Tuesday, January 11, 2011

This Is Too Hard; Let's Just Quit! (Part I)

Nicaragua - A Visit In Two Parts
These were the proclamations uttered as we trekked and, as the guide book adequately put it, "scrumbled" our way toward the top of the Maderas Volcano, comprising the eastern side of Isla Omatepe on the expansive Lake Nicaragua.  While they were meant half in jest and half as perverse motivation, they seem to ring true to my impression of the tangled history and complex ppolitics that make up this fabulous country. After years of political strife, conflict, and wars, the people here seem tired.  They are seem happy to be in a time of peace and calm and want nothing more for things to remain that way, slowly improving towards a better future.

Isla Omatepe's twin volcanoes: Concepción (L) & Maderas (R)
Conflict is hard.  Death and war and poverty and locked doors and politics are hard.  Let's just quit and live our lives.   Take a break from civil wars and work on establishing a working government.  Smile and work and raise families and laugh.  Sounds like a good idea to me!

The "muddy scrumble" up Maderas.
Upon arriving at dark to the capital of Managua, I did not know what to expect.  After my taxista, who had a fondness for Johnny Cash, warned me that "eating trout from the lake would cause me to die from a tapeworm with three heads" I was even more perplexed as to what this week would bring.  However, I thoroughly enjoyed my six day vacation in Nicaragua, visiting with friends, both new and old.  An ex-colleague from my Manitowoc days, Lynn, just completed her two-year Peace Corps service in the Philippines and was visiting a couple other volunteers in Costa Rica for the New Year, so we decided to meet up across the border to the north, knowing little and expecting nothing.  It turned out to be one of the most rewarding "random" travel decisions I've ever made.

I met their foursome in the "cattle town" of Rivas on the Panamerican Highway - me coming from Managua, they from the southern border - and promptly boarded a ferry in the port town of San Jorge to reach Isla Omatepe on the enormous Lake Nicaragua.  The island was formed from the eruption of two volcanos, creating a disfigured "eight"-like shape.  One of the volcanos, Concepción, is still active though the last activity was a sputtering of red non-toxic gas a few months ago; it has since settled down.  We, however, stayed at a rustic lodging on the part of the isle dominated by the Maderas volcano which has a lake in it's crater as evidence of any recent activity.

A sunset dip near Mérida on Isla Omatepe.
Since it initially took a good 90 minutes to get from the dock on the other side of the island to our lodge, we stayed on our part of Omatepe the entire three days, filling the time with excursions to the San Ramón waterfall and the aforementioned beautifully strenuous climb up Maderas.

The hike to the crater ridge was one of the most stunning and challenging I've ever done.  It resulted in two sore legs and a left knee that is showing signs of not being twenty years old anymore, but the vistas and flora along the way were incomparable.  As we literally climbed hand over foot using cloud dampened roots as ladder rungs, the mist of the forest gave way to a secret world filled with ferns and dew-dropped, moss-covered vines.  Taking a breather on the narrow pathway up on the volcano's ridge, you couldn't help but notice the contrast in temperature between the breezy and moist cloud forest around you and the hotter summer-like lake shore a mere 1300 meters below.

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