Cue Customary Music:
Manu Chao – Me Gustas Tu
I have hit the road. Hard. So begins the true arc of my journey. Though this was not initially planned, the urge to get up and go overcame me and I felt compelled by forces unseen to adventure into the sweet unknown. This is where it all gets exciting.
It’s that natural urge to head out into the wilderness, to conquer physicality, defeat fear and suppress pain that makes us feel so very human. To do that, we must triumph in body and mind. We’re not faster than a gazelle, stronger than a bull or fiercer than a wild cat. We couldn’t hope to take down a buffalo with our comparatively limp muscles, puny size and weak limbs. No, we humans are long-distance predators. We stalk and chase our prey until it is exhausted, our bipedal nature and stamina winning the day. We outrun and out-think our prey, push them beyond their limits and into their own ruination. Then, once the target can outrun us no longer, we move in to seize our trophy. That’s what I feels like out here.
I’m not chasing animals, though, I’m chasing concepts. Dreams, even. Chasing experiences and pursuing that which we all pursue – only this time with renewed resolve and ceaseless fervour.
I make pace like I am chasing. Hunting. Seeking. Seizing.
The Journey from Costa Rica to Nicaragua
I departed San José, Costa Rica at0 6:00 by bus to a place called (giggles) Penas Blancas, at the border of Costa Rica and Nicaragua. The journey took about six hours and passed through characteristically idyllic scenery and over mountains until it opened out into the plains that lead towards the border. Getting through immigration took about two hours. Seriously, I love the Schengen Agreement. First, one has to get an exit stamp by the Costa Rican Immigration authorities. Then, one walks about a kilometre to the Nicaraguan side. Then one must queue again for about forty minutes, pay seven dollars and wander towards the bus or gate. At the gate, a guy was asking for a “special contribution” of a dollar. He said it was a tax. He had a plastic badge, but I said I had already paid to get into the country. We haggled. I didn’t pay. I found out later it was simply a hustle for local politicians to place some obdurate douchebags on the gate and pretty much beg for a dollar from everyone who comes through. There were, however, numerous money changers (colloquially known as Coyotes) who scammed about ten dollars off me, ignorant as I was of the correct exchange rate from Costa Rican to Nicaraguan currency. Ego stung; lesson learned.
Once through, I opted to begin the forty kilometre trek to Rivas with my rucksack of about 25kgs on my back.
This was pretty intense. About 1ok through, some 120 arse-melting minutes later, I managed to hitch a lift with a passing family heading out to San Juan del Sur on the Pacific Coast, the exit of which was about 10k short of Rivas. So I began to walk again after a fifteen minute respite and with only a litre of water left. I was thankfully picked up by a passing driver, hopped in the back with all two other people and my massive pack and we chatted away in my terrible Spanish all the way to Rivas. He was a Barcelona fan, so, naturally, I mocked him for not supporting the evidently far superior English teams. We had a good laugh together before he dropped me off at the bank in Rivas, my fake football knowledge hidden by my pigeon Spanish.
I picked up some Cordobas (1 Cordóba= ~€0.03) and grabbed a taxi out to a coastal village called San Jorge. This was about 17:00 and I’d be travelling for some 11 hours almost solidly. I was a sweaty, shambling mess when I arrived in San Jorge. I walked around the tiny port town looking for a place to pitch my tent and finally met a farmer who offered to let me pitch by his rancho for about $3 including water, a bathroom and electricity. I happily accepted. Then, I wandered into the bathroom. Several pairs of Calvin Klein and Hugo Boss underpants hung on the peg behind the door. The Ranchero could never have afforded such items. Rapidly, severely flashes of being murdered, fed to the dogs and my underpants being kept for trophies on the back of a bathroom door went before my third eye.
Thankfully, I survived the night.
I rose at six, stretched, packed and walked the ten minutes to the ferry towards my destination here in Nicaragua: Isla de Ometepe!
Two Volcanoes, One Island
I arrived in Moyogalpa at around 08:00 on a boat called “Ferry El Guevara”, which, naturally, was covered in pictures of Ché Guevara and the sailors on it had t-shirts with the famous revolutionary’s endlessly defiant mugshot on them. This was a transport for locals and trucks, so I was the only tourist on it. I saw no other turistas until much later in the day – clearly the 07:00 ferry is not the most popular.
I made my way through the port town called Mayogalpa (Madge-oh-gal-pah) and picked up a map and talked to some locals about climbing Concepcíon, the taller of the two volcanoes on the island. I was warned that some attempted Concepcíon the day before, got lost and they had to send twenty people out looking for him in the dark. they found him up a tree 25 hours later, miserable.
