An Expat Life: Nicaragua Blues and Ruse
Monday, April 21, 2008
Midnight Hike of Momotombo Volcano
Well, it's about the craziest thing I've done....at least in awhile. Last week, a buddy of mine invited me to hike the Momotombo volcano with him, starting around midnight, and finishing around sunrise, providing great photo opportunities and a unique experience here in Nicaragua, especially since our time here is dwindling.
So, naturally, I accepted.
Seeing that you need special permission from the government, and there are no formal trails at the top, we needed a guide. Indeed, my friend's (Ron) neighbor is a French 'volcanologist', arguably the most experienced volcano climber in all of the region. So, upon arriving at the Frenchman's house in Managua (might I add, this man has a striking resemblance to fallen Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceasescu )
Joining us was 'Ceausescu's' nica wife, 2 Nicaraguan adventurers, and us 'chele' Americans. After a spirited drive to the other side of Lake Managua, we arrived at the foot of the volcano around 11:30 pm.....and off we went!
Keep in mind, I had already given everyone in our group the 'once over', meaning I had deduced that I would be able to physically match any of them on this journey, including the wiley 'Ceausescu'. So, we began our midnight journey up a set of switchback-esque trails, through typical Nicaraguan shrubbery and underbrush, until we reached a point where the trees were sparse, and the soil resembled black, sandy, shale.....crushed volcanic rock. Now, I'm no geologist, but I can tell you that is quite challenging, walking up a big black shale hill, taking two steps foreward, one step back..... So it went for....well, the next 2-3 hours.
Around 2am though, we had to take a break. At this point, I kind of realized what I'd gotten myself into. My friend Ron and the Frenchman were leading me on one of the those crazy journeys that you read about in a magazine. The two Nicaraguan adventurers had fallen behind by this time, leaving us battling 40 mph winds in our faces. So, we decided to wait for the lagging Nicas, and sought out shelter under a pathetic shrub. It was decided by Ceausescu that we should 'wait out the wind', and continue in an hour. So there we rested, laying around like some iguanas on uncomfortable volcanic rock.....Oh, did I mention that I completely forgot to pack any warm clothes or sufficient food. (I had a Milky Way bar and bottle of water).
3am. We continue on with our journey. By this time, the true nature of the challenge revealed itself. Due in part to a full moon, I could see the face of the volcano in it's entirety, and doubts began to creep in as to whether I could complete this journey. What was supposed to culminate in a 5-5:30 destination at the top had now become an 'I don't know if we should attempt this because I've never seen the wind like this' from trusty 'Ceausescu'. Adding to the bluster was the fact that clouds had completely enveloped us, limiting visibility severely.
6am. We're definitely not going to summit this thing anytime soon. Not only were the 2 Nica stragglers impeding our efforts, the wind was unbearable, literally picking us up off the ground if you weren't careful. It was also at this point that 'Ceausescu' explained just how steep the summit was, necessitating a frantic 'crawl' to the top...Um, have I mentioned that I'm afraid of heights?!.....
Shine a light on me.....ahh, sun breaks, still no sleep, no food, but I can see all around me. This is a good thing....kind of. Did I tell you that I don't care for heights? So, between 5-7am, I was part of the 'A-team', essentially Ceausescu, his Nica wife, and Ron....who I might add, is the craziest, most ambitious hiker I've ever encountered. He simply chews up mountains and spits them out! So, we get to the point of no return, essentially the 'end game', as we're faced with the last 100 yds. or so to the summit. You know, the part with the 'frantic crawl' to the top. I had previously decided to go for it, overcoming my fears, until Ceausescu's wife opted out. This woman admitted to around 300 successful climbs of the summit, and I was guessing that her good judgment aided her in this number. If she wasn't going, nor was I. You see, the wind and clouds were simply too much....
So, around 7:30am, we made our way down the mountain, taking a brisk 1 hour walk/tumble down the shifting volcanic rock pebbles. It was like downhill skiing on glass shards, making wipeouts less desirable. In the end, I made it down about halfway, where I waited for crazy Ron....and lo and behold, you could see him literally skiing down the steepest face of the mountain, like a crazed downhill skier with no skis. He made it down the face in 10 minutes, whereas it took me a good hour of rock balancing.
By the time we rendezvoused, I had no food, water, or desire to be on the mountain. Furthermore, we had both told our wives that we'd 'be home for breakfast'. Ha! So, by 11am, we made it to the car, completely wiped out, tired, thirsty, and hungry. We hit the road, listened to some Led Zepplin III, and weaved through the normal menage of Nicaraguan Sunday drunks. Aided by Jimmy Page and Fanta soda, we cruised back to 'civilization'....that is, until Ron's Jeep broke down and I enlisted the help of a drunk Nica to fetch us beers while we waited for the tow truck....but friends......that's a different story!!