Whole lotta lava: Climbing Nicaragua’s volcanoes-
Our Real Latin America Expert
The sign to Telica Volcano from the road was faded, obscured by trees and seemed to point to a ditch!
Telica is unusual in so far as it has no fewer than six cones including a double crater (700m wide and 120m deep) at its summit. Over the years, ash eruptions have made the slopes extremely dry; this, however, has not stopped hardy vegetation from pushing through on to ledges where petrified lava flows have settled and created flat plateaus, making the southern slope appear deliberately terraced.
The ditch did eventually turn into a road of sorts albeit one which narrowed in part to an earthy gully with clumps of exposed tree roots to either side of our car. The drive was fun although at this point I was pleased I was not at the wheel (even more pleased when the earthy gully turned to volcanic sand and the volcanic sand into a steep incline of volcanic rock, or possibly even petrified lava flow!). It wasn’t until we stopped and parked up that I realised we had actually been driving up the base of the volcano…
I was sharing the driving with Juan Carlos, expert guide and ex-Sandinista forces man, so I felt like I was in safe hands no matter what the journey threw at us. Despite his 6 foot plus physique, military haircut and lived-in face, he was a gentle giant who liked nothing more than to spot birds. The third of our trio was Denis, a local volcano guide who, like many young people from León, was a proud advocate for the restoration and sustainable development of his city. He was also very dedicated to his work - when we dropped him back in León after our trip he barely had a chance to grab lunch before taking a small group ‘ash boarding’ (like snowboarding but seated on a board and sliding down volcanic ash, not snow!) on Cerro Negro Volcano.
From the base of Telica Volcano it was possible to see the smoke billowing from the southern crater but Denis advised us that to go all the way to the top would be unwise as an eruption last year had left a large visible crack in the side of the volcano. Not far from the crack I saw a horse grazing and had to do a double take. The air was actually quite cool and despite the lack of water there was some greenery. It seemed unlikely that it’d be bothered by anything excepting an unscheduled eruption but I guessed we were all in the same boat!
We hiked over the lunar landscape admiring the different shades of colourful rocks, some millions of years old, until we neared the crater. First, the faint smell of sulphur and a wisp of smoke then the raised opening at one end of the crater, cresting like a solidified wave. As we edged our way closer to the humongous chasm some of the sulphurous plumes cleared and it was possible to stare down into the centre of the crater where magma bubbled and nothing would survive. With that thought in mind I edged back. Denis told me that people will often lie down to look over but under strict guidance. I was happy to back off and was pleased just to have had the experience.
“I have something else to show you.” Denis told us as we walked away. We continued to head around the volcano at the same level with fantastic views of San Cristóbal Volcano and the valley below.
“We’re going to climb down into this little crack.” Denis led the way down as we scrambled a bit until reaching the dark entrance to a cave. “In you go,” he encouraged. I understand how he would have assumed Juan Carlos had no issues with bats but he hadn’t asked me. I was a little unnerved with them flapping around my ears but I soon got used to them. They even backed off when I started to film them. Strange thing about bats is they will always fly back to the same spot no matter how many of them in the cave. For a creature that uses its ears to get around that’s quite amazing. Juan Carlos had lots of other bat facts but we had to go. We retraced our steps only stopping to look at more birds and admire the view as we headed back to our vehicle.
We’d made it there and back. Now only the rugged drive out to survive with JC back at the wheel and a cold beer waiting at the other end.
“Here,” said Juan Carlos throwing me the keys, “You drive“!!
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