Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Day 51: How many things can you check off your bucketlist in one evening?

Take two geologists, an active volcano and the chance to see glowing magma in the dark… a big bucketlist check! We decided to take a night walk up one of Nicaragua’s active volcanoes in the pursuit to finally see the molten rock we had studied  for many years at university. But the trip turned out to be so much more than that!

Got to be one of the worst "roads" ever!
We went on the tour with Tierra Tours in Leon to climb Volcan Telica. Normally they offer either a day hike or an overnight camping tour but because of the rainy season they recommended against camping so we took them up on their replacement tour to go on a night walk for US$35 pp (for 4 people or more). We were collected from their Leon office at 3.30pm and then took an hour and a half van ride to the base of the volcano. The real challenge was not climbing the volcano but driving up the bumpiest, most torn up dirt track I have ever seen, complete with massive tree roots, boulders and ditches in the path.

Smoking San Cristobal at sunset
After this ordeal, it was another 1.5h climb to the volcano crater.  The accent started with a fairly steady gradient which becomes a bit steeper on the volcano flank where the boulders and loose rocks begin. Overall the hike was easily do-able by most people, the tricky part is having the right footing on loose rocks. 

We were fortunate enough to have had  a clear evening so as we caught a gloriously orange sunset. The sun dropped behind a backdrop of magnificent perfect cone volcanoes. The most impressive was San Cristobal, Nicaragua’s largest active volcano.

The (toxic) sulphur dioxide smoke from the volcano
made me want to rob people
We now only had about 20mins left of day light to get to the crater which wasn’t far but it took longer due to the rubble. To make it even more challenging, a cloud of sulphur dioxide gas started to spread down the side of the crater where we were climbing. It smelt vial and it was difficult to breathe. Eventually we resorted to the bandit look!

Finally reached the smoky crater edge
We reached the crater edge just as it got dark. We could hear an unbelievably loud roar coming from within the crater that resembled a large cascading waterfall. When we peered over the vulnerable over-hanging crater edge we saw the most incredible sight of our lives. There it was, around 75m down, red-hot, glowing magma! If it hadn't been so cool, it may have been quite frightening. 

There was no way any of our photos could do it any justice… and we spent a while trying! This was our best...

Close-up shot of the glowing magma
A very uneasy descend...

We moved a safe distance away to drink some coffee and eat some crisps and gaze at the night sky that was littered with stars without a single invasion of artificial light. We stayed at the summit for around an hour (Harry was not budging until he saw a shooting star) then headed down in the pitch black. This was when head lamps are extremely useful! It was very difficult to walk down the uneven, rubbly surface which made it feel twice as long as going up. 

This was truly the highlight of our trip so far and we strongly recommend this to everyone, even if you are not particular rock geeks like us!

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