Ometepe Island, Nicaragua (N 11°29.708 W 85°32.677).
What does a good boyfriend do for his girlfriend for her birthday when they are living out of a car in a third world country you ask? Well, this boyfriend decides that his lady needs an island birthday and takes her to the closest thing to a tropical island, which for us happened to be Ometepe Island in Lake Nicaragua. What a lucky gal she is! :) The island is made up of two volcanoes (yes we are starting to get sick of them) and connected by a narrow low lying piece of land all of which is inside the massive 110 mile by 35 mile Lake Nicaragua.
Racing down from Masaya, we make it to the docks in time to board Lola onto the slowest moving ferry ever. And an hour and a half later arrive on the lush Ometepe Island. We have heard of overlanders bush camping on a stretch of beach on the island, and had our hearts set on this. We check the maps, figure out where it is, and off we go in search of this. To our pleasure, we roll up and see three other overland vehicles parked on a uninhabited section of the beach! We pull up and are met by friendly people of various European nationalities, and get straight to cooking some yummy beach camping grub and enjoy some cold brewskies with our neighbors. We check out everyones rigs and share travel stories from the road. Perfection is what that is called!
|Bow pointed at Ometepe's Conception Volcano|
|Wild looking cloud formation!|
|Beach camping with some fellow nomads.|
The night is cut kinda short by the rain, as are many nights lately in the beginning of rainy season here, but we were happy to have some comradery in the not so perfect weather. Turns out some kind of mini monsoon was hitting the island, blasting the beach with strong winds, heavy rain, and thunder and lighting lasting until almost 11am the next day. The storm forced us to rest up inside Lola this whole time, making the best of the close quarters by reading, catching up on The Wire, and trying not to be jealous of our friends in their roomy RV type vehicles. Antsy to end our micro hibernation at the first sign of the storms end, we say bon voyage to our friends and hit the road to explore the island. We take a drive around the rugged south loop of the island - a dirt road circling one of the two volcanos that make up Ometepe (means "two mountains" in an ancient native language), and take in the island life of the locals.
|Where exactly does one evacuate when stuck when on a volcano in the middle of a shark filled lake!|
Chris has plans for a very special 31st birthday for Mallary and finds us the most perfect little beach cabana with a view of the lake to celebrate at. We spend our time swimming in the lake while also trying to ignore the fact that it is full of sharks. Once thought to be a seperate species, it was recently discovered the sharks here are indeed Bull Sharks that swam upstream from the Carribbean. So much for some exciting Sharknado theory. Occasionally horses join us to grab a drink, highlighting an already scenic backdrop of luscious green volcanoes.
|Racking up brownie points with a stellar cabana!|
|Shark bait with a good background.|
|It seems like you are at ocean, until you see horses drinking at it's shores.|
Some exercise is needed so we embark on our bikes for a ride around the rolling hills to a spring fed pool called Ojo de Agua to take a refreshing dip in the mineral rich rejuvenating waters. While frolicking in the waters we hear the plop of something landing near us, a closer look reveals green poop, how the heck!? Hold up, there are Howler Monkeys staring at us from the trees above, and they really do throw poo!! That wasn't the last of it either, shortly later one of the younger mischievous monkeys walked along a tree limb overhanging the pool and peed down into it. It wasn't a trickle either, it was a full on stream! So this is what the pool means by being mineral rich.
|Ojo de Agua|
|The poo throwing culprits.|
We indulge in some hummus, veggie curry and fresh fruit smoothies at the vegetarian restaurant which serves local and organic food from the island. By further biking around, we follow our noses to a locals house which serves up huge portions of the best damn tacos we have ever had for just a few bucks, and wash those down with some cheap beers on the beach. We repeat this the next day, with a return visit to our new favorite island establishments for more delicious drinks and food, swimming in our beach side pool complete with pool side service, and then top off the day with professional massages in our cabana, followed by the always refreshing skype time with the family and doggies. 31 is looking pretty good for Mallary, as the list of things in life to be thankful for just keeps growing with every year that passes! :)
|You know it must be Mallary's birthday if Chris is eating at a vegetarian restaurant!|
|Best tacos since Mexico!|
Our five days on the island came to an end with what seemed like a blink of an eye, and soon we were slowly rumbling back across the lake to mainland. The strip of land between the lake and the Pacific Ocean is fairly narrow so we drove across to find ourselves a resting point before entering into Costa Rica the next day. Where to go for now? We made it to the touristy coastal town of San Juan del Sur, but unattracted to what we saw, we chose to drive south for something a little more remote. A rough 15 miles later we arrived at La Flor Wildlife Refuge. The main purpose of this mostly ignored park is to protect the nesting grounds of Olive Ridley sea turtles along with being a research center. Worldwide the Olive Ridley is dropping in numbers, and likely to be listed as endangered in the near future, therefore this park is one of a few of it's kind hoping to give these turtles a fighting chance. The folks here seemed a little surprised that anyone would randomly show up, and were not exactly welcoming at first. Despite the cold intro, we stuck around anyway and helped ourselves to the beautiful and completely empty beach. Early in the night we met a friendly ranger named Luis, who informed us that even though it is not turtle nesting season (full moons from July-December are best), that we might still get lucky and see them as a few turtles were nesting each night that week already. He was going out at 9pm to collect eggs, and we could go with him if we wanted. Heck yea!
|Our turtle beach during the day|
|A recent hatching site!|
|Searching for treasure|
9pm rolled around and we were at Luis' heels scouring the beach for turtles. We make it all the way down to the end of beach before we start to see the dark lump of a turtle close to the treeline! It's one of the Olive Ridley's that was just finishing packing in the sand on top of it's eggs! It was neat to see, but we wanted to see the whole process so we continued searching. Suddenly, in a fit of excitement, Mallary yelled "Look tracks!" and sure enough another fresh set of turtle tracks led from the water and up into the darkness. We followed the tracks and came across another turtle, and lucky for us she was still searching for a good place to lay her eggs. According to Luis it was important to give her space while she dug a hole for the eggs, once complete we quietly approached behind her. Part of the mission of this refuge is for the rangers to collect the eggs and release them at birth so they can be protected against poachers, animals, and also allow more of the baby turtles to make it to the sea. Luis expertly dug a tunnel at an angle that connected to the hole the turtle had made and backed away to let us watch the eggs slowly drop and start to fill in the hole! We were kneeling less than a foot behind the turtle shining our red lights into the hole, silently and estatically taking in the beauty of nature in front of us. It was incredible watching this happen. As the turtle finished up, Luis quickly scooped out the eggs, giving the turtle room to fill in and pack down the sand (totally unaware we had her 90 eggs). She did a meticulous job of packing in the sand and covering up any signs that she had been there. You could tell she was exhausted from the entire process, as she would frequently take breaks and a few deep breaths, but was determined to protect her babies on the very same beach that she was born about 50 years ago!! Normally only one flash photo is allowed per person, but since it was just the two of us we were allowed to take plenty more when she was finished laying, and even touch the turtle shell - Luis actually urged us to! From there, we watched the turtle scoot back down the beach and return to the sea. The whole process itself took roughly an hour, and left us with an amazing experience that we were very fortunate to see live. Fully satisfied from the night hunt, we went back to camp ready catch some sleep and get up early for the morning crossing into Costa Rica.
|Turtle eggs! Scrambled or easy over? ;)|
|Feeling a rush while up close and personal with mama turtle|
|Luis pulling out the eggs.|
|Mama heading back to the sea|
La Flor Wildlife Refuge, Nicaragua (N 11°08.636 W 85°47.566).