Ometepe is an island formed by two volcanoes rising from Lake Nicaragua. Its name derives from the words ome (two) and tepetl (mountain), meaning two mountains. It is the largest island in Lake Nicaragua as well as the largest volcanic island inside a fresh water lake in the world. As of June 2010, Ometepe was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Preserve. I found this isle to be enchanting and left wanting further time to explore her.
The first known inhabitants were Nahua Indians from Mexico followed by the Niquirano who established an important settlement on the island. Traces of this past can still be found in petroglyphs and stone idols on the northern slopes of Maderas volcano. The oldest date from 300 BC.
When first viewed by the first Spanish conquistadores, Lake Nicaragua was considered as a fresh water sea as they thought they were viewing the Atlantic Ocean. Nicaragua’s history was altered when Lake Nicaragua’s natural drainage, the San Juan River, was discovered. Lake Nicaragua along with San Juan River formed an important trade route during the colonial era with hundreds of ships carrying in and out goods to Spain and Spanish colonies. This flourishing commerce attracted pirates, who navigated their vessels on Lake Nicaragua ravaging the colonial cities of Granada and Leon.
More recently Lake Nicaragua was also used as a major passage by thousands of Americans and Europeans as an alternate route to the California gold fields in the 1850s. Lake Nicaragua was once considered as a location of a canal between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea before the Panama Canal was constructed. I am told there is renewed interest in building a Nicaraguan Canal.
Legend tells us that once an Indian woman felt the sadness of lost love and visited a wise priest. He told her to cry over a fruit basket and fill it with her tears. The priest brought an eagle egg, filled it with the tears and told her to take it to a place with two volcanoes. When she reached the spot, the egg fell from the basket and the tears overflowed forming Lake Nicaragua.
Today we believe Lake Nicaragua, together with Lake Managua to the northwest, originally formed as part of an ocean bay. With volcanic eruptions and tectonic plate action, the bay became an inland basin containing the two lakes. The trapped ocean fish adapted themselves as the water gradually turned from saltwater to freshwater. Lake Nicaragua is now the only freshwater lake containing oceanic animal life, including sharks, swordfish, and tarpon.
While on Ometepe we visited two learning centers (both also had a lending library) sponsored by W/NP. The visit was made more special by the presence of the W/NP Managua office manager who grew up on Ometepe and provided us with a personalized view of the local people. This is a woman of incredible courage. While in high school, she was a very good student and at the urging/help of a local priest successfully applied for a scholarship to a USA university. Her journey to the States was not only her first airplane trip, it also was the first time she left the confines of the island! I am impressed.