Lake Cocibolca, Nicaragua

sea, sweet sea

Dark day
An eerie panorama of the shallow surface of Lake Cocibolca, also known as Nicaragua, near San Jorge.
in the company of God
Children from Ometepe investigate the passage of outsiders near an island chapel
a volcanic blue
The conical silhouette of the Concepción volcano in the background of an Ometepe plantation and surrounded by a bluish celestial aura.
towards Ometepe
Backpacker travels on the deck of the vessel that connects San Jorge to Moyogalpa, on the island of Ometepe. In the background, the volcano Concepción.
Testimony of a pre-colonial past
One of the sculptures left by the indigenous inhabitants of Nahuatl descent from Ometepe (probably Nicaraguan), in the vicinity of Santa Cruz
Life for 2
Couple discuss life on the way to a church in Altagracia.
cattle on the road
A small herd of cows travels along the rocky road that runs along the long seafront of Ometepe.
The door
A girl from Altagracia, Ometepe, takes a break from her shopping trip to pose for photography.
churchyard scene
Young man from Altagracia, island of Ometepe, prepares for a short bike ride from the local church.
Equestrian coziness
Wife and son return home from a plantation in Ometepe.
a fresh water sea
Soft waves of Lake Cocibolca - or Nicaragua - spread out on a volcanic sand bank.
a fruitful load
Resident carries a large bunch of banana bread, one of the main crops of Ometepe.
swine triumph
Pigs roam one of the unpaved streets of Altagracia, a village on the island of Ometepe.

Indigenous Nicaraguans treated the largest lake in Central America as Cocibolca. On the volcanic island of Ometepe, we realized why the term the Spaniards converted to Mar Dulce made perfect sense.

Carried out by light aircraft, the return trip from the Corn Islands to the Nicaraguan capital Managua took us just an hour, instead of the nearly day and a half that it had forced us, by land, river and sea, in the opposite direction. In order to head south, we took a taxi towards the Huembes market from where buses departed for the whole country.

The driver quickly turned out to be much more communicative than we expected. As soon as he realizes where we are from and that we were scratching the Spanish, he puts down a verbal change and “stings” us into a long road conversation, enriched by the Latin American soundtrack coming from his car radio.

Crying-loving theme after crying-loving theme plays a familiar song we'd heard over and over again on this trip. We cannot resist clarifying a riddle that has been bothering us for too long. José Gutierrez, is not for half measures: “24 Roses? What's that? José Malhoa? Do not know. We here have heard this for a long time. It's a ballad called “25 Roses”. It's by Mexican Juan Sebastián. It became famous and it wasn't just in Mexico. Also here in Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica and I would even say Panama and so on. It seems to me that your José Malhoa took a rose from the bouquet but took out a good silver on the man's account… but I don't know, tell me what you think.” We have no way of defending our compatriot and we were about to arrive.

We land in Huembes and are immediately recruited onto a minibus that a shouting passenger picker has assured us is about to depart. The wait passed from about to half an hour, from half an hour to almost an hour and a quarter when the capacity was finally sold out and the crew was on their way. This trip went smoothly. The next, even shorter, took us to San Jorge and the western shore of the great Lake Nicaragua (or Cocibolca), from where we would set sail for the mysterious island of Ometepe, in its heart.

It is a stifling heat that numbs our senses, but as we wait for the ferry to dock, we still notice the strangely wintry and lugubrious beauty of the image that lies ahead. Dark clouds cover the lake except for the distance where we glimpse smoke from a considerable fire and, slowly approaching, the vessel that would come to collect us.

The cloudiness blocks the sunlight, turns the surface of the lake almost black and transforms into mere amphibian silhouettes a cowboy on horseback of some slobber and, at his side, a cow much more portentous than the mounted one. A few meters to the left, a woman with the water almost to her waist washes clothes on one of several wooden structures placed there for this purpose.

