Thus far we have written about some of the more intense elements of our trip to Nicaragua. This post is about a whole different side of Nicaragua. The day we arrived in Nicaragua was quite busy and filled with new experiences. Once we arrived at our hotel (Real Granada) toward the end of the day, Erin and I decided that we needed to have a plan for the next few days, walking around Granada was not going to be enough to keep the kids (or us) content, so we stopped by the local tourist office to find an activity for the following day.
Even the tourist office was a different experience than what we have seen in Costa Rica. When you walk into a tourist office in Costa Rica, you are met with so many options and choices it’s overwhelming. Zip Lines, Monkey Tours, Boat Trips, Horseback riding, Helicopter rides, Adventures to other parts of the country, etc. The list goes on for miles. In Nicaragua, the lists were much shorter. Similar activities, but less of them. Immediately, Erin and I were drawn toward a visit to one of the islands in Lake Nicaragua. We had read about spending the day on Isla Zopongo, so we specifically asked for that. The girl at the office explained that the tour for the next day was only available via a 2-3 hour kayak ride (which was too much for the kids), but then said “Let me call the boss. One second.” She proceeded to call the “boss” and explained that a family with young kids was interested in visiting the island the following day and after a very brief conversation, she hung up and said “No problem. We’ll take you in by boat.”
GREAT! Again, like every other experience this week, we had virtually no idea what to expect other than the fact that we were going to be driven by boat to Isla Zopongo and that we would be there from 9 am until 5 pm. We had read that we would have a BBQ of fish for lunch, which Erin and I omitted from the description for the kids as they do not like fish. We figured we’d deal with that minor detail once we were there.
We went to bed excited that we had plans for the morning. That night around 2:30 am (I was awake) the power went out in most of Granada. Air conditioning was off, as were all the lights, etc. No biggie. We had already experienced on-and-off power at dinner that night as we ate by candle light at Tercero Ojo. Bob Marley would play on the stereo for about 90 seconds and the power would shut down once again and we would be left in silence and darkness… It was actually kind of amusing.
The next morning we woke up around 6:00 and the power was still out. We walked into Granada and found Kathy’s Waffle House for breakfast. It was recommended to us by a friend and it did not disappoint. One of the best “American” breakfasts we’ve had in all of Central America. Just as we arrived (around 7:15 am) the power was starting to come back on in Granada and they were able to cook us our breakfast. Waffles and pancakes are hard to cook without power..
After breakfast we hoofed back to the hotel to meet our ride that was picking us up at 9. Right on time, a cab pulled up in front of the hotel and we were whisked away to the docks of Lake Nicaragua. Upon arriving, we were met by a woman whom we later learned was one of the two owners of the private Isla Zopongo. She welcomed us with open arms and led us to the boat that would take us to the island. Yet again, we had no idea what was going on… we were just along for the ride. Erin and I kept exchanging glances back and forth, a silent understanding of knowing that, if nothing else, we were in it together. After about 20 minutes in the boat, we arrived at the island. Whoa. It was amazing.
We were welcomed to the island and told that whatever we wanted to do, we were welcome, the island was ours for the day, please enjoy. The first stop was to the main gathering area for fresh fruit drinks. There we met the staff (all Nicaraguan employees) and were introduced to the island. It was not a huge island, a 5 minute walk would take you to every corner of the island, but it was incredible. The couple that brought us to the island (who turned out to be the “bosses” that were called the night before) were from France and had moved to Nicaragua 5 years earlier.
The Isla was not connected to the power grid and all food was cooked fresh on a daily basis over wood. Fruits were gathered from the island and turned into drinks and food. There were hidden paths and walkways everywhere. I felt like Tom Sawyer. One side of the island had a small swimming dock as well as kayaks and a row boat. They were ours to use all day. Beautiful chairs, hammocks and views greeted us around every corner.
The boats were a huge draw with the kids, so we finished up our tour and headed straight toward the kayaks and rowboats. Erin and Ben opted for a 2 person kayak and Abby, Jacob and I hopped in the row boat. To our surprise, one of the men that worked at the island got in the boat with us and started rowing the 4 of us out. Cool! A guided tour. He proceeded to take us on a 90 minute row boat tour of the islands nearby, telling me about the birds, flowers and trees in the area (all in spanish). Erin and Ben followed along in the kayak behind us. Needless to say, it was beautiful.
When we arrived home, the kids wanted to swim, so we tied up the boats and hopped in the lake for a swim. I will never forget watching the kids swimming in lake Nicaragua and looking at Erin and saying “Our kids are swimming in a lake in Nicaragua with the volcano Mombacho on the horizon.” It was surreal.
While we were swimming, Erin and I were talking about how we were going to present the fact that we were having FISH for lunch to the kids. We decided that we’d make a game time decision based on the “presentation”. Maybe it’d look like chicken? We’d find out soon enough, right after we were done swimming, we were informed that it was time for lunch.
We walked up to the main hut and sat down and were presented with our lunch. Rice, potato looking things, fruit and… an entire fish, head and all. Per person. Erin and I laughed.. guess there’s no hiding this one. The kids were polite, but clearly disgusted by the meal. It was really funny. Each of them tried at least a little bit of everything. Good job kids 🙂 I ate half of my fish and erin ate the rest. A few moments into the meal we were presented with the side dish – – whole fried sardines. I licked one and that was enough. Erin actually ate two, I was so proud of her. She didn’t have a third one though.
Post lunch, we were introduced to the resident monkey on the Island, Cashew. He was a young capuchin monkey and adorable. He reminded me of being with a toddler. Totally out of control, needing attention and entertainment around every corner. He really liked my camera (see the video) and was really fun to play with. All of the kids played with Cashew, though Abby screamed every time he jumped on/near/around her 🙂
The rest of the day involved more swimming, more boating and more exploring the island. I could go on for paragraphs about what we saw, and thought, but I think I’ve said enough for tonight.
Around 5:00 we took a boat back to Granada and were driven home by the French couple who owned the island. They were fantastic people and I’m so glad that we had the chance to meet them. We talked on the way back to the hotel about life in Granada and the struggles, realizations and triumphs they’d had in the last 5 years. Great stories.
Upon arriving back to the hotel, we were grateful to find that the power was still on, so we were able to take showers and wash the lake off of us. From what we’ve read, Lake Nicaragua is one of the most polluted lakes in the world. While the Island was in one of the “clean” parts of the lake, water is water and it was time to get cleaned up. It was a fantastic day that we will never forget.