Unknown Found: Hiking Redemption in Ometepe, Nicaragua
Have you ever struggled or wanted to give up while hiking? Our writer talks about an experience giving hiking another chance.
My rusty borrowed bicycle made it down the hill to the entry point, but the journey to the trailhead was just the beginning. I was spending a few days on Ometepe, a volcanic island in the middle of a lake in Nicaragua in the middle of rainy season. The images I’d seen of breathtaking sunsets never materialized and my opportunity to leave on the ferry was dashed when I realized that a national holiday made it next to impossible to reach the terminal. So I grabbed a mountain bike from my guesthouse and the crude directions that would hopefully navigate me towards the waterfall.
A few months prior, I was in a different Central American country in the shadow of a volcano. I signed up for a hike of the Pacaya volcano outside of Antigua, Guatemala because it was advertised as the “easiest” of the hikes. But when a borrowed backpack was loaded with tents, food, and other heavy gear for the overnight trip, I struggled to put one foot in front of the other. Even when my bag was offloaded onto a horse, I wheezed the entire hour-long hike.
But my struggles didn’t end there. When we went to see the lava flow, I walked slowly to avoid slipping on the uneven ground. Soon I became separated from the group, surrounded by complete darkness. I started to panic, but after a few minutes the guide found me. After returning back to Antigua the next day, I felt ashamed of my performance and how out of shape I was. I was also angry that I got left behind on an active volcano.
On this trip, I hadn’t planned on doing any hikes, partially due to my ill-fated experience in Guatemala. But with little else to do until the next ferry came a few days later, I tried my luck anyways, riding 45 minutes from my guesthouse to the San Ramon Waterfall, bringing only a few essentials in my backpack.
I left my bike outside the gate and asked in Spanglish if it was okay, paid my entry, and started to trek. I’d heard varying reports of how long it would take, so I put in my headphones and trudged along in the damp forest. Along the way, I saw people pass me on horses, ATVs, and motorbikes, but I continued the steep incline on foot mostly alone, even after the rain started.
Eventually the terrain became uneven and inaccessible to anything but my two feet. I crossed creeks carefully to avoid falling in and crawled over boulders on my hands. I kept wondering if I was almost there yet, with no sense of how long I’d been gone or how much was left to go. I’d pass other hikers from time to time, but was mostly in complete solitude.
The last kilometer was the hardest, but the most rewarding. When I felt the spray of the 60 meter high waterfall on my already damp skin, I felt accomplished, redeemed from my past struggles. I asked a couple to take my picture as proof of my feat, a souvenir documenting my hiking redemption.
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By Caroline Eubanks
Caroline Eubanks is a writer from Atlanta, Georgia whose work has been published by BBC Travel, Afar, Thrillist, and National Geographic Traveler. She is also the author of the book This Is My South. You can see more examples of her work at CarolineEubanks.com.