There is almost no wind and the waves gently break. Until the rusty ferry makes its way to a nearby jetty and generates an insignificant tsunami.

We let passengers disembark. At the signal of a crew member, we climbed aboard and installed ourselves on the bitumen cover of the deck, in the company of backpacks, baskets full of some plants and a western backpacker not much given to conversation.

As the boat enters that vast sweet sea, it magnifies the Concepción's diffuse conical profile, the higher, wider and more active of the two volcanoes that crown the circumferences of the eight that resembles Ometepe's improbable form.

The wind increases. Makes the boat rock and forces us to grip floor ledges with considerable force so as not to get out projected outside edge. But we were not long in coming to moyogalpa, the main settlement on the island. From there, we still moved to Altagracia. Many hours after the initial departure from far away Corn Islands we managed, set up camp, go à Internet to check what news there was at home and in the rest of the world and, finally, rest blessed by the natural silence that would seize Ometepe, after nightfall.

There are only 35.000 natives. They fish, raise cattle, banana bread and other agricultural products in peace and abandonment to which their homeland has long voted for them, but what recurrent news of a Nicaraguan Atlantic-Pacific route alternative to the Panama Canal – and which would pass in the vicinity – promise, from once in a while, resolve.

The next day, already equipped with bicycles and ready to explore as much as we could of the place, we came across busy and elusive inhabitants in the face of the suspicious presence of these intruders armed with cameras. According to what we learned, however, his distrust was likely to have historical roots.

After, in the XNUMXth century, the Spaniards had conquered this entire area of ​​Central America, the pirates who sought to seize the treasures that they had taken from the indigenous people began to climb the San Juan River from the Caribbean Sea, wandering around the Lake Cocibolca and stealing the possessions, women and crops of the inhabitants of the villages of Ometepe. This harassment made the populations seek shelter higher up, on the slopes of the volcanoes, and only the definitive colonization of the Spaniards allowed them to return to the lakeside.

The clouds from the day before were gone. The sun was still far from the zenith and already pedaling on bicycles on a dirt road hardened by the dry season in the area, we were undone in fatigue and sweat.

Even though we were down, we moved forward and reached Santo Domingo, next to the isthmus that delimits the autonomous domain of the Maderas volcano. There, we penetrated into forests full of spider monkeys, parrots and mammals and birds of other species. Also on a trail that leads to the El Porvenir estate, where we find a community of rock sculptures and petroglyphs, some created in 300 BC, by the first Nahuatl inhabitants of Ometepe, coming from today's Mexican territory.

We continued up the slope and peered into the lush crater of Maderas, then shrouded in clouds. Before returning, we still passed by Punta Gorda. From that ledge and from another perspective, we once again admire the vast Cocibolca and could not resist the first non-oceanic dive in Nicaragua, at the time, unaware that bull sharks could patrol that fresh, dark water. These, like colonial-era pirates, rise from the Caribbean Sea down the San Juan River. Scientists have found, moreover, that, like the salmon, they win some of their most challenging rapids in jumps.

In Balgue, we re-energize with a robust plate of rooster chick (combination of rice and beans) accompanied by fried egg and croutons (fried banana slices).

We are 12 km from Altagracia. When we retrieved the bicycles that had saved us, we realized that, with our bellies full, under a still scorching sun and along a road infested with potholes, we didn't feel like pedaling back. We took shelter at a bus stop that we hoped would not be just decorative.

“The Colombian period lasted for three centuries…” a girl who sits beside us with a notebook and pencil in hand studying for a school exam in imminent history declaims like a spiel. In the hour and a half in which we despaired for the arrival of our career, more schoolmates settle in the shade and join the childish dialogue that we had fun maintaining.

Nearby, the great Cocibolca continued to caress Ometepe. For a short time. Two days later, a gale arose. The ferry ride from Moyogalpa back to San Jorge and mainland Nicaragua proved a lot more bitter than we were counting.

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