Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Climbing Volcan Telica and time in Leon

Wow. Leon is pretty awesome. It's ridiculously hot, with temperatures hovering between the low to high 30's consistently each day, but I am OK with that. I've already readjusted to the blisteringly strong sun in Central America, via skin destruction. Leon itself is better than Granada, in my opinion, for the lesser amount of visible tourists walking the streets. I've been told that this is a touristy destination, but I do not feel that way hanging out in Parque Central (the big park next to a super old, crumbling colonial church). I waste away hours talking with locals, being shocked at entire blocks filled with students wearing pressed, clean school uniforms, and admiring the occasional stunningly beautiful wimmins.

I have noticed how strong the machismo culture and cat-calling are here in Leon. Every woman of decent looks who walks down the street gets constantly accosted by local guys, with whistles, kissing noises, and sometimes even direct contact! The women are so jaded by the harassment, they do a great job at not saying anything to anyone. Yet they still dress up very well everyday and are not modest about their beauty, despite what they're in for in public. Interesting.

Delicious Nica breakfast: Gallo pinto, scrambled eggs w/ veggies, real tortilla, queso, and crappy hot sauce.

"Pelibuey", which is marinated , perhaps goat meat. DELICIOUS and super-cheap.

Great salsa band.

Cool-lit official building of sorts.

I have also pissed away time in a few museums, including one showing over 300 locals who died fighting the Nica revolution during the 70's and 80's. The museum is run by a few of the mothers of these martyrs, including one I talked to whose two sons, 20 and 29 at the time, were gunned down by a helicopter outside the city. Gnarly. I also perused an art museum, Museo Ortiz-Gurdia, which has works by several Central American artists. There were some cool paintings, a series of awesome mini-drawings by a Honduran artist whose figures looked a little like those in the popular animated video series, Salad Fingers, and a couple (or perhaps several) what-the-hell pieces.

Leon by night. Beautiful, pleasantly warm and a tad unsafe.

I've also walked about the cobblestone streets, dodging aggressive drivers, buying street snacks and water bags, and being followed by the all-too-common stray dogs. The colonial churches are still all in use, but unfortunately there is little concern or education for the locals about littering, and thus many church plazas, sidewalks and streets, are all strewn in trash. So much plastic, it hurts...well, not me, but whatever oceans receive it following a rain.

I've been staying for the last 5 days in Lazy Bones Hostel, which has two large courtyards, the all-important Nica hammocks strewn about, and, best of all, a pool. It's $8 per night, which is a little pricier than other nearby places like Via Via or Hostel Guardabarranco, but you have free Internet, unlimited coffee, and available breakfast for the morning kickstart.

This weekend, March 24-25, I left Leon to embark on a scorching, 27km (16 mile) trek to a certain active volcano not far from Leon -- Volcan Telica! The volcano lies amidst the "ring of fire", a chain of volcanoes stretching some 30 miles across the western side of Nicaragua, and aptly named the Maribios Chain. Supposedly, this is one of the most active hotspots for volcanic activity in the world, yet only one volcano has visible lava. That's the one I wanted.

I arrived at 6am to Quetzaltrekkers, a non-profit tour outfit that donates 100% of proceeds to local shelters to keep kids in afterschool programs so that they don't resort to sniffing glue, which is a widely common occurrence in Nicaragua due to it's ease of use and affordability. Unfortunately, even kids in those programs are forced to be removed from their glue bottles for a few hours to do fun activities; all of which are not as interesting to these 6, 7, 8, 12, 16 year old addicts. It's a step in the right direction, but still a 30 mile-high wall to climb. So myself and a few people from my hostel (Hanalore from Belgium and Melissa from B.C.) saddled up our special backpacks and divied up the loads among each person. My pack came to 18 kilos, which is practically 40 pounds, since I carried one of our tents and a pot full of food. We met our guides, Julia (Germany) and Gelmer (Holland), and after a hearty breakfast of eggs, potatoes, and 6 slices of toast, we all left for the bus terminal.

