Saturday, March 30, 2013

[Last week we were away in Nicaragua, now we are not. But in order to maintain the illusion of immediacy, I am going to pretend, here in SQD, that we are still in Nicaragua. Even though we are not. In Nicaragua it is very hot and dusty, and anyone can tell you that I will never use my laptop in a dusty or sweaty atmosphere because I am just a tiny bit OCD on the subject of keyboard cleanliness. Also in Nicaragua, we had infrequent Internet connections and dicey electrical power, conditions not conducive to blogging in the moment. That is why we have the willing suspension of disbelief.]

Ometepe is an island in Lake Nicaragua, now more properly called Lago Cocibolca, and it is the largest volcanic island in a fresh water lake in the world. You may not know this fact. I have been to Nicaragua countless times and I did not know this fact, but CSB’s son Colby, who is a Peace Corps Volunteer in Nicaragua, did know this fact. It was his idea that we go to Ometepe with him, and it was an excellent idea. However, while we were in Nicaragua we were told – often - that Ometepe is the largest island in a fresh water lake in the world – without that all important adjective: volcanic – and I spouted that fact to several people and insisted that yes, of course it is larger even than Manitoulin in Lake Huron. For which assertion I apologize. Ometepe is only the 10th largest island in a lake, which is still very large. It is the largest volcanic island. There are two volcanoes: Concepcíon and Maderas. Concepcíon is a perfectly symmetrical cone and still active, having most recently erupted in 2010; Ometepe’s residents declined to evacuate. Maderas is lower (1394 meters) and dormant; its slopes are covered with rain forest and there is a lagoon inside its crater. The two volcanoes are connected by an isthmus, which gives the island the shape of an hourglass, or a dumbbell, or mismatched breasts, or a bikini top. So quite naturally the island’s creation myth involves a pair of star-crossed lovers, Ometepetl and Nagrando; their parents will not allow them to marry and as a result they prefer to die together. In death, Ometepetl’s beasts swell up to become the twin volcanoes of Ometepe, and a furious rain floods the valley to create the lake.

To get to Ometepe we take a ferry from San Jorge to Moyogalpa. The ferries are famously old and rickety, but you can sit on the bridge and have spectacular views of the island.
At Moyogalpa we get off the ferry and walk into a cloud of tiny white motes, gnats, bugs, flying insects. We don’t know what they are, but they envelope the entire port, they fly into our noses and ears and mouths; they cloud our vision. They don’t sting or bite us, but they make us very nervous. They feel like a plague. Later we will learn that these are chayules, miniscule gnats that come with a change in the atmospheric pressure, and the wind blowing in from the lake. They hatch en masse, live for three days and then disappear. That was the explanation we got, and it is a relatively good one, until we start to wonder: why? Why do they exist? As insects go they appear to be entirely pointless, and yet the more I learn about insects, the more I realize that most of them have some kind of function; it may not be a function I can selfishly appreciate, but they have one. They rely on other creatures, and other creatures rely on them, for food, for aid in hatching, for dissemination, for the entomological meaning to life. So why do chayules exist? If you worry enough about that question, you will mind less picking them out of your nose and spitting them out of your mouth.
From Moyogalpa we drive along the shore and then across the isthmus. We drive very carefully because if there is one thing the Ometepeëños don't want, it is for you to drive too fast. The road, the only road, is interrupted randomly and often by sleeping policemen. If you chance to drive too fast over a sleeping policemen you can easily rupture your gas tank or oil pan, and then you can provide income to whatever local mechanic is lurking nearby in the shade of a palm tree. Watching the gringos slam on their brakes a few seconds too late is a schadenfreude-ish form of entertainment.
By sheer luck, and CSB’s brilliant mastery of Nicaraguan roads, we arrive unscathed at our hotel, a recently renovated banana finca on Playa San Domingo.
It takes about an hour to get there, and then another 15 minutes on the rough road through the banana fields. Until we see the vast lake again. It does indeed look like an old hacienda. A man with a high pitched – almost falsetto – voice greets us as if he knows exactly who we are;he brings us fruit drinks, and shows us to our rooms. We appear to be the only guests, until a bald & chatty Brit wanders over. Meanwhile, we never register and never tell Señor Falsetto our names. Perhaps he thinks Colby is a movie star and we are his aged handlers. We lie on hammocks that swing between the columns of the porch in front of our rooms. He tells us about the howler monkeys that will wake us in the morning. He is knowledgeable about local plants used as natural dyes.

Every morning and evening, a young boy on a horse leads his cows and a few horses down to the beach and they amble into the water to bathe. I assume they are bathing. Then they retreat to the shaded palm grove. I have no idea what the cows and horses do all day long.

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