Hiking Volcan Maderas (4,573 ft) on Isla Ometepe

I went on a lot of hikes in Central America. A lot of them I enjoyed, a lot of them I did not enjoy. The hike up Volcan Maderas falls under the category of those I did not entirely enjoy, thanks to the on and off rain the entire time and the fact that the night before counts as one of those few nights in my entire life where I can say I really didn’t sleep at all.

I think I’ve mentioned before that sleeping in a tent in Central America in the rain season is a bad idea; while sleeping in my campsite at Little Morgan’s in Santa Cruz (on the southeastern smaller hump of the island) on Isla Ometepe, this apocalyptic thunder and lightning storm decided to hover over the island the entire night. I spent the first two hours worrying about being struck by the lightning that was illuminating the entire sky and threatening the little island (19 mi long, 3-6 mi wide). When you’re camped on an island in a tiny tent in the middle of a storm, is this a safe place to be or a dangerous place to be? I don’t know. I’m thinking it’s bad to be in an enclosure made of metal rods. But then I’m thinking my tent poles probably aren’t metal, they’re probably fiberglass, and does this make a difference? Again, I don’t know, so these were the kinds of questions I was posing to myself all that time inside the tent, bracing myself for the dreadfulness of when the rain would start.

Then the rain actually started, and I spent that next chunk of time wondering how long my tent would hold out against the flood. Answer- about a quarter of an hour, unfortunately. It was sheets of rain. When the puddle formed under my head I abandoned my tent and all its contents, and for the next four hours or so after that I struggled and spun around in a hammock in the bungalow / common area, still outside (apart from the roof / overhang) and partially exposed to the weather. It was at this point that it became clear to me that people overly-romanticize the idea of spending a carefree night in a hammock. I was stuck in that banana position where my butt was nearly touching the ground. I felt as if my middle was folded in half, and I could just about touch my feet to my hands. Even though I eventually figured out that I should at least try lying down diagonally in the darn thing, the mosquitoes and other diabolical winged things brimming with malice had honed in on me and were merciless the entire night. Perhaps this is why trudging up Volcan Maderas (the smaller of the two volcanos making up Isla Ometepe) for ten hours round trip was sort of anticlimactic after what I had already been through.

The icing on the grouchy cranky cake is that there is no view to enjoy at the top of Volcan Maderas. I hear there is a good view from neighboring Volcan Concepcion (5,282 ft) along with some cool fumaroles; too bad I didn’t hike that one. Someone mentioned this to me at the summit of Maderas, and I was like thanks. When you get to the top of Maderas, you’re standing on this little point surrounded entirely by high trees, and I started climbing the trees in an attempt to get a view. I saw a scrap of blue sky and then was so irritated, ticked off, and despondent even, so I leapt back down and moped down a rocky path towards the crater. So, everyone says there’s this magnificent crater lake up there. Correction. I would call it something like a mucky crater pond.

I mean, sure, it’s not ugly or anything, but you’ve just been walking for hours, and this is what you get?

I stalk away, “no pictures no pictures!” because I’m beyond disappointed.

I pout for awhile before starting my descent.

The “crater lake” does look somewhat pleasant from behind the trees, I suppose.

You can tell from this picture that you are really in the Nicaraguan jungle when you’re hiking on Ometepe. It’s a slippery hike with TONS of mud because there is so much moisture. I can’t emphasize enough how much mud there is. You’re covered in it by the time you get down.

I’ve done enough griping about the hike, so now I’ll focus on the things that are great and wonderful and beautiful on Isla Ometepe and Volcan Maderas. I like to gripe in some of my blog posts, because as wondrous as 99% of my travels are, I want to make a point to remind people that it’s very easy to be cranky and pessimistic while traveling. You don’t always find the exact food you want. You don’t always have your normal sleep patterns. You’re not always comfortable. You’re terrified of every insect that flies by or any reptile that scuttles across your path. And best of all, those busses. The bus from San Salvador to Managua must have been 10 hours. The bus from Granada to San Jose must have been equally as long. 10 hours on a bus with disorganized border crossings can turn even the most eager traveler into Grouchy Magoo. So, the rest of this post is dedicated to those beautiful things on Isla Ometepe that Grouchy Magoo still managed to find room in her heart to love.

Let’s talk about the pretty sights on the hike up the volcano.

The first enchanting thing was a banana field. Or plantains. I’m sorry, I can’t remember which.

In the middle of the banana field was this awesome ancient petroglyph of the two mountains.

Immediately upon emerging from the banana field, you look over your shoulder and see Volcan Concepcion behind you.

Then you get a better look at this guy. For whatever reason he looks like plastic, but he’s real.

And then you walk into the jungle. This guy’s web crosses your path. He’s your greeting committee, or rather the scary-looking bouncer who decides whether to let you pass or not. The locals swear this guy is not venenoso. I didn’t believe that for a second, but I also don’t know anything about spiders. The locals referred to it as a banana spider (the banana part makes sense after coming out of the banana field; I wonder if their name has anything to do with their looking like a banana or living in close proximity to bananas), so of course I looked him up on Wikipedia. I got some conflicting information, but from what I can tell, the spider does seem to have a mean bite with some sort of allergic consequence, but I get the impression he is in fact not deadly.

I also want to talk about the cool place I stayed.

I loved Little Morgan’s. There were a lot of people staying there; the owners were cool. I think they are Australian if I’m not mistaken. The quesadillas were awesome. For night #2 I was clever enough to request a bed in the dorm under a mosquito net rather than facing the deluge agin. I recommend the place. They have normal toilets of course, but they also had this composting all natural toilet in a really cool bungalow sort of structure, and you kind of sit up there peeing perched on this throne, and if you look through the slats in the bamboo / palm wall you have an awesome view of Lake Nicaragua, and when a place goes through the trouble to have a grand toilet with a grand view, I have to give my stamp of approval.

See how it’s as if you’re up on a throne?

They also have a relaxing outdoor shower enclosed by bamboo. Well, maybe not relaxing. There is no door on it. So you have to decide if you will wear your bathing suit in the shower or offer a free show for the other twenty people staying there. That’s up to you. (There are inside showers, too, but I like showering outside, and I like using throne toilets.) If you’re inside too much you might miss out on seeing this cool tree on the property:

I was afraid to touch it, so of course I didn’t. Some dude hung his towel on its branches, and I was waiting the next morning to see what kind of similar growths would pop out of his skin. Nothing happened of course.

Another reason to stay outside is to soak up the view. Sorry about that play on words, but Little Morgan’s property backs right up to the lake. You can swim around and look at the mountain and watch the fishermen.

I went swimming with my friend Helen. We met up again with her boyfriend Dirk in Costa Rica. I miss them!

At least my camping spot on the property looked pretty. Too bad I nearly drowned in my tent.

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One Comment on “Hiking Volcan Maderas (4,573 ft) on Isla Ometepe”

  1. Karen July 25, 2011 at 22:57 #

    Awesome post and pix! I loved the throne and the swimming pics especially. Your blogs make me long to return to Nica and CA in general. Thanks to your posts I can either re-live special moments or anticipate those to come!

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