Hitching paradise: 1 day in Ometepe, Nicaragua

Hitchhiking Ometepe is a dream. It is an island with two volcanoes and a long, circular road around each volcano. So you always have a view of a volcano, or the beach, or both volcanoes and the beach.

Two days ago I left my hostel/farm (Zopilote) around 10am and started walking towards the ATM. I walked about 15 minutes before being picked up by a muscular European on a motorcycle. I recognized him from my hostel. He had been wearing a hat that said “POLICE.” He was also going to the ATM (closest one to the hostel), so we stopped there together.

After I used the ATM, the guy asked me if I wanted a ride back, and on a whim I declined and decided to go further. I began walking, thumb out. I walked far. Probably 45 minutes, up and down coastal hills. A pickup truck stopped with 3 men in front. I shared the bed with a roped-down generator and some tanks of gas. Minutes later, we came to the cross. They were going left, to Muoygalpa, the port city of Ometepe. Where did I want to go? “I’m looking for a pharmacy,” I told them. And so we turned left and drove toward the city.

They drove very fast. At one point we crossed an air strip perpendicularly. At the far end of the airstrip I saw the lake waves lapping against the shore. After 30 minutes in the back of this truck, they stopped and pointed left. It was a roadside pharmacy. 

I went in to the pharmacy and purchased some drugs that are only available in the US with a prescription. 

I exited the pharmacy and started walking back the way I had come. I bought four bananas for 1 Cordoba each from a fruit stand. That’s 4 bananas for a total of 12 cents (USD). I continued walking.

School children were walking and bicycling home. They wore white shirts and blue pants or skirts. Some of them rode on the backs of their parents’ motorcycles.

I was soon picked up by a young man on a motorcycle who seemed determined to throw me off the back of the moto. We sped over speed bumps and down into river washouts. He was a bucking bronco, but I upheld my dignity and kept my hands clutched to the back of the bike, rather than wrap my arms around the man’s chest. That may have shortened the ride.

I was dropped off and walked through the heat for what seemed like hours. The midday sun beat down on me. I ate my bananas and my pharmacy drugs. It was probably only 20 minutes later that I was picked up by an off-duty shuttle driver. He was headed back to his hotel with an empty van. 

Sitting shotgun, I was finally able to talk to the driver, and I uncovered the secret of the wild horses of Ometepe. Occasionally you will see horses running or grazing wildly by the road. The driver told me that it is illegal to let your horse loose. He has personally seen car accidents caused by free-running horses impeding the road, so it’s in the public interest to keep these horses under control. Still, some ranchers let their horses run free. So the police round up the wild horses and bring them to horse prison, and the rancher must pay a fine get his horse back. The fine is not high, but nonetheless, many ranchers choose to let their horses waste away in horse prison rather than pay the fine and travel to retrieve their horse. I wondered what horse prison was like. Probably just a barn.

He dropped me outside his hotel and I began walking uphill as Concepción Volcano raised the ground to my left. I was soon picked up by a small red pickup with a new refrigerator laying down in the back. A teenager greeted me in the back of the truck – the front seats were occupied by the mother and father. I tried to make conversation with the teenager but he replied monosyllabically. His eyes were watchful. When we arrived at their house, I helped them unload the refrigerator into the house, and the whole family came outside, and they asked me how far I was walking, and I explained that I wasn’t walking, I was going by “rrrride,” which is exactly how you say “hitchhiking” in Nicaragua, and yet, amazingly, they still looked at me strangely. 

This has been a recurring theme hitchhiking Panama, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua. People know the word “rrride,” and they just gave you a ride, but then they can’t fathom that you are planning to get ANOTHER rrrride after this one. Wasn’t one enough?

I’m Hitchikeadelic, motherfuckers. I left the refrigerator house and started walking. Soon I passed a local swimming spot that contains the same water as the popular tourist swimming hole, Ojo de Agua. The turquoise-green water must be a result of calcium carbonate from limestone in the water. I stripped to my underwear and cooled off.

After drying off I began walking just as a herd of cows and horses was passing. I began walking behind them. They took up the whole road. Motorcycles would slow down and weave through them. The shepherd was leisurely following his herd when he stopped to talk to a friend. The cows and horses continued, unconcerned. I became the de facto shepherd. I walked behind the herd for some minutes, then I weaved my way through to the front. A local man drove past me and my herd. I gave him a wink.

I was then picked up by two men driving a pickup truck. They said they had passed me that morning on their way to Muoygalpa. They seemed high on marijuana. They were very friendly and drove reasonably. They asked about me and joked about my name: “Tomas.” Something about “dos mas Tomas es mejor que un rey.” I got the joke at the time, I think.

They dropped me in Santa Cruz and I walked just 5 or 10 minutes back to Zopilote. I had been gone for about 3 hours and had gone from Zopilote to Muoygalpa and back, a trip that, if you were to plan on the bus, would take about 3 hours. 

Of course, the joy of riding in the back of a pickup truck, of weighing down a motorcycle, of bathing with the locals in a cool river, and of bouldering on the one piece of volcanic rock I was able to scramble up… these you cannot find on the chicken bus. 


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