for a more expensive taxi ride. This went on for several minutes. Eventually, another guy walked over and I asked him about a bus to Peñas Blancas. He said his bus was going to la frontera. I asked him if it was close to Peñas Blancas, and he said they were the same thing. Duh! “La frontera” means “border” in Spanish! I completely forgot. So while the taxi drivers were trying to tell me they were different things to trick me, this bus driver came over and confirmed that la frontera and Peñas Blancas were indeed the same place. So I asked the bus driver when his bus was leaving. He said in about 20 minutes. Perfecto. Since the other girl didn’t know enough Spanish to get out of being lied to and manipulated, I stayed to help her negotiate a price to San Juan Del Sur, her destination. Both the bus driver and taxi drivers said that the next bus to San Juan wasn’t for another four hours. I stopped to consult with the girl, telling her I thought they were telling the truth because the same thing happened to me the last time. While I was speaking with her, my bus driver was nervous that I would instead opt for a taxi, so he started trying to distract me and lure me to his bus. Meanwhile, the other taxi drivers all started talking over us, trying to distract us, all telling us different things and different prices. I had had enough. How rude of them to continue talking over us while we were just trying to figure out how to get out of there. My patience with them was at that point finished. So I stopped talking to her, put my hands up to interrupt them, and yelled “UNO. MOMENTO.” Then they were silent. In the background, I saw a group of men all standing around watching the scene unfold, who all erupted in laughter, almost falling over from hysteria at seeing their friends unable to steer these young gringa travelers in whatever direction they wanted. I’m sure that my face, my body language, and my comment came off pretty intense, but that was the point. I am traveling, I am in a vulnerable situation, and I’m just trying to figure out how to transport myself and this girl out of this scary, intimidating place called Rivas! I refused to let them dominate my conversation and dictate how I would travel. I took their laughter as a compliment and confirmation of my fierceness.
Finally without interruption or distracting noises from the men in the group, I replied to my bus driver in Spanish, since he was so afraid of losing my business, “I will go with you in your bus. But I am going to help my friend first. One moment please.” Then I turned to the others and started negotiating taxi prices to San Juan because the girl didn’t want to stay in Rivas for the next four hours alone waiting for a bus (and I don’t blame her). We ended up getting her a cheaper taxi price than what I had paid initially for my trip to San Juan, and I told her I thought it was the best she could do. The guy who followed us from the start got her business (I guess persistence pays off…). The girl and I gave each other a big hug and wished each other good luck before parting. Normally I wouldn’t hug someone like that after just meeting, but the situation was so intense that I couldn’t help it. We made it through Rivas together unscathed. That was a feat and you can’t help but bond over it.
And then I just followed my bus driver to the bus and found my seat. I was satisfied and proud of myself, having navigated my way through Rivas, in Spanish, while being interrupted and intimidated by numerous men all at once, and I made sure they didn’t get the best of me. Unable to stop grinning, I settled into my bus ride, feeling like a boss, and feeling so thankful that my Spanish was good enough to navigate such a situation. As the bus left, I thought about my three weeks spent in Nicaragua, wondering what new fun adventures and challenges would await me in my next destination.