Whilst everyone else is gearing up for Freshers week in the UK, we’re getting fresh in our own way…. We made a stop-off at Nicaragua’s most famous freshwater lake. Get reading about our stay on Ometepe Island!
Our journey began in San Juan del Sur, where we caught a taxi directly from the hostel to Rivas. We told the driver that we needed to stop at a cash point along the way but he forgot about this during the drive and we ended up in Rivas with no money to pay for a taxi or the ferry. Great! He drove us to a local petrol station with an ATM but it turned out that our international cards weren’t compatible and so he had to take us back into the centre so that we could access some money. He demanded a higher taxi fare because of all the extra hassle but we refused (we had asked for a cashpoint stop at first and agreed it at no extra charge) – eventually we settled a deal. It came to about 340 cordoba, which wasn’t ideal but also wasn’t enough to lose any sleep over.
We bought our ferry tickets (50 cordoba each) and hopped on the boat pretty much straight away. There are people at the port advertising transport that will pick you up in Moyogalpa (Ometepe port) and drive you to your hostel/hotel. Just to be safe we booked a shuttle (which worked out to be about the same price as if we had hailed a taxi over there) and got on the boat knowing that we’d have a ride sorted on arrival.
The ferry has a few different levels and we were given the option to climb up on top but decided to sit inside on the comfy seats instead. Alice’s seasickness started to kick in pretty quickly despite the fact that the boat was travelling at about 1mph – apparently, between December and June the water is a lot choppier and it’s quite normal to spot vomit on the floors/walls of the ferry. Can’t say that’s something I’d want to experience so I guess we chose the best time to visit… The boat ride took about an hour and we were greeted by a man holding a card that said ‘Alice Williamson x3’ at the port in Ometepe. It was a really nice shuttle journey – comfy seats, plenty of room and smooth driving. This was appreciated considering that it was a much longer journey than we had originally anticipated – about 2 hours from one side of the island to the other.
We arrived in Santa Cruz, an area of Ometepe that had been recommended to us by the workers at Casa de Olas hostel in San Juan del Sur. There were two different backpacker hostels in the area: El Zopilote and Little Morgans. We’d been told that Little Morgans was a party place and considering we’d had a hectic few days in San Juan we just wanted to relax (22 years old, we sure know how to live) and chose Zopilote – an eco-farm retreat – instead.
We got out of the shuttle and walked round to collect our bags when we bumped into a few of the current hostel residents. The first thing they all said was ‘Turn around’, ‘Don’t stay here’, ‘Leave while you can, you have to pay in full on arrival and so you can’t go anywhere else’. Comforting words, eh!
We understand that hostels aren’t for everyone and we thought that maybe they were just expecting comfier beds or non-shared bathrooms. Instead, they were re-telling stories of rats crawling over their beds and into their luggage and describing the bedrooms as dirty, dusty and impossible to sleep in. I’d like to think that fellow travellers look out for each other and just from their facial expressions and tones of voice we could tell that they were trying to save us from a potentially grim few days.
We took their advice and asked our shuttle driver if he could take us somewhere different. He told us that there was some hotel-style accommodation further down the road and we agreed to check it out.
Santa Cruz hostel/hotel is the most perfect place to stay if you aren’t looking for crazy night life. It’s in a great location right by the main road for easy access to other parts of the island, the restaurant on site serves tasty food and the views from the rooms are absolutely gorgeous. We ended up getting a private room for a similar price to what we were going to pay for a dorm – the 3 empanadas were happy empanadas indeed.
In our room, there was a double and a single bed (and some lizards, spiders and maybe even a snake for all we knew). Considering Abbie was still ill with the remains of her Chickungunya, Alice and I shared the double. We noticed that there was a hook for a mosquito net above us and Alice had been desperate to put the one she’d been lugging around to good use so we thought we’d set it up.
As you can see, it didn’t quite go to plan… we ended up getting tangled in the net attempting to make it fit over the bed and Abbie just watched us, giggling at our lack of coordination.
Eventually, we ditched the mosquito net and decided to head out and embrace the day. We hired bikes next door to the hostel and cycled along the main road to a place called ‘Ojo del Agua’ – Ometepe’s natural volcanic springs. The ride was long and bumpy (the uphill sections defeated me, I’ll admit). The bikes we hired were also ridiculously small and non-adjustable, meaning that we were completely hunched over (I’m talking Notre Dame style here) for the entirety of the journey.
