Ometepe Island: a Meeting of Edges

I left Granada on the 10th of February, a Sunday, hoping to make it to the next point of my travels in just one day. My destination was a little town on the very south side of the southern island, far away from pretty much anything except what it is already there.

Ometepe Island is “a meeting of edges” because it was literally created by the meeting of fire and earth with air and water. You see, Ometepe is composed of two volcanos. The northern half of the island is Volcàn Concepción, the still active, hugely populated and touristic side of the island. You could call this the “yang” side of the island if you want. The southern half is Volcán Maderas (maderas=wood, in this case it kind of means “wooded” as in a forest…because a forest grows on it). Maderas is much older than Concepción, inactive, and much less populated and accessible. Let’s say this is the “yin” side.

Ometepe is remarkable because it’s easy to see these opposites, yin/yang, fire/water, earth/air, living together in harmony, creating a place that is biodiverse, and constantly dancing in balance. The metaphors abound, my friends.

First things first, though. Getting there. Here’s a map of the route:

Gran to Ome

First, a bus from Granada to Rivas, then a taxi from Rivas to San Jorge. Then, wait for two hours (because it’s Sunday) to get La Lancha (the boat) to Moyogalpa (not San Jose as shown on the map). While you are on the boat, be sure to watch the horizon very carefully and give thanks that you have a “window” seat because all the other tourist around you are looking definitively green in the gills. Ignore the water flooding in occasionally from the doors to the sides.

Once you’ve arrived in Moyogalpa early than you planned, get convinced by a taxi driver that you can get a ride to Tichaná on the far side of the island even though, no, he cannot take you there. You may get suspicious at this point, but don’t worry, the friendly people you’ve been traveling with (and speaking Spanish for) will convince you to come with them as well.

So I got in the taxi with Francisco, and we chatted all the way to Balgüe, where we dropped off our first passenger, and then to Merida, the last town on the way to nowhere. The road stopped being paved far before Merida, but it turned into more of a wide trail than a road after Merida. You stop seeing cars and start seeing horses and motorbikes. Well, you actually keep seeing horses because horses and cows and pig and dogs just wander around on the sides of the roads, completely free. The difference is that people are riding them.

We dropped off my friendly compatriots at a hostel where I was told by a not so very friendly man that, “You will not get to Tichana. Why do you want to go there? No one is there! Nothing is there!”

You know, it’s great that there are people around who say these things to me, because this is exactly the kind of comment that just makes me double down on my determination to get what I want.

I was assured by Francisco that a bus would come by in two hours to take me to Tichana. Alas, the bus had come early that day because there was a community rodeo happening. I thought of walking, but it was already getting dark, and I didn’t feel like walking 10 kilometers alone on a mysterious jungle road. So I rented a room from a woman for the night, and spent the whole time trying to ignore the insane bass that was booming out from the town party, 500 meters away.

My options the next day were these: wait until 3:30 that afternoon for the bus to come by; or, find another way to get myself there. So I started walking. I’m just not the kind of person who can sit around waiting when I have the freedom to do something about it. About and hour in, a fruit man stopped in his truck and offered me a ride for some money. I was really sick of having money foisted from my hands at that point, so I said, no thank you, I’ll walk. About half an hour later, my saving grace, a plantain truck went by.

They had just started their rounds on the island for collecting (and buying) plantains from the families along the road, so the back of the truck was empty. I jumped in, and watched the branches of the trees sail by above my head, the morning sunlight streaming past the edge of the volcano and across the lake and felt like I was dreaming. We arrived at La Poza Azul (the blue well) at 8:30. I had left at 6:30. So, not bad.

What followed was possible the most beautiful and difficult ten days of my life so far. Away from development, totally immersed in Spanish, I was at once so engaged with what I was doing (developing a small Permaculture plan) and completely dismayed at my lack of communication ability in Spanish. There is no better way to feel like you do not belong than to try to speak another language. Not that I was totally mute. I have just enough Spanish to make a fool of myself. But at the same time, some of the local people there really wanted to learn english. So I was able to share my language while smacking my face endlessly into theirs. We climbers just can’t get enough failure, I guess.

My time on Ometepe ended with the usual tourist activities. We rented a motorcycle for two days, which I got to drive around the island. This was a dream come true. I did not get trained to drive a motorcycle for nothing! I cannot describe the magic and beauty of Ometepe. If it is a place that calls to you and that welcomes you; if you remain open to what it wants to give you, you may find yourself changed.



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