The bike slid and I saw it all happen in slow motion. As our bodies approached the dusty rocky road surface I knew that we would lose a bit of skin. Before I could think any further, we got really intimate with the beautiful island of Ometepe, skin to gravel.
The island is composed of two beautiful volcanoes in the middle of the vast Nicaragua lake. At just over 3,000 square miles, Lake Nicaragua is the largest lake in Central America. Standing on the eastern side of the island looking out into the water you will not see land in the horizon and you might be convinced that you are staring at the ocean.
Volcan Concepción, the larger of the two volcanoes, is almost a perfect cone with three sides covered in lush vegetation. The smaller volcano, Volcan Maderas, seemingly changes shape as you go around it and is beautiful to watch. This island is the only place in Nicaragua where it is safe to drink the tap water. It is also the only place in Nicaragua where we have seen wildlife in the jungle.
To take in the views we decided to rent a moped for the day to drive around the outer edge of the island in a figure 8 around both volcanoes. We went with Alvaro and Perrine whom we met the day before. He is from Spain and she is from Belgium and they have been traveling for a year.
We rented the mopeds from Charly, the owner of the hostel where we were staying. He told us that the mopeds should have no problems going around both volcanoes, waving his hand dismissively as if it was such a silly idea that mopeds would have issues with gravel roads.
I love the feeling of riding bicycles and motorcycles, and a moped seems to be the same. The wind gushing by feeling like freedom. The looming gorgeous figure of Volcan Concepcion with its changing wisps of clouds clinging to the top was a constant sight. Soon we were on the far side of the volcano where the road turned to dirt. Large rocks jut from the ground and ruts decorate much of the road.
On one particular downhill we hit a sand pit. The bike began to slide and the front tire hit a jutting rock. This is where the bike turned and spewed us onto the ground. Thankfully we were going slow and didn’t slide too far for major injury. I felt fine and Trin said he was fine. Alvaro and Perrine quickly caught up to us but we were able to hop back on and continue down the road. We were a bit more cautious however going forward.
When we finally arrived in the town of Altagracia we took a look at Trin’s knee and realized we needed to get it cleaned and medicated and later found out he should have had stiches. To me his knee looked like raw meat. The pharmacy offered us iodine when we asked for antibiotics. We cleaned the wound, and continued to San Domingo beach.
San Domingo is said to be the best beach on the island. We went for a swim. Trin hoping to get more of the dirt out of his wounds. It was shallow for quite a ways and the waves were calm. It made for a nice swim on a decent beach.
The Second Accident
Halfway around the second volcano we were following Alvaro and Perrine on a rough downhill when they hit a rock and we helplessly watched as their bike toppled over. We stopped and I rushed down the hill to try to help out. Alvaro had a large wound on his ankle and Perrine banged up her knee. We offered them the iodine.
We began to wonder why Charly said these roads were okay. Even with a lot of care, mopeds can not handle the conditions of this road no matter how good the driver may be. Then we began to wonder if this was his scheme. Charge exorbitant amounts for damages that he will never fix as both bikes seemed a bit beat up. At one of our stops along the road we spoke to a local who told us that it was not uncommon to see bruised or wounded people on mopeds.
The sky treated us to a beautiful sunset on the way home. We stopped at a park near the pier for a beer and to watch the sun set beyond the boats and discussed travels and blogging. Alvaro and Perrine both maintain blogs. Perrine’s is named Verwonderweg and Alvaro’s is City Collections both have great pictures of the destinations they have visited.
Tending to Wounds
Back at the hostel, we spoke with Peter, another traveler who also rented a moped that day. He is an avid Harley rider and said that these road conditions were too rugged for mopeds. He ended up tending to both Trin’s and Alvaro’s wounds. Peter told Trin that he must go see the doctor the next day and not to wait. He was such a sweet old guy, very expressive and kind. It’s a shame that I could not speak French (the only language he spoke); I would have loved to talk to him more.
Charly and his goons
Charly and his goons showed up to pick up the mopeds. After seeing the scratches on the fender he demanded a large sum of money and launched into a spiel about how he was protecting us from the actual owners of the bikes and that he was only going to charge us a small amount for the damage because we were staying at his place, and all sorts of bullcrap like that. It all sounded so practiced and familiar.
I think the worst part is that he cared little about anyone getting injured. We were willing to pay a fair price, not the exorbitant price he was asking. I told him that we will pay in the morning, so we could have time to determine what would be a fair price. He yelled “No, tonight” and was adamant about getting the payment that evening, even offering to drive us to the ATM so we could withdraw money. No way was I going to let some goon in the middle of Nicaragua drive us to an ATM while we withdrew money. Not going to happen.
Trin and I went to our room to discuss. I pulled out some money – what we thought was a fair price in Nicaragua, and took it back outside. I offered the amount to Charly and said this was all we had and they would have to take it. He hemmed and hawed but we stood our ground and he finally took and it left.
After dinner, we walked into the town center of Moyogalpa. Alvaro and Perrine have not yet tried Flor de Caña so we went looking for it. It was late and the Pali was already closed but we found a convenience store next to the Petronic that sells liquor. We bought a 5 year old Flor de Caña, coke, and some ice and enjoyed it on the lawn chairs outside our hostel.
Despite the mishap and what we felt was a dishonest play by our hostel owner we really enjoyed the island. It seems to have the healthiest environment in all of Nicaragua. The domestic animals, most of them seemingly free range, healthy and happy.
Hogs, dogs, horses and cattle all wandered around with a healthy amount of meat on their bones. We also enjoyed the friendly atmosphere. Being a smaller island everyone smiled and waved and most greeted us as we drove or walked by.
Back in Rivas
Back in the mainland, in the town of Rivas, we went to the Gaspar Garcia Laviana Hospital to have Trin’s knee wound checked out. We were hesitant to go but it was an interesting experience. People were filing in and out of the waiting room in various stages of pain. I stood by the open window for a breeze and smelled sewage wafting through. We could see the intensive care unit behind the reception desk with curtains hanging askew as the door of each room.
When we were ushered in to see the doctor Trin was instructed to sit on the bed while the doctor scrubbed his wound clean rinsing off her hands in the large stained sink nearby.
She pulled a metal tin of gauze from a crumbling cupboard and poured disinfectant on the gauze to scrub with. She said he should have gotten stiches, but that they needed to be done within the first 8 hours of the accident. Two days later was too late. She gave Trin oral antibiotics and pain killers along with a prescription for something to clean the wound. The entire bill, medications included was $1 USD.
This was our last day in Nicaragua. Despite the poverty and lack of resources the people of Nicaragua cared. There are always some in every culture who take advantage of others, but they are the minority and we felt safe most of the time in this country.
Blue Door Best Deal:
Bus ride from the Rivas bus station to the San Jorge port, and vice-versa. Cost: 7 Cordobas. It is a yellow short school bus and you can catch it along 7ma Calle NE starting near the bus terminal. Taking a shared taxi (collectivo) will cost at least 25 Cordobas.