San Jorge, Ometepe, Villa Paraíso, Lago Cocibolca and a bazillion mozzies...


Volcan Concepción—from San Jorge

We decided it was time for our holiday inside a holiday to start in force so we booked a driver with a car down to San Jorge, which is a port town on the lake from which you can be ferried to Ometepe. Which is an island in the middle of Lago Cocibolca, which is the twentieth largest lake in the world and the biggest lake in Central America. This is the same lake that contains the isletas and several other bits and pieces, and empties out into the Pacific in the south. The lake is known to contain freshwater sharks (exciting!). Ometepe is an island in the middle of the lake which comprises of two massive volcanoes; Concepción, which is massive and active, and Maderas, which is smaller, dormant and more manageable.


That’s Concepción on the left and Maderas on the right

We booked in at Villa Paraíso, happily located between the two. It was recommended to us and everyone on the net thought it was great so I rang up and used my appalling Spanish with the very patient attendant and we came to an accord about our arrival.


So the boat looked a little rickety...

On Saturday morning, we packed our bags and headed out for breakfast. It was one of those hectic mornings where everything takes just slightly more time than you think it will; And we ended up half an hour late for our long suffering driver Ballardo, who we have now used on several occasions and still haven’t managed to turn up on time for. He’s very accommodating about such things, however, and we maneuvered our packs into his car for the two hour drive to Rivas and then San Jorge.


Although the other passengers seemed unconcerned.

It was a beautiful day; the sun shone and Nicaragua was looking intensely green. We saw cows, bullocks, villages, villagers, people carrying huge sacks of rice on their heads, and washing out to dry on barbed wire fences, which is a common replacement for a Hills Hoist or washing line. The road from Granada to Rivas, once you get past the bit that goes near Mombacho, is very smooth and we made great time, arriving with time to spare in Rivas and then hurtling down the street to San Jorge, in through the tourist centre and down to the dock.


In the boat—notice the confidence-instilling lifejackets?

At the dock we were immediately swamped by excitable tour guides, who were all disappointed at our organisational powers having already booked a hotel, and that the hotel were going to pick us up from the other end. We were informed that there would be no ferry for two hours, but, if we wanted, we could catch a lift on a boat that was taking a collection of passengers and a huge quantity of CocaCola to the island. We decided the boat looked relatively seaworthy and took that option.


Moyagulpa port

It was a lovely ride towards Ometepe in the boat, because the lake was calm, there were butterflies flitting over the water, and we were heading towards two volcanoes wreathed in cloud and sulfur, which was extremely impressive looking. Ometepe looked very green indeed, which we appreciated. The boat took an hour, and the crew sat around cutting up watermelons with machetes (talk about overkill!) which they sporadically offered us, and bailing out water from the engine room. They all looked pretty calm, so we decided to to get too concerned about the whole bailing thing. When we arrived at the port of Moyagulpa, our air-conditioned luxury 4WD was there to collect us, which was very exciting, so we hopped in and away we went.


Villa Paraíso... if paradise smelled like urinal cakes...

The island is shaped a bit like an eight, and we were heading to the middle bit, in between the two volcanoes, which is where our hotel was. The island was beautifully green, and there was a profusion of cute old men riding horses wearing cowboy hats, who we would have loved to photograph but felt too invasive. We arrived at the hotel, which is more like a sprawling village of cabañas, and went to check out our cabaña. It was very sweet, with two beds, a big tv, a fridge, a bathroom, an air-conditioner, a hammock and a table and chairs on the deck, and the unfortunate scent of urinal cake emanating from the toilet cistern. Our deck faced onto the hotel’s private lake beach, which had sunbathing chairs and little thatched umbrellas at the water’s edge, which was all very nice. We headed to the restaurant to check out the food situation.


Leah in the hammock at the front of our villa

The food situation was a little dire. They had lots of average seafood dishes, and lots of weird approximations of European dishes that obviously had been skewed by the culture barrier. My favourite interpretation was “garlic bread” - which was slices of the plain white Bimbo bread with a tiny patch of butter and garlic loitering in the centre of dry, but very under cooked toast. Mmmm. They could, however, do as they pleased, because they were the only show in town that didn’t require a 4WD to get to. While it’s nice to be isolated, it’s also a bitch to find decent food... oh well.


Mmmm, that’s some unique garlic bread...

All the dogs in the village knew about the restaurant, and they certainly weren’t fussy. Neither were the urracas, which are like gorgeous seagulls and like to swoop the tables. We spent the remainder of the day loitering at the lakefront and swimming, although all of us are more beach people and prefer the sanitary salt water to the lacklustre freshwater of a lake. This feeling intensified when a variety of animal life—including cows, horses, dogs, geese, pigs, and goats—were seen over the course of our stay heading purposefully to the waterfront... and not just for a drink, either. David christened the water “the poo lake” and such it was from that moment on.


Urracas. Aren’t they pretty?

That night, we dined at the restaurant, having doused ourselves liberally in insect repellent. However, poor Leah is particularly tasty to the insects, and got bit all over the feet. She ended up with over seventy bites. I even got one bite, which means the mozzies must have been desperate because they never go for me. We also booked a tour for the following day... a hike up the San Ramon waterfall.


Cows on the road, most likely after having just relieved themselves in the lake...