Our day began with a two hour trip to Granada, Nicaragua. seeing lots of beautiful countryside while traveling the back roads. We drove through Granada to a park located on the southeast side of the city where we got a good look at the largest freshwater lake in Central America and the ninth largest in the Americas. The lake has three large volcanic islands: Ometepe, Zapatera and the Solentiname. Ometepe can be clearly seen from our vantage point, as well as its two volcanos named Concepcion and Maderas, which are still active and spew smoke from their throats.
We stopped to have lunch before arranging our boat excursion around Lago de Nicaragua’s smaller islands. Our host, which just happens to be Captain Ralph of No Bad Days took us to a local restaurant that offered a relaxing atmosphere and overlooked one of the many canals surrounding the park. It was an open-air patio with hand made tables and chairs. The menu read like a fresh seafood market. It had a large variety of fish, chicken and pork. I ordered a fish platter seasoned with local spices and grilled. We enjoyed a few libations with our meals and took in the scenery. We walked around the deck and marveled at the rainforest-lined rolling hills and mountains. We watched the billowing plumes of white smoke from the volcanos that helped create Nicaragua’s beauty. Those same volcanos also created the many islands that hugged the lake’s shoreline.
After lunch we made our way towards the boat docks. Captain Ralph has a designated tour guide that he specifically asks for every time named Vladimir. His father was a Russian soldier and his mother was a Nicas (Nicaragua born). Vladimir was learning to speak English and did a good job narrating our excursion. His knowledge of the lake, its islands, and their flora and fauna made our voyage that much more interesting. The vessel we boarded was a basic single hull round-bottom canopy style boat with forward facing seats from the front to the back. It had a 25 horsepower out-board engine that maneuvered us around the inner islands very easily.
Our adventure began with spotting wildlife natural to the area. There were Tigris and Great Egrets, wild hogs and a variety of monkeys. The Tigris Egret is native to this area and seen infrequently. However, the white egret can be spotted more times than not. The wild hogs are virtually on every island. The locals like to hunt them for food. There are also farm animals that have been relocated to the islands for such foods like dairy products, eggs and meat.
Islands closer to shore have been purchased for second or vacation homes. Our tour guide told us there are approximately 365 islands and every one of them can be purchased for a price. A lot of Nicaragua’s elite have family compounds on them. Elaborate homes with guest quarters are built for entertaining guess and family gatherings. The compounds are attended to by a cuidador (caretaker). The island’s owner hires the cuidador and his family to watch over their property. They also maintain the grounds, warn-off intruders and shuttle supplies like water, food and other necessities needed to survive. In return the Cuidador gets a small home to live in, food that they grow and hunt on the island and certain privileges like the use of a boat for reaching the mainland.
The inner canals twist and turn around the islands like a snake around its prey. The islands are lush in foliage and provide a relaxing getaway, but always be on the lookout for monkeys. There are three specific species that are natural to these surroundings: howler, spider and white face monkeys. The spider monkeys are more out going and not afraid to have contact with humans. There was one specific spider monkey that had grown accustomed to Vladimir’s tour boat. He coaxed the monkey into the boat by offering a small packet of chocolate crème cookies. The white face (pictured left on the rock) and spider monkey (shown right) were easy to photograph. The howler monkey was less curious and kept hiding itself from us and the cameras.
We started our journey back to the harbor, but not before coming across some Cuidadors and their families. They travel the islands channels as if they were maneuvering around the city streets of Granada. Everyday necessities requires a boat ride to the mainland. Can you imagine loading the wife and kids into a small boat every time you need to go into town for an appointment or supplies? The boats are not only used for transportation, but for fishing or hauling materials from one point to another. There is always a chance that you can run into a local guard dog who’s not afraid of climbing trees or falling into the water. Taking a tour of Lago de Nicaragua offers many sights not commonly seen from the mainland. The people are friendly, the wildlife is plentiful and the scenery is gorgeous.
We were getting closer to our homeport and had to say our final farewells to this magnificent body of water. It was a trip that will live in our memories for a long time to come. Vladimir, our trusty captain, got us back safe and sound. We took time to thank him and promised to return if we were ever again in the neighborhood.