Theresa wrote a great post a while back about her first experience abroad. Well, it was not technically my first experience abroad, but I consider my trips to Ometepe in 1997 and 1998 to be my most eye opening experiences. To summarize, we stayed with local families and participated in a community project. But other things stuck with me more: The chicken we ate for dinner scurring past my feet around lunchtime. Drying racks teeming with tobacco hanging in the backyard. A hose and a curtain for a shower (and certainly no heat). No paved roads, and cows and horses often blocking the way anyway. In all, it was quite a departure for a 16 year old kid raised in the extreme comfort of Bainbridge Island.
It’s been ten years now since I was last on Ometepe. As a person who doesn’t often travel back to the same place as a tourist, it’s a different experience for me to be here. And in those ten years, a lot of things have changed. After 24 hours abroad, we’ve made it here via flight to Managua, bus to Rivas, taxi to San Jorge, boat to Moyogalpa and bus to Altagracia. Whew, long day! But I spent that last bus ride noticing that things on the island were in some ways different, but in some ways the same.
First, the road is now paved all the way from Moyogalpa to Altagracia. And it may be my poor memory, but both towns appear to have grown (a lot). Moyogalpa in particular had all kinds of activity going on that I did not remember. The number of “gringos” venturing to the island seems to have blossomed as well. The ferry we took seemed to be half tourists. And I’m not sure how I feel about that. I guess as one myself, I can’t complain too much, but Ometepe always had this undiscovered, untouched feel to it that seems to be disappearing. But this is how things go when people find a great place. Word travels. And anyways, who’s to say that what I remember Ometepe as is what it should be? Surely many lives on Ometepe are better off due to the uptick in tourism.
Anyway, back on track, many things still looked the same. We drove past the school I helped paint … and it looked like about a ten year old paint job. Free range animals still clogged up the now paved roads. The village I stayed in looked almost identical, and I felt like I could’ve navigated it with ease. The buses were decorated as peculiarly as they have always been, but they were less crowded. I mean, everyone on the bus had an actual seat.
What hasn’t changed, however, is the people. Everyone is still incredibly open and helpful. Courtesy and pleasantness seems to be a big part of Nicaraguan culture (except at Managua bus stations, but that’s another story).
We managed to meet up with this year’s Bainbridge Ometepe Sister Island Association (BOSIA) volunteer, Maggie, and had dinner with her and two other fellow travelers who happened to be staying next door to us and also seeking Maggie out. We got caught up on the latest happenings of BOSIA and the cultural activities, politics and happenings on the island. It probably was my naivete in high school, but the political and cultural landscape of Ometepe is a lot more complicated today than I recall it.
Since we’ve really just arrived in Altagracia, I’m sure I’ll have many more observations about Ometepe. But it’s both familiar and exotic to be here again, in a way that I haven’t been able to put my finger on yet. Hopefully by the end of our time here I’ll be able to put them into more cohesive ideas than this random hodge-podge I present to you today.