After a few days of lying low, slathering myself in aloe and coconut oil, and allowing my burn to heal I woke up and knew it was time to go. So much of this trip was just listening to my intuition. I had planned on staying a whole day longer, but something was telling me to move on. So I took one last walk to the beach before anyone was awake to enjoy the peaceful beach at sunrise.
While it was still relatively cool I ran some stairs to get some activity in before my travel day, and then just reveled in feeling the sand between my toes and the cool ocean water on my legs.
After my last goodbye to Playa Maderas it was time to pack up and get on the road. I was headed to Ometepe. Like I mentioned in my previous post, this is an island in Lake Nicaragua, the largest lake in Central America. It is two volcanoes, Concepcion and Maderas that are connected by an isthmus. Being formed by volcanoes the ground is extremely fertile and so the island is primarily made up of farms.
On my incessant online search I had stumbled upon another travelers blog who had stayed at a place called Finca Mystica. Not only did it look wonderful, but the owners seemed great... and well I just had the ‘feeling’ thing. So I emailed about availability and set off.
It was no easy task to get there though. I had to take a shuttle to town, get on a bus, catch a cab, take a ferry, and then catch another cab. The journey started at 8:30am and I didn’t arrive to my next destination until 6pm.
Finca Mystica is on the Maderas side of the island, the less populated side, and the roads are unpaved and rough. I soon found out this was very common in Nicaragua and makes travel a bit time consuming.
My plan after the ferry ride was to wait for the bus, which wasn’t for 3 hours and would take another 3 hours on the rough roads. But once I got off the boat the farms (finca means farm) cab driver was there with a sign, so I decided to ask him about the rates. It was going to cost $30! Not cordobas, dollars. So I decided to stick with my original plan. After wandering the tiny and very boring port town the cab driver found me again and started to speak to me in Spanish. In what I could decipher he didn’t want me to take the bus, saying it would be 3 hours. I tried to explain I understood this, and that was fine. After a few minutes of confusing exchanges he called up the owners of the farm, who are from the U.S. originally, making communication much easier.
Two other women were arriving on the ferry and would be taking the cab so the driver was trying to tell me we should all just go together and split it. Although the $10-15 was much more than the $1 it would probably cost to take the bus it was also much more comfortable, and took 1/3 of the time. So I said ‘what the heck!’
While traveling I tend to pinch pennies, especially because my trips are usually pretty long. Cabs are a luxury I don’t take. I would rather get the full experience of local transport and save a few dollars to spend elsewhere. When you only have 2 weeks though, there's no time to waste. Plus I had to keep reminding myself this wasn’t one of my usual travel expeditions. I was trying to staying away from stress, and local travel can be very full of stress.
The ferry didn’t get in for another few hours though so the driver dropped me at a restaurant and told me he would come find me there. Not hungry, but stuck to wait at a restaurant I ordered some lunch. Tostones, smashed and fried plantains, with chicken.
While waiting for my food I saw a girl who was on the ferry with me. She came up to my table and started to chat. Which was easy after she realized I didn’t speak much Spanish (so embarrassing) and began to converse in English. We talked about how I ended up in Nica, and what my plans were. I found out she had recently bought land on Ometepe and was meeting with builders to start construction on a mechanic shop she was going to open. I loved this! She was the same age as me, but was making her dreams a reality. A young woman, sitting amongst several older men, talking construction, motorcycles and business with confidence and respect. Way to break the mold!
She offered to let me stay with her if I was in Managua again during my trip. While traveling alone people have shown me so many amazing acts of kindness. In each one of my solo trips; Australia, Europe and Nicaragua, I had people show me such hospitality. Each time it happens I am in such awe. Strangers, just willing to help, to offer what they can. It's something I don't see a lot of back home.
When the cab arrived I hopped in and immediately connected with the two other women. They were both very different but equally interesting and easy to converse with. Also hailing from the PNW they were traveling from Oregon. We hit it off immediately, thankfully because we had an hour and a half together! One of them, Kristin, was extraordinarily gregarious. Making extra effort to communicate with our driver, Max. What she lacked in knowledge she made up for in confidence.
