[Day 8 Continued…]
It was time to head to Isla de Ometepe, the island of the twin volcanoes. San Juan Del Sur was a blast but we were ready for a new adventure. We packed up our 2005 Hyundai Galloper and rumbled on north to the ferry port of St George. I had made a reservation at the best hotel I could find on the shores of Lake Nicaragua ($35 a night per room, wooo haaa!), and for the 1:00pm ferry for five passengers and our trusty iron horse. We were all set to voyage on to this remote and relatively unknown destination… or so I thought.
We arrived with plenty of time for the 1:00pm launch but the ticket office insisted our reservation was for the day before. The two auto spaces on the ferry were already occupied. It was no problem getting us on board but the Galloper was not happening. There were no other passages for the rest of the day and all automobile spots were occupied for the remaining month. The island had no rental car services nor did it have taxis. The primary mode of transportation for local residents there were horses, the real kind. We were looking pretty screwed at the moment and the clock was ticking. I started asking anybody in the vicinity of the ticket office for suggestions on how I could get a car on the island. Just then a thin, dark skin Nica farmer approached me with the solution. A barge was
heading to the island an hour later to deliver bananas to the island residents and there was barely room for my truck to tag along. It was the last barge of the season. $50 would get us a spot for the Galloper, my son Michael and I on deck with the captain and crew of two. What a deal!
The travel gods were smiling upon us. My buddy Will, with a worried, unconfident contorted look on his face, boarded the ferry with my sons Will and Ryan and agreed to hang out on the other side until our arrival. For Michael and I the adventure was heating up.
The plan went off without a hitch, meaning there was nothing to tie our car down onto the vessel. Michael and I moved some empty crates in front and behind the car to hopefully stop it from rolling off the barge if the seas went choppy. This delayed us by another hour but by Latin standards we were totally on time, in fact maybe even early.
Our passage was smooth sailing and the boys were there on the other side hanging out as planned. They were talking to some locals while Big Will was avoiding eye contact with everyone. The iron horse was off-loaded, a few cordobas (Nicaraguan currency) were pealed out to our handlers and we were back on the road; well what might loosely be called a road.
Our lodge was not far down the coast of Ometepe. We checked in, dropped our bags and headed to the dock bar for the first Toña/Fanta of the day. Got some solid tourist intel from the guy popping the tops on our bottles and for the next hour we crafted a plan for our next three days. The boys jumped into the lake to cool off, unconcerned about the dorsal-finned predators that plied these waters. Did I mention that Lake Nicaragua has fresh water sharks? It does, and this is not a fish tale!
It was day two on Ometepe and we headed to the dormant twin called Volcán Mederas for a day hike, considered to be a difficult and steep eight hour trek. But the reward is a dip in the pristine crater lagoon and majestic views of the active twin volcano Concepcion, Nicaragua’s second highest volcano and one of the most perfectly shaped volcanoes of the Americas. The boys were amazing; all climbing, no whining.
Back down at the start of the trail was an abandoned house inhabited by a loose throng of wandering nomads who made jewelry for sale to the day trippers. Among this band of hipsters was a heavily bearded Argentinian who played sick Jimmy Hendrix riffs from a battery powered amp and pickup. This guy was out of his mind, lost in another stratosphere hosted by the Jims, Hendrix and Morison, Janis, Keith Moon, John Lennon, Marley, Elvis and all the other great rockers who went before us. This guy was kicking out a sound so big it filled every corner of the house and its surrounding landscape powered by nothing but flashlight batteries. We were drawn in like a moth to a flame. When he was done and returned to earth with sweat pouring down his face, he flashed a wide smile of gray teeth stained by cigarettes, joints and yerba mate through the black shrub covering his face and said “ahhhhhh, nice huh? Where you from?”
I invited Juan to look me up in Nosara as he made his way on south to Argentina. Told him we would create a gig for him at TM and a place to stay for a few days. It seemed like a great idea at the time except that a few days to a wandering nomad can be highly misconstrued. I said days; Juan evidently heard months. A short time later while I was guiding an executive group deep in the Costa Rican rainforest I got an urgent call from home telling me that this sketchy looking bearded dude with a pregnant girl showed up looking for me and a place to pitch his tent. I was caught totally off guard. The rest of the adventures with Juan will be the subject of a future blog post… it’s a good one.
