Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing at all.
- Helen Keller
I had forgotten to set my alarm, and woke up around 9am instead of my lofty goal of 6am. I had a quick coffee and a word of advice from Señora Carmen (one of the ladies running Finca Magdalena, a farm run by a collective of 24 families since the 1980s! The farm produces organic coffee, bananas, milk, honey, corn, beans, rice, vegetables, accommodation for hikers, and contributes to the protection of the environment). She told me how to sneak past the park ranger to save money. I thought she meant so they didn't make me hire a guide for $50, so I really did try to sneak, but I'm rusty! The park ranger busted me, charged me a $3 park entrance fee, and made me sign a waiver. That was it - no mandatory expensive guide! I was on my solo happy way up the side of Volcano Maderas. . . first hiking through a "dry" forest, then a "wet forest" (jungle), then the cloud forest (if the other jungle was wet, this one was swimming).
The ascent was pretty brutal, and though the morning had dawned clear and dry, the clouds started moving in after a couple of hours. I started passing some hikers heading back down because they didn't want to continue with the cloud cover. I doggedly continued on, step after increasingly steep step, finally starting to feel stronger in my body and heart as I gained altitude. I was the only person hiking alone without a guide (except for a young German guy from my hostel who I'd convinced it was ok to go solo) and I got a few admiring looks that I couldn't help but be proud about. People can do anything they want to, including girls. One guide even told me I was a "mujer valiente" (valiant woman) haha! Anyway, after hiking for hours in the clouds, surrounded by green dripping jungle and the howls of unseen monkeys, the trail finally ended at the rim of a crater lake - at least, that's what I knew from pictures on Google. It just looked like a rocky hillside in the clouds. The crater lake was the reason I'd come, so I didn't hesitate to descend the extra 400m trail down to the water in spite of the zero visibility.
If the other path was tricky, then this one was for mountain goats. More of a scramble than anything! And soo worth it at the bottom... there was a tour group already down there, munching on snacks, looking out at the mysterious water's edge, which was literally all we could see through the mists. Jungle sounds all around. It was stunningly beautiful! And no one was swimming! I got my cold sweaty ass into a bikini behind some bushes, and approached the slightly shocked group to ask someone to take my photo at the edge of the lake. One of my favorite things about getting older is that I'm getting pretty close to not give a flying fuck about what others think of me - life's too short to not ask for what you want, I'm realizing. The water wasn't so cold, but the silt deposit was awkward and at least knee deep. I like to think I felt the supposed "healing minerals" seeping into my tired muddy bones. It definitely felt good. After I briskly dried up I smashed my leftover veggie burger, congratulating myself again on finally eating a vegetable, then promptly lit a spliff and had some warming sips from my little bottle of rum and juice, feeling pretty content with life and just so lucky, so blessed.
The hike down wasn't so lucky - to make a long story shorter, I took a wrong turn and ended up on the wrong side of the volcano on a different trail. When I realized my error, I gave my exhausted self a little pep talk and started back UP the mountain... after about an HOUR, I ran into a guide who told me I was so far off it was better to just go back down. Sighhh. It was now 3pm and my legs were literally quivering whenever I stopped, poor things. I love my legs! So, nothing to do but bloody head back down again. I finally got to a public street around 5pm, and was so desperately destroyed and tired that I asked a random local if he'd take me to my hostel on his motorcycle. He said yes for $1.50. I could have cried with joy, I could have kissed him. I did neither, I just swung my heavy leg over, and didn't stop smiling till I got back "home" to Finca Magdelena hostel.
Maderas Volcano continued
Jasmine Ayla is a free-lance writer, traveler and amateur photographer based out of Maui, Hawaii, USA.