Formed out of two steep volcanoes with a strip of flat, fertile land between, Ometepe is a quiet island in the middle of the enormous Lake Nicaragua. My friends and I hired bikes from the shop opposite our hotel, with the intention of cycling to San Ramón, from where we could hike up to a 35m waterfall on the slopes of Volcàn Maderas. Being a group of seven got us a cheap deal on bike hire, but they were ‘one size fits all’ and, being short, I had to perform an ungracious leap/fall to dismount.
As we set off for the waterfall, my Aussie friend Ratna, who I’d met the day before on the ferry, noticed her brakes weren’t working. But expecting to be cycling for only for an hour, we pushed on. After about 20 minutes the flat, paved road forked between the volcanoes and became a dirt track. I started to feel properly off the beaten track as we rode past huts with maize growing and chickens roaming.
Around midday we stopped at a lakeside comedor for licuados and a breather. It had been harder, further, and more dangerous than we predicted. We set off again, myself at the front, bouncing down hills at break-neck speed, splashing through puddles where butterflies bathed, the track just loose rock, potholes and mud. Eventually I came across some American anthropology students studying monkeys in the trees, and stood chatting whilst I waited for the rest to catch up.
“Is that your friend?” said one of them, eying a girl running towards me.
“Ratna’s fallen off her bike,” my friend Stacy said. “She’s got some pretty bad grazes. We might need your help.”
Expecting a bumped elbow and grazed knees, I said okay and got back on my bike. “There’s howler monkeys in that tree, you know,” I told her.
Howler monkeys didn’t seem high on Stacy’s list of priorities.
Back up the hill, a crowd of locals had gathered to stare at the splayed gringa. A semi-conscious Ratna lay on the floor, her face covered in grit-filled grazes. Her nose was bleeding, her cheek badly swollen, and yep, along with every limb, her knees were grazed.
A Dutch boy, Ieme, gave first aid, while someone kept the sun off her with a towel. After 45 minutes trying to organize some way of getting to the hospital, a party of American tourists arrived in a shiny white SUV. We commandeered the car and gingerly lifted her inside, fearing a head or neck injury. Most of our group only spoke phrasebook Spanish, but I’d just finished a short stint at language school. Hardly an expert, but it qualified me for the trip to the hospital. I talked rubbish to keep her awake until we reached the medical center in Altagracia. I explained what had happened to the nurse, who yawned and eventually found a wheelchair. This wasn’t going to cut it. We needed an emergency room.
An hour later we were in the hospital in Moyogalpa. After being violently fireman’s lifted onto a trolley, Ratna was wheeled through a dirty curtain into the emergency department. The doctor, who didn’t speak English, prodded her face and determined that nothing was broken. I told her that Ratna said her wrist was painful, but they didn’t have x-ray facilities. Instead she cleaned and dressed the wounds on her hands and face with what little equipment they had and began to stitch the deep cuts on her knees. Ratna barely made a sound. Suddenly, the power went out, but being in a world of pain, Ratna didn’t notice the dark. The stitches were finished by flashlight whilst I fanned the heat away with paperwork, marveling at the lumps on her face. After the nurse left, I followed the doctor’s mimed instructions and began helping out: preparing swabs and helping splint her broken wrist. Once we were done with some paperwork Ratna was wheeled out into the hall ‘to wait.’ Not for a ward, as I’d thought, just for our friends to take us home.
From the hospital, we took a taxi-shuttle back to our hotel, leaving for the mainland the next morning. The treatment, provided for free under the Nicaraguan public health system, hadn’t been first-rate, but was good considering our location and the country’s poverty. Since Ratna was having trouble walking, the logistics of leaving were difficult, but made much easier by the helpful attitudes of our group – some of whom we’d only just met. After a night in Rivas, we split, with Ratna, who was looking like a cartoon car-crash victim, myself, and our friend Vicky moving to San Juan del Sur to rest up.