Thursday 12 Jan
Isla Ometepe, Nicaragua
Isla Ometepe, Lake Nicaragua, Nicaragua
Isla Ometepe is the largest freshwater island in the world (around 40 miles long and 20 wide), formed by two volcanoes, which make up part of the belt of volcanoes that stretch all the way through Nicaragua (we had been up to two others around Granada). Due to its rich, volcanic soil it has many "fincas" producing, among other things, coffee, tobacco, plantanos (a savoury banana) and beans. Being an island it also managed to avoid most of the troubles which have plagued the mainland and the people are supposed to be some of the most friendly in Nicaragua as a result.
We endured the roughest boat ride I can remember to get there. Strong winds had whipped up a considerable swell and our boat sat on top of it like a weeble. We were sat on a flat top deck with no railings and at points we quite seriously had to hang on for our lives. Our rucksacks at the other end of the deck slid about furiously and all we could do was watch and hope they didn't slip right off. Fortunately we arrived safely, only to endure the worst bus ride I can remember (only bettered three days later; on the same road in a mini bus with no seat, three chickens and a sick child).
We stayed at an ecological finca, run by an ageing hippy and his son, up on the side of a steep, forested, hill. Arriving as night fell we were led deep into the woods to a shack completely open to the elements and with no light. After a particularly hard days travel and then having to lug our backpacks up the hill and into the dark foliage we had lost some of our sense of humour. It took me a while to persuade Sara to come outof the little shack and look for more comfort in the communal kitchen shack we had passed a kilometre back.
Finca Zopilote atrracted Artisan types, mainly from Spanish speaking countries. "Artisan" is a romantic term which appears to be heavily overused in tourist areas, where it often means people who make gaudy tat from endangered trees and brightly coloured paintings of women in ethnic clothing with pots on their head. On the travellers circuit you call yourself an Artisan if you make braded necklaces and bracelets, living off what you make from selling them at any opportunity by simply rolling out your rug wherever you are staying. Solentiname, another island on Lake Nicaragua is hailed as "the island of Artisans". The produce I saw on sale and from pictures in it's tourists brochures appeared to be limited to a range of formulaic painted wooden birds on ariels. Whilst providing a much needed income for the local economy it did nothing to dispel my impression that an artisan is simply someone who produces decorative items for tourists.
So I was particularly wary of Luke, a middle-aged and long haired guy from the States who described himself as an "artisan, theoligan, philosopher and musician". He had a big drawing pad on which he was desiging a sail boat with three separate, bowl-like hulls which would be joined together by walkways. He was planning to transport artisans around the world on it for free. Even with my rudimentary knowledge of sailing I could see this would fail miserably as it had no keels on any of the three hulls. He explained how the vortex created by the three round hulls would keep the boat straight. Luke also smoked a lot of weed and told me, in great detail, how the gospels proclaimed that this was the will of God and also that marriage was not.
I later discovered that this is the Rastafarian interpretation of The Bible. I found this frustrating. I couldn't just write the guy of as a crackpot after all and it made me doubt whether I was right about the boat as well.
The finca was also exceptional for the abundance and variety of creepy crawlies and the design of the complex (no walls on any of the buildings) made it ideal for insect spotting. It was disconcerting at first (especially during the midnight trips to the toilet), but fascination soon overcame any fears we had. We saw huge, hairy spiders under the stone steps and were visited by a Praying Mantis and a tiny Scorpion in the kitchen.