Windy season is supposed to end in December- at least that’s what the Nicas tell me. So either they’re lying, or the world has turned upside down. it’s getting windier and windier every day. I have never had a windier experience on Telica than during the last couple days. I have confirmation from the volcano boarding trip that it was just as windy elsewhere. Apparently our boarders were forced to hunker down in little balls, protecting themselves with their boards on the ridge to avoid being swept over the edge.
We had a small and chill group on Telica, which helped. and during the first five hours of walking, I was grateful for a rare breeze which managed to reach us in the dense foliage of the valley. The brute strength of the wind first hit me, literally, once we reached the ridge on which we group up after the climb through the boulder field and before visiting the crater. The ridge is a picturesque vista, and I’m usually content relaxing there while waiting for the group, but yesterday I was hiding behind what small rocks I could find like an oversized crab. We took an abnormally long time at the crater but then still arrived at the campsite with enough time to lay out our leftover snacks for appetizers and lounge in a circle as shadows became long and evening light brushed the leaves with a jeweled glow.
We were nine- the dynamic trio of Julia, Lynn and I as guides, a German, a Dutch guy , an Australian and three French. One of our French clients was a character- he hiked with a humongous tube shaped canvas sack slung over his back in lee of a backpack, with a small daypack on his front. On his feet: flip-flops. We warned him multiple times that the trail would be steep and rocky, but he insisted. He only complained once: we were approaching the steep, mildly treacherous boulder field and Julia forced him to put on regular shoes. Ten minutes later as I turned to check on the group, his face was contorted into a pained scowl. “You ok?” “No.” It was the shoes. He tore off the sneakers, slapped the flip-flops back on, and was once again a happy hiker.
At our first drink break, he took a swig from a bottle of rum. At our first snack break, he rolled a fat joint. From now on when someone thinks they can’t make it up the steepest parts of Telica, we can chastise them by telling the story of the crazy Frenchman who climbed it cross faded wearing flip-flops and two backpacks.
Sitting craterside in the dark after dinner, I spent more time than usual gazing into Telica’s evil maw. I listened to the steady ocean like rush of the volcano punctuated by sharp hisses and the occasional monstrous roar. It dawned on me slowly that the slimy hisses snaking from Telica’s depths sound just like the Basilisk of the Chamber of Secrets, indecipherable but undoubtedly evil death wishes in parseltongue. Mind consumed by serpentine images, I saw the lumpy lava pool as a coiled snake, searing and pulsating with a million ruby eyes. She lies as if asleep but is clearly awake and ready to strike at any false move.
That night our group was joined by a couple who had contemplated signing up for Telica, but in the end decided to trek solo. They are a global pair out of Germany and Argentina; they met in Mexico with mutual motives of escaping the wintry confines of their countries. We bonded over perpetual gray skies and the ensuing melancholy. Fede, the Argentinean, told that he’d gone to Mexico to surf because he believes 100% that the more sun a place gets, the happier its residents are.
When we arrived back at camp, Julia, Lynn and I approached our shared tent to grab s’mores supplies and saw instantly that something was very wrong. Our tent had twisted into a deformed heap. Like on my Telica trek weeks ago, a pole had snapped and jabbed through our rain fly. It was only 8:00, and we hadn’t even had a chance to sleep in it. Unlike my clients who had snuck into my tent before, we didn’t have the option of an unoccupied tent; we were already sharing it three way. We also couldn’t exactly sleep outside; Julia was lending her sleeping bag to a client who had forgotten his so we had only two bags for the three of us. So we fixed the tent. With duct tape, of course. A couple wraps around the broken pole and a quick patch of the rain fly’s hole, and we retired to the fire and dessert, happy with our handiwork.
Four languages flitted back and forth around the fire that night. English, Spanish, German and French. I was pleased to understand most of it, and even got the treat of hearing various dialects from each tongue: Australian English; Spanish from Spain, Argentina and Nicaragua; and Northern and Southern German. The guides slipped off to bed at the golden hour of 9:00, satisfied with an overall fun and successful day.
