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In search of freshwater bull sharks: kayaking Isla de Ometepe, Lake Nicaragua (Pg 3)

Entering River Istrian, Lake Nicaragua, Isla de Ometepe © Craig FastThe possible presence of bull sharks faded from my mind as Eric lead our group of kayakers across the lake towards the Istián River and the distracting beauty of the scene unfolded around me. Howler monkeys leapt through the trees. Ospreys kept watch from the uppermost branches and kingfishers busied themselves alongside the washerwomen. Eric introduced me to the pulplegallinul, a tree covered in bright red flowers that plopped loudly into the water. The flowers look like cockerels and are locally used to shield noses from the raging tropical sun, or so Eric said. I spent at least 30 minutes blissfully paddling with one stuck to my nozzle. He was sat behind me so any sniggers went unseen.

After an hour of paddling we reached the shallow mouth of the river, marked by a white, guano-stained tree. A man wearing a loose white shirt was wading waist deep across it; easy prey for a bull shark, I thought, half hopefully. To my disappointment, all chances of seeing a bull shark, slim to begin with, vanished as we paddled upstream.

Great White Egret, Lake Nicaragua, Isla de Ometepe © Craig FastIf the paddle across the lake had been picturesque, the Istián River was astounding. The river flows across the low isthmus, splitting the island in rainy season. Concepción and Maderas loomed on either side, framed by a blue sky, and reflecting in the smooth, dark waters of the river. Greenery and lily pads shrouded the river’s edge, encroaching on the water with an almost desperate verdancy. Above all, it was a birding bonanza.

Gliding along, barely making a ripple, we got so close to a great egret that I was able to gaze into its unblinking yellow eye. Swallows darted overhead, flocks of whistle ducks erupted into the air as we approached, momentarily disturbing the calm, and two turtles sunbathed on a floating log. Snowy egrets cut elegant figures, patiently hunting along the riverbank. Blue, green and grey herons, blue jays and a northern jacana all made an appearance or three. A tiger heron flew so close by I could hear its wings whirr. Resident and migratory birds jostled for space in the trees above, setting up a discordant chorus as we approached. It was a sublime place to paddle and a twitcher’s gentle wonderland.

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Overland Traveller copyright © Emma Field 2010