March 03, 2016

8 HOURS ON VOLCAN MADERAS, NICARAGUA

Words + Photos : Katie Rice



Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua

It was the part of our trip to Nicaragua that I’d been highlighting most when I talked to friends about the vacation.

“A. and I are going on a volcano hike!” It was a quick, easy, interesting piece of the trip: a day-long hike up one of the volcanoes on Isla de Ometepe, a volcanic island in the middle of the Lago de Nicaragua.

Our alarms woke us promptly at six thirty. We had just enough time for a traditional Nicaraguan breakfast: gallo pinto, huevos rancheros, juice and coffee before we met our guide, Yunior. He smiled at us from under his hiking hat. His gold-capped teeth shone in the early morning sun.

At the entrance to the path, we met a group of Irish tourists and their guide, Harold, going the same way: up. Harold wore a shirt with a screen-printed bald eagle on it. He smoked at each of our stops, his wool hiking socks bunching farther and farther down his calves the higher we climbed.

Volcan Maderas 1
Volcan Maderas 2

Volcan Maderas

The beginning of the path was innocuous. We couldn’t even see the top of Volcan Maderas because of the fog. Smooth walking sticks hung off the barbed wire of a farm fence and we each grabbed one as we began to ascend, first just walking up the dusty cow pastures at the foot of the volcano.

After about forty minutes, we arrived at a beautiful lookout point, the kind of place that reminded us why we’d embarked on the hike—and the trip to Nicaragua—in the first place. The island spills out in front of you, the land cinched in between the two volcanoes like a cartoon body of a woman or a magical hourglass.

Water, snacks, cigarettes for our guides. We took some pictures, caught our breath and continued on. The path from here got rockier and rockier. Nicaraguans evidently don’t believe in switchbacks. Straight up, we climbed, first through dry jungle that felt like something out of a movie, then through areas rocked by mudslides and lastly, three hours into the four hour ascent, we began to run into mud. I’m talking trickling water over loose stones, fallen trees slick with dew, big gummed up patches of silt and rain and dense fog.

A and I were in over our head. But the cool thing about being in over your head is that there is no space left for other thoughts to creep in. It was the volcano and us, nothing that had been following me around since I left, nothing that had been bugging me about the hostel, nothing could get in. The normal nagging thoughts of Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat were gone. It was just me and the volcano. There simply wasn’t space left to process anything other than where I was going to place my foot next. I was left with more time to soak everything in without stopping to take a picture, leaving the experience unfiltered by a lens. While I always treasure my photos as visual memories of a trip or a moment, they can take me out of experiencing the actual moment.

And it continued to be craggy and steep, leaving no time for pictures on the ascent. Or even at the top of the volcano. Once at the top, we descended down the narrowest, muddiest part of the path to reach the volcano’s laguna. The guide book called it “el volcan y su laguna” the volcano and his lagoon. I loved how they made it possessive. The traveler and her camera. The guide and his tourists. The volcano and his lagoon.

Volcan Maderas 3
Volcan Maderas 4A
Volcan Maderas 4B

El volcan y su laguna

The laguna was an otherworldly place. The whole thing was coated in fog; just a sliver of the water at the bank was visible. Despite a warning from Harold, I took off my muddy, wet shoes and waded into the water. My Spanish has some gaps in it and apparently the phrase “puro lodo” hadn’t quite entered my vocabulary yet. My feet sunk up to my knees in thick mud. I was delirious, holding a ham sandwich Yunior had packed for me, with my legs covered to my knees. I couldn’t believe we still had four hours left. I felt like I couldn’t go any further and yet I was empowered by how far we’d already gone. I had just enough brainpower to remember to snap one picture of the foggy laguna before we left.

The descent was much smoother than the ascent, though A. fell a couple times more than she would have liked. I couldn’t believe it when we reached the bottom. My whole body was covered in mud, my feet were blistered, my calves were etched with scratches, my muscles ached. But we’d done it. I looked up at the volcano and thought: I did that, I could do it again. It was a beautiful, full moment.

Almost as beautiful as when we got back to the hotel at sunset and walked without stopping—except to take off our tank tops and sneakers—into the warm, fresh water waves of Nicaragua Lake.

Volcan Maderas 5
Volcan Maderas 6A
Volcan Maderas 6B
Volcan Maderas 7

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