Circumnavigating a Volcano

Mira, los frenos no funcione.”

I said to the man who gave me a daily bicycle rental rate of 100 Cordobas (less than $5).

We took the bike to his mechanic buddy next door.  He made some adjustments.  I tested the brakes and deemed them to be at about a 75% working order.  This felt like perfection in comparison to the 10% the rental man erroneously assumed that I’d venture out with.  I was a bit shocked that he thought I could make it with those brakes as he had helped me map my route.

I wasn’t asked for my name or for identification.  He just took the money and asked that I had the bike back by five or six pm.

I started on a pleasant flat, dirt stretch that soon started to ascend.  At this point I’d make my first brief friendship, with a guy pushing an ice cream cart up the same dirt road.

At this point, I was still feeling great, trying to snap pictures patiently.  I like tough exercise, especially when I’m on a mission to get somewhere.  My mission was to circumnavigate or completely cycle around the smoking Volcan Concepción.

After I passed the rural ice cream man, I was able to ride behind a young man working his cattle.  This lasted for a pleasant stretch.  He seemed oblivious that I was tailgating him while he scrupulously engaged in his work. My only option was to ride directly behind the cattle, which I quickly realized was fine.

As the kid and his animals were getting ready to veer onto a side path to the right, I noticed two dogs just beyond them.  They were taunting a horse.  The canines barked and jumped at this stallion, causing him to go berserk.  I then stopped to look at this equine animal’s owner. He was chasing the horse into the woods.  This random scene was comical.

After another stretch of dirt road mixed with ascents and descents, I noticed a another herd of cattle ahead.  They would eventually come right at me.   I had no option but to ride my rental bike right into them.    The bovine animals and their master were used to these close encounters.  The cows didn’t seem fazed by my presence as they naturally avoided contact.

During this first stretch of 18km (11m), I had energy; I tried to make it a point to give everyone I passed a:

Buenas”  “Buenos Dias” or an “Hola.”

Most reciprocated kindly with similar greetings. I got a lot of thumbs up signs and smiles.

Everyone I came across was pleasant, until a small group of miniature cowboys appeared in front of me.  They rode small horses and held lassos.  They were transported what looked like gasoline containers.  I felt like I was in a kid’s mind, a child who was using his imagination and creating a scene from the wild-west.

These kids responded to my greeting with looks of apathy.  This was no imagination.  I thought them to be about 11 years old.  They were working the land.  There was a teenager with them.

As I kept riding past friendly, humble people, I noticed more kids transporting things. Some looked as young as five.

Children lugged things like water and kindling. I even saw a little girl walking along the road with a hacksaw.

Men walked with machetes.  Some used these tools to cut branches and even whole trees down.  This happens all over Nicaragua as people need the wood for kindling so they can cook.

I came across a baseball game.  I stopped and bought a bag of Jalepeño chips, that ironically had no Jalepeño flavor.  I told the vendor that I love baseball.  She invited me to sit down.  I sat on the small bench and took notes.

There were two other men there.  We sat where the left field grandstand seats would have been in a place like Japan, Korea or the US.   The two men told the woman that they wondered why I was writing, thinking that I didn’t understand.  I explained that I was writing notes about my journey around the volcano.  The woman thought that that was nice.  We chatted about the pros and cons of increased tourist numbers on Ometepe.

There was a point where the road didn’t seem to coincide with the map I had, so I stopped to ask a campesino woman.  Her Spanish was fast and slurred, which was unlike most of the clearly enunciated Nica Spanish that I’d come across on this trip.  She acted kindly by telling me that I was in San Marcos.  She poined me in the direction of Altagracia, which would complete the first 18km stretch.

After a typical, bland lunch of chicken, rice, fried plantains and cabbage mixed with a scant amount of shredded carrots and mayo, I had 25km of paved road to go.  A  long  stretch was uphill, and by this time, I was wiped out.  The sun was  stronger as midday had approached.

At times I had to get off the bike and walk, like many locals were doing.  I made a new friend on that route, a shoe salesman.  He had a bike attached to a cart that held around 20 pairs of shoes.  While walking past someone’s home he’d yell out:


The uphill climb was grueling.  I wasn’t sure if I could make it.  My mind entertained the idea  of needing a bus or plantain truck to ship me the rest of the way.  I must have seen about six or seven of these trucks pass me along the paved, 25-km, stretch.

My new friend assured me that things were about to get a lot better, that I’d just need to get through a little bit more of this increasingly painful ascent.

Sure enough, a long downward glide began.  I was flying, but worried about the mechanical integrity of the bike.  The view became picturesque.  I saw Lake Nicaragua and one of the two volcanoes on either side.  This pleasant descent went on for a few kilometers.  There were great photo opportunities; but, there was no way I could stop.  I was so tired of the sun, of riding, that I needed to keep the easy momentum attained.

I’d drunk all of my water.

When the long downward descent ended,  I stopped at a little store that was a part of a family’s home.  The shopkeeper informed me that I was in San José.  Looking at my map, I hadn’t realized that I’d made such great ground.

After an invitation, I sat down and watched soccer on a big screen with him. We bonded by simultaneously awing at the goals shown on the highlight reel.   He said that I had about 12km to go before I’d circled the volcano.  I was determined.

The rest of the journey was mostly flat.  I passed Los Angeles, knowing that this was the  last stretch.  The afternoon sun was grueling.   I kept pushing, finally recognizing Moyagalpa.

I brought the bike back at 3pm.  I couldn’t find the man.  I located a woman and told her that I was returning the bike with the basket.  She said:


She didn’t even come out to look at the bike.


6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Seantonio Verde on February 22, 2011 at 14:15

    That was an interesting read: Muchas gracias!

    “Mira, los frenos no funcione.” frenos (brakes) has been added to my Spanish vocab. Thanks for that too. It was easy enough to figure out but I looked it up just to be sure.


    • SEANTONIO: Glad you were able to add a Spanish word (palabra) to your repertoire. That reminds me, I’ve noticed tourists w/ no Spanish to speak of -literally- and that’s given me the idea of posting a ‘Functional Spanish’ page to my site. This will enable people to learn the most important/useful words/phrases. This will make interaction in Latin America or Spain much more fruitful. I will base the work/theory on how I once became functional in Japanese.


  2. Posted by Maida on February 22, 2011 at 13:54

    I’m curious, when you stop off to write in different places, are you using your Notebook PC, or old-fashioned pen and paper?


    • MAIDA: I use a traditional notebook and pen. The only thing I pull out in public is my camera, which slides right back into my pocket after I’ve snapped a shot. Having a computer out in the open is like wearing bling. One would be inviting a crime to happen. Then again, out here in the country no one would try steal it but these people are so poor. I don’t wanna shove my perceived wealth in their face by pulling out a laptop, ntm I don’t wanna carry it on a 25-km bike ride.


  3. I think your next mission should be to climb up the volcano!


    • DAVID: That would be a good mission. It’s very muddy I’m told; my worn shoes or my sandals would slide down. I hate excuses but my toes also still sore from the stingray bite. If I had the right shoes maybe I could do it, but I don’t, and I don’t envision finding them here in Nicaragua. Live and learn.


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