I Got Lost on a Volcano in Nicaragua
Updated: Jul 11, 2020
On my first trip to Ometepe, a volcanic island in the center of Central America's biggest lake (Lake Nicaragua), I vowed to come back and solo hike the Maderas Volcano.
Two weeks later, I did just that. After a leisurely wake up and some social media in bed time at my colourful and cheap hostel El Indio Viejo in the ferry town of Moyogalpa, I finally got up around 8am and headed down the street for supplies and the never-ending search for a lactose free latte. Hilariously, Central America was starting to feel like a small world and I ran into Josh, a friend from Popoyo, on the street.
We found an amazing coffee together (this time I byo'd my own lactose free milk, which is sold almost everywhere here), then went back to my hostel and had a delicious (gasp if you know me and my devotion to bacon and all things fried!) homemade granola breakfast, yammering away about all sorts of things like sucking toes, the fate of the world, robots and lots of silly jokes. I really like Josh and want to live next door to him and be best friends. After awhile he rented a bicycle to explore the island and I caught a bus to El Quino, halfway to my remote destination Balgue.
It was a two hour wait for the next bus, so after a gourmet backpack lunch of dry tortillas with squeeze beans and potato chips for crunch (got some stares from the local people, but the stray dog seemed to love it), I laced up my big girl boots and just started walking. It was hot. I mean, humidity was dripping. I got attitude from a bitchy local lady and decided not to use her roadside bathroom, so I was busting. And it was glorious! I trudged on, only one earphone in so I could hear the cars, thumbs tucked into my belt like a redneck, sweating profusely, picking flowers... who knows how long I'd have gone on seeing as how the bus never did pass by, but a local dad selling bread with his two young sons off the back of a pick-up truck eventually offered me a ride.
I gladly accepted and after the initial small talk we all just held on for dear life, standing outside the tailgate and holding the bumper rails. We stopped to sell bread a few times, they occasionally honked at friends, and it felt good to have the wind in our hair. Turns out they lived in Balgue so I only had to walk another 500m down the road, and another 500m ascent up a rocky road to Finca Magdalena (a hostel and farm run by a 24 family collective since the 1980's, conveniently at the base of Maderas Volcano). After making a tough decision to eat a veggie burger instead of a real one, since my vegetable intake had been at an all time low lately, I passed out in the cavernous dorm room with just one other person, but about ohhh 1,000,000 mosquitoes.
I'd forgotten to set my alarm the next morning, and woken up a little sluggish. I had a quick coffee and a word of advice from Señora Carmen at reception on how to "sneak past the park entrance fee"... I thought she meant so they didn't make me hire a guide, so I really did try to sneak, but obviously not very well. I'm rusty! The park guard busted me, charged me a $3 park entrance fee, and made me sign a waiver. That was it! I was on my solo happy way up the side of Maderas volcano... 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 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 ever 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 (though I did see 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 local guide told me I was a "mujer valiente" (valiant woman) haha!
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. At the time, it just looked like a rocky hillside in the clouds. The Laguna (crater lake) was the reason I'd come, so I didn't hesitate to descend the extra 400m 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 sooo worth it at the bottom... there was a 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. Beautiful! And no one was swimming!
I got my cold sweaty ass into a bikini behind some bushes, and approached the the slightly shocked group to ask someone to take my photo at the water's edge. Fuck it haha! One of my favourite things about getting older is that I care less and less about what others think of me... life's too short to not ask for what you want, I'm realizing. The lake 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 back 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 track.
When I realized my error, I gave my exhausted self a little pep talk and started back UP the steep as hell 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 head down again. I finally got to a main 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. But I did neither, I just swung my heavy leg over, and didn't stop smiling till I got "home".
The next morning I woke up to the sound of howler monkeys howling, and roosters crowing, on a little finca (farm) at the base of a volcano in Nicaragua, after a fucking fantastic night's sleep. Life is good. But I was more than filthy from being an exhausted pig and not showering the night before. For people that know me well, the fact that I'm showering at all in cold water every day is a miracle. After a shower, some breakfast, and a quick post-breakfast nap - one of my favourite kinds of naps - I got all my shit together, laced my boots, pulled the backpack pack straps tight, and headed off again... the public transportation to and from Balgue is notoriously elusive, and instead of waiting again for a bus with a vague arrival time, I decided to just use my legs and walk down the road again.
I got a decent sweat worked up before an empty shuttle heading directly to the ferry town of Moyogalpa (my destination) offered me a ride. I only paid 100 Cordobas, which is incredibly cheap (about $3.50), kind, and lucky!!! As opposed to 5hrs crammed on a chicken bus, I was alone in a shuttle for 40min with the windows down and music blaring. Another ferry, another chicken bus at Rivas, another long walk down Groad towards the Pops (Popoyo)... and another kind stranger! He gave me a ride on his old, wheezing motorcycle all the way to my door, even though I was heavy as hell with my packs. This time I did give him a kiss on the cheek - he grinned, blushed and drove off. God I love these people! They're so kind-hearted.