I was dreaming about vacation: I was in the middle of explaining a six day trek to Ometepe I was going to do with Tom. Then, a sharp crack. the disturbance only scratched the surface of my dream; I ignored it. Now Julia’s groggy voice: “the tent broke.” Still, it couldn’t be true... I didn’t wake up until I heard Fede’s distinctive Argentine accent from outside the tent. “Your tent is broken.”
“Who is that?” Julia was already unzipping the collapsed door. “Oh, Fede.” A couple seconds later I was wide awake and freezing in the howling wind. The same pole had completely snapped this time and ruptured our hastily repaired spot in the rain fly. It was midnight; four hours after we had first fixed the tent. Most of our clients and a handful from other tours were still around the fire and graciously came to help us as we wound duct tape around the same spot, twice as thick this time.
With the tent shabby but once again intact, I crawled under my half of the sleeping back while Julia and Lynn ran off to stop a newly arrived group from stealing our firewood we had hid for the morning fire. I lay there calculating: Our tent had taken four hours to break. If it could last five hours this time, we would make it to wake up call. No cigar. A sleepless four hours later, our tent broke for a third time at exactly four o’clock in the morning. That time we ignored it.
As has become the standard, I was mildly grateful when the alarm went off at five. I struggled blearily to escape our mess of a tent to Lynn’s laugher; I looked like a disheveled child crawling out of a bright orange garbage bag. Julia started the fire while Lynn and I put on shoes to lead the clients to the sunrise ridge. I had opened my contact case and was giggling about the state of our tent with my right contact lens precariously balanced on my index finger. Whoosh- Contact gone with the wind. I searched blindly through dewy grass to no avail. But I lucked out- Julia had brought an extra pair of glasses, and her prescription is just about the average of my right and left eye! I jammed them onto my nose and rushed off to race the lightening sky, a train of half asleep hikers following wearily.
The ridge was insanely windy. I spent the hour or so it took for the sun to rise above the cloudy horizon crouched behind the concrete measurement station, nose running. I think there was more ash than instant coffee powder in my coffee. We were in the middle of arguing over who had gotten the least sleep when Fede and Mandy appeared and announced that they had slept without a tent and had actually gotten a quality nights rest. Hmm.
The next disaster occurred when Julia and I couldn’t remember the way after the mango tree. Lynn was forced to distract the group with cheery small talk while we rain up and down the path trying to pick out the red trail marker. Finally on our way again, the trip went smoothly until we got lost again in the last hour- this time we lead the whole group down to wholly different paths for minutes at a time before choosing one, then discovered that it wouldn’t have made a difference at all. At least NOW I can say that I have day 2 of Telica on lock.
We did know that we had made it to the right bus stop when every other tour group from the campsite was already congregated there. With one critical difference: while we were filthy from the dastardly combination of sweat, dust, and a healthy breeze, they were all spotless. How?! They had visited the hot springs right at the end of the trek; we had no idea that these hot springs existed. Apparently there are big pools of warm water perfectly safe to swim in, and a Nica guide kindly explained to me how to get there for next time.
Despite our series of misadventures, us guides were in unusually good spirits and spent the bus ride laughing and being excited about the bus driver’s choice of music (danceable Caribbean style Palo de Mayo) rather than what we hear every other time we ride the bus (shamelessly sappy love songs).
My positive response to the Telica trek probably resulted from it’s contrast to the Telica trek I had lead just a few days prior. It was a completely different situation: Aymie and I were the only guides for a group of seventeen. We were stressed out the whole time and with the amount of work, pressure and responsibility required for such a big group, there isn’t really room for fun. It didn’t help that I got sick on the trek, and returned feeling terrible, head swimming with seething negative thoughts. Telica had been giving me bad vibes the entire time, and I couldn’t stop thinking about how unnatural it feels to be there. Telica’s eye follows you along the whole desolate landscape of dust and howling wind. It was the dinner pasta that made me sick. I slept without a tent as an experiment but my report the following morning was overruled by the stabbing stomach pains I had suffered throughout the night. I had diarrhea the next several days, and when I got home I slept for thirty hours straight.
I think my immune system has been a little compromised lately. It’s probably a combination of lack of sleep, stress, and the plain fact that I’m in a foreign country. At least I don’t have to endure the hacking cough I had during the cold Wisconsin winter.