I have now done both of the two most important Quetzaltrekkers hikes, El Hoyo and Telica. On Sunday, I had a free day, and since I wasn´t scheduled for Telica for more than a week, two other guides and I decided to do the hike for fun (I mean for "training purposes") in one day, rather than the usual two day camping trip.
It turned out to be nine hours of hiking. A long day, and it didn´t help that I was still a bit wiped from El Hoyo and hadn´t been sleeping enough. We woke early and I packed a day pack with lunch and water. We caught camionetas and busses to a very random spot on the highway (which I have no idea how I´ll remember when I actually guide this thing) to begin the hike. The first several hours were beautiful but became a bit monotonous when I realized that the scenery wasn´t going to change for a while. We walked along a thin, dry riverbed with canyon like dirt walls on either side, retained by gnareled roots of beautiful, smooth Guanacaste trees.
Can you spot the little kids in the tree?
Beautiful Guanacaste trees.
We passed by many farms and were passed by many farmers; tough, rough shirtless Nicaraguan men ranging from little kids to old geezers, all wearing dirty baseball caps and riding on wooden horse drawn wagons. They sat atop bales of hay or guided herds of cows, and all greeted us warmly as their horses clopped by. Often times we had to scramble up the muddy banks to get out of their way in time.
We ate our snack in the usual lunch spot, under a huge black Guanacaste tree (they can be either white or black). A couple more hours of trudging along these paths, with teasing glimpses of Telaica and the other surrounding volcanoes through thick foliage, and then BAM! The path opens up to breathtaking views of sweeping farmland and the Maribios cordillera fading from green to blue into the distance.
Just as we emerged onto a high rock plateau with this vista, a tiny boy, maybe 5 years old, appeared around the corner on horseback. This adorable munchkin was leading an entire herd of cows! It was an amazing sight. I chatted with him for a bit and he smiled and smiled. I can´t beleive the respobnsibility given to someone so young. I would be worried about my kid falling off a horse, let alone falling off of a huge cliff on a horse, let alone being in charge of a full herd of dangerous looking bulls, while riding a horse, along a cliff. Craziness.
We hiked the exposed path for quite some time until suddenly to our right, the black mound of Telica loomed above us. Telica´s upper half is similar to cerro Negro in that it´s comprised of black basalt with minimal vegetation. Once we came to a random, invisible landmark and Annika stopped us and explained that now we leave the path and start climbing the volcano. There is no path, you just have to blaze your own way by scrambling up the basalt boulders and sketchy pebbly stretches that seem the most solid.
Coming up on Telica!
We kept climbing until we reached the crater. Several hundred feet away from the crater, you begin to hear the rumbling of volcanic activity. Once you reach the rim, it´s wild: the mouth is gigantic, 700 meters wide, and the biggest yet, and roars like crashing ocean surf. I had no idea that you could hear volcanic activity! It is really incredible. You stand at the lip, crumbly black stones beneath your trembling feet, and are enveloped in the luminous steam that pours out of the depths of this monster. You can barely see to the bottom. It´s very scary to get close enough, but when the steam clears enough you can see cracks and fissures running through the bottom. The roaring sound grips you and shakes your whole body; you can barely hear yourself think. The crater is 120 meters deep, and although I couldn´t really see it, there is an intracrater 50 meters in diameter down there, rendering the hole a double crater.
I felt as if I shouldn´t be there; as if I was intruding on some secret violence of mother nature best kept away from human kind. I had the feeling that the longer I stayed next to that abyss, the bigger the chance was that it would suck me in and devour me. Telica is 1061 meters tall. Its last known eruption was in 2007, so it is very active, one of Nicaragua´s most active, at once very apparent when standing at the crater. It has erupted 18 times in the last 100 years, but luckily most were not violent and were limited to gas emission. Unlike the other volcanoers I have seen thus far, Telica is what you´d expect an active volcano to look like. It helps that the main crater is at the summit rather than in a random spot. This is called a “Summit pit crater”, and was created by the walls collapsing inward due to gasses leaking through side vents.
Inside the crater.
Uneasy with dallying for too long, we hastened down to the campsite for lunch. Contrary to El Hoyo´s campsite where you look down at the volcanoes below, Telica´s campsite is a low lying field at the base of the mountain. As we scrambled down, we watched the tiny shapes of wild horses meandering about the field below, under dappeled shade of stout, leafy tres and tall palms. Everyone agrees that the campsite looks like the Garden of Eden. In contrast to the barren moonscape of Telica´s upper half, the fields below are lusciously fertile and green.
Our campsite from above.
From the campsite, looking back up at Telica.
Arriving at the bottom, we found that the usual eating spot under the tree was occupied by a herd of wild horses, so we continued on to the next tree. This one was occupied also, but by another touring company, so we ate lunch with them. I would have preferred eating with the horses, but they were too shy when I approached them.
We moved on pretty quickly after lunch, and the remainder of the hike was a mostly downhill dirt path that meandered nonsensically through a combination of forested ridges with beautiful views, and sweeping corn fields. I have no idea how I´m going to remember this route! Every so often we would come across a wild horse or two wandering through the fields.
Walking into town I was immediately approached by a band of little kids shouting ”Give me a cooke! Give me a cookie!” In my lethargy I briefly mused how they knew I had a stash of cookies in my pack, then shrugged and surrendered all of my cookies. As soon as I handed them the packages I realized how hungry I was, and much I really wanted those cookies (the last of my food). I kicked myself thinking ”Hey! I need those cookies more than these kids!” But alas it was too late, and I had to endure my sugar low for the remainder of the trip.
Waiting for the bus.
We were just in time for the last bus. As I got on, I had the brief suspicion that we had accidentally mounted a mobile church. Copious ammounts of crosses, Jesus pictures, and other Christian paraphenielia covered the inside of the bus, and as soon as I took a seat, an old woman stood up and began to preach to us. I guess this kind of thing is normal for busses here; they provide the perfect captive audience. The serman was very soothing, and actually a perfect lullaby, especially because I couldn´t understand much of what she was saying. I passed out pretty much right away.
Annika and I were FAST asleep, and luckily Aymie, who actually had no idea where we were supposed to get off, happened to wake us up just in time. We stumbled down the street to catch a camioneta in a daze, and arrived exhausted at Quetzaltrekkers around 6, just in time for family dinner! Marie had gone to the beach and brought back a heap of whole, shiny silver fish caught fresh just a couple back. She made an incredible meal of tender, garlicy fish and two pots of veggies each with a different spice theme. It was the best fish I had ever had, and I ate piles and piles until I fell asleep.