Beautiful view. Yet again, photos do not render justice.

We arrived on the trail head, where it was a 6 hour hike through a semi-shaded dry riverbed, as the dust kicked up and the temperatures raised. I fashioned a walking stick, which did indeed come in handy throughout the trek. We spotted Nicaragua's national bird, the guardabarranco, with it's long brilliant blue tails and general timidity. We stopped every half-hour to hour for water or snack breaks, and Gelmer gave a thoroughly tongue-in-cheek rundown about the importance of drinking Tang, that powdered, chemical crap from the 90's. He explained all of its benefits: 1. Drinking Tang will improve your eyesight, 2. Drinking Tang makes you immune to everything, and 3. Coral snakes, the 3rd most poisonous snake, hates Tang and will avoid people who drink it. Except those coral snakes who have a bad nose or a cold and can't smell it-- those ones will still bite you. And the Phoenix that lives in the volcano crater will not harm you if you drink Tang. We began the long-running joke about Gelmer's Tang addiction, and everyone had a field day with a few terms I coined for use. The stuff is terrible, and I opted out after one re-introduction to the childhood drink.

My pack (18 kilos/40 lbs.) and walking stick.
We had an amazing lunch consisting of vegetables, bread, and guacamole, including the BEST cream cheese I have ever had (and I hate cream cheese normally), under the shade of a giant tree. By this point we were only near one small house, whose kids were rounding up bulls on horseback. Crazy. We finished lunch and entered into a dry, fire-decimated forest, so the sun became far more devastating, in combination with the 40 pounds of stuff I was hauling. From here the otherwise hardly noticeable ascent of the volcano became drastically steeper, and hotter, as we neared the lowest approachable base area.

We gathered firewood just at the foot of the volcanoes 45 degree slope, and made our ascent up the rocky red face. The volcanic gases steamed away above us, but I had no idea what I would see when arriving atop the ridge. It was beautiful. W could see fields and smaller towns far away and below us, which is the area and altitude we started at, 8 hours prior. At last, we had reached the volcano's crater, and had a peek inside. Yes, there was lava. We descended one slope to a level volcanic field just below the crater lip, where some trees made the perfect campsite for a starry night.

Volcano crater rim. Photos do not do justice to the sheer size of it. HUGE and THREATENING.

It's just a 375 ft. drop to the bottom, not bad.

The 'Drew Peters' pose, coined by Preston Bewley.

Our campsite, on a volcanic plain just below the crater.
I set up all 3 tents while others rested, and then our guide Julia prepared the best field pasta ever! I ate two gargantuan bowls, and night fell upon us. Exhausted, but refreshed with food, we made our way by night across the lava fields back up a little hike to the crater rim, this time under a dark sky and headlamps. Lava is far more impressive at night - also, what I thought was only one small patch of lava revealed a massive lake of the stuff, covered up with hard lava but with many cracks displaying the Hell below. And it was loud - the sound of churning molten rock was about the decibel volume of a freeway. Oh, and the crater is 120m deep, so the fall would be just a bit too brutal to survive. We made our way back to camp for the American tradition of S'mores over a fire, even though the Canadians bragged about their "better" S'mores making. To that I would say, "Wait...where's Canada again?"

I retired to my sleeping bag, opting for sleeping outside amongst the sheer winds rather than in a tent. And how right my choice was. No one else could sleep because of how loud the wind made the tents. The next morning, feeling a bit sore from the hike, we rose at 5:30 to hike to the top of a nearby hill for the sunrise, which was awesome. The sun cast a beautiful golden light onto Telica, which gave it a powerful appearance. Everyone descended back to camp for breakfast and to pack, and I made one last ascent to peer into the crater. The volcanic gasses were far more searing on my lungs this time around, similar to Volcan Masaya (in an earlier blog post). The sulfur smell was strong, and the lava's noise was just as loud as usual.

