It’s with my heart filled with sadness, disappointment, confusion and a bit of anger that I start this new post today. Don’t worry, I won’t be arguing about why I think the UK (and the rest of us) is better in than out of the European Union as this is not the place to do that. Instead I intend to tell you about my experiences of Nature unleashing its power here in Nicaragua: a storm at the top of a volcano, torrential rain and a 6.1 earthquake. I was thinking of waiting to do the Masaya Volcano Tour (active volcano) before writing this but I thought that might be tempting faith, so I’m going to play it safe and assume that nothing will go wrong there (all I’d need really would be an eruption…). As it was all a bit chaotic, I think today is good timing to release the article as I feel that it’s all chaotic out there too.
I wasn’t too bothered with doing tours here in Leon as I’d done all that in Granada (you can read my ‘Volcanoes and Superheroes” post about it). But as at Sonati they fund Environment Education classes with the cash they make on tours, I thought, why not, it will be nice, I might see lava AND I get to feel good about myself for adding my little something to help the environment. So the “Telica Sunset” it was. I was told “it’s such an easy hike you can do it running”, so I was reassured that I’d be fine with my little trainers – as my hiking shoes were sent back to now-not-in-the-EU-anymore UK with Cabbage.
We left at 4pm, just on time to make it for the sunset up there on the Telica. I’ll tell you now that I wasn’t at all prepared! The guide asked me if I had a big bottle of water, a flashlight and a snack and I said no to all 3. The 4×4 drove us as high as it could on the volcano, that took about 1h I’d say, and there were moments I was really pleased we had a good car and a great driver…
The hike up there was indeed not a difficult one, with wonderful views and with some non menacing clouds on the horizon.
Once up there, you can also enjoy a nice cold beer if you wish as there’s a guy who appears out of the blue with cold drinks… I keep making stories about him and can’t decide whether he lives in a cave with bats (there are cave with bats up there on the Telica) and uses lava to barbecue his food OR if he just magically teleport himself when there’s a group approaching…
Anyway, let’s go back to the storm. So all was well, although we did have to fight our way through clouds of sulfur, at which point a girl in the group handed over whatever she had in her bag that could be used to protect our mouths and noses – I got her jumpsuit and she helpfully said “you might want to use the top bit for your nose, not the bum bit”. I did thank her and follow the advice…
The wind turned a few times on our way up, and because of a mix of sulfur clouds and just normal clouds, we couldn’t see the lava so we headed for the sunset, hoping that the crater would have cleared by the time we came back. Instead, the sky turned menacing, dark clouds came out of the blue (a lot seems to turn up out of the blue up there…) and the guide said “Guys, no time for selfies, we have to go down NOW”. Mild panic in the group, as within minutes, we were in the thick of the clouds, it got dark, it started raining (with something that felt like ice hitting us) and quickly enough the thunder and lightnings were surrounding us along with torrential rain. We were IN the storm (would have preferred being IN the EU still but hey, one can’t get too picky).
Because photos are worth a thousand words…taken by some of my fellow “survivors”:
The group split in 2, the first group went down running (for their lives) while I stayed behind with a friend and the guide, making my way down carefully, trying 1) not to fall 2) not to get lost (the friend and guide were actually a little behind me and it was so dark and raining so hard, I could barely see the path or their flashlight) 3) not to get struck by lightning. I was holding onto my camera (it didn’t like it much) and my small bottle of water thinking…”if we all get stranded here, I have to keep this bottle of water!” and wondering if we’d make it to the front page if anything was to happen (and if that’s how my family would find out!). I also thought it would be just as well to canoe down, with all the water it felt more like a waterfall than a volcano.
When I looked up “how to avoid being struck by lightnings”, it mainly said “The key to lightning safety is simply avoiding being in the wrong place at the wrong time”…so that’s where I went wrong!
Short video of the way down: Telica volcano (Video: Philip Vertriest)
It was quite an experience really.. But I’m happy to report that we all made it back almost entirely unharmed, if not a little traumatised for some of us. Thinking back, I don’t know how I didn’t panic more. We had a couple of scary lightnings and thunder hitting pretty close to us… Once in the car, soaking wet with the aircon on full blast to avoid steamy windscreen, freezing, we all took a couple of minute to recompose ourselves and then started laughing and sharing stories… I think it was partly shock, partly denial.
The rain here, along with the lightnings, can be quite impressive. In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen as many lightnings in my lifetime as I’ve seen in the past 2 months here in Nicaragua. They are so beautiful to watch, from the confort of a sheltered hammock… The rain is also, well, tropical I guess. When I arrived to Leon I overheard someone saying that it had rained so much the past 2 days that the kids were “swimming” in the streets. But here in Leon, rain is almost always a blessing. As you start feeling it’s cooling effect within minutes of the first drops falling. In other communities however, it’s a different story. Most people stay at home when it starts raining too much as access to/from their homes can get flooded, muddy and slippery. Some factories have to stop working (such as the salt factories) which also means workers stop being paid…but that’s another story.
Nicaragua is the land of volcanoes (it’s even on its flag) and is on a seismic fault. So when it’s not a volcano erupting causing chaos, it might be the tectonic plates. The latest one happened a few weeks ago, while I was sipping a Victoria Frost (local beer) at Imbir, enjoying a very good gig (listen here). At first it felt a little bit like when you’re in a bar above/below/near the tube in London. But it lasted what felt like a very long train passing, the chandeliers and ceiling fan were swinging – oh I failed to say that I was sitting right under the said fan – and everybody stopped talking… that’s when we all realised what was happening.
Once again, I probably should have been a little more worried as I’ve experienced the 85’ Mexican earthquake when I was a little kid (one that killed millions), but instead I thought “oh well…it’s moving” and also gave me that little excitement. Once the big of it was over, we all smiled, the band commented they were pleased that the Earth itself was applauding them and carried on playing.
It’s only afterwards that I realised that this was rather big: 6.1 on the Richter scale, they closed all the schools the next day, evacuated the hospital (which probably says more about the hospital than the earthquake itself) and my colleague urged me to get back home asap. The epