Nicaragua: two Volcanoes with surprises at the summit

[Note: This story will reveal the surprises atop Volcán Maderas and Volcán Concepción in Ometepe, Nicaragua. I highly recommend that you do not read this story, and instead book a flight to Nicaragua, come to Ometepe, stay at Zopilote, hike these volcanoes with a couple friends, and experience the surprise for yourself. Let the mystery inspire you. Or take a chance and read my story. I too aim to inspire.]

[Note 2: I have no photos from Nicaragua. Above photo is of me in Boquete, Panama. Sex sells.]

Volcán Maderas – trip 1 (trip 2 coming in next post)

  • Elevation: 1,394m
  • Prominence: About the same?

I left the Zopilote farm, climbed through Elsewhereland, past our mirador, and began walking along cow fences directly towards the Maderas Volcano. I found myself walking on a trail. The trail split, and I chose the steeper path. I found myself following a trail marked by white flags. I ascended, stopping only to refuel on fruit and tokes of hash. Near the top, a group of hikers descended past me and I heard the word “lagoon.”

The trail descended for a few minutes, and there it was. It was… wowwwwwwwww. A lagoon, ringed by trees to the left and a marsh of tall golden reeds to the right. No people, no houses, just a black lagoon buttressed by walls of green and a blue sky overhead. The trail descended directly to a mud-sand beach, and I eagerly stripped to my underwear and waded into the chilling fresh water. Save for the Black Vultures circling overhead, I was alone, and, save for the sound of rippling water and my shivering exhales, it was silent.

I waded deeper into the lagoon, and I sunk deeper down into the volcano. The squishy mud rose to my knees, the water above rose to my chest. I freed my legs, floated for a minute, exited the water, and began my descent of the volcano, somehow finding myself on the main trail to the official park entrance at Madraguñas, where I passed, not having paid for the privilege of hiking Maderas.

By the way, difficulty-wise: the hiking was made more difficult near the top due to the wet trail through the section of cloud forest. Some scrambling over rocks and tree roots is required.

Volcán Concepción – trip 1 (trip 2 coming in next post)

  • Elevation: 1610m
  • Prominence: 1579m

I met a Canadian guy and a German girl, and we began hiking Concepción at 8:30am from the Altagracia side. It quickly became steep. After walking a couple kilometers, two local elderly men began following us. They warned us of the dangers of the hike. They said we were leaving too late to make it on our own. Like a taxi driver telling the tourist that it is too dangerous/far to walk/take the bus, these men were pitching themselves as guides. The more annoyed I became. Don’t tell me it’s impossible on my own. Because that’s not true. It’s a scare tactic. Instead, sell yourself as a guide. Tell me how you’ll enhance my experience. Tell me about the flora and fauna. The history.

Indeed, it is technically “legally” required to have a guide on Concepción. I put “legally” in quotes because laws related to tourists hiking in Central America change daily depending on when the last tourist got lost / died / had to get airlifted off the mountain. So fuck your laws, Nicaragua. Can I live?

I wasn’t angry at the time. I was chill. But I eventually turned around and told the guys that we were definitely going up without guides. Based on how little argument they gave me, my Spanish must be coming along well.

The hike was absolutely spectacular. The Altagracia side of the Concepción volcano is special because the winds carry the clouds from the giant lake up over this side of the volcano. So you climb through distinct climate zones. First, fairytale land of bamboo forests with yellow leaves lighting up the forest floor. Then standard jungle forest gives way to smaller, wind-blown trees and shrubs. As you cross halfway, you navigate boulders of black volcanic rock. At some point, the trail wound through a stratum of Alice in Wonderland bushes. [Note: identification of these bushes in progress]. Finally, we surpassed treeline and the rock trail continued. The clouds grew thicker and thicker, as they rushed up along the volcano’s side pushed by the lake wind.

I then heard the Canadian give a “whoop!” up ahead. We were at the rim of the volcano. And we peered very carefully over the edge, on hands and knees, and that was when I realized this was a live volcano. I first noticed how hot the ground was. Laying down against the edge of the rim, clouds rushing past our heads, we shifted back and forth, removing certain larger rocks that were hotter than the rest, so hot as to feel a burning sensation (though we did not burnt). We looked over the edge and saw plumes of smoke rising from some of the larger cracks within the crater. It smelled of sulfur and was stained yellow. It was another planet, uninhabitable to humans. A planet that we could only experience through the looking glass, from the safety of the rim.

As the clouds rushed overhead, we looked out and occasionally caught a view of the lake below, and of the hourglass island of Ometepe stretching all the way to Volcan Maderas, some 10 kilometers away.

As we descended, I realized I should have expected the smoke and heat at the top of Concepción. And the lagoon at the top of Maderas. Through Google or conversation I might’ve learned of either. But I appreciated the surprises. The cool water of the lagoon atop Maderas soothing my skin in the midday sun. The smoky hot stones of Concepción heating our backs as cold clouds condensed on our eyebrows.

This is hiking.

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