Islamic terror ... Lanta style

Islamic terror ... Lanta style
My neighbour Hutyee Boat
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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Island of magic

There is ´something´indescribable about life on a small island and I have to say that I have been enchanted by the wonders of Ometepe over the past few days.
I came here on my own, sprained an ankle hopping from one bus to another on the way here, and bruised both my leg and ego during an ill-fated motorcycle trip around the island´s infamous roads.
So I could be feeling sorry for myself, but instead I love the pace of life here and really wish I could stay another ten days.
Once the last boat goes, there is a real sense of peace here. A bit like Inis Meain in a way, in that the locals see themselves as being different from the people over there, there being the mainland.
About 30,000 people live on the island, which has just two major towns and some of the worst roads I´ve ever seen.
It´s as close as I have come this year to Koh Lanta, the place where I spent the first five months of 2010, and it has the same tranquil charms. In fact, it is far more peaceful than my favourite Thai island, with far less traffic on the roads.
People wander around at a slow pace, even the buses pull up at a really leisurely pace, and they sit around the town squares, chatting with each other, as though they haven´t a care in the world.
It´s great to be in a place with no TV, because all of the news from Ireland was depressing me in Granada over the past two weeks. Here, the only news that counts is who came in on the boat from San Jorge or who crashed into a cow, or pig, or goat, or hen, or monkey on the roads.
Legend has it that the island was formed from the suicide of a young woman, who fell in love with a man from an opposing tribe. After they both decided to slash their wrists, her breasts swelled to form two huge volcanoes, and so much did she cry that her tears formed the massive Lago Colcabolca (Lake Nicaragua).
The indigenous people believe there is something truly magical about the place, and to enjoy its charms you have to get out of the towns and experience the sheer peaceful bliss of its countryside.
When the bigger of the two volcanoes erupted in the 1950s (and it´s still simmering today) the locals refused to be evacuated to the mainland. They claimed it was better to die on Ometepe than to leave their beloved home and I´ve witnessed real pride in their place among the people.
I´ve been told that the Spanish colonists mostly left the islanders, indigenous fishermen, to their own devices.
Which is why you see far more Native Americans here than on the mainland and why the place really does remind me a bit of the Aran Islands . . . not just the slow pace, but the fact that the British hardly touched our western isles during their conquest of Ireland, because the land was so poor.
It´s no coincidience that the Irish language is still vibrant in the areas which were virtually untouched by the British, just as it´s no coincidence that the locals on Ometepe look completely different than the Nicas on the mainland.
The views here are incredible, as is the whole topography of a place which is really just two huge volcanoes and a little isthmus between them.
Even though I´ve stayed in Moyogalpa, the capital and biggest town, the pace is really relaxed here at night. People greet each other on the street and it is surely one of the safest places in Central America.
A friend of mine, Grace, met a crazy, hard-drinkin´Irishman on Playa Santa Dominigo three months ago. Apparently, he owns a little hotel by the lake. We Irish really do get around, but I didn´t feel compelled to give him a visit, with my need to stay off alcohol in order to nurse my ankle back to health.
I´ve met a few of the usual obnoxious ´gringos´(Americans who live here, but can´t speak the language and talk down the locals whenever they get the chance) but I´ve been overwhelmed by how friendly the locals are during my cycles around the island.
When my motorbike broke down, I couldn´t believe the (free) offers of help I got on the side of the road, until I managed to dust myself down and crawl back to town.
The place has its problems, too. Unemployment is quite high, some of the roads really are appalling, and quite a few of the lovely beaches were wiped out during a particularly bad rainy season, just three months ago. Some hotels and bars remain closed.
I visited one of the abandoned beaches today, and met some local youngsters climbing trees and jumping into the lake. Near us, monkeys were playing in the trees.
The kids were full of curiosity about the travelling Irishman and hit me with a dozen questions, but never once did they ask me for a dollar as many of their counterparts would do in Granada or San Juan Del Sur.
Yes, Ometepe is an incredible place. It has one of the most relaxing vibes I´ve experienced anywhere on earth and even a 45 minute power cut this evening only seemed to add to its charms.
Just take it easy on the roads or avoid climbing the volcanoes . . . and you´ll be fine!
Take it from me. I always fancied myself as a careful biker until, in slow motion, I found myself tumbling towards the ground yesterday.
But I have swam in lovely lake water, met incredibly friendly locals, soaked in the finest sunset I´ve seen in my life, and I have slept at night here as though I haven´t a care in the world.
I will leave tomorrow, battered and bruised, but with only fond memories of the place. And a desire to return some day!


  1. Sounds wonderful - I love Inis Meain too, a world apart from the other two and 'da mainland'. Lovely writing, wafting your calm pleasures over the ether.

  2. Thanks Charlie,

    I guess it reminds me of Inis Meain because it is so peaceful and the pace of life is so slow. I fell in love with that island when a friend of mine, Nick Pfeiffer, had a dive centre on it but still try to return either there or Inis Oirr each year. Many Galway people don't realise the jewels on their own shorestep.

    Like Koh Lanta, there are evacuation signs all around the island ... in Thailand they worry about another tsunami and here there is a very real threat from the two volcanoes. So it's hard to find a place in the world that is 'perfect' as both also have long rainy seasons.

    I didn't believe that places can be magical until I came to Ometepe. The natives really have something, there is enchantment in the air ... until the next time the volcano erupts and drives them all into the lake!

  3. Ciaren thanks for the compliments, but you have quite a way with words and making me (and others) want to visit the same places and truely appreciate the beauty of this country and its people. Really enjoyed this blog on Ometepe and the historical reflecting on Leon! Thanks for writing and sharing!