Saturday, February 24, 2007

Climbing Volcan Maderas

After a fretful night (see previous post, concerning my fears about climbing Volcan Maderas) and a breakfast of oatmeal and fruit, we set off for the volcano climb. An English couple was also doing the climb, and there were 2 guides. The first 2 kilometers were fairly flat and smooth, and I began to feel more calm. This part, at least, was just like every day when I go out to the forest. The gradient became much steeper after this gentle beginning, but still, it was an enjoyable hike. During this first part, we saw 2 snakes. The first was really skinny, with a tan body and yellow underbelly. The second snake, sunning itself on a rock in our path, was a famed boa of Ometepe. There are supposedly magnificent boas on the island (I think there was even some sort of National Geographic documentary filmed about them, in which Rodolfo may have starred), but this was the very first one I have ever seen. It was beautiful. Who would have thought I would have said a snake was beautiful? I know my mom and Cara are screaming in terror at just the mention of a boa, but really, it was amazing. Brown and black and tan and yellow with its sensitive little tongue and beady little eyes.

Shortly after sighting the boa, the hike turned into a climb. Actually, it felt like I was scaling the volcano. Parts of it were pretty tricky, but still, I had no problems. Watching the changes in the forest as we ascended to higher and higher elevations was probably one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. After about 1000m of elevation, it became “cloud forest”—big ficus trees dripping with moisture and covered in moss, looking like you’ve stepped back to some dimly-lit primeval world where elves and fairies might actually exist. We were literally walking in the clouds. By this point, the path was a solid river of mud and tree roots, and I was using my arms to pull myself up even more than my legs.

About 4 hours after we started, we reached the summit: 1370m of elevation. Wouldn’t you know, it was covered in clouds. The wind was howling and the temperature felt almost frigid. As we stood precariously on the narrow path, the clouds began to dissipate, and we could at last view the laguna in the crater of the extinct volcano. At first view, it was so beautiful that I actually gasped.

Crater lake with clouds

More Crater Lake with clouds:

At last, the clouds dissipate:

More view from the top:

Rob with our guide, Randol

Your fave couple, the Ragfields:

We stayed up at the summit, resting and eating some lunch, until our lips were blue and fingers were numb. Finally, with much trepidation on my part, we began our descent. This was the part I had been dreading. It was slick and incredibly steep, and I had visions of myself careening off the edge and somersaulting all 1370m down the volcano. But luckily, there were a lot of trees, roots, and rocks to grab onto, so it wasn’t quite as technically difficult as I had feared. What I hadn’t expected was the complete and total annihilation of my legs. Have any of you ever seen that video footage of one of the Ironman races where professional athlete Chris Legh had gone over his limit and was wobbling—no, flailing—, hurling himself toward the finish-line on his legs rendered non-functional? That’s how I felt and looked. Really, check out the link. It also reminded me of this game we used to play in grade school: somebody would get on either side of you and hold your arms really tight against your body while at the same time you tried to push your arms out. Then all of a sudden, your friends would let go and your arms would just float up, like magic, like you had no control over them whatsoever. That’s exactly how my legs were. Eventually I had to stop and rest every 5 minutes because my legs were shaking so badly that they wouldn’t hold me up. Needless to say (sorry for using that phrase, Amy), the descent took us a loooong time. Whereas we had energetically bounded up the volcano way ahead of the struggling English couple, they surpassed us on the way down as a result of my lame legs. Our guide Randol was really helpful: in a couple of really steep sections he somehow braced me so that I wouldn’t go sliding down the mountain, and he even offered to carry my bag and hold my hand. But I summoned my pride and gritted my teeth, determined not to let this mountain own me. Despite the fact that I had virtually no control of my legs, I managed to fall only twice. Neither of which was off a ravine and both of which I landed on my rear end—which has considerable more padding than my beautiful teeth.

During my numerous rest breaks, we had a chance to enjoy some of the scenery that had been covered in clouds while on the way up. My favorite is this fabulous view of the isthmus, Lake Nicaragua, and Volcan Concepción. We also encountered two groups of howler monkeys on the way down, and I was all too eager to sit there for a while and watch them.

Volcano monkeys:

Finally, finally we made it back. It was an unceremonious ending, but I was jubilant to see the Hacienda and have some water. After showering and resting a bit, we ate dinner—which was fantastic but probably would have tasted fantastic no matter what it was, under the circumstances. Just as we came back into the room, a large black, hairy creature scuttled across the floor and under the bed. Tarantula. The size of my palm. I screamed and screamed again. Rob got a flashlight and a machete; I ran out of the room, still screaming. Alejandra came with a broom for help, and told us not to kill it—we’d just sweep it out of the room. Like I said, my no-kill policy goes out the window when it comes to spiders. I wanted that sucker dead. So for the second time in a week, my machete was used to end the life of a tarantula. What is the deal?! None in 6 months and now 2 in one week. Do these things have a season or something? Does anyone out there know anything I can do to deter these creatures from my immediate environs?! Instead of basking in the glow of the volcano hike, I am trying not to puke up that fantastic dinner. I am wondering, how I in the world am I going to sleep on a bed that may still have some tarantula guts underneath. And should I see one again, will my rubbery, Gumby legs allow me to high-tail it out of here fast enough? At the very least, I think I’m going to have to sleep with the light on tonight.

Thanks for reading!


At 1:41 PM, February 25, 2007, Blogger momscho said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 1:49 PM, February 25, 2007, Blogger momscho said...

Well, it's the day after, how do you feel? Like you just ran 2 back to back marathons? That was quite a journey as your friend called it. Now you can say you've "done it"... got some great pics... and, for the first time, you can say you were "cold" in Nicaragua... Great job!

As for the tarantula, Melissa, don't fret, If your etymologist sister-in-law can't help, NOBODY can...

The size of your hand huh? Well, I agree that murder is the only way!

By the way, take a picture of the next one - - put your hand down beside it so we can see just how big it really is...

I know, I'm funny! :) Be safe!

At 6:09 PM, February 25, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When you and Rob are sitting in your rocking chairs on the front porch (when you are old)you will have quite the adventures to talk about! So glad you got up and down safely. Loved the pictures, it must be really beautiful there. Just think what we all would be missing if you weren't there! Hope you can solve your tarantula problem, I can't sleep if I think there is a mouse in the house, don't know what I would do with those things.
Mom's friend, Pat

At 3:42 PM, February 26, 2007, Blogger Amy, Ben, and Bryn said...

I think this sounds like the ultimate INTO the landscape experience. Those pictures--wow. They're so gorgeous they hardly even look real. And hey, you did say that you wanted a little bit of cold--looks like you got your wish!

As far as climbing the volcano, I definitely understand your fear. When I was in Colorado as a Young Life camp counselor (the week before my wedding), one of the big fun all-camp activities was to take everyone up the volcano, no exceptions. I wanted desperately to get out of it. I was hugely pathetic on the climb and even worse on the descent. Meanwhile, several hundred teenagers, some camp staff with gray hair, a counselor who carried her baby in a backpack, and a one-legged man (no joke) all made it without complaint. I am weak.

I hope you're starting to feel recovered, from both the climb and the tarantula encounter. Just be glad you're not studying the howlers that live up that high!

At 7:40 PM, February 26, 2007, Blogger Cara Knox said...

I think snakes could be as beautiful as tarantulas! Thank goodness for the machete! Wishing things were too hot as I make soup and cuddle up with the lap blanket. Miss you!


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