Our leisurely “stroll” up Volcan Maderas
Our trip to the other side of the island did not go exactly as planned — par for the course it seems, here in Nicaragua. We got to the bus stop early, and heard someone calling for us across the street. It was Marvin, the some-time taxista who hooked us up with our rental house. I talked to him in Spanish for a while, let him know where we were going, and he was wonderful about describing for us exactly which bus we should take to Merida.
We snagged some seats in the shade to wait for the bus, but after a few minutes, Marvin approached again….he had a deal for us. Of course he did – this is Ometepe, where everyone knows everyone else. It seems that his amigo had a taxi and would take us to our hotel for $5 each, in half the time of the bus. Hmm. What to do?
We couldn’t help but remember the last time we’d turned down that sort of opportunity, and ended up hitchhiking home at dusk. And, a taxi ride to the other side of the island is usually $35. We decided to go for it. Turns out, he had two surveyors in the van that had contracted to go almost all of the way to our hotel. The trip itself was mostly uneventful but the final 35 minutes was over extremely rocky, uneven terrain so it was a huge relief when we arrived at our destination.
Upon arriving in Merida on Tuesday afternoon, Valerie and I just hung around the hotel restaurant and infinity pool for a few hours. The Omaja Hotel property is as beautiful as advertised, with a fantastic view of Lake Nicaragua and stunning sunsets. After dinner we retired early, even for us, to our comfortable cabana for a good night’s sleep.
We awoke on Wednesday morning with no definite ambitions for the day. If anything, we were both inclined to spend another day taking in the spectacular scenery and chilling out. At breakfast, we were greeted by the hotel owner and he gave us a rundown of activities in the area.
Instead of setting out on a catamaran excursion, hiking to the volcano or kayaking we opted to merely take a short walk towards the lake. We were mentally geared for a leisurely stroll and brief visit to one of the nearby beaches.
How could we know that it would be eight hours and eleven miles later before we dragged our sweaty, dusty bedraggled bones up the steep inclined driveway to our cabana at Omaja? Once we had started walking we just couldn’t stop.
We did briefly survey a couple of beaches as we proceeded towards the town of San Ramon but we were not especially drawn to them. Instead, we continued along the rocky dirt road for about two and a half miles. At that point we spotted the Ometepe Biological Station on our left.
After a brief respite at a gazebo outside of the station we decided to pay our $3.00 admission fees and enter the grounds. Our short walk which had turned into a relatively manageable hike was about to become much more adventurous.
We were committing to ascend part of the Maderas Volcano to the San Ramon waterfalls. The attendant at the gate informed us that the trek up would be about 3.5 kilometers and take about one and a half hours. He also confidently instructed us that our Asics running shoes would more than suffice for the terrain that we would encounter on our way up the west face of the volcano.
Luckily, we stopped at a Pulperia for some bottled water earlier in our journey but we had no food or other nourishment. There was a restaurant about one hundred yards past the entrance but, not being hungry at that time, we anxiously decided to take on that mountain immediately and off we went!
First, let me say, truthfully(although perhaps not accurately and certainly not modestly), that I think I’m in good shape for a 50 year old. I’m reasonably faithful to my fitness routine — walk 2-4 miles a day, run 3-4 miles every other day, yoga once or twice a week, I can do 3 sets of 10-20 pushups and all sorts of other crazy things the surgeon general claims are good for my health. But, that 2.5 mile hike to the waterfall was HARD. I was breathing heavy and my heart rate was about where it was at the end of the marathon I ran! What were we thinking?? We saw an orange grove and I bargained with the orange pickers to buy a few oranges for sustenance. Thank goodness for that.
Mark, of course, was marching forward with purpose and vigor. I was dragging behind, huffing and puffing, thinking perhaps this was revenge for that last bike ride we took, when I gleefully rode ahead of him, as he bruised his knees on the handlebars trying to keep up. No, not really — that wouldn’t be in character for Mark.
Revenge my butt! The climb was steep, dusty and darn, it was hot. Plus, the footing, in our supposedly more than sufficient Asics, was treacherous. The gravel was loose, the rocks were jagged and the boulders were huge. Truth be told, I was afraid that if I slowed down, or stopped, I would never get going again.
Thankfully, the views were gorgeous as we continued our ascent and neither of us considered quitting this excursion, at least not out loud. But, after about an hour we turned a corner and the trail seemed to end….without a waterfall. It certainly looked like a place where rushing water belonged, but there wasn’t a drop to be seen. Did we conceivably make that long hike without thinking to ask anyone if the water was actually falling at this time of year?
Seemingly intact pipes were still above us, which gave some hope that there was more to see. But, we could not hear any moving water and the trail looked to be a dead end. Just as we were about to make the best of our situation, settle under a few shady trees and read for a while, we heard voices overhead.
Then, three women turned a corner through a narrow passage in the rocks and it was clear that our climb wasn’t over — Yay? The female hikers — from the NY area — gave us some helpful hints on how to find the cascades and reminded us several times to hug the wall to the right. The alternative, to the left, was what looked to be a very quick, steep and bumpy descent.
After what seemed like forever, but was really only about 15 minutes, we heard the magical sound of falling water. Shortly thereafter we turned a corner and spotted the breathtaking falls gushing into a shallow pool at the edge of a steep cliff.
We hung around the falls enjoying the scenery and taking a dip for about a half hour. The climb was definitely worth it. The only disappointment was a lack of shade in which to rest our weary bones.
So, there we were, ready to re-trace our steps and head down the volcano. When we run I have a definite advantage over Valerie when we are going up hills. Contrarily, she has a definite advantage going down. I like to think that it has something to do with our centers of gravity. In reality, it’s probably just that she is more coordinated than me.
Now, it was her turn to lead the way as I, and my Asics, tried to safely negotiate every jagged rock and loose segment of gravel. With my ankles bending in every direction on each step I tried not to fall face first into the unrelenting terrain. It took everything I could muster just to keep Valerie in sight. Maybe my hiking boots, left back in Moyagolpa, would have come in handy?
In the end my patience paid off, as I was still in one piece, and I joined her as we approached the exit gate. As we proceeded, I glanced over at the attendant’s shack and muttered to myself “running shoes will suffice”, huh!
No time for a victory lap though – there were still 2 and a half miles to get home and the steep driveway up to Omaha to conquer,but memories of the view from our hammock kept us going.