After we left the camp, we descended the crater via another trail on the East side of Telica. This side is actually completely different from the side we ascended, as the forest is much more akin to the dry tropical forests on this side of the country. The descent gave way to stunning views, and we had to bushwhack our way through fallen and smoldering trees. Much of the forest fire that had swept through a week prior was still burning, so at times we passed trees that were on fire. Pretty fucking awesome.
The morning carried on, getting hotter as we passed through dead corn fields and occasionally rested below huge mango trees. I had plenty of time to think about more ideas for travelling and adventuring by boat sometime in the next few years.

We reached a town called San Jacinto, which contains a geothermal power plant and a field of bubbling volcanic mud pools known as Hervideros de San Jacinto. I dipped my hat into them, but they weren't very exciting. Just boiling mud holes. The girls on the trip went to a comedor to eat, and Gelmer and myself went to the nearby Aguas Termales, or volcanic hotsprings. They felt excellent and warm, despite it being pretty hot outside. By this point, my knees were not doing so well after wearing hiking boots the past two days, that do not have arch support. Apparently the whole town uses the hot springs to wash laundry and bathe, and I don't blame them. We walked back into town, joined the girls at the comedor, and caught a bus back into Leon.
We caught a bus at San Jacinto, but this family of four already had transport.
Exhausted, I proceeded to lay about the rest of the day. And I got a Quetzaltrekkers t-shirt for completing the coolest hike I've ever been on. That night I went to Via Via and ate dinner there with Hanalore, the Belgian from the Telica trek. Apparently Via Via is an international backpacker hostel chain owned by Belgians, so I proceeded to try a Belgian meal known in spanish as "drunken cow", which is slow-cooked beef in beer sauce and spices and stuff, accompanied by Belgian fries, which are the obsession of Belgians everywhere. They're basically french fries, but cut weirdly, and thusly, more delicious than I expected. We were met up by the trek guides and everyone from the trek, and we proceeded to drink three servicio completos (bottles of Flor de Cana rum accompanied by a cup of limes, a bottle of Coke, and ice.). We went to a karaoke bar nearby, I sang "Easy" by The Commodores and, at the locals' constant request, "Hotel California" by the Eagles. A little high, range-wise, but nonetheless I nailed it. It was truly an amazing weekend. And my mom turned 60 that Sunday. Happy birthday, Mom!

The last few days have been cool, just relaxing poolside, walking about town, and drinking at night. Oh yeah! And I saw an awesome band called Amalgama at Via Via restaurant on another night, who played a slew of Nicaraguan music. I got to play clave for a few songs. I also joined a table of Nicas for some front-stage conversation and views.

I think today (Tuesday, March 27), I will bus myself to Esteli for a few days, which is a cooler mountain city with delicious coffee, coiba cigars and cloud forests. I may come back to Leon for Semana Santa, their holy week of Easter, which begins this Saturday. They say it gets crazy here. I have to be in Managua by next Wednesday night to catch my 7am flight out of the airport on Thursday, but before then I will return to Granada for dinner with an internationally-acclaimed artist (acquaintance through Joe Roberts), back to Masaya for some procurement of textiles and final souvenirs, then to Managua for the plans iterated above.

On a side note, my band, The Dread Crew of Oddwood, is killing it in every way. I've been down here listening to the most recent mixes for our new album, Heavy Mahogany, and I will say that this is an incredible album on many levels. We're far better at our instruments and songwriting, and I really like almost every song on the album. We were recently advertised in the Los Angeles Times, and our fan base is growing exponentially. A lot of people know who we are in Southern California, which is a challenging feat. I am honored to be in a band this awesome, and we are going to destroy the Renaissance Pleasure Faire this season (the day after I get back from Nicaragua, I'll be kicking off my return with a weekend of craziness). Here's to Oddwood!

All for now, more for later. Until then, this is Drew Peters.

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