El Zopilote is an organic farm hostel located on the smaller island of Ometepe, a volcanic island located on Lake Nicaragua. It is a destination for travelers looking to stay in a permaculture environment that employs locals, uses environmentally sustainable methods for housing, showers, and food sourcing, allows visitors to volunteer their time helping out around the kitchen and farm, and helps support local businesses and schools.
Being a female solo adventurist, I sought out this destination for its somewhat remote location, laid-back, appeal, and that it appeared to be a fun, off-the-beaten path endeavor.
It turned out to be a rather popular spot for travelers, hippies, and people looking to volunteer on a farm for four-six week periods; subsequently upon my arrival there was only one spot left in the shared dorms. Since I was tired after my numerous modes of transportation that took me onto the island of Ometepe, I settled into the dorms located on the second, including up a steep ladder, into my top bunk in a wooden cabin. The room was minimal and rustic, but an adventure nonetheless. I was given a key to a locker where I was assured my backpack would be safe.
On my second day I left to go to a freshwater pool located ten minutes away via a chicken bus to Ojo de Agua (a freshwater swimming ground) with a group of travelers I had met the previous evening. I was unsure how safe the pools would be so I took a minimal amount of money and my passport that I kept in my small dry pack. I was in a bit of a rush to leave so I stuffed the rest of my cash in a pocket in my backpack, locked my locker and left.
The next day when I went to grab my cash out of the small backpack pocket I found that all my cash was gone. I alerted the woman at the reception desk to inform her of this occurrence. She was shocked and offered to let me stay the next night for free, but I wanted to leave as soon as possible. All of my dorm-mates were rather pleasant so I did not want to point fingers at anyone in particular, but I did not feel safe staying there. I left the hostel immediately and decided that this was not an island I wanted to be on any longer.
Feeling violated I headed towards a beach town to unwind and try to forget about the unfortunate robbery. I had hid some spare cash in my toiletries bag, bra pockets I had created, and secret compartments in my clothes so I wasn’t completely without money. I mentioned doing this in a previous article I wrote for this website and my own advice definitely helped me out in this unfortunate situation. After I arrived at my next destination I also discovered that my headphones were missing as well. Once I was able to gather my thoughts and piece every possible situation together, I came to the conclusion that it was someone in the El Zopilote staff who most likely took my money and headphones. They were the only other people who had access to the keys for the locks the hostel provided, and they had been in the dorms that day for the weekly fumigation of the building’s interior.
I bumped into some of my dorm-mates at a different destination a few weeks later. They informed me that others who had been staying at El Zopilote experienced theft as well.
Any long-term trip a traveler takes is not without some mishap or setback. There are police located on the island, but it is more of a hassle than a help to inform them when a small amount of money goes missing. Each time something unfortunate happens there is a lesson to be learned. Mine was this: buy your own lock(s). It is important to buy a small lock for your backpack and a larger one in the event you need to store your bag in a locker. If you are traveling solo, you are the only person with the key, or if you are with a friend, he/she will be the only other person who has access to your stored belongings.
We always hope for safety and trouble-less travels.