I really liked Granada. It's one of my favourite towns so far. The central square is vast, filled with street stalls and has a raised platform in the centre where they have concerts and latin dancing. The church is painted bright yellow and white and several other colonial buildings surround it. When we arrived, we didn't realise we'd arrived for the final weekend of a poetry festival. I can only presume that was why it was almost impossible to find a hostel, everywhere was full! It wasn't until Saturday night that we saw how many people had turned out for the event. They lined a huge section of the square with seating and the area overflowed with people listening to a poetry recital by poets from all over the world. Though we couldn't understand the languages, it was interesting to see and hear all the same.
Cathedral of Granada
Granada by night
The Saturday night poetry recital
Another interesting looking church
From the square there's a long tree lined road down to Lake Granada where we took a walk on Sunday afternoon. Along the waters edge there were a lot of local couples doing the same and families on the beach - the dads being dragged into the water for a swim with the kids while the mums sat around chatting. Surprisingly, despite the density of tourists back in the centre of Granada we hardly saw another tourist all morning. We wondered if a lot of people even realise the lake is so close because the tourist district of town is so self contained, perhaps people just don't venture out.
The street towards the lake
We caught a ferry on Monday to Altagracia on Isla de Ometepe. The island is formed from the peaks of two volcanoes, Concepción and Maderas, and the land above water that joins them. There we met a guide called Willy who showed us the island or the next couple of days. He was a young guy who didn't look that fit but as we found when we climbed Maderas with him, was a lot fitter than he looked. He climbed up and lept down it like a mountain goat, thus we named him Willy Goat Gruff. The gruff was also apt as I think we managed to offend him somehow at one point and he got very monosyllabic and gruff for the next hour or so. But back to the beginning of the week...
We met two medics, an Aussie and an English girl at our hotel and the four of us went on a tour of the island the next day. We left at 7am to get a bus across the island to some petroglyphs. It's not exactly known how old they are but I think it's somewhere between 2000 and 3000 years old, i.e. very old! Willy explained to us about some of the flora and herbal remedies people use, a lot of which involved taking something and rubbing your ears, which the medics found interesting!
From the petroglyphs we went on to Ojo de Agua (Eye of Water), a natural spring, where we swam and to Chaco Verde where we had a bite to eat then Chris and I went kayaking. We took the kayak a little way along the coast past some monkeys lazing in the trees and into some mangroves, literally by accident a few times, whoops! Through the mangroves it opened out into a lagoon. Despite being fairly enclosed, the wind blew up some little waves rocking the kayak as we paddled across. The trees were full of birdlife and over the far side men wading up to their chests were fishing with nets. We'd been paddling around for about half an hour or so when we saw the girls and Willy on the bank. They'd been walking around on foot. Just after we left them a poisonous snake crossed their path!
Ojo de agua
Fighting, I mean skilfully paddling our way back out of the trees we kayaked back to shore. As we were half way between the trees and the shore Chris noticed a "weird looking" spider on my back. I froze. It disappeared down by my back where Chris couldn't see it anymore so Chris paddled us back with me trying to stay absolutely still. Luckily it had crawled/fallen off me onto the kayak by the time we got out. Not a nice few minutes for me!
By the time we got back to the road, we'd missed the 4.30pm bus and the 5pm didn't come, neither did the 5.30pm. It was gone 6pm by the time a bus finally came and we were tired and bored. Still we had a good day and as we'd decided to climb up Volcan Maderas the next day and needed to get up at 3.30AM, an early night was in order!
4am and we met in the common area of the hotel. We got a bus to the turning for Finca Magdalena and walked 1-2km up to the farm/hostel. It was 5.30am and the hostel wasn't open for breakfast yet so we had to wait. "What are we doing here so early?" I askwd myself! Finally we got breakast at about 7/7.30am. I went to the bathroom and on the way back stopped to watch some howler monkeys in a tree. I forgot my exasperation at being up for 4 hours already, just for a moment.
