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Concepción, one of the two volcanoes that form the island of Ometepe. Photo: Alamy
Concepción, one of the two volcanoes that form the island of Ometepe. Photo: Alamy

Ghost stories of Ometepe

On this idyllic island in Central America, legends about the supernatural fill up the night

What was supposed to be a great adventure was turning out to be the worst day of my life. I kept glancing at the deep forest and it seemed more treacherous each time. The way up to Volcano Maderas was like walking for eternity in quicksand. Still recovering from a sickness, I, it seemed, had pushed my body beyond its limits.

And that is when we came eye to eye. For a few moments neither of us moved, our gaze fixed on each other. I could not believe my eyes. “Am I actually looking at the Cadejo?" I asked myself. A wave of fear began in my head and ran down right up to my toes. With no idea what to expect, I just stood there praying to the gods I had earlier claimed not to have any faith in.

A week before this moment, I had got off the ferry at Moyogalpa, the largest village on Nicaragua’s Ometepe island. A seismic island with twin volcanoes rising out of Lake Nicaragua, Isla Ometepe is the closest I have come to an idyll. It was intimate. Everyone seemed to know everyone else on the island. Leisure was a game of football on the beach, and nightlife was drinking Tona, the national beer, at the handful of local dive bars. Bedtime was no later than 9pm. Finally, I had found a place where I seemed to belong.

A ferry arriving at Ometepe. Photo: Oswaldo Rivas/Reuters
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A ferry arriving at Ometepe. Photo: Oswaldo Rivas/Reuters

Aquiles Ortiz was the one who introduced me to the Cadejo. The 30-year-old son of the owner of Hospedaje Ortiz, the guesthouse that was my home in Ometepe, didn’t seem to be the kind of person who would believe in ghosts.

“That night, I was cycling with the other guide. As we got close to the port, I looked next to me, and there it was. It was a Cadejo Negro, a black one.

“It was so big, like a dog, but really big and with fiery red eyes. All I could do was to pedal like my life depended on it," Aquiles said, fear set deep in his eyes as he recollected the encounter.

This story was from 10 years ago, when he had to cycle 24km in the evening to the port, in search of guests for the hospedaje (lodging) from the last ferry. It was eerie listening to him.

A full moon seen from Ometepe. Photo: Mohit Pradhan
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A full moon seen from Ometepe. Photo: Mohit Pradhan

Black Cadejos, or Cadejo Negros, are creatures that look like dogs but are said to be bigger in size. According to Nicaraguans, or Nicas, these are not real animals but supernatural ones. They are capable of changing their size and can hurt humans. Generally, though, they appear to drunken men on their way back home in the night. But there is a good Cadejo too, and it is white in colour—the Cadejo Blanco.

Ghosts do not reside only in Ometepe; they are everywhere in Nicaragua. And the Cadejo is probably the least scary of them. Supernatural legends are quite well developed in Nicaragua, which has had a long and exciting history—everything from dictatorship and foreign occupation to civil wars and revolutions. The Nica ghosts go back even further into its past, to some place deep. They seem to be a part of the country’s collective memory.

Take La Mocuana, for instance, the princess of an indigenous tribe who fell in love with a Spaniard. To prove her undying affection, she decided to let her lover in on the treasure of her tribe. Looking at the gold, the Spaniard decided to betray her. He trapped her in a cave and left with the treasure. The princess managed to escape and since then roams aimlessly in the thick forests of this tropical country.

She now has a great hatred for men and tries to harm the ones who give in to her seductive allure.

La Mocuana is not the only woman who haunts Nicas. There are others too, such as La Llorona, the weeping one. It is said that on some nights you can hear a young woman weeping incessantly next to rivers or the sea. Her story, also one of love betrayed, involves a Spaniard. The girl was pregnant with their love child, and the man, not wanting to accept the girl as his wife or to live in Nicaragua, fled while she was asleep next to him by the river. When she woke up, she realized he was gone. She threw her baby into the raging waters of the river. Almost immediately, her maternal instincts took over and she jumped in to save her son, but it was too late. Both mother and son drowned.

Now, she is often heard screaming and weeping for her son through the night—“Ay mi hijo! Ay mi hijo!"

Most people in Ometepe, however, agree that these ghost women do not terrorize their island. It is another ghost that has been a bigger nuisance over the last few decades.

Carlos Ortiz lived close to the Hospedaje Ortiz. He had seen Cadejos many times, but what he really feared was La Mona, or the monkey. For a moment, I did not understand why the islanders would be scared of an animal they see almost on a daily basis. But this was no ordinary monkey. La Mona (the monkey lady), apparently, was a human transformed into a monkey. Much bigger than normal ones, these monkeys have human faces.

Carlos said the witch in the neighbourhood would transform into this monkey to terrorize anyone she had a bone to pick with.

This was when Joel, who worked at the hospedaje, uttered a most worrying thing. “La Mona was here three nights ago. She ran amok scaring people. You were probably sleeping, but she dropped many coconuts on the roof of your room as well."

This I hadn’t expected. I did remember the tin roof over my room rattling at times. But I just assumed it was coconuts falling. From that moment on, however, the slightest sound on the roof would make me sweat despite the pleasant night breeze.

There was news that a tourist had attempted trekking the Volcano Concepción all alone a couple of years ago. His body was found a fortnight later. People believe his blood was sucked by the Chupacabra. Some claim this animal looks like a cross between a dog and a bat. It is said to reside in the volcanoes of Ometepe and has developed a taste for human blood.

My guide on the trek on Volcano Maderas did not seem so convinced. He was certain these were stories fabricated to ensure that trekkers use the services of guides. In fact, he didn’t believe in ghosts.

“What about the Cadejo?" I enquired. “Well, Cadejos exist, I think."

The rural nature of Nicaragua may have something to do with these legends. Electricity has only recently reached many areas. Walking or staying out at nights isn’t considered safe. And Nicas love to share stories and gossip while they sit outside their homes every evening.

Ghost sightings have come down since electricity and television arrived on the island.

That afternoon on Volcano Maderas, as I stared at what looked like a black Cadejo with red eyes, I was sure it meant danger. A few moments later, however, the animal looked away. I realized it was a dog—and gestured to it.

It wagged its tail, and its owner followed him. We exchanged greetings.

Dogs and Cadejos look alike. And that could be the answer to the commonest Nicaraguan legend.

Go

Fly to New York City and connect to Managua on AeroMexico. From Managua, a 2-hour bus or taxi ride will get you to Rivas, a town close to Lake Nicaragua. Another ferry ride of one-and-a-half hours will get you to Ometepe’s Moyogalpa port.

Stay

It is still early days for tourism on Ometepe, and the options are quite basic. You could stay at the Hospedaje Ortiz, a modest but clean place run by a local family, in Altagracia. It’s just $10 (around 670), with a scrumptious breakfast, for single occupancy.

Eat

Try the local snack, enchiladas, and the natural juices sold on the streets.

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