3 Days, 2 Volcanoes, 1 Island
Ryan Priest, November 1, 2012
As the sun peaks over the horizon to illuminate the golden marshmallow clouds above, I can hear a motorbike roaring in the near distance. While finishing up my last bite of whole-grain toast, the bike screeches to a halt followed by a cheerful greeting, “G’Day mate!” Ben has been living here for 10 years on his organic farm and owns the best restaurant on the island. After cycling around the world for two years, he came across Ometepe Island and instantly decided to call this paradise home. Ben throws me his extra sleeping pad, and we begin our journey through the magical forest.
Strolling through dense, overgrown trails and weaving in and out of local coffee plantations, we make our way closer to the main path up Maderas Volcano. As the morning rain begins to sprinkle from above, raindrops rolling off mother-nature’s trees are magnifying the morning sunlight. Vivid, green ferns, families of bamboo, and thick moss blanket the trees as we climb higher and higher through five ecosystems within the could forest. When we reach a lookout point between the trees, a spectacular view of Santo Domingo Beach unfolds and sparkles in the distance.
After climbing over and under fallen trees and dancing through thick, slippery mud, we reach the top of the crater. A majestic lagoon lies below, created by thousands of years of rainfall resting within the dormant crater. While gripping onto every sturdy tree branch and descending down the steep trail, we make our way closer to the water’s edge. Suddenly, a mystic lagoon appears with clouds kissing the ripples on the surface. We explore the rim, walking through knee-high grass growing along the lagoon’s banks. As the winds increase, sending chills up my sweaty spine, we decide to leave this heavenly paradise. After traversing along the volcano’s slopes and down the other side, we come to a large, fallen tree preventing us to continue. Ben decides to take off his pack and wiggle through the branches. Instantly, a map slides out of the unzipped pocket and falls beside my feet. I hand it to him and joke about the thought of losing a wallet or phone. Ben looks into his bag and stares stone-faced with eyes the size of an owl. No wallet. No phone. Completely in shock, we plow up the steep slopes surveying every inch of the path under the mid-day sun. When we reach the top of the 4,000 FT volcano, Ben spots a bright, green bag resting beside a thick trunk.”The journey continues!” yells Ben with more zest than a toddler opening his first Christmas present.
After the long hike back down, we stop at a local shop to grab some chicken for dinner. Minutes later, we reach the lake shore and find a group of locals hovering around a small 1980s television set. As Ben begins pumping up his inflatable kayak, I pull up a chair to see what they’re so excited about. I can’t seem to remove my gaze from this mesmerized group of teenagers gluing their eyes to “America’s Best Dance Crew”. They’ve never seen a dance club, colorful disco lights, or even a proper floor, and the sight of watching these dancers compete is jaw-dropping to them. When Ben gives me the signal that he’s ready, we thank the group for their kindness and launch off into the abyss.
A half moon illuminates the rippled water as we paddle peacefully along the lake’s shore. Approaching the mouth of the inland river, Ben whips out his super spotlight, and we begin surveying for wildlife. Instantly, two shining balls appear in front of us drifting across the river. “I’ll steer the boat while you keep the light steady,” Ben whispers. We creep closer as the glowing crocodile eyes float into the grassy river banks beside us. One after another, the beaming balls drift off into the distance. After about an hour cruising through the river, we decide to find ourselves a camping spot for the night. Shortly after entering the lake, we find a small, vacant beach and begin unloading our gear. Ben, the camping expert, rapidly ignites a perfect fire for cooking. As the amber coals slowly heat up four pounds of chicken, we celebrate a successful day with bottomless glasses of orange juice and rum.
Minutes before the morning sun peaks over the horizon, I jump in the kayak and begin paddling to the river’s mouth. A local fisherman, floating peacefully in his rustic, wooden canoe, is hard at work collecting his morning catch. The colorful flora electrifies as the golden sun brings life to this oasis of peace. Birds are fluttering overhead singing love songs as monkeys chase one another across the treetops. While cruising down
As my stomach begins to growl, I decide to leave my perfect paradise and head back to camp. Ben has already started the fire with a pot of English tea steeping and bread toasting beside the coals. We scarf down a quick breakky, pack up the gear, and throw the remains of the food in the lake. Instantly, a school of fish begin chowing down on the onions and Ben in full amazement, starts a video recording to send back to his father. “Dad look at this! You’re not going to believe it! These fish can’t get enough of these onions! Can you believe it!?” he shouts into the camera. “Ryan! Ryan!! Do you feel that?! Do you feel it!? I think there’s an earthquake right now!” he yells with his camera still recording. We begin swaying back and forth grooving to the rhythm of the earth below. Ninety seconds pass and the sensation subsides, so we throw our bags into the kayak and embark on the rest of our journey. the river, I peer to my left and stare off at Conception Volcano towering above in the distance. I look to my right and Maderas Volcano is hidden within the cloud’s blanket. “Have I reached heaven?” I ask myself. Drifting slowly through secret passageways, I spot crocodiles gracefully sinking beneath the surface.
While paddling away from the island, we spot a pair of large pelicans diving down and collecting breakfast. The sight is mesmerizing as each one splashes hard against the surface and gulps down an entire fish in seconds. I decide to dive in myself and cool off from the sun beating down overhead. Once Ben sets up his pole and catches several fish, we begin the long journey to the other side of the island. While pulling up to a local family’s beach property, Ben offers our fresh fish in return for watching the kayak as we continue our adventure.
After a quick bit to eat, we walk through a small village to the volcano’s entrance and begin the climb at search for a camp spot. Twenty minutes later, we spot a vacant, bamboo hut that’s just big enough to fit both of our tents. Blasts of thunder and lightning ignite the sky as the rain cascades down creating a symphony throughout the jungle. We fall asleep only to be awoken by my beeping watch several hours later, and begin the early journey to the top of the roaring volcano. While trekking up the mountain with headlamps under the dark night sky, we carefully step over each sharp volcanic rock. The island lookout and sunrise is hazy in the distance as we break for breakfast on a cliff. Cheese, tomatoes, and potatoes slapped between two slices of whole-grain bread completes our meal for the difficult climb ahead.
Higher and higher through the thick clouds and twirling winds, we increase altitude through the sea of green. The infinite staircase to the heavens above seems like a lifetime as the terrain changes to an undiscovered world. We reach the last stretch as hurricane winds nearly blow us off the mountain. The tidal waves of clouds burst through us as we slowly grip each rock, creeping closer to the crater’s rim. I can see Ben’s eyes light up in total amazement as he peers down into the endless abyss. The sulphuric smoke pummeling up from below the earth is a sight difficult to describe in words. Sitting beside the edge, we reminisce over our epic thr
ee day adventure climbing two volcanoes on an island that I now call home.