Expeditions, Navigation, Guided Walks and Trekking
My big trip this year was to Costa Rica and Nicaragua, leading again for World Challenge. In our first week, acclimatising to the heat and damp, we climbed a couple of extinct volcanoes, now covered in Raincloud Forest. The plan was to get a view of the still active Arenal but the cloud and rain closed in, so we only caught a glimpse of the summit later in our trip from Montenegro. We did enjoy the swimming in a jungle waterfalls and soaking in one of the hot springs coming from Arenal.
Our main trek was in Nicaragua, following the Los Moribos volcano chain close to the lovely colonial city of Leon. This chain of mainly active volcano’s runs 70 km along the Pacific basin. Each volcano is different with special challenges and fun, usually taking 5 days to trek the full length. The first volcano in the trek is usually San Cristobal, the tallest at 1745m, but we had to give it a miss as it involved too much of a challenge for the group I was leading. So we started at Telica, one of the most active in the country.
We were dropped off by minibus at a road head, some 20 km rough track from Leon. The trail took us through mainly farmland in cleared forest to the bottom of the volcanic cone. Our local guide Freddy was very knowledgeable about the wildlife and flora and specialised in birds. We spotted a Roadside Hawk, obliging sitting for photographs in a close tree. Views of Telica were very deceptive, the hill of rubble reared up in front of us with what looked like cloud obscuring the summit. A long rest was taken in the shade of a single mango tree on the side of the cone, surrounded by beautiful hand sized butterflies. After a steady plod over rough red volcanic boulders, the crater opened up at our feet with steam rising gently from the bottom of the deep hole. Across the crater, the far edge loomed above us, but as the route to the high point was across rough lava rubble at 75%, we gave that a miss! Seeing the glowing magma and capturing this in photos was a bit of a challenge – the steam, combined with the odd cloud, obscured the bottom of the crater. Apparently, there are evening treks from Leon to this point just to see the molten magma down in the crater.
But that was not for us that day, so after lunch we set off into dense vegetation around the dormant cone of Santa Clara. This path was narrow and very slippy, made up of small lava stones over scree, like walking on marbles. Quite a few of us took a tumble, including me, bruising my chest against a log, (this later turned out to be painful broken ribs). Afternoon break was taken under a large wild mango tree, which some of the group climbed into the wide spread branches while others sat beneath the tree watching the butterflies and large wasps eating the fallen fruit. Freddy, our local guide, introduced us to the Cracker butterfly, which makes loud cracks with its wings, attacking many other the other Crackers and even making threatening noises to humans!
Walking through fields took us to the village of San Jacito and our first campsite. This site is next to a field of bubbling mud, steam rising from the ground drifting across the village and camp site. Buses of visitors were still arriving to see the mud holes, people enjoying the strong smells and sounds of the mud flying into the air.
Celebrations of the recent election win by the Sandinista’s and the forthcoming Revolution Day meant that loud music drifted across the village late into the Saturday night. The noise, heat and barking dogs disturbed our sleep. Even-so everybody was up early for the next volcano. Unfortunately, one of our group collapsed as we were packing up. It looked like exhaustion brought about by dehydration and lack of food. We arranged for him to visit the hospital in Leon for a check-up and rest.
Our second days walk followed tracks through woods and alongside fields up into Rota Volcano, long dormant and now covered in agriculture. Small farms were served by pony tracks up the steep slopes, local people going up and down all the time we walked up there. Springs of fresh water were converted into piped supplies to the farms and areas for the locals to do their washing. We stopped off at one of the finca’s (farms) to sit in the shade of the trees and enjoy a splendid mug of coffee brought to us by the matriarch of the farm. From the farm we dropped down into the large centre of the extinct volcano cone and then down to the village of Rota. As we cleared the forest, views opened up south to the next volcanoes on our trek; Cerro Negro, El Hoyo and Mombotombo.
We were to camp next to the local school, but the communal field was busy with a rowdy game of baseball, the national sport in Nicaragua. Rota were playing the next village, and most of the population of the area were there enjoying picnic’s, barbeques and beers. After a couple of hours, the game was won, most of the people had drifted home, apart from the local drunks who wanted to explain to us how welcome we were, I think.
After dinner, most of the group enjoyed star watching, while Freddy and I searched for the source of the strange noises coming from the large trees beside the road. It turned out to be a Pacific Screech Owl.
Next morning we set off through a local farm, accompanied by the farmers son to show us the way to the Natural Reserve around Cerro Negro. From the farm we came to a desert area of lava field from one of the youngest and most active volcanoes on earth. It first erupted in 1850 and continues to erupt every few years, the last in 1999, although some activity is detected every few months, the last recorded just 6 weeks before we arrived. We quickly crossed the lava field, skirting around the most recent cones, briefly stopping to watch a large group climb to the top to enjoy Volcano boarding.
Our campsite was reached late morning and although we tried to put up the tents, the hard lava ground defeated most of us, who then decided it was worth a night in hammocks in the ranger station. After a couple of hours sun bathing, which the youngsters always enjoyed, and a cooked lunch, we set off up the crater with our the heavy special volcano boards strapped to our backs. The hour long walk up the side of the volcano wasn’t difficult, considering the board which threw us out of balance. Soon we looked down into the colourful crater, ringed with layers of bright coloured hues ranging from black to white through red and yellows.
Ranking as one of ten ”Extreme Ways to Enjoy the Outdoors“, “Death Defying Travel Destinations”, volcano boarding was to be a highlight of our trip. We sat on a short board, after donning protection for our knees and elbows, plus goggles, helmets and thick gloves, and then slid down the cone. It worked because the lava had turned to scree, just the right size particles to allow the boards to quickly gain speeds of up to 80kmh. We only managed around half that, probably too much safety gear, but it was great fun, without ever feeling “Death Defying”.
That was a great day, finished off by stargazing again and a night in hammocks for most of the team.
I will have to finish this blog after our family Safari to Kenya, so please wait for the final couple of days trekking, including sunrise on Mombotobo.