With the night sky descending on us, we said our goodbyes and headed to the Galloper. We brought her to life and shoved off to the lodge for dinner and our nightly Toña/Fanta hour. Within minutes, the iron horse began to whine and snort smoke from her nostrils. The temp gage shot through the red zone and pinned to the right side of the meter glass. The radiator went bone dry. I shut her down and we collectively contemplated our options. We needed water to power back up so I walked to the nearest home, well more like a shack, maybe actually just a shelter, and asked the inhabitants for help in my perfect… ly horrendous Spanish. Fortunately, my kids were way ahead of me in their linguistic abilities and jumped in. After a few head bobs up and down, sucking sounds between the teeth and sad faces, followed then by chuckles and phrases I interpreted to mean “A hah!”, the guy came out with a two liter empty coke bottle, filled it from the hose in the “yard” and handed it to Ryan. We filled the radiator and moved on, another half mile or so until we were drained again and on the hunt for more water. It only took four more turns to get us to the lodge. I do mean turns, as we created a game of it and rotated the task of going up to a shanty to ask for water. Big Will chose not to participate in our game and volunteered each time to keep a watch out for crazy marauding indigenous bandits he was sure were tracking us.
Back at the ranch, errr lodge, we settled in to our way past Toña/Fanta hour, stretched it into two hours and ordered dinner. Our bartender sympathetically listened to our tale of the trip back from
the volcano and offered his guiding services for the next couple of days. Douglas also said he knew a guy who can fix things and would arrange it all tomorrow. Seemed like a great stroke of luck to me, but to Big Will it was the worst idea he had ever heard. When pressed, he stammered out his rationale, which began with the perils of trusting a Nicaraguan native named DOUG, and leaving the iron horse in the hands of another guy we don’t know, but “fixes things.” Two good points I had to admit, so I asked Doug what kind of things does this guy fix? “Broken things”…….Hah, ok, not to be deterred I dug deeper. “Like cars?”, “Yeah, If it’s broken”. “Plumbing?” “Are you having a problem with that? I’ll have him fix it tomorrow too.” “Electronics?” “Well sure, what is it that you need to fix?”……. “Ok, that would be great if he can fix the Galloper. Send him a message”. It worked for me, what choice did we have? Big Will looked like a ghost.
That night, Big Will had a dream of being stranded on the island of the boobs, running away from bandits all day and hiding in the forest by night. He couldn’t get back home, condemned forever in the cleavage of these fiery breast mountains.
The next day was gorgeous. Doug met us in the dining area and filled us in on the plans. The guy who fixes things would pick up the Galloper sometime that morning and we were set for a day on horses checking things out around the island. The horses were being delivered right to the lodge. Awesome! We finished up breakfast and saddled up. The ride took us to some cool banana plantations, through streams where the horses seemed content to stay put, up hillsides with bluffs overlooking Lake Nicaragua, and small villages where we’d stop to get a bite. Doug was a terrific guide, pretty good English and a rare sense of humor for a guy speaking in a language he never had formal training in. As our day wound down I suggested we swing on by the property of the guy who fixes things and see how our trusty steed was getting along. We headed down towards the lake and proceeded north. We discovered the horses not only liked water in streams, but in the lake as well. They proceeded out into Lake Nicaragua with us on top, submerged beyond our waist…well for William up to his neck.
We waded our way up the coast, periodically hopping back on the beach to run a little faster. About an hour later we headed back onto dry land and into the forest where we picked up Ometepe’s major highway, errr road. Just a bit further down we were at the property of the guy who fixes things. We saw our Galloper and as we approached we saw most of her engine parts lying on the ground in front of her. The guy who fixes things greeted us and proclaimed that he discovered the problem, which required removing most of the engine to locate it. We had a leak in the hose leading from the engine block to the radiator. He assured us that he’d have our car repaired and back at the lodge tomorrow by 3:00 pm. While this discovery and prognosis was great news, the salvage yard display in front of us did not have a positive effect on Big Will. His anxiety levels were rocketing sky-high and I was afraid he was about to grab the little mechanics throat. Ryan recognized what was going on and knew what to do when I suggested that he take Big Will for a walk. Realizing that we were in deep with no back up plan, I concluded that I needed to show our little mechanic buddy that I had complete confidence in him and was filled with gratitude. I put my arm around him and thanked him profusely, saying that I would see him en la mañana a las tres con las dinero. What choice did we have then to believe?
