We'd heard some pretty nasty things about the twice-weekly public ferry from Granada to Isla de Ometepe, and to be honest, I was a bit scared. Lago de Nicaragua, the huge freshwater lake that the ferry crosses to get to the island, is famous for its strong winds, and as any sailor knows, strong winds mean big waves. And big waves and passenger ferries do not mix well, particularly when I'm on them.
It didn't help that when we returned to Granada after our wonderful visit to Little Corn Island, we accidentally picked a hotel room with a sloping bed and a nasty line in mosquitoes, which came as a bit of a surprise as we'd decided to book a better hotel than we normally do, to help with the come-down from a week of five-star living. After we complained the following morning, with our hair sticking up like members of The Cure, the hotel kindly moved us into a different property for our second night, where we enjoyed life in our own self-contained apartment, overlooking a pool from a delightful verandah. But the damage was done: we were exhausted from a whole night of rolling into the middle of the bed and trying not to scratch too much, and on top of this, Peta had contracted a bout of swimmer's ear from our one scuba dive on Little Corn, and the antibiotic drops were taking their time to kick in. To say we weren't on top form is an understatement.
But we decided we'd give the ferry a go anyway, because we figured it could go either way; if we were lucky, it would be an enjoyable four-hour ferry journey across a volcano-studded lake, and if we weren't, it would be a long fight against seasickness, because when the lake plays up, it really plays up. The advice we'd been given was to stay away from the windows, because when it's rough, even they can't keep the lake out of the cabin. And as for seasickness... well, they don't allow anyone to drink alcohol on board, which says it all, really. So I stocked up on seasickness tablets and crossed my fingers, sending up a prayer for calm weather the next morning.
Two Deckchairs, Please
It turns out that the secret to enjoying the ferry trip from Granada to Ometepe is to hire a deckchair. There are two levels on the ferry – first class is on the upper deck, while second class is on the lower deck – and as foreigners are only allowed to buy first class tickets, you have a choice between the open deck at the back, or the air-conditioned cabin that comes complete with padded benches and a blaring television that simply won't shut up. If it's a nice day then the open deck is much more enticing, and if you get in there quick, you can hire a deckchair for the entire journey for just over a dollar.
It's a great idea because Lago de Nicaragua is the largest lake in Central America, so not only is it big enough to feel like the sea, it's also big enough to act like the sea. The winds around these parts tend to be easterlies or northeasterlies, so you have a choice: the port side will be sheltered from the sun but will bear the brunt of the wind, while the starboard side will be more sheltered but will also catch the hot, afternoon sun. We hired two deckchairs and the man stuck them on the starboard side, towards the back of the deck, and so the die were cast; we'd see later whether or not we'd lucked out.
But first we had to get going. It is supposed to take four hours to sail from Granada, at the western tip of the lake, to Isla de Ometepe, about halfway along the southwestern shore, with the ferry leaving at 2pm and arriving at 6pm, just as it's going dark. This isn't as quick as the standard way of getting from Granada to Ometepe – which involves an hour-and-a-half in the chicken bus to Rivas, a short taxi ride to San Jorge, and an hour's ferry crossing to Ometepe – but the Granada ferry is rather more civilised, as it doesn't involve the chicken bus. It does get as packed as the chicken bus, though, and they really ram the passengers on; first class is all bodies and bags, so goodness only knows what second class is like, but when you've got yourself a deckchair, you can just sit there and watch the world go by.
We didn't quite leave on time, finally pulling out of Granada half an hour later than scheduled, but we'd already started snoozing, so it didn't really matter. The skies were pure blue, the wind was fairly steady but not as strong as it could have been, and we sat there for the next five hours as Granada receded into the distance and the twin peaks of Ometepe's distant volcanoes slowly grew larger on the horizon. The sun was fierce, but my chair was just behind one of the ferry's chimneys, so I managed to stay happily shaded while Peta's chair got the sunshine that she wanted. It was blissful.
Unfortunately it wasn't so blissful for those on the port side of the deck. They enjoyed a smug couple of hours as the sun cooked the starboard side while they were sheltered, but as we headed out into the middle of the lake, the wind picked up and the swell started rolling. And suddenly, wham! The bow hit a big wave and five seconds later there was a crashing sound followed by lots of high-pitched shrieks, as half of Lago de Nicaragua splashed over the port side and rained down on the port-side passengers. Suddenly there was panic as water gushed across the metal decks, soaking all the bags that were on the open deck (ours were inside) and washing over those who hadn't been lucky enough to snag a deckchair and who were sitting on the bare deck.
It wasn't remotely chaotic where we were sitting. At one point I had to pick up my bag when I saw some water heading our way, but I had plenty of time to hang it on the back of the deckchair and go back to contemplating the wonderful view of Ometepe. And when the next splash hit, and the entire row of deckchairs on the port side got drenched so much that they gave up and went inside, we didn't get splashed one little bit. Oh, and we got to enjoy a glorious sunset too. I guess the starboard side was indeed the right choice...
We also lucked out when we finally pulled into the dock at Altagracia. We'd booked one night in the Hotel Central, which then promptly filled up with a group of American cyclists who were also on the ferry, so those who hadn't booked ahead ended up in the Hotel Castillo, which had absolutely terrible reviews on TripAdvisor. The Hotel Central was, in comparison, a lovely little spot, and it did a mean grilled chicken and served cold beers, which went down a little too well that evening.
And, I realised as I sipped my third Victoria, I hadn't felt seasick once. What a great way to get to Ometepe...