Volcanoes’ strong winds.

The deck was filled with deliciously swirling breeze, the boat rocked from one side to the other like a baby’s cradle, and the view of what was in front stunned each and every one of us. We were on our way to Isla de Ometepe, curious and beautiful destination with two spiky (and active!) volcanoes reaching up, and dense greenery strechng all the way to the island’s very shore. Since we managed to meet up with three friends from Brandeis (oh the powerful randomness and charm of social networks!), the dynamics of the newly formed group changed dramatically and all the new excitement and planning came into the picture. We all climbed on the second, not really passenger-friendly floor of the lancha and getting comfrotable amongst all the backpacks and unidentified metal pipes, we started to visualise ourselves climbing up one of those steep slopes. It wasn’t long before everything started rolling around, almost off the unguarded edges, and the peaceful atmosphere changed into ‘hold onto whatever you can!’ circus. It was an angry lake we had to pass through, but we had a lovely companionship along the way.

‘Ha! Didn’t exptect to see you guys again!’ I heard Matt say and saw that the next two tourists climbing up the ladder were the Québécois (?) couple that we had already met in Esteli, and twice in Leon. There’s nothing like making friends so we all joined our efforts and along with another two sisters from NYC, we all got ripped off by monopolized taxis in the darkness of the shore’s scary hour. 6pm to be precise. And the hostels we had in mind were all overbooked, so we had to stick with the drivers and let them take us SOMEWHERE where there’ll be 9 beds.  No worries though, the island is so small and business-oriented that they knew exactly who to contact and where to drop us off. Of course, before we even looked at the rooms, a mountain guide made us an offer and pointed to a nice dinner place. Ometepe all inclusive, I swear.

After all we decided to stay together and try this guy’s skills. It was a date, and voluntarily I was to be the one pain in the ass who wakes everyone up by 5.40am. By the dawn, we lost two potential hikers to sickness and nightmares, but if you wake up that early, nothing can stop you from whatever you’ve commited to. We met out guide, Miguel, bought some calorie rich snacks for the trip and tightened up the laces in our hiking shoes. I was determined not to slow anyone down, so I ended up following Miguel’s steps just behind his back, resembling a trek nerd. Honestly, we didn’t see as many animals as we had hoped (besides sleeping monkeys just at the bottom, and a funky ant trail that was streching for as far as we could see), and the route wasn’t as wild as we were warned. Yes, the hike was an effort, with steep trails and strong winds; and yes it took a loaf of bread, 2 litres of water and quite a few stops to reach 1200m, but we all did it, still arriving before midday.

The problem with volcano Concepcion, is that it’s a… volcano. Its top is bare, treeless, and on the day we hiked, it had one of the strongest winds I have ever experienced. I couldn’t walk in a straight line without being forced more and more to the right until I dropped to my knees just in case I might roll down the edge. We lacked 400m to the crater, but no one seemed too excited about reaching the very top. Everyone did their best, sweat enough and saw the island from another perspective. I felt no need to struggle with my eyes half closed, tilting my body one way throughout the rest of the climb. Lazy or not, we all run down and decided to spend the rest of the day on the beach. Isn’t that always the best option anyway?

Fiona

Isla de Ometepe (Nicaragua), 7th Jan 2012

Advertisements

A little white house with a waterfront.

I didn´t think there are many beaches out there that are as tourist-friendly and enchanting as Las Peñitas on a weekday. To take a break from León, the rather small university town full of gringos, we hopped on a bus that took 4 times as much time but cost 20 times less than a taxi and ended up on an empty, rocky and beautiful waterfront. We haven´t had that much good luck recently, so escaping the hassle and getting lazy on the beach seemed like a good energizer. Our little B&B was a little paradise – everything needed to relax, tan, swim, eat fresh and get comfy after all that effort was in place. Upon the entrance you could see through the whole house into the cute porch with laid back chairs and waves splashing through the shiny sand, the walls had little shells here and there, and the place with amazing smoothies was a short walk along the shoreline away.

