The largest fresh water island in the world.
At several points in our journey we had to make sacrifices. Part of this was due to spending three weeks in Baja, Mexico trying to fix the KLR. But beyond that, we were trying to get from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to Tierra del Fuego, sell the bikes, and fly back to Chicago in about 120 days. We weren’t exactly sure how long some things would take and, as such, had to give up certain destinations for time. The coast of Mexico, for instance, was traded in as well as Belize and El Salvador. But even after that, we still had the Darien Gap looming ahead of us and we really weren’t sure how long it would take to navigate that issue.
That being said, Ometepe was one of the only places Aaron was unwilling to give up. Since he’d first read about the place he was dead set on getting there. I was sold on the idea as well. I mean, after all, it is the largest fresh water island in the world, and it’s in the largest lake in Central America, and that lake is, supposedly, full of bull sharks, and the island is full of howler monkeys.
So we rode the short distance from Managua to San Jorge and went straight up to the gate at the dock. And here we started paying tolls. We had to pay a toll for being travelers and then for having the motorcycles. Then we paid a transporting toll for the bikes to be on the ferry and then again when we arrived at Ometepe to take the bikes off the ferry, as if there was a chance we would decide we just wanted the bikes to take a quick ride and then return to mainland. When on the island, we had to pay tolls to get from one side of the island to the other (despite it being the largest fresh water island on earth, it is not a very large island). And I think there were a few other random tolls. We were in the habit of keeping all receipts from the trip, but keeping all of these became an issue of space. In the end, we paid, maybe, $12 a piece in tolls, which isn’t really that much, but we had to pay it $1 at a time.
Beyond the toll aggravation, Ometepe was great. The ferry ride was about an hour long and while waiting at the dock, we met a group of middle-aged, Guatemalan enduro riders. It was a bit of a hassle getting all eight of our bikes onto the ferry along with a truck or two, but one we got everything tied up and left a couple of us to guard them, it wasn’t so bad.
When we arrived at the island, we rode with the Guatemalans to the far side of the island. Ometepe is a lot more developed than Aaron and I expected. There were a few reasonable looking hotels just past the dock and hostels scattered about as well. When we talked to some of the locals, we were told about a place called Zopilote (having not seen it written down, I remembered it as “Soapy Lotte). It was described to us as a sort of self-sustained commune hostel. So we decided to give it a look.
We had a good time talking and riding with the other riders and parted ways as we headed towards Zopilote. We had to wait and ride around lots of road construction. It looked like in the next year or so they’d have a decent road going around the whole island. As it was, then, however, we got the opportunity to ride off-road some and play in the mud.
The problem with the KLR from back in Honduras, wherein the carburetor disconnected from the engine, turned out to be not completely fixed in Honduras. The day before it happened two or three times and it happened again on Ometepe. By the time it was riding again and we arrived at Zopilote I only had about an hour before sunset to try to figure out what the underlying problem was.
So Aaron went up to see what the commune was like and I took the KLR apart and found that the circular rubber stopper that holds the gas tank tight was missing. The bouncing was bad enough to bend a bit of the metal in the area where metal was hitting metal. In addition to the small circular nub, the saddle-like rubber holder was also missing. So, using what I could find, I wrapped some foam up in electrical tape and tried to make a temporary replacement.
After that, we enjoyed Zopilote’s pizza party night. Despite being up some random hill on in island in the middle of nowhere, they make some really good pizza. They’ve built a stone oven and produce a fair amount of the ingredients right there. We met a great group of travelers and got to bed relatively early that night.
Sleeping was a bit of a hassle, though, as we’d chosen to sleep in hammocks and didn’t have our sleeping bags, because they were locked in our new friend’s truck down by the road and, as I was the last one to bring things up the hill, it was my duty to get them for us. I, having my mind set on fixing the bike and not on the sleeping bags, forgot. By the time we realized this, our friend was already sleeping. I didn’t think it would be that cold during the night anyways.
Aaron was cold, though, and, unwilling to go get the sleeping bag himself, eventually found a place to sleep on a warmer floor somewhere else on the grounds.
We woke up and had a fantastic breakfast. In addition to making great pizza, they also grow and harvest coffee, chocolate, fruit, tobacco, and a lot more that I’ve forgotten.
We left unhappily, as we would have liked to have spent a few days on the island instead of 18 hours. If we had more time we would have gone to the waterfall or climbed up the volcano. I suppose it’s always nice to have something to go back for, though.
We rode back to the dock and fit the motos on the ferry along with our enduro friends. There was a funny moment when one of the Guatemalans walked over to the ferry workers and had a quick chat about the enormous trucks that seemed to be backing onto the ferry. As the trucks pulled forward and he walked back to us, we learned that, despite us having paid for passage, they had no intention of placing our bikes on that ferry until he told them to back off.
We made it back to San Jorge and rode to the Costa Rican border without incident… except that the carburetor came off the engine a couple more times. It only happened when I was starting it and always made a backfire-like noise. I got into the habit of having a screwdriver out every time I stopped for a quick tightening of the clamp. That seemed to help a little.
While working through the offices at the border, we met up with Devin and Jenna. They were riding a jeep from their home in the USA to Tierra del Fuego. We passed them earlier in the day and they said that they remember seeing us. Actually, when they saw us, they thought that we were bandits riding them down and they started to pull over. We were dressed in shorts and moderately dirty clothing and, I suppose, with some of the shapes coming off the bikes, like Aaron’s machete, you might think we were up to something. Whatever the case, we told them that if they really thought we were villains the worst thing they could do just then was pull over. We told them they should have run us off the road.
It was fun to have friends to cross the border with, but we soon learned why so many people had so many bad things to say about the Nicaragua-Costa Rica border crossing. You have to walk back and forth and back and forth over and over again. For instance, we needed to walk a couple hundred meters to get the mandatory insurance. Then we had to walk back to have it validated. Then we had to walk back to the insurance to have them look at it again. Then we had to walk back. Each leg of this added some sticker or stamp or something to prove we’d done it. It was like a scavenger hunt with the prize being legally entering the country.
In the end, we did win that prize, but our friends did not. The man at the counter was not convinced that the jeep was there legally, as Devin didn’t have the title in his name. It was in his mother’s name and he had a document saying it was OK. The man said this was not OK and refused to debate the issue.
Promising to meet up later, Aaron and I went on and they were forced to call a lawyer to come in and vouch that the document was valid. I believe this service cost them $50.
It was already dark, but like Nicaragua, just about everyone told us that we were safe to ride at night… although, to tell the truth, at this point I don’t know if “safe” or “not safe” was a deciding factor. We were somewhere between three and five hours away from our friends in San Jorge, the capital. We were promised warm places to sleep, good food, and hot showers, so we weren’t going to stop anywhere short of that.