Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua
As we arrived on the island, the sun had already begun to set. In the muggy heat of the evening, fireflies sluggishly flickered over darkened fields and through fragrant banana patches. We arrived at our hostel, Hospedaje Ortiz, suitably tired from the 4 hour ferry ride in second class, and hoping for some dinner and a soft bed. Our gracious host, Mario, immediately welcomed us into his family-run hostel, as did Robin and Osa (a giant white dog and a puppy). That night we sat around chatting with Mario and his friend, who enthusiastically answered all of our questions, and happily proclaimed that Nicaraguans like baseball, and war.
Isla de Ometepe is the largest island on Lago de Nicaragua (Lake Nicaragua), a lake which derives its notoriety from the fact that it is the home to the world’s only freshwater sharks – land-locked bull sharks. The Isla is formed by two volcanoes, Volcan Madieras and Volcan Concepcion, and is covered in lush, tropical forests, banana groves, and shade grown coffee farms. There are two ‘major’ cities on Isla de Ometepe, Altagracia (pop. About 2500) and Moyogalpa (pop. About 10000).
We settled in Altagracia once we arrived, and spent a few days doing the typical things one does on Isla de Ometepe: visiting petroglyphs, swimming in Ojo de Agua (a clear spring in the jungle), hiking one of the volcanoes (Volcan Madieras), or swimming in the warm brownish lake.
However, the best part of our experience was our stay at the Hospedaje Ortiz. On the first morning, I stumbled out of the room and over to the washrooms, to see Mario walking around tending to the yard. “Buenas, Hilary!!” He enthusiastically waved. “Today I’m going to teach you Spanish!” As we sat and ordered breakfast from Mario, tiny chicks ran in and out of our legs, and Mario motioned us into his yard to show us his pet spider monkey, and parrots. As we played with Panchito the monkey, Mario pulled out his rusty machete – the accessory no Central American man is without – and chopped down some green coconuts for us.
We set out into downtown Altagracia to catch the bus a little later, and watched with interest as pigs and chickens strolled down the main street and through the Parque Central. We spent the day walking along the beach; I was determined to have a photograph of myself lying on the ground in front of a swarm of vultures. Turns out, however, that vultures are rather shy creatures and don’t take too kindly to being paparazzi-ed.
Later in the evening, we spent some more time talking with Mario and his sons, trying to catch fireflies and watching tiny geckoes run up and down the walls of the cabana. As Mario watched us swat at mosquitoes, he stood and motioned us into his backyard again. There, he pulled some leaves off a bush and showed us his family’s natural mosquito repellent.
We spent the better part of a week exploring the beautiful Isla, but the most vivid moment were at mealtimes when Mario would appear with a native fruit, and a spoon and show us a local delicacy. Or standing in a field, dwarfed by Volcan Concepcion, eating mangoes under a mango tree that Mario had just picked and peeled for us, while a small goat grazed nearby.
Soon enough, we decided to move on, and Mario and his family were waiting as we left with tears in their eyes, and hugs all around. As we boarded the ferry across to the mainland, and watched the volcanoes fade out of sight, I could only hope that one day we would be back to visit the beautiful Isla and the charismatic Mario Ortiz.