oday was an early morning (as per usual it seems), but it was an early morning in paradise. The Hacienda Merida is a beautiful place, and it was wonderful to fall asleep last night and wake up this morning to the sound of waves lapping against the shoreline just outside our window. We were up early to catch the breakfast buffet that started at 7am, in order to be ready to go for our morning of kayaking. Breakfast was ok, not sure it was worth the money, but tasty nonetheless.
Around 8am we met Saoul, our guide for kayaking (with his guide polo shirt, yes, we are now checking). We had requested an English speaking guide in hopes that we would get more of the scoop on the areas we were visiting – it kind of worked but kind of didn´t as Saoul was not the most hands on guide in the world. He was a nice guy and did show us some cool stuff, but he would leave a lot of distance between our boat and his, so sometimes we couldn´t ask the questions we wanted to.
Anyway, Ryan and I were placed in a double sit-on-top kayak, while Saoul paddled on his own. As per usual in our kayaking together, I do most of the paddling while Ryan reclines in the back snapping photos and claiming that he´s steering. Sure sure. Our first destination was to Monkey Island. Monkeys!!! I was pretty excited about this. Turns out there are two small islands just off the Island of Ometepe (I mean SMALL). The first is home to 2 spider monkeys, the other island is home to 12 capuchin monkeys (like Marcel from Friends). According to Saoul and the many signs posted at our hotel, the spider monkeys are not friendly and will bite, so we maintained a healthy distance. Meanwhile, all the monkeys seemed curious to see us and ran out to the hanging branches to check us out and let us check them out. The capuchins were super cute, I liked them a lot. The story we heard is that the monkeys had been mistreated by their owner, and some guy rescued them and brought them to these islands to live out their lives. The locals bring food to the tiny islands every day for the monkeys to eat (the islands are super small, not a lot grows there and nothing else lives there). It was a quick paddle and fun to watch the monkeys play, but we had to go onward to our next destination.
Ryan was pretty excited about this part of the trip – it was one of the things he had most been looking forward to from the whole vacation. Caimans. What is a Caiman? A Caiman is like a small-ish crocodile that lives in various areas throughout central and south america. We had watched a show on the Discovery Channel before our holiday on Ciamans…they are still pretty scary. Anyway, our next destination was to be the Rio Istiam, which is really more of a swamp than a river, and is known for housing a lot of Caimans. Dun dun dun!!
The paddle from Monkey Island to the Rio Istiam took a little over an hour, and it was pretty hot out in the direct sunlight. On the way we passed several small homes and huts along the banks and watched as women washed laundry in the water, kids jumped and played in the water, and a family bathed in the water. What a great place. All of this in view of both volcanoes (essentially the swamp runs down the middle section of the island between the two volcanoes), which was a fairly spectacular sight as we reminisced about having climbed to the top of the steep one.
Finally we came to the entrance of the Rio Istiam. We made our way through the narrowing waterways, Saoul often pointing out birds, Ryan snapping photos left right and centre. And then it happened, Saoul said, “a caiman, there!”. We said “where??”. I had figured caimans would look like logs along the water, sunning themselves at the surface. Turns out we came during their more active time of day, when they hide in the bushes just at the waters edge or part way in the water – they are hunting for birds Saoul tells us. So now we know where to look. Suddenly we seemed to see them everywhere. Every few meters there would be another. Some of them facing away from us, some of them facing toward us. Most of them about 4-6 feet in length from snout to tail. One chomped his jaws a few times, that was a bit menacing. And we got crazy close, probably about 2 feet away from the one. Saoul kept saying, “nice and slow, nice and slow”.
We continued through the swamp for a little over 2 hours. We took tons of pictures and a bit of video, we look forward to uploading these later for your enjoyment. As we continued it became more treed so Ryan paddled while I video taped the journey through the trees. At some point a tiny little fish jumped into our kayak and was flopping all over. Ryan just about peed himself while I attempted to scoop him out – so gross! He was so wiggly and wasn´t helping me help him at all. I did finally get him out, so now he can live another day.
We continued on. Suddenly Saoul says “there´s a caiman, a really really big one” in a whispered tone. We turn to look. I see it first, it´s massive tail, hind leg, body, front leg – then Ryan sees it. Ryan starts paddling toward it. I start paddling away. This is a problem in a double kayak. Ryan gets mad that I am paddling backwards. I get mad that he wants to get closer to something that is clearly at least 15-20 feet long with sharp teeth. In the midst of our argument the boat bumps against a tree in the water – the caiman takes off into the water. I´m still not sure that that was any better than him being on land where I could at least keep track of him. After that Ryan was a bit upset with me. I was ok with that because I still had all my limbs. In the Discovery Channel show, one guy was in a boat and a caiman knocked the boat over and chomped his leg off. I remembered that.
After the giant caiman incident, we moved on, taking a “short cut” through an area covered by plants that look something like lily pads, but are very hard and bump against the boat. We got stuck a couple of times in the shallow water, but eventually made our way through. Saoul made it look so easy in his tiny kayak with just his weight…not so easy for us. Once we were through we did a little bit more exploring, and then decided it was time to head back.
The paddle back to the hotel felt like it took forever and it seemed a lot harder, like we were pulling a giant caiman or something. While on our way back we saw a random event: a thousand birds came flying in swirls from the side of the volcano across the water and away. There were so many of them. It was neat to watch. This was a moment it would have been nice to have Saoul closer so we could ask more about this – but he was a ways away from us so we never did learn what that was all about.
We made it back to the hotel and enjoyed sharing a lunch after I took a quick dip off the dock (for those who are wondering, I did ask, and apparently the caimans don´t come in the lake). We find we eat a lot less here, the heat makes you feel not so hungry during the day. It´s a good diet. After our lunch we picked a couple new books from the bookshelf and made our way back up to the hammock to nap and read. It was a nice time to relax.
At around 4 in the afternoon Ryan woke me from my nap and we went down to the dining area where we pulled out giant chess. The chess board was about 4 feet x 4 feet and covered the entire table. The peices were huge. The whole thing was covered in dust, and clearly hadn´t been used in a while. We played 2 games. I won the first one in record time (for me), and Ryan was astounded. Ryan won the second one, I was not surprised at all. Ryan then tried to teach one of the staff at the hotel how to play – she had been watching us intently. Unfortunately a large group of travellers came in just then and she was busy helping them, so we put the game away and walked down to the dock to watch sunset.
The sunset was beautiful. The sun sets at like 6pm here, almost year round since it is so close to the equator. After the sunset we sat down to dinner. Neither of us was feeling particularly good, it seems our tummy´s have still not adapted to Nicaragua, so I was thankful when I saw something familiar: kraft dinner. Ryan was less than impressed, but there were plenty of other options. I ate a lot of kraft dinner.
I wish I could say that after dinner we stayed up chatting with other travellers, enjoying drinks until the wee hours of the morning. The truth is, we were both so tired from the kayaking and the sun that we went straight to bed and slept for many many hours. Sweet dreams sleepy Faas´.