The romantic vision I had of the 1.5-hour boat journey to Ometepe was less about gazing wistfully into the distance while wind whips my hair around and more about staying out of the splash zone of this 6-year-old puke monster standing two people down. Given how tightly they packed the boat, I guess I could say that he was also standing next to me.
Ometepe Island has the foundation of a thriving tourist industry without having it as the central focus of the island. That’s a nice way to say how much we felt like trespassers on this island. It was eerie, not having a concentrated group of noisy tourists to blend in for safety.
But forget all that. Let’s move onto how much I love motorcycles for a second. I love motorcycles.
Now that we’ve gotten that out there, we can continue.
Although we’d already spent 2 days in Léon, our REAL adventure didn’t start until Ometepe and the introduction of the motor scooters. That’s right. My brother and I made up possibly the most threatening bike gang Nicaragua has ever seen. Beep, motherfucker. Beep.
I almost didn’t want to forsake the remaining 5 hours of daylight for a hike which, if you think about it, could be 5 additional hours of joyfully riding around on a motor scooter instead. But, I hadn’t dragged my brother up at 6AM for 5 additional hours of scootering; no, we were going to hike the smaller volcano whether we liked it or not!
“Don’t even bother looking for a trailhead by yourself,” the waitress/receptionist/kitchen helper told us. She pulled out a map of the island. “They tell you to hire a guide for a reason. Guides literally have to machete the path because the jungle grows so fast out there. See, if you reach the top and then lose the path you took, you might walk all the way to the other side of the volcano and then you’re fucked. Because by that time, it’s going to be dark and no one will be looking for you.”
I was flattered that she thought we were going to make it to the top. I’d been eating more natural foods lately but not so much that a quick glance at me screamed “climbs to the top of volcanos easily” or anything.
After 20 minutes and the BEST scooter ride ever, we stared at the trailhead. Wait, let’s go back to the best scooter ride ever. Look at this path. It’s like the type of old-timey path you’d see in My Neighbor Totoro!
Staring at the trailhead not 20 minutes later, it was apparent that she thought we were blind because the trail was quite obvious—it had a deep tread from hoards of people repeatedly walking on living vegetation until any form of life died.
And later, as we scrambled under a barbed-wire fence about an hour later, grazing the top of a particularly large cow dropping with our chins, we considered that she might’ve been right.
Even more so when we got lost on the way down. But first, the views.
The views were BEAUTIFUL. You could almost imagine what it would look like if it hadn’t been cloudy that day.
Climbing Volcán Maderas was really special, even if the views were obstructed by all the clouds of Central America. The trail itself was very native—not in the Big Bend kind of way but in the you-might-get-lost kind of way. The entire time, during the best times I felt like we were participating in a jungle expedition; during the worst, I felt like I was that kid trying to survive one day at a time in Jurassic Park 3.
Anyways, yes we got lost. But, thanks to my overactive paranoia, we had left a trail of breadcrumbs to prevent imminent death. So on the way down, we followed my brother who pointed us in the right direction anytime there was a fork or any possible uncertainty. Whoever said plants all look the same? Let’s not be plantist.
When you’re even the slightest bit lost in the wilderness, every minute seems like a slightly longer minute so by the time we finally broke free of the jungle, we were surprised to see that we’d only really been hiking for an hour (and another hour spent being lost and uncertain).
“So… it’s only 2PM,” I said, checking my phone.
“Well… what do you want to do?” My brother asked.
“Hey, you need to pay for access to the trail,” said some random guy who had snuck up behind us.
After we convinced him that we had already paid once, we agreed to spend the rest of the day lounging at Ojo de Agua.
To be continued
We chose the Finca El Porvenir trail simply because when we tried to get to the one in Balgue, we got lost. The guy we rented our motor scooters from also told us that Finca El Porvenir would be the most scenic one and that all the other ones would look out onto the beach instead of Volcan Concepcion, the larger volcano.
The total time it would take to hike all the way up to the top and back is 8-10 hours.
You will gain an elevation of about 1200m and it is a little muddy on Maderas compared to Concepcion. Good news is that there’s shade on this hike but absolutely none on Volcan Concepcion. This was a HUGE factor in our decision to hike Maderas since our poor Chicagoan bodies hadn’t gotten used to the Nicaraguan heat yet.
If you’re living on the Volcan Concepcion/port side of the island, it will take about 1-1.5 hours to get to the other side. I highly recommend renting a motor scooter because it’s only $25/pp (with a passport/$100 deposit) and it’s the funnest way to get around the island. And the quickest because I saw very infrequent public buses on this island. I heard it’s easy to get picked up hitchhiking though if that’s your fancy.