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In search of freshwater bull sharks: kayaking Isla de Ometepe, Lake Nicaragua (Pg 2)

Bull shark © Alhazred/Creative CommonsBull sharks have been seen thousands of miles up the Amazon river in Iquitos, Peru, in the Brisbane river, Sydney Harbour and as far up the Mississippi as St Louis. They have been known to feast on corpses ritually floated in the Ganges. In fact, bull sharks may have been responsible for the Jersey Shore attacks of 1916, when four bathers were killed and one seriously injured in twelve days. The attacks were the inspiration for Peter Benchley’s 1974 book, Jaws, which starred a bloodthirsty great white shark and was made into the eponymous hit film by Steven Spielberg the next year.

It’s a sign of the gradually changing times on Nicaragua’s Isla de Ometepe that Eric got his figures from the internet. As we paddled across Lake Nicaragua to the mouth of the Istián River I saw ladies doing laundry on the banks of the lake whilst wearing smart skirts and shirts that wouldn’t look out of place in an office. I wondered if their mothers and grandmothers did the same, but with the nagging fear of a bull shark’s vicious jaws at the back of their minds.

Paddling across Lake Nicaragua, Isla de Ometepe © Craig FastThere’s no doubt that the island is developing, but it’s doing so agreeably slowly. The road that winds around its hourglass shape is rough (although it’s gradually being resurfaced), plied more frequently by horses, ox-drawn carts and bicycles than cars. Island-wide, chickens idly scratch in the dust and the people are some of the friendliest I’ve ever met in my travels, even if waiters do take an hour or so to serve your food. Walking to a beach one afternoon, through what appeared to be backyards and gardens rather than the public footpath, families sharing meals and old men in beat-up fedoras all offered me a smile and a “good day”. In late afternoon, the light took on an enchanting hue, a soft, yellow tint that drenched the land and its people in a warm, welcoming golden glow.

The twin volcanoes of Isla de Ometepe rise rather rudely from the cloudy waters of Lake Nicaragua. An isthmus formed of lava joins the two peaks. The northern-most volcano, Concepción, is a near-perfect cone rising to an altitude of 1,610 metres. It is still active and emergency evacuation routes are signposted around the island, although the last major eruption was in 1957. To the south, less-impressive Maderas reaches a height of 1,394 metres. Its slopes are covered in cloud forest and a popular hiking route to the top rewards trekkers with a panoramic view of Concepción.

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