There’s an entry fee (30 cordoba) to get into the springs but it’s worth it if you plan to spend a few hours there. There are some souvenir shops, some restaurants and a bar – all slightly overpriced but exactly what you’d expect for a tourist hotspot.
The springs look kind of like a big, rectangular swimming pool but, instead of chlorine and chemicals, you’re swimming in water direct from the source. There’s a slackline and a rope swing for the adventurous and enough deckchairs around the edge for those seeking a more relaxed experience.
We hung out for a few hours before deciding to call it a day and head back to the hostel for dinner. Veggie peanut curries and banana coconut milkshakes were on the cards – vegan quota = achieved (this was necessary considering I’ve been chomping down on cheese every night for the last week).
After dinner we went back to the room to freshen up. Before we had even walked through the door, Abbie was screaming about finding a decapitated baby lizard in her wash bag. All 3 of us soon realised that this was one of the many lizards that had been inhabiting our room with us (nothing to be surprised about when you’re staying on an exotic island) so, it was actually quite emotional to know that it’s life had come to an end so soon. We discovered the other half of it’s body trapped in Abbie’s razor… it had clearly tried to climb it to escape the bag and ended up slicing itself in half. Brutal and probably too graphic for this blog – but we held a little funeral for it and made sure not to let any of our other lizard friends reach the same demise. RIP, lil liz.
The next day we booked a horse ride along the beach. Hey, I know what you’re thinking… for someone who openly voices uncertainty regarding the use of animals for leisure this may seem a bit out of character. The last time I went horse riding was in Peru in 2014, when I wasn’t really in tune with the ethics behind certain things (did I tell you I’m vegan?? Okay, just checking). No, in all seriousness this was a bit difficult for me but I didn’t want to stay at the hostel alone and I was reassured by Alice (who is a competitive horse rider) that it would be absolutely fine.
Our tour guide arrived 30 minutes late with 3 healthy-looking horses. He was a very small man dressed in traditional cowboy attire and very limited vocabulary (even in his native language). We got acquainted with our horses – mine was called Colorado – and we began our ride.
Almost instantly, I started to regret my decision to go on the tour. I started overthinking the whole situation (classic me) and worrying that my horse would be too thirsty or too hot. I was also uncomfortable with the idea of pulling the reins or kicking them to make them move in the direction they needed to go, so I ended up just sitting completely still and letting the horse do whatever it fancied. Of course, this meant that it didn’t want to do anything at all (can’t say I’d be any different if I was a horse in 30 degree heat) so Alice had to tie mine to hers so that I could keep up. Clearly horse riding just isn’t something I have a knack for…
In the past, it was necessary to use animals to get around and in some cultures there is little other choice but for us privileged beings it’s purely a leisure activity. Maybe sometimes it is for the animals enjoyment too, I’m sure, but mostly it’s just whenever we want them/whenever is most convenient for us. In the UK, I imagine that horse owners do their utmost to care for their horses and treat them with absolute respect but, unless it’s your horse, it’s hard to know exactly what it likes, if it’s happy or if it’s well looked after. Latin American horse tourism seems to value money more than horse wellbeing (opinion, not fact) and so, I felt that twinge of guilt for endorsing it.
I’m not sure exactly what my stance is on horse riding is yet and, of course, there is more than one side to every story and no right/wrong answer but just as I’m phasing animal products out of my diet, my every day beauty regime and my clothing choices perhaps I need to start phasing animal tourism out of my travel habits to? It’s a hard one…
I was absolutely exhausted at the end of the ride, the sun was so strong and we’d been out in the thick of it for 2 hours so I said bye to lovely Colorado, ran to the shop to stock up on water and made it back just in time to catch a taxi to the port and board the ferry back to the mainland. We decided to sit up on the top deck this time and ended up meeting some cool American guys who put us in contact with their friend in Mexico. It’s always great to network when travelling so that you can make sure to end up at the best hostels and tick off all the must-see places. Shout out to Josh and Abbas for their awesome recommendations!
In other news, Alice and I have caught common colds. Yeah, yeah it’s hardly Chickungunya (sorry, Abbie) but it’s still inconvenient. Funny that we come to Nicaragua, a country that is hotter than the Earth’s core and manage to catch a cold. What are the chances, eh? Time to step up the Vitamin C consumption….
Onwards and upwards we go! Next stop on our Nicaraguan tour? Granada.
Stay tuned, amigos!