Saturday, January 23, 2010

¡Oh-my-tepe! Dos

So, I'm sitting in an airport hotel room in San Jose, Costa Rica, getting set to head out to Quepos in the morning for two weeks of beach and nature preserve, and I figured I'd tie off my loose-ends, blogically speaking. The Granada album is now complete, and available here.

I spent the bulk of this week in Ometepe, an incredible island in the middle of Lago Nicaragua (generally known as Colcibolca, which is Nahuatl for "sweet sea"). As I mentioned, I befriended two solid dudes named Ben and Sam on the boat out there, and spent the whole time traveling around the island with them. We were there for three days and, as Sam later pointed out, we saw something completely unique and incredible every one of those days.

We found an amazing little hostel called Hospedaje Ortiz, in Altagracia, where the ferry docks. It's not in the LP guide, but if you find yourself in Ometepe, I recommend Ortiz very strongly. It's all run by Mario Ortiz and his family--his son and nephews are the most visible staff, though his wife also does a fair amount. Levi, one of the nephews, was our guide on the hike up the volcano (post on that coming very shortly).

Ometepe, in addition to being something of a tropical island paradise, also has a much more rural feel than Granada. There are only two major cities, and the bigger of the two, Moyogalpa, is comparable in size to a slightly more touristy version of Hancock, NY, where I went to summer camp. In Altagracia, where we spent the first three nights, you can eat at the hostel, or at one of the two restaurants. After that, if you want to check e-mail, you can head to one of two places in town with an internet connection. Fortunately, the small-town feel worked in our favor, as Mario directed us to the local eatery run by Esmeralda, who grills a mean pork tenderloin. For three nights straight we had--and thoroughly enjoyed--grilled meat, plantain chips, a scoop of salad (basically cole slaw sans mayo), and a heaping portion of gallo pinto (fried rice and beans). Esmeralda took very good care of us, getting our occasionally idiosyncratic orders (pork *and* beef, no salad or platanos) just right.

The first day there, Sam, Ben, and I rented bikes and rode towards Santo Domingo beach, nestled into the isthmus that connects the two volcanoes. There is exactly one paved road in Ometepe, and we managed to be on it for a little while, but ultimately had to turn off onto a slightly treacherous and rather steep rocky hill. We got through it with all our limbs attached, but still felt it would be wise to take the bus back at the end of the day (note: the bus had a beast of a time getting back up that hill). Along this rocky bumpy road, we saw some signs for Ojo de Agua ("eye of water") and decided to check it out.

Ojo de Agua, it turned out, was about as close to paradise as I've experienced. It is a stream fed by several mineral springs, and running to the lake, and someone at some point had the brilliant idea to put in a small dam to slow the water, thus creating a natural mineral water swimming pool. It was like swimming in Perrier. And did I mention it was on an isthmus between two volcanoes? I think I did.

So, the day was off to a great start, and we decided to spend much or all of it at Ojo de Agua. After a little while, however, we noticed that one of the other guests at the pool had the number 18 tattooed on the back of his head, full-head sized. Normally I would not have paid much attention, but the night before Sam had been talking about the Mara Salvatruchas, one of the most violent gangs in Central America, and their affinity for head and face tattoos. We basically spent the day conflicted between how amazingly wonderful the location was, and a small amount of fear that this guy might go Tony Soprano on someone at any moment (he was of the upper-management set, we're fairly certain, based on his age and his traveling with a lackey). We contemplated leaving, but felt it would be best just to ignore the situation and enjoy the day. Ben put it best when he said to me, "well, everyone needs vacation." Wikipedia later informed me that the gentleman probably belonged to the 18th Street Gang, which is actually a major rival of the Salvatruchas, and is, at the very least, less internationally notorious--take Wikipedia's word however you'd like. At any rate, I took several pictures of Ojo de Agua so that you can see what the place looks like, but I elected to forgo taking any pictures of Captain Headtats.

After several hours relaxing, we took our bikes and headed off to Playa Santo Domingo, just to see the beach and grab a beer. Not much to report other than the fact that the beach was stunningly beautiful and we saw some cool fauna (howler monkeys, magpies, and plenty of turkey vultures).

The next day we attacked Volcán Concepción, a story I'm choosing to leave to its own post (which will be up very shortly after this one).

On Thursday, which turned out to be our last day at Ometepe, we went over to Moyogalpa, the larger city. We rented bikes again, and headed over to Punta Jesus Maria, a natural sand spit that juts a mile out from the island, and serves as a natural fishing pier with incomparable black sand beaches. The sunset, out above the mountains on the mainland, with the lake in front of us, was a remarkable experience, and, judging from the attendance, is one of the main attractions in town. We spent the night carousing in Moyogalpa, and reveling in the excellence of our time in Ometepe. The next morning, Ben moved on to San Juan del Sur, while Sam went to check out Finca Zopilote, a small farm on Ometepe. I'll hopefully be seeing both of them again in Costa Rica.

As for me, I headed back to Granada for a quick final 24 hours, and caught my flight down to Costa Rica today. Tomorrow I'll be out in Quepos, starting the next phase of my journey. I'm trying to decide whether I have any final encapsulating thoughts on Nicaragua to share. But until I decide that, I have another post to put up, a hot shower to enjoy, and a bunch of sleep to catch up on.

Hasta luego.



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