Ometepe Island lies on Lake Cocibolca, in the south of Nicaragua. Shaped like an infinity sign, it was created by the formation of the two volcanoes it hosts, Concepción and Maderas, which lie on either side of the island. The indigenous name Cocibolca, meaning “Oasis of Peace,” is truly an accurate description for the island. Cut off from the rest of the country, it does indeed feel like a green oasis distant from the rest of the world. The tourism that comes to the island is focused on eco-tourism and preservation, so it still maintains its other-worldliness, its solitude and natural life, feeling still very much untouched.
We arrived to Ometepe by ferry, which proved again to be a trying ferry ride for me. It seems my travel days are proving to be marked by EFP, Extreme Female Pain – I experienced horrible period cramps again, this time so bad I began blacking out on the ferry. Luckily I was able to mind-over-body that shit and regained consciousness by the time we arrived on shore. After finding accommodation nearby the dock, I passed out in bed for the rest of the afternoon, my body completely worn out from the trip.
Ometepe is known for having poor public transportation and being difficult to bike due to its hilly terrain, so rather, nearly everyone who visits the island rents motorcycles and motor scooters to get around. The next morning we rented our motor scooters with the Brazilian friend we met on the ferry (perfect opportunity to practice my Portugués!), with me riding on the back of G’s bike, and made our way out on Ometepe.
To preface, I should explain that to I have always been someone who hates cars. I begrudgingly got my drivers liscene late in the game at age 19, stopped driving shortly after, and have not driven since. I hate being in cars for long stretches of time and judge places on their pedestrian friendliness and public transport. I have been on the back of a motorcycle only a few times and always in cities with the intent of getting from point A to point B. Suffice to say, long car rides perusing the country side are not exactly high on my list of ways I wish to travel. But after cruising along the winding roads of Ometepe, I completely get the pull of a motorcycle adventure. I felt liberated and connected with my surroundings, unlike when in a car. It was magical and freeing, no other way to describe it. Looking up at Volcan Concepción looming overhead as we swept along the roads lined with lush trees and vegetation. Cows, horses, pigs, chickens, dogs, all grazing, waddling by, and relaxing on the side of the road. Often there would be groups of cows or horses walking or standing in the middle of the road. The first time this happened I freaked out. My limited encounters with farm animals has previous led me to think that these kinds of animals can be easily scared and come charging if you get to close. Not once did an animal react even slightly to us riding by, except for the chickens who would speed up when they were trying to cross the road (yes there were constant chickens crossing the road, a joke my Uruguayan and Brazilian companions did not seem to get, I guess it’s an American thing?). There were men in wooden carts being pulled by huge cows, something I have never seen before, many locals riding by on horses, pigs relaxing in the sun and the mud right alongside the street dogs.
There was a tranquility and peacefulness in the air that cannot be explained, only experienced. I understand why this place is called the “Oasis of Peace.”
Unfortunately total and complete zen was not in the cards for us. The first day we took the bike out we decided to go big and bike our way around the whole of the island, perhaps daunting but based solely on distance, it seemed perfectly doable. So we set off. The first hour or two was serene and beautiful, winding smoothly along the roads, taking perfect photos of the volcanoes, stopping once to see an open-air veterinary on the side of the lake. After a while of peaceful and relaxing driving the paved road stopped and became dirt. It did not seem like such a big deal, so we continued on for a ways. After a while the dirt road turned more and more into a dirt road basically completely covered with rocks, the hilly road going up and down too wildly for two motor scooters made for city streets. We did our best to keep our cool and keep going. Up and down, up and down, I am not sure how we managed to survive what turned into two or three hours of pure brutality on our butts. I injured my coccyx years ago and it still causes me problems, so the pain for me goes to eleven (let me know if you get that reference). On top of it all our gas tank was hovering over the “E” for empty for the majority of the time, somehow never running completely out. We passed a farmer herding some horses up a small hill on the road and as we made or way down the hill past them, we hit a rock and toppled over. The both of us hit the ground hard. Luckily we were both ok enough in the moment, as due to the rockiness of the path we were never able to go particularly fast and therefore unable to hurt ourselves too badly. But for someone who hates vehicles and who likes keeping all body parts intact, falling was more terrifying for the mind than painful for the body. Realizing we could go down so easily, how sucesptible you are to falling off. I come from a family in which many people ride motorcycles, and most of them have gotten into very serious accidents. But I would not have expected that to happen to me on a small island in Nicaragua where all tourists rent bikes to get around. And it was certainly not welcome after the horrific ferry experience I’d had on the way over. But don’t worry (Mom), other than some unpleasant scratches we were okay. Well our bodies were, our wallets not so much as we had to pay for the scratched paint once we returned the rented bike, a.k.a. pay for falling off the bike. Ugh.
Well, we were okay for the moment. The next day we took it easy. Not only worn out from the fall, but riding a motorcycle along bumpy roads for 3-4 hours and ripping up your behind is pretty exhausting. We spent the day relaxing, lounging, playing with the local cats and capped of the evening watching the sunset from the dock. The next morning our Brazilian friend left to make his way to Granada and we decided to stay one more night. As the only way to get around the island is a bike rental, we decided to go for it again, only this time of course we would only stay on the paved roads and not veer off in the slightest, as there was no danger involved there. And we were right, it was completely smooth sailing. We spent another gorgeous day enjoying the island, even getting caught in the rain but loving every moment. The fear from the fall completely melted away. At the end of the day we decided to go to Punta María José, a beach where people gather in the evenings to watch the sunset, and where we had spent the evening after the first day of biking.
After a beautiful sunset, we got back on the bike to go back to the hostel. There is a small dirt path leading from the main road tothe beach, relatively flat with few rocks. But of course it was now dark out. As we made our way through the path back to the main road, we hit a patch of mud that our wheel got caught in and HIT THE GROUND AGAIN. At first furious, we got up as a local man who was near us said over and over “it’s best to go slowly, make sure to go slowly” and we said yes, yes we know thank you we know, as we brushed ourselves off and got back on the bike, shaking. We started moving and I started laughing, it just seemed too absurd that we would have fallen twice! But we did and it was absurd. Luckily again we were okay, only this time a little bit more cut up, and vowing to ourselves never to rent a motor scooter again.
So despite the cuts, the bruises, and the mud still lodged under my fingernails, I would still hop back on a bike and fly around Ometepe in a heartbeat… only this time I will stick to the paved roads.