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.