The bike is making strange squeaking sounds and it is becoming abundantly clear that I never learn. I have never had a good bicycle rental experience. Yet, when I arrive on Ometepe Island in the early afternoon, I rent a piece of crap from my hostel to go cruising. At first, everything seems fine and I’m enjoying myself, riding the paved road that is mostly devoid of cars. The occasional motorcycle passes or a horse-drawn cart lumbers along.
Moyogalpa, the largest town on Ometepe Island in Lake Nicaragua, means in the local language something like ‘place of mosquitoes’. Sometimes, I think, I must really hate myself.
I walk into a beautiful café. The furnishings are contemporary and comfortable. I am served my café Americano with a glass of filtered water, gratis. What a lovely place, I think, as I look through my pictures while seated in a rocking chair. A couple is dropped off in a horse-drawn carriage that they have apparently rented for the afternoon. The owner is familiar with them. When I settle up the bill, the dream is over. I would have paid less for a coffee in Brooklyn. Maybe even half as much.
I am in Granada, Nicaragua trying to figure out why it is such a tourist destination. Experiences like the one in the café make me think that the formula is quite simple. People just have to start going to a place for one reason or another and then the process is simply self-perpetuating. Before long, there are several establishments that are expensive even for foreign visitors. Maybe it’s arbitrary.
Earlier, in my taxi to the center of town, we maneuver through the outskirts. Bicycle taxies roam the streets, juice vendors squeeze refreshments, the ubiquitous motorcycle zooms by, horse-drawn carts carry goods too burdensome for man. From the calm of the periphery, we pass through the crowded shop-lined streets. The market is bustling. Speakers blare dance rhythms, vendors lure in costumers. Taxies, pedestrians, motorcycles, bikes, horse carts: mingle in the streets.
It is sometime around midnight and I’m on a volcano. There are 40 of us, some with headlamps, others without. The light of the full moon seems sufficient, save the millions of stones and rocks that we trip over going up. Most of the hike, however, it doesn’t feel like we’re going up at all.
Telica Volcano is about a half hour drive from Leon, Nicaragua. With Queztaltrekkers, a non-profit that works with local kids and takes gringos on treks, we pile into the back of flatbed trucks as the cool night air provides some relief from this impossibly hot climate. Like a herd, we stomp through the farmland. Even though it is dark, the heat is oppressive. I sweat through my shirt before we even start the major uphill climb of the hike. Over the course of 12 hours, I will have drunk four liters (about 135 ounces) of water.