April 2011 – Isla Omepete, Nicaragua
Within Lake Nicaragua, which is the largest lake in Central America, lies Isla Omepete. It is a small island shaped like an hourglass – both sides of the hourglass are volcanoes (Conception on one side, Maderas on the other) which are joined together by a narrow isthmus.
We stayed at Totoco Ecolodge on the Maderas side of the island. It was phenomenal. The views towards Conception volcano were great in the day and spectacular at sunset. The sunsets at Totoco were one of the most impressive things I have ever seen in all my travels.
On the 2nd day I hiked up Maderas volcano with a guide (Melvin). It is about 6 hours at a fast pace and quite grueling. It was a disappointment however. The best part of the hike was seeing the howler monkeys in the first hour while still in the lowlands. After that it is a sweaty, dirty climb up poor trails towards the top – which I wouldn’t have minded if there were great views. But there were none, the trees covered everything. The best view I got was when I climbed a tree and took a picture looking down towards the lake (see the photo below the monkey). So it wasn’t a great hike – BUT, it really was a good workout! I was sore for a couple of days after.
Apart from the hike, our time was spent laying out by the swimming pool and enjoying the nature. I would recommend this place to anyone and I would come back here with Lissette for a more romantic kind of vacation. The food at Totoco was fantastic! One thing – bring earplugs! I couldn’t believe the NOISE at night from all the bugs and animals, it was unbelievable. There is one bird, a small grey bird that seems to only appear at night, that constantly hung out right next to our lodge calling out what sounded like “fuck you” all night. I’m not kidding, that’s what it sounded like. When the noise from the night animals finally starts to die down (close to dawn), then the howler monkeys start up. There is no peace and quiet in the jungle – so bring earplugs!
Below: the family-sized lodge at Totoco.
Unfortunately we only spent a week together in Nicaragua. My mother stayed on in Granada for her Spanish courses and I had to go back to work.
It’s nice to have money and to be able to travel in Nicaragua – everything is relatively cheap. Since I was travelling with my mom I booked private transport (with Oro Travel) for all our transfers. We travelled in style. But Nicaragua is a poor country and you can’t help but feel bad at times – I saw a boy who couldn’t have been more than 10 on a horse tending to a herd of cattle. In Canada kids that age are playing nintendo and getting fat. Skinny horses pulling carts are still the principal mode of transport. You can see that most Nicaraguans, especially in the countryside, live a very basic existence on very little.
A few Nicaraguans I spoke to in the travel industry expressed their frustration that Nicaragua was portrayed as a dangerous country, especially in the US (see the Bureau of Consular affairs website). In actual fact, Nicaragua is known as the safest country in Central America, safer even than Costa Rica. I never felt in danger – the flip side of few tourists is that locals aren’t overwhelmed by foreigners and are so much friendlier because of that. And I always say; in the end, it’s the people that make a difference between liking or disliking a place. Based on that, I would definitely come back to Nicaragua.