We got back to the lodge, turned in our horses and headed straight to our Toña/Fanta hourly ritual with our best friend Doug. Tomorrow is our last full day on the island which included an afternoon zip line tour. Our dinner was served and we hit the sack pretty early that night.
The boys and I started off the morning with a fishing tour around some of the islands neighboring what has become affectionately known as Boob Island. Big Will stayed back to use the lodge phone, presumably to communicate with kin back home that he may never return again, and what to do with his belongings. We reconvened at lunch and proceeded on to the zip line tour. While we were on the final cable, a little Nicaraguan kid came running up to us proclaiming that the iron steed was parked at the lodge and as good as gold. I slapped our messenger on the back and gave him a couple cordobas. Doug smiled broadly and said nothing, though you could tell he wanted to say “See??!! I promised you there was
nothing to worry about. He fixes things!” We got back to the lodge and sure enough, our trusty white steed was calmly waiting for us at the lodge. I powered her up and she hummed like a stallion. All was right in our world and tomorrow we were heading home. Our little mechanic buddy stood there with a smile on his face and looking sheepishly waiting for me to pay him, and in that instant I realized we never discussed a price. Nervously, I looked at Doug as I realized I had no negotiating position here. I asked Doug how much we owed our friend. There was a conversation back-and-forth, more sucking of air through the teeth and finally the price was delivered… $23. I gave him $40, and later when we were sitting at the bar by the dock I gave Doug $50. He looked back at me with an expression that showed deep gratitude and appreciation for a gift that seemed far more valuable than $50 bucks.
The mood at breakfast the next morning was festive and filled with excitement. Big Will’s color return to his face and it appeared he had slept reasonably well that night. We packed up the car and rumbled north to the port to catch our return passage back to civilization. We arrived early with plenty of time to get the Galloper loaded, grabbed a bite to eat and hang out. I went to check in at the ticket counter, waited for 20 minutes in line then presented our passports to obtain our tickets. The clerk looked through the list of passengers and proclaimed that we were not among them. I explained to her that I had made the reservation over two weeks ago and that surely we are on this list along with our car but to no avail. It seemed that when we missed our boat coming in, they canceled our tickets going back. Big Will had been keeping an eye on me and realizing something was not right, he came over just in time to see the ticket clerk thumbing through a calendar looking for the next available passage for an automobile to the mainland. She was already well into the next month. It appeared that there was not a ticket to be had for at least the next two months because the ferry schedule had been reduced to one float, once a week, through the winter months. We didn’t know that while we were having our adventure on Boob Island, the calendar lapsed into the winter months. Big Will freaked out, running off yelling like a madman that he knew he was never getting off Boob Island.
Getting on the ferry without our car was not the issue, we could board as passengers but we were going to have to leave our car on the island. I decided that I would stay behind and try to sell it while Big Will and the boys went on and found a place to stay. I bought four tickets and told them to board. I then frantically ran around looking for alternative solutions. I asked about the banana
ferry and was told that the ferry we crossed on was the last one of the season. I went to any official looking person at the ferry offering as much money as I had to get my car on that boat. No sum seemed large enough to give us one of the two automobile slots. The clock was ticking and the Galloper and I were not on the boat. It was now five minutes until she disembarked, but one slot remained unoccupied. I tried again to persuade the guy holding the chain to the ferry to drop it and let me pass. 20 bucks did the trick and I was on the boat.
We crossed Lake Nicaragua, disembarked the ferry and proceeded to the Nicaraguan border crossing. This time our experience through was relatively uneventful. A few hours later we were safely in the nest back at Tierra Magnifica. Our adventure was over. We made it home. My buddy Will slept
the entire next day, then returned back to Pennsylvania. I’d like to think he had a great time, but I’m not sure he would describe it that way. For me and the boys it was an adventure of epic proportion. The key of keeping it together for the boys and I was understanding that the only thing we were sacrificing in the moment was being home at a certain time. It’s these moments we think about often and retell in stories.
By the way… the Galloper fix got us home but wore off the following day. It was just enough.
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