After the colonial onslaught of Leon and Granada, we were looking for something a bit different. While the bustling towns had definitely hit their mark, we had seen so much countryside during our transits that we kind of wanted to get into it. Without much effort at all we decided on Ometepe Island. Ometepe sits in the middle of Lake Nicaragua , it basically exists thanks to two volcanoes (Maderas and Concepcion) whose cones shoot up out of the lake, only joined by a thin strip of land in between. It’s definitely on the tourist trail but for good reason.
We’d been recommended a place to stay by a couple who we’d met in Flores. They’d stayed at Finca Mystica and had loved it, the food, the location, the hiking and the people were all great, they told us. While still in Granada we gave Ryan, one of the owners, a call to see if they had space for us. It turned out that they did have space and they too were in Granada at the time, they were looking at heading back to the island at a similar time to us, so we met up in Granada and shared a taxi to the ferry.
The ferry across to the island was an experience in itself, it is obviously a key link to getting supplies onto the island and this trip they were taking rice across. They must have stacked the boat with around 100 45kg-bags of rice, which as it turns is quite a weight, when the boat fired up to head off to Ometepe they found they were stuck in the sand at the port fro all the additional weight – genius! After plenty of revving the engines we slowly edged off the sand and out into the lake. Lake Nicaragua strangely used to be home to hundreds of bull sharks, the Japanese even went so far as to set up a processing plant to harvest the sharks. Once on the island, Ryan and Angie needed to pick up a few supplies so we cruised around with them as they did this, before taking the 1hr 20min ride around the island to Finca Mystica.
Finca Mystica – down on the farm
The outstanding highlight of our time on Ometepe where we stayed, Finca Mystica, which translates to Mystical Farm.Ryan and Angie (the owners who are a young couple form the US) purchased a piece of land, at the foot of Volcan Maderas, a few years ago and have quickly developed it into a unique farmstay for people from all over the world. Employing an all local crew, Ryan has worked with his team to build 4 traditional, sustainable, mud cabins each looking out over Lake Nicaragua. They’ve built the entire restaurant and chill-out area, have a yoga room on the way and in their spare time they built all the furniture for the place – they’d just finished making table lamps for all the bedrooms. On the other side of the coin, Angie works with a local family of girls to knock out dish after dish of outstanding food – in her spare time she manages to add the creative flare to the farmstay, do the garden and look after all the other domestic stuff. Literally these guys have built the place from the ground up using materials from the farm itself and local employees.
There is no guessing why they’re rated the #1 ‘Specialty Lodging’ on Trip Advisor for Ometepe. Ryan took us through their farm, where they more or less grow everything they need from rice to bananas, mangoes to avocadoes, cinnamon, cashew nuts and coffee (the list goes on)! The vibe the place has is probably best described as fun, yet chilled out – with plenty of stuff to do in and around the place yet some of the most comfortable hammocks we’ve ever sat in! To add an extra bonus to the whole experience, you don’t need an alarm to get up in the mornings as a troop of wild howler monkeys have managed to establish their home in and around the farm and they go off without fail each morning telling you to haul your ass out of bed as the coffee is waiting on the balcony, Finca Mystica is true hospitality and an experience in Central America that shouldn’t be missed.
Ometepe – Merida
There’s no doubt we could have just hung about the farm all day, drinking coffee, reading books and talking rubbish, but we felt like we’d better make our best effort to check out more of what the island had to offer – with the promise of a cold Tona at the end of each day served up at Finca! There was plenty on offer we thought that we’d better test our hiking abilities to see if there was any chance of us making a 4 day hike when we got to South America. We hired a guide, with the instruction of taking us up and down Volcan Mderas. So at 7:30am the next morning he rocked up looking fit and firing at 62 years of age, we thought to ourselves “nice, at least we won’t be racing up the hill with this guy” given he was a bit older. Couldn’t have been anymore wrong! We started off with a shortcut through the back of the farm, then crossed into other peoples properties with fields of rice and coffee – at one stage we were walking through grass that was up to our shoulders and you couldn’t help but wonder how many snakes were in the area!
Eventually we hit the trail and he grabs us a stick each to start the ascent of the mountain, after 45 mins or so of relatively swift walking, by which time sweat was already covering my singlet, he announced that we’d done the easy bit and were a quarter of the way there – “Oh bugger” I thought to myself and whispered to Cel! The next half of the hike was more or less a constant climb up rocks, roots and pathways; while it did get cooler it also got steeper.
Before we hit the final leg, we stopped and had to leave our stick behind as we’d be need our hands to pull ourselves up the remaining part – grabbing hold of tree roots most of the way. The very different thing about the final quarter was that it was up in the cloud forest so everything was wet and we were walking in the clouds, quite a unique experience. Finally we hit the summit, and the view was…clouds…unfortunately, being the rainy season, clouds surround the peak for most of the day (which we knew before we start) so we weren’t able to get a look at the crater lake or the view over the island and back to the mainland.
The trip down the volcano was just as much of an experience as heading up it. It took us 3hr 30 mins to get up it and about 3hrs to get down. Our thighs took a pounding on the way down, it was steep and there was plenty of mud. Both Cel and I took the odd slide but managed to compose ourselves and stay on our feet. It wasn’t until near the final quarter that I took a step too far into a slippery muddy part of the track, my foot decided it didn’t want to stop forcing me to majestically throw my body into mid air and land on my backside with a thump. At the time it was the last straw and made me want to get off the ridiculous downhill track, looking back it was actually pretty funny! We made it back down the hill eventually, Ryan was there waiting to see how we coped, reminding us that he’d said it was a good hike! It was off to the showers to clean off mud, then to sit ourselves down for the rest of the afternoon without any hills involved at all!
Lake Nicaragua sits at the bottom of the driveway to Finca Mystica. This provided us with a bit more entertainment in the way of fishing and swimming. One of the local guys took us down to the spot he fishes at, we spent an hour or so throwing our lines in without any luck, Cel was even more committed than me and was calling out the ‘just one more cast’ phrase. On the other side of the point from where we were fishing was a nice beach, that we used to cool off at. The water was relatively cool (for Central America standards not by Lake Taupo standards) and while swimming we looked back up at that hill Maderas that had given us plenty of pain – it was good to be down in the lake!
Ometepe had been a ‘Top 3 trip highlight’ in Central America, mainly due to the entire set-up at Finca Mystica. They were able to tell us about things to do, organise our guide, educate us about the island and most importantly when we came back from any activity there was always a hammock and a Tona waiting. Enormous thanks to Ryan and Angie – one of the best examples of people who are “out there doing it” – and doing it better than most.
Next stop is the surf town of San Juan del Sur – off the farm and onto the sand.