Volcano Maderas or Concepcion?
During a recent visit to Ometepe Island in Nicaragua I stayed at a lovely Organic Farm and two bedroom B&B called La Via Verde near Balgue. As a side note, Eileen and Darrin the owners are so great and helpful with organizing activities on the island! Ometepe Island is made up of two volcanoes, Concepcion and Maderas, connected by an isthmus. Volcano Concepcion is taller and active whereas Volcano Maderas is slightly shorter and extinct. However, because you can climb down into Volcano Maderas, the net vertical climb in steps is about the same between the two.
When choosing which volcano to ascend, there are different factors to consider. The selling points for Maderas (for me) were that it is more shaded, it’s typically in the clouds, you can hike down into the volcano and go swimming (weather permitting) and there are Howler and Capuchin monkeys all along the trail. Also, the trail for Maderas leaves from the back of the property of La Via Verde so transportation was not an issue. At the advice of the B&B Owner, I arranged for a packed lunch to be ready for me to take with me which was a lifesaver.
Dimas, The Climb, and A Detour
My guide for the day was Dimas, who was thirty years old and lived his entire life on Ometepe Island. He hiked up one of the two volcanos every day of the week during busy season and at least four days per week the remainder of the year. For a 7-9 hour, muddy, steep hike he would make just $25. It’s clear that the man knows what he’s doing. If we ran into a big group, he knew a way to walk around them (assuming my lungs and legs could keep up).
Right away he started searching for a walking stick for me to use since the trail is so steep and rocky. In retrospect, my learning is that if your guide offers you a walking stick and he does the hike every day, definitely take the walking stick. On the way up, he stopped and picked fresh passionfruit for us to share. It was so delicious and tart! As we made our way down, he asked if I wanted to stop at a lookout point. Now, in full transparency, he could’ve asked me to stop for just about any reason and I would’ve taken him up on it, but of course I wanted to see the lookout. So, he took me on a detour to his friends bean farm which was on the side of the volcano. They were harvesting the beans by chopping pieces of the bean plant and placing them onto a plastic tarp which they then beat with a stick. This caused the beans to fall off of the stems and onto the tarp. These three men did this all day long for what I can imagine is many weeks of the year. It just so happened that the view from their bean farm is amazing. You have a perfectly clear view of Volcano Concepcion and Lake Nicaragua. It was the perfect place to recharge.
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As we headed back into the forest to hike down the rest of the way, we were surrounded by monkeys. Dimas knew how to call them. I could’ve watched them for hours, swinging and howling through the trees right above my head. It was around this point that the seven hours of high impact was taking its toll on my knees. Not ideal because we were 1-2 hours away from La Via Verde still. Dimas took my hand and helped me down the entire rest of the way, while playing disco and Justin Bieber on his phone. My role was to try and explain the lyrics but let’s be honest, there’s no explanation for Funky Town or any Justin Bieber lyrics so we mostly just sang as best we could.
Life On Ometepe
Obviously, we had a long day together so had a lot of time to talk. Dimas shared with me that each night he gets home in time to wash the mud out of his clothes and shoes, eat dinner with his girlfriend and daughter and go to bed so he can get up and hike again the next day. We talked about his upcoming birthday and what he typically does to celebrate. He explained to me that for him, having a meal with meat is really special so that is typically what they do for a birthday. It was humbling to think that something I take for granted was such a special treat for him.
It’s these little discussions that make travel worthwhile for me. Gathering little tidbits of information about life elsewhere not only opens your eyes, but makes you appreciate your own slice of life just a bit more.
Tips For the Volcano Maderas Hike
- Bring 3 Liters of water and a packed lunch.
- Bring trekking poles if you have them, if not grab a walking stick on the way up. It’ll save your knees.
- Wear hiking boots and clothes that can get dirty. The trail is naturally very muddy and in the clouds with plenty of boulders to navigate.
- Expect to get wet, so pack your daypack accordingly.
- Hire a guide. The trail is not obvious, so it’s well worth the $25 to hire an individual guide (or less if you join a group). Also, my guide was able to point out poisonous plants, call the monkeys and show me unique views of the island!
- Take the time to enjoy the monkeys and the views!
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