I picked up adequate supplies.I arrived in Moyogalpa at around 08:00 on a boat called “Ferry El Guevara”, which, naturally, was covered in pictures of Ché Guevara and the sailors on it had t-shirts with the famous revolutionary’s endlessly defiant mug on them. This was a transport for locals and trucks, so I was the only tourist on it. I saw no other turistas until much later in the day – clearly the 07:00 ferry is not the most popular.
I made my way through town and picked up a map and talked to some locals about climbing Concepcíon, the taller of the two volcanoes on the island. I was warned that some douchebag attempted Concepcíon the day before, got lost and they had to send twenty people out looking for him in the dark. they found him up a tree 25 hours later, miserable.
I picked up adequate supplies.
Formed of two volcanoes, Concepcíon (1610m) and Maderas (1394m) joined by a isthmus of cooled lava flows in the middle. Concepcíon is one of the most perfectly shaped cones in Central America and a vicious beast of a mountain, according to recent eruptions in the 1950’s as well as a few minor bursts and trumpet blows in the following years.
There are some old petroglyphs on the island, rocks with simple carvings incised within them. Most are not special, but one of them is particularly fantastic:
Onwards with the Journey
So, somewhat blasé in the face of danger at the foot of a deadly volcano, I hitched my way on the back of a truck towards a little village called La Concepcíon, from where I could begin my hike. I had nowhere to put my bags safely, so I carried them with me, much to the detriment of my spinal health, but worth it for the security of mind. I hiked about five hours up the mountain, stopping every 45 minutes… or half an hour… or fifteen minutes (it got harder and steeper), I made about 1000mts elevation before turning back at a designated point (for fear of imminent death).
Exhausted but ecstatic, I ran (practically) down the mountain at pace, finishing up at La Concepcíon within two hours. I rapidly bought a bottle of orange juice and chatted briefly with a local mother and daughter (who seemed very curious as to my marital status) and then hitched back to Moyogalpa on the back of a truck with several workers and buckets of fresh bananas.
I grabbed a bus out towards the other side of the island, cramped and tight at first, before clearing up towards the end. I sat next to someone who looked like a tourist and made polite conversation in the hope of finding somewhere cheap and pleasant to stay with a good path to Volcan Maderas. She was a lovely Polish businesswoman by the name of Diana and we spent the next twenty four hours together, hiking around and enjoying the sights and sounds of this most wonderful natural preserve. I love how friendship and companioship awaits those willing to strike conversations (see title).
La Cascada de Maderas
We got off the bus at a place called Hacienda Merida, a delightfully cheap and cosy adventurers hostel on the waterfront of Lake Nicaragua. A pier sits at one end with a side view of Concepcíon and a rear view of Maderas- though both seem to cloud tops except on the rarest of moments.
I’ve met a variety of great people here and have been socialising joyfully in the evenings over a fresh Nicaraguan buffet. I met a few people around and organised a guided hike up to the waterfall at the side of Volcan Maderas. One of them, Jessica, was someone I had actually met over ten weeks ago in Samara, Costa Rica, so by wonderful coincidence, we got talking with her and her British friend and decided to hike up together. It was a simply enough walk of about two 1/2 hours to get to the waterfall with lovely views of the mountain, a great ridge walk and a pleasant pace throughout.
Evenings at the Hacienda Merida are spent in hammocks reading – anything else is blasphemy. I’m still stretching some three hours a day, including the dawn beautifying stretch out on the pier at 06:00. It’s so calm and peaceful out here and the company is great.
I met an American woman by the name of Caroly who just trained to become a yoga instructor and offered to go through a routine with me in the morning. She noticed I was reading Dostoevsky and we had a great chat on good literature (she was a English Lit major many years ago) which advanced to the topic of yoga. So the next morning I was out on the pier at 06:00 wondering if anything would happen when I spy her meditating on the shore and, after about an hour of my stretching as normal, she comes out to join me. We then spent two more hours going through a pretty advanced yoga routine in the shadow of the volcano in full sunlight. It was fantastic. I felt so limber and calm afterwards, my whole body had just been stretched in ways new and exciting as my mind drifted into serenity. Three hours of stretching later, I sat down to a well-deserved breakfast.
So, I now feel ready to tackle the top of Maderas tomorrow. It’s going to take about five hours up, elevation of about 1394m and a muddy, indefined path. The group will be myself, Carly the yoga instructor, Vanessa from Maastricht, another Dutch fellow called Marlin and maybe some other intrepid explorers.
Fingers crossed it all goes well!