We finally set off at about 8.15am I think, crazy! It was a easy start, with steps made out of logs through coffee plantations (owned by the farm). Willy paused every once in a while to show us different plants, a termites nest and some ants, below. If you place one on your skin and detatch its body, the jaw clamps around your skin as a reflex. They used to use them for stitching wounds together. Unlucky ants but ingenious.
The ant head clamped to Willy's knee
As we continued up, the going got tougher. It got wetter and wetter and muddier and muddier. The view was shrouded in mist as were we at times. What Willy had first described as 3km, then became 5km but when we reached 2.5km he said we still weren't half way?! Another 1km later, he finally annouced the halfway point! I much prefer knowing what I'm letting myself in for so I was a bit annoyed at the pretence. Still the forest was beautiful even if the mud was horrendous. My stone coloured trousers were mostly brown by this point and our boots were unrecognisable.
Momentary lift of the cloud allowed a glimpse of the view
We found an interesting bug on the path on the way, shiny emerald green and buzzing like an egg timer. Willy said it lives seven years under the ground and then 48 hours above ground before it finally dies. Not sure if that was a timing mix up lost in translation or true but interesting nonetheless. It reminded me of these poor beatles we'd seen in Mexico. They glue costume jewelery to their backs and wear them like broaches, still alive! It's so sad to see them crawling around in a box waiting to be bought, horrible.
The emerald green buzzing bug
After 7km we finally reached the top. The cloud was thick so there wasn't a view to see but we were glad to have made it! Climbing/sliding down into the crater for about 500m we reached the lake in the centre. It was so surreal to enter a clearing in the forest with a huge marshy lake in the centre, the mists lowering and lifting every few minutes to reveal glimpes of the other side of the crater. I managed to get a couple of shots across the lake when the cloud lifted that show the remnants of an old lava flow path.
The eerie lake
The other side of the lake with old lava flows visable
We'd brought swimming cozzies but looking at the muddy edge of the lake and feeling how cold it was up there we thought better of it and instead collapsed for some lunch. We met some people later who'd braved the swim and it sounded like more mud than water! Apart from the centre it was very shallow water with thick mud so by the time you'd waded out again you were covered in mud again.
Chris and I went for a stroll around part of the lake then we all started our journey back down. Willy wanted to go a different way down so we split from our original route part way. It was horrible. He said "I prefer it but I don't know if you will," so I guess he sort of warned us but it was horrendously muddy. He was leaping down fearlessly but we (the girls at least) were a lot more tentative. The aussie fell over first, then I did; we were getting soaked and caked in mud. My boots finally gave way and let the water seep through. It was not fun! Willy got in his mood and that just made it worse.
Dense vegetation of Volcán Maderas
Then we saw howler monkeys. We stopped and had a break watching them go about their business in the trees. I think we all needed the break and afterwards it all got a bit easier. The path got less muddy. Chris and I went on ahead so we could go at our own pace and Willy started to cheer up, maybe because we were going a bit faster. For the last four years, he's taken part in a race to see who can climb the two volcanoes fastest in one day and last year he won so I guess walking up and down slowly isn't his idea of fun.
We still didn't understand why this route was supposedly better than the other route though. It felt longer but maybe that was just because it was so hard going on the mud. Then finally there was a break in the trees and the sun hit our faces revealing the most breath-taking view of the other half of the island. From coast to coast you could see the whole symmetrical shape of Volcàn Concepción and the thin strip that joins the two halves of the island. It was beautiful.
The other side of the island
From here it was still another hour or so but the terrain was much drier and flatter so it wasn't as bad. Although our feet were killing us by that point! Eventually a road came in sight after a neverending path between fields...but that wasn't the right road so we had to walk a bit further to the main road, and then a bit further to a fork in the road. Like a mirrage there was a shop selling ice cold drinks which we downed in a matter of seconds then a man offered to give us a lift back into town so we didn't have to wait for the bus, woohoo!
After a shower and some food I finally felt human again and vowed I'm not climbing anymore volcanoes on this trip, three's enough for me!