Of course the question, “what do you do back home?” came up and Kristin couldn’t really answer. She explained she did lots of things, but didn’t really have one career. Mostly she did things for trade. Using her skills to trade with others for the things she needed. Organizing, marketing, event planning, yoga instruction, cooking…you name it and she had done it. It was a whole new way of looking at currency for me. She said she made very little actual money, but got everything she needed or wanted just by trade. Granted to do this you must be extremely confident and able to put yourself out there, which is something I struggle with.
She had traveled to 37 countries, didn’t bring guidebooks, technology or watches. Most importantly she was happy. Amazingly so. She pointed out things I barely took notice of and exclaimed at their beauty. It was a wonderful experience to begin to see the world in the way she did. Admiring the simplest parts of nature, taking time to connect with others despite the difficulty of a language barrier and truly soaking in every aspect of the experience.
Spontaneously we stopped on our way to the Finca at Ojo de Agua for a quick dip. El Ojo de Agua are two natural spring swimming pools that are popular with locals and tourists alike. When we got there we could see why. Not only is the water beautifully crisp and clear but it’s also surrounded by a canopy of greenery providing much appreciated shade.
I don’t’ know if I’ve mentioned this yet but the weather in Nica was in the 90’s with humidity around 50% or higher. So it was hot, like uncomfortably and unenjoyably hot. Sticky, sweaty, moist no matter what hot.
We happily got in the water, which was surprisingly cold. I hadn’t felt engulfed by anything cold in days! It was wonderfully refreshing.
Nearing dark we arrived at Finca Mystica, got settled in, and met the other travelers staying at the finca. I was the only solo traveler, surrounded by couples. Which was fine with me. Every couple I met had an interesting story and some lesson to share. None of them meant to teach me anything, but in some way they all did.
It took me awhile to allow myself to just slow down. I was on this amazing island and there was so much to do and see! It felt wrong to just being doing nothing, to be relaxing. Shouldn’t I be doing, seeing, going?
I did what I could to allow myself to relax into it. My routine became to go to bed around 830 or 9pm, and wake up with the sun at 5am. I started my day by doing some yoga or other mini workout in their yoga pavilion, before the sun became too unbearable!
My time consisted of a lot of walking. By myself, with my thoughts and no real destination. One day I walked for about 6 hours, another day I hiked up to a waterfall. One foot in front of the other, just moving and experiencing. This is foreign to me, if I'm walking I'm going somewhere specific. It was such a liberating feeling to have not where to go though.
There were animals roaming freely, farms and small homes, and the occasional car or moto would go by but mostly it was people on bicycles. Life was slow, quiet and peaceful.
One of my favorite parts of staying here was the food. Made fresh to order from all local and organic ingredients from the island. They even had yummy chocolates made from their cacao plant. It tasted unlike any chocolate I had ever had, and I had one every freaking day.
Of course eating while traveling can be a challenge, but there was always a way. My first breakfast I ordered 4 eggs with fruit (which I added lots of delicious coconut oil to), and the girl cooking looked at me very confused. She had to clarify with the owner what I wanted. In a land where meals consist heavily on rice, beans, and plantains this apparently was an odd request. Once I even bought some vegetables from a local stand and asked to have them scrambled with my eggs. Although all meals came with their fresh-baked bread, I simply asked for it "sin pan" (without bread). Instead they gave me yummy fried cassava.
Unfortunately I was visiting at the tail end of the dry season so most things had not come to life yet. They were waiting for the rains to plant new crops. If you are there at the right time you can help to plant or harvest, which I hope to do next time I visit.
The owners of Finca Mystica were originally from New Jersey, they visited loved it and bought land. Slowly they began to develop their farm, planting things from seed and patiently waiting for them to fruit. They built cabins, a lodge, a communal sleeping room and their own house using cob. An a an ancient technique that uses soil, sand, rice straw, and horse manure found or grown locally. I highly recommend checking out their site and read more about their story, it’s extremely inspiring.
The whole place is kept amazingly clean and it’s the perfect combination of rustic and comfortable. They also work closely with the community, giving donations to those in need, working on building a park and community center. All in all they are amazing hosts, that have created a beautiful place to simply relax and enjoy the beautiful nature and culture that surrounds you.
After 4 nights of delicious food, solitude, and quiet, interspersed with wonderful conversations I decided it was time to move on. I still wanted to find that beautiful ocean beach.
Next stop: Playa Gigante.