Saturday, January 19, 2013

Crossing the border, Isla de Ometepe, el Volcan Conception, monkeys, stolen wallet, arrival in Granada

Again, I'm behind in my updates, but at least im doing better than on previous trips. Lets hope I keep it fairly regular!

Let's see, where did I leave off? Ah yes, we were frantically running from playa Montezuma, Costa Rica to Moyogalpa on Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua. We made every bus transfer perfectly. In central America you usually need to wait a few hours between public buses, as there aren't central companies and arrivals never seem to coordinate with departures, but we got lucky...that, or Costa Rica is just better with buses than the rest of the isthmus.

We made it to the border at 4:45pm and we were rushing to catch a boat from San Jorge to Moyogalpa at 5:45pm (turns out it left at 5:30). The border was fairly empty and we stamped out, ran the 1km through no man's land to stamp into Nicaragua. Along the way, a round little taxi driver (Cristiano, see pic) caught our eye and offered to get us to the boat in time for 50 bucks. I told him I'd pay 15$ to take us to San Jorge, and 20$ if he could get us to an ATM, and to the boat on time. He earned it. He hassled the customs guys to get us through faster, and then sped upwards of 140km to the nearest ATM, 20mins away. I ran to get cash, then hopped back in the car. He ran down every woman and child, bicycle, horse, and nun in the way honking his squeaky horn all through town. We skidded through the mud on the dock and literally jumped onto the boat as it was pulling away. We got there at 5:32. I was the last ferry of the day. We gave him a few extra bucks tip.

That night, Kim and I checked into Hopedaje El Central and hung out with a Canadian (Paddy), a German, and a Korean girl. Everyone, including the hostel proprietor and cook, spoke French...I made do pretty well. We had dinner at the hostel and played cards. Four of us decided to climb Volcan Conception, 1640meters. We would have to get up early to make the 12 hour hike. The German guy couldn't come as he needed to take an early bus to the border that morning.

We all bought the all-inclusive package. $20 for a guide to the top, $7.50 for three litres of water, a big chicken sandwich, a granola bar, and breakfast (eggs, toast, coffee).

Breakfast was at 6:15am, and I packed my zipoffs, raincoat, water, lunch, snacks, camera, and a bamboo walking stick that the hostel lent us. The chicken bus left the center at 6:45am and cost 10cordobas, we got to the foot of the trail and began our hike around 7:30am.

In the beginning, the guide seemed great. He spoke in a mix of Spanish and English, and pointed out a few interesting birds, plants and trees, as well as monkeys (which were really cool howlers, see the pic below). He also taught us about the local culture and economy, and the relationship between the people on the island and the volcanoes.

However, as we began to really get into the meat of the climb, a few things started to happen. Firstly, the Korean girl was really out of her depth. It's quite a strenuous, steep, slippery hike through dense jungle at the bottom, hard and fast wet winds above the treeline, and sharp, loose black volcanic rock and ash near the crater, for the last 500meters or so.

So, the guide hung back with her through the jungle, and so (though I felt for her) the rest of us didn't have the benefit of the guide, either to guide us, or to teach us about what we were seeing around us.

We waited at 1000meters, where there was a great view of the island through the clouds and dense but periodically parting clouds. Intermittently, we saw Costa Rica and Granada. On a clear day, we probably could have seen the Pacific.

When they caught up, the guide started to get annoying. First he claimed that the girl couldn't handle the climb and we had to go back. Then he claimed that the volcano was too active and we had to go back. Then he claimed it was too cloudy and it wasn't worth the hike to the top. Then, (here's the kicker) he said he didn't think we could do it. All of us wanted to continue, and we had already paid $28.50 (670cordobas!) so there was no way I wasn't going to summit that volcano.

At this point he stopped teaching us anything about the volcano or Nicaragua, he spent every break on his cell phone ( yes! There was indeed reception all the way to the crater), and he totally neglected our Korean friend, leaving to us the responsibility of taking turns hanging back with her. Plus, he kept taunting us and making comments about our climbing abilities (though we were no less than an hour ahead of schedule). Clearly he wasn't in the mood ti work. I bet he convinces a lot of groups to give up and give him a half days work for a full days pay....this was all quite annoying.

The climb, however, was great. I loved the weather, hot with a cool mist, the clouds parting intermittently to see the view. The climb was very steep above the treeline, all loose pumis, slipping out from under our feet.

On the way down, we missed the camionetta back to town, and hopped onto a pickup. That night in the hostel, I met a girl who recommended a hostel in Granada and set my sights on getting there quick to start Spanish lessons.

The next morning, we all hopped on the brightly colored ferry back to San Jorge, and enjoyedbtye breeze and view of the volcanic lake, reminiscent of Dinotopia.

Then the excitement started again. We took a taxi to the market from the ferry terminal, and somewhere in there, my wallet disappeared. I had it to pay the cab driver, then I got out of the cab and checked my pockets like always--no wallet! The taxi was driving away, so naturally I tore down the street after him screaming (in Spanish) "Stop that cab! Stop that cab!" he stopped and j explained as calmly as I could that I didn't havey wallet and I needed to check the cab.

Naturally, he took offence, as it seemed to him that I was accusing him of robbery. Actually, he gave us a great cab ride at a fair price and spent the entire cab ride dealing with my broken Spanish as I asked tons of questions. He gave me a lot of good information.

Meanwhile, a crowd was forming, as I was a bit paralyzed by panic and kept searching and re-searching the cab, explaining to him over and over, (in the hopes that if he DID take it, he would return it) that my wallet had both my bank cards and my identification. I finally decided that my wallet was lost to fate and I took his hand, looked him hard in the eyes and asked him:

"Did you take my wallet?"
"I'm not a robber."
"I need you to say it. Did you take it? Yes, or no."
"I didn't take it." (looking away)
"Look me in the eyes please."
"No, I'm not a robber." (looking me straight in the eyes, no tells)
"Are you my friend?"
"Ok, I trust you, sorry for the disturbance."

We shook hands hard, and he headed back to the car, but by then, we were surrounded by little ladies. They blocked his car and took my hands. They told me to wait, that it is better to tell the police, who they had already summoned. A second later there were a dozen cops and tourist police asking questions, taking information, and turning out the cab driver's pockets. We stayed there in the street for a few minutes (Kim was still with me at this point), the cops explained to me that they were sending out a search to question the other cab drivers. I guess they thought he might have passed off my wallet to another driver.

After a time, Kim and I got back into the cab with the driver and two cops, and the driver, the cops and the two of us all went to the police station, where there was more questioning and information taking.

Obviously, they discovered nothing, and eventually lets us all go. Again, I looked the driver in the eye and shook his hand. I don't know what happened to my wallet, but I think I trust he didn't take it, maybe someone else did as I was sorting out my bag on the street. Either way, I messed up. I learned a valuable lesson about protecting my valuable. I now have it all camouflaged in a pack of Marlboroughs. Hopefully, it's a little less obvious to ladrones.

I bought a phone card and called my banks, cancelled my card and ordered new ones. Have a tertiary ID and some emergency US cash in my bag. All in all, I think I fared pretty well.

Kim and I said our farewells after a week of travel together; he made his way back to San Juan, and I hopped on the bus to Granada.

More on that soon...



  1. Sounds like a blast man - keep the valuables in your front pocket easier to keep track of that way.

  2. Nice writing Jake! Enjoy and stay safe!