Categories: Hiking, Nicaragua, Overlanding, Trails, Travel
We departed the beach and headed to Lago de Apoyo (lago meaning lake in Spanish and Apoyo means, well Apoyo) a large permanently warm volcanic crater lake (but you already knew it was a lake). Our accommodation, the slightly fancy (well for us), Paradiso had kayaks available for us to have a putter around the lake on or in, either way it would seem that water sports are not really our thing, as like tubing and surfing before, we sucked at this seemingly straightforward sport. It was then, a short lived voyage, the retreat back to the shore was quickly followed by a beer and a sea shanty, well ok just the beer, which I believe is a maritime tradition after a near visit to Davey Jones Locker, if it is indeed possible for Mr Jones to reside both in the ocean and in a volcanic lake.
The following day we bid farewell to our friends AJ and Kat, it was time for them to press on south. After travelling with them for the better part of a month, our livers were happy to see them gone, but all the other more fun bits of us would miss them. To cheer ourselves up, and so we didn’t actually have to watch them leave, we headed into Granada for the day. A beautiful colonial city nestled on the shores of Lake Nicaragua, its galleries and museums are said to be able to ensnare a traveller for days, however being a pair of uncultured yobs, we wandered the streets for a couple of hours and looked at the pretty buildings before heading off for a bite to eat and a cold beverage (see liver, you were wrong).
Eventually we dragged ourselves away from the lakes charms, and headed in the general direction of Ometepe via Volcan Masaya. The guide book promised hiking, but in reality it was more wandering around this active volcano. The volcano is said to be the biggest natural polluter in world spewing up to 3000 tones of sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere on a daily basis. This statistic led me to the conclusion that, he is not the “Messiah”, he is a very naughty volcano, my apologies for this very laboured Life of Brian gag.
After wandering long enough for me to form a terrible joke we pressed on to the ferry that would take us to Ometepe. We managed to get on the 4:30 sailing having loaded up with supplies, the boarding required some precision parking that had me climbing out if the passenger side of the truck. Rather annoyingly 5 mins after finding a seat that offered Heather easy vomit escape, I had to crawl back into the truck and readjust the Hulks position as, from what I understood he was too fat to be on the outside. The rest of the sailing was uneventful as I chatted to a nice chap from Minnesota as our wives commiserated their seasickness outside on deck.
On the island we raced against the fading light to find friends that were camping on the island already. Just as we lost light completely my liver gave an audible grown as we spotted Ramona (AJ and Kat’s rig). Yep we were barely separated 48 hours, however when we heard they were planning on climbing Madras Volcano we thought that it would make a much better final hurrah than the lake.
The following morning we were up bright and early for the hike, the guide chided me for only taking 1 litre of water for a 8+ hour hike, arguing that I needed at least 4, eventually he decided I either knew what I was doing or was happy to leave me on the side of the volcano and think about what I had done.
The hike was a pretty tough slog in sections, it had a good amount of scrambling in mud while grasping tree roots for support, cables in some particularly tough sections which were rather like a chocolate tea pot given the wet conditions. The summit was socked in with cloud so visibility was minimal, the wind was blowing, it was damp and bloody freezing, in short it was an excellent mornings climb just a shame we didn’t get to see the crater lake. We slipped our way backdown the volcano, at the end exhausted and caked in mud we grabbed a beer and waded into Lake Nicaragua to wash way our aches. The next day AJ an Kat left for real!! 😦
Beyond just exploring the island we were there to volunteer at the Fuego y Agua ultramarathon and survival race. There is no amount of self delusion that would allow me to believe I am currently in shape enough to enter an ultra but volunteering is a pretty close second, between the ultra and survival run we spent 5 days helping out with the race.