Thinking of staying only that one night, we both unpacked our luggage in a rush, straight onto the floor, just to reach for the almost-fotgoteen swim suites hidden at the bottom, under sweatshirts, long pats and hiking shoes. It took as long as turning the key, and we were both floating in salty water. Correction: I, as a woman, was floating just fine (or maybe even too much considering the force of the waves and currents), while Matt was supposedly struggling, using up way more muscle power than me. Honestly, I don´t mind such gender differences – being carried up and away by the water made me feel like a children TV show heroine that jumps up in the air in slow motion to transform her powers and land back gracefully, but fierceful. Beat that. Also, after all, if you´re too lazy to struggle through the beating waves back to the shore, you might just let them carry you with. You´ll end up with sand on your face, but it will definitely be a faster way. Whether it´s the body fat, boobs or butt, I still really don´t mind.

In such a remote place, where you can count all the tourist on one hand and feel like you own that patch of sand and water, the beauty of your surroundings enhances on its own. I couldn´t get tired of walking ankle-deep in the ocean, getting my hair all tangled up and swimming above thousands of pretty shells and smooth stones. Not only can you  see nothing but the shore for kilometers ahead, but also you get to admire all (and I mean ALL) the stars in the clear nightsky in the most cheesily romatic manner.

We stayed there another night, of course. We probably would have stayed longer if not for the fact that we wanted to spend New Years partying with other travellers in the city. And thank whatever powers out there that we left on Friday with this paradise-like image and feeling in our heads – apparently Las Peñitas turns into the most annoyingly toursity destination for locals on the weekends.

Fiona

León (Nicaragua), 1st Jan 2012

Christmas on the border.

Our bags arrived exactly 2 days later than we did, so we forcefully stayed in the capital of Honduras for almost 3 days, worrying about our belongings and avoiding numerous American fast-food chains. Luckily though, we got  out as soon as our squished backpacks appeared at the aiport. First bus and we are far from the city that imposed such anxious feelings, headed straight for El Paraìso. Far from a paradise, but this is still a better option, even with the stench of old sheets and not enough water  for both of us to shower. I`m just not a dusty city person.

El Paraìso is a short stop anyway. We decided to see Nicaragua first (apparently one of the safest Latin American countries accoring to Lonely Planet), and crossed the border at Las Manos first thing in the morning. So we`re spending Christmas in Estelì, a small town just outside a Nature Reserve, with a proper backpacker vibe and numerous hostels. Too bad we get slightly freaked out by the first tourists we see since we landed (what are these white poeple doing here?), and all the hostels are closed for Christmas day. It`s the 24th, which for the Poles is the biggest night of the year, with huge Christmas Eve (wigilia) family feasts, and I`m in the middle of some town having trouble finding a place to sleep. Perfect.

By a word of mouth, we find this little family run hospedaje with two rooms open to travelers and settle down there for the holidays. At least the place has a warm atmoshpere, and we get all excited seeing kids getting presents from under the little Christmas tree while every radio station is playing Felìz Navidad. We don´t even have a big dinner that night, too weary of the bus journeys. We already  splurged for lunch, ordering an immense pancake dessert in this tiny restaurant that had the biggest, fattest, tackiest tree in the whole of Latin America (OK, maybe there are many other contestants, but… you know…). It looked like a chubby balerina with its thick ribbons and overtly shiny decorations. But I must admit, people around are quite creative. One of the cities we passed had a very nicely constructed `Christmas Tree`in the central square. Since you cannot spot a needle-bearing tree amongst all those banana ones, they put up a  tall, upside-down turned cone covered in dry leaves with a few pastel colored lights and an artsy feel to it. Now I know, Christmas feel doesn`t always have to be so forced. Actually, one can bring winter-imposed Christmas customs to a hot country like this in a pleasant, no-hitsch manner.

So late Merry Christmas to you all, wherever it is celebrated!

Fiona

 Leòn (Nicaragua), 28 Dec. 2011