All this for an ATM
Day 26: Ometepe, Nicaragua
Perfect temperature this morning. Ate a ridiculously cheap breakfast here at Finca (French toast for $1.50 which is actually made with hot dog buns and, even more surprising, it’s pretty good!) before trekking down the hill to check out Balgue at the bottom of the hill.
It’s about a 10-15 minute walk down but Balgue isn’t much of a town. It’s really a single road with maybe a couple of snack stands and a little place to eat. We walked down the road both directions for an hour or two before heading back up the hill to catch the chicken bus at the Finca. We needed to head into the only town with an ATM on the island (Moyogalpa) about an hour away. Thinking it picked up at Finca Magdalena, we waited around til 1:00 but it didn’t arrive so we asked the girls at reception where the bus was….at the bottom of the hill! It was right at 1:00 and we didn’t think we would make it but we went down anyway thinking we might be able to hitch a ride if the bus was gone. But, as with all buses in Central America, is was not even thinking about leaving on time so we were able to catch it. We paid our fare mid-ride(around $2/person), as usual, but it was a very long, hot, and crowded hour to Moyogalpa.
We took care of our ATM situation within about 5 minutes and then found out we had just missed the very last bus going back to Balgue…by about 3 minutes. Not knowing how we might be able to get back to Finca, we walked around Moyogalpa for a little bit deliberating whether we wanted to spend the huge fee for a taxi. Instead, we happened past a motorcycle rental shop and eureka! After some brief deliberation and price negotiation, we rented a 125cc dirt bike—perfect for traversing the steep hills and rocky non-roads of the island. And so, quite pleased with our bargaining skills ($25 for 24 hours instead of the usual 8hr day for that price), we set out with barely enough time to make it back to Finca before dark.
The roads in and around Moyogalpa are paved and the highway coming in is a perfectly nice, new road. Instead of pavement, they use decorative cut paving stones set in place by hand (literally, we actually saw them building a road here) so it looks like a really big, fancy garden walkway. We mostly knew where we were going and with only 2 turns the whole hour ride, we figured we would be fine on time and finding our way.
Near dusk, we took our first turn into Quino. The people we passed looked at us strangely (understatement) but we kept going thinking we were on the right path. Just to be sure we asked a woman working outside by her home if Balgue was this way. Yeah, yeah, straight ahead. OK…….After a few Km we crested a hill and started to fishtail due to the sandy conditions of the road and went careening down the boat ramp, screeching to a death-defying side-skidding halt with our only about half-intact brakes, litteraly inches from crashing into the lake….that wasn´t supposed to be there!
One thing we have learned (the hard way) is that here, if someone does not know the way, they point you in a direction anyway rather than admit they don´t know. Now we have to go back through all that sand and those people back to the main road. Back at the intersection of our near-death road, we asked a man setting up tables for a restaurant just beside us how to get to Quino, since we were clearly not there. Second attempt with directions and we are off to find the turn. It wasn´t far and we were happy to be on the (nice) main road for a bit. Turns out that Quino isn´t really a town in the typical sense. It´s more like 3 houses and a road that turns off from the main highway. And there is no sign. After 6 more inquires about directions to Finca, two or three more times of turning around, we finally got to our second turn.
Whew! We´re home free now, we thought! It was completely dark by this time. We were absolutely starving and were worried we might not make it back by dinner time. On Ometepe, there is dark and then there´s dark. I´ve never been somewhere as pitch black nor with so many stars visible. It was an amazing sight, especially from the back of a motorbike. There were many families and elderly couples walking, like they may have come from a social gathering or church or something. They all seemed to have the same look on their faces as we drove past them: What the hell are you thinking?!
We kept moving on, never seeing another vehicle. After almost an hour it is obvious that the last person we got directions from had sent us the oppisite way around the island! We had gone too far to turn back and our gas was running low so we had to try to make it the rest of the way around. The road only got worse as we went. It looked more like a motorcross track than a road. Giant holes the size of a VW beetle would show up in the middle of the road and we would have to swing and skid the bike around to miss them. It probably wouldnt have been so bad if the headlight on the motorcycle was more than a faint glow.
Up crazy steep hills with the bike spinning out and carrening down the just as steep other side, swérving around giant toads (Huge!! like the size of a softball), giant pot holes and the occasional tree limb, we finally make it around the worst part. Just as we are cresting the last BIG hill in our way, the bike dies!! Saben slams on the brakes but the hill is too step and the bike starts sliding down the hill backwards! Saben plants his feet (forgot to mention he is wearing sandals) and gets the bike stopped. Only problem is, if he moves at all the bike will slide down the hill and we will be a bloody mess but we have to get it started. So Saben lets the bike slide and steers it into a nearby pot hole. The sounds of the forest come alive, for once the little 125 engine isnt drowning out the packs of howler monkeys, giant toads, tons of birds, and whatever else is making those horrible sounds. He tríes to start the bike, nothing. Trys again, nothing. Both of us just imagining the several Km walk back to the finca in the dark! Then finally on the third try the bike starts up. Quick rev and we are off again. Quickening our pace a little, we come down the hill and slam into a giant washed out area of the road with water 2.5 feet deep easily! With no other option Saben laid on the gas and powered through the water, fishtailing along the sandy, loose bottom.
Now soaked to our knees, the bike running pretty rough and our gas waning we finally see Balgue! We climb the hill up to the finca and stop for a moment to make sure we are both still alive. It was 8:50, 10 minutes left to order supper. So we did, plus a couple of liters of celebratory beer ($1.90 a liter) before passing out in bed. By far the biggest adventure to get to an ATM yet.