The first event was the survival run, this is something entirely new to me. Just the mandatory gear list was mind boggling, it included items such as hacksaw blades, bike inner tubes, a machete (no less than 18″ in length) and four 2L pop bottles to name but a few. At race check-in everyone’s gear was examined not just to make sure the mandatory items were there but also to ensure nothing additional that may give the runners an advantage had been smuggled in. The race was set to take place over 30 hours covering a distance of around 80k and included summiting both volcanos on the island. This alone would have been challenging enough, but then you add in the challenges that must be completed, all of which are a mystery to the entrants until they arrive at them. The first challenge required the runners to swim out to the charmingly named Bird Poo Island and recover an egg with their race number on it, which they then had to carry with them for the remainder of the race, if they lost or broke the egg they would be required to find a new one or not be permitted to complete any challenges. We were stationed at the first such challenge, here they were required to search a multi acre plantain plantation and find the tree with their race bib/number. When they found said tree they had to chop it down and harvest the plantain, bring the bunch back to me, I would then weigh it and they were sent the 5k back to the start/finish carrying the bunch, several weighing over 35lbs. The search took some runners over an hour and had them running around toting machetes in the dark. They then went on to complete a number of other random tasks, from carrying 16-20ft bamboo poles for 13k, swimming across crater lakes, rolling boulders up steep hills and generally running a rather long way. At this point it is fair to say these people are certifiably insane, they make ultra runners seem positively normal. Our next shift was 10hrs later, and most of the smiling faces we had seen early in the race were now caked in dirt and wore far away expressions. Our next task was a simple marshalling role (“go that way”), but as time marched on and few runner passed us it became obvious that the course was even harder than advertised. Eventually it came down to us to inform runners that they had missed the cut off and their races were over, thankfully we had a supply of freezies in the truck to soften this news. The end of the race saw only 3 of 44 people cross the finish line, none of them able to complete the final task. They finished but the kicker was that during the race you collected four “idols” that made up your finishers prize, the first had “fail” inscribed the next “did” the third “I” and the final task would have given them “not”. This race is all kinds of mentally and physically punishing and I really want to do it.
By comparison the ultra was a straightforward affair, if you can call running up a volcano only to run down and head straight back up again before running to another volcano to run up and down straightforward. There were 3 distances available 25k, 50k, and 100k, the cut off for the 100k was 28hrs which our ultra friends will understand means it is a damn hard course.
Our first aid station was at the 15k mark for the 25k runners and the 75k for 100k guys (50k didn’t come to our side of the island). The 25k guys were a blast many had never run a trail race before, for about half the field it took well over 2 and a half hours to get to us, much longer than they had planned for, each wave of runners hit our aid station like a plague of locusts, devouring everything in sight. We then had a long lull waiting for our first 100k runners, we eventually welcomed the front runners, before heading off to our next station at 95k, there was a little confusion on where this was to be located but, we managed to get it all setup with 5 mins to spare before the front runner came through. Then began a long shift (9pm-6am), Heather and I took it in turns to grab a little sleep. Eventually as the cut off time approached there were three runners still out on the course, with minutes to spare they blasted through the aid station. We tore down the station and floored the truck to the finish line, it was a fantastic and emotional sight to watch these guys cross the line with minutes to spare.
The whole 5 days were a blast, the race organizers were incredibly welcoming and friendly, and generous rewarding us with as much beer as we could carry back to the truck from the race’s beer sponsor. Oh and if you think that individually this these races are nuts 2 runners completed both the survival run and the 100k to earn the distinction of running the “devils double”.
We wrapped up our final days in Nicaragua sampling some excellent micro brews at San Juan Del Sur brewing company and releasing baby turtles at Playa La For Turtle Sanctuary.
Because sometimes I feel I may be a little flippant with regard to useful information, here you go:
Lago Apoyo: not a lot of camping options, Paradiso was not the cheapest at $10 pp but it included kayaks, electricity, hot showers and beautiful grounds. Highly recommend.
Granada: the overlanding location at the Red Cross seems ideally located for camping. If like us you are not overly into galleries and the cultural aspects of cities, I would recommend taking a shuttle from lago Apoyo $3 each way (departing Paradiso hostel at 10am), that way you can walk the beatiful colonial centre and grab a bite before heading back to the lake.
Volcan Masaya: national park near lago Apoyo, it is possible to camp in the parking lot (free with entry) and do a night tour of the volcano, this probably would have been better as you would have the opportunity to see the bubbling lava in the crater. If visiting during the day plan on spending just a couple of hours here.
Ferry to Ometepe: multiple companies offer sailings so there is a good amount of trudging, we ended up paying a helper $2 to guide us around, it was worth it. Also you will be required to pay departure tax for yourself and your vehicle, this is legit and by the time you board will have many bits of paper that most likely will not be checked.
Climbing Maderas volcano: our guide was excellent, his name was Simeon ask around to see if you can get him, $25 per couple. You may need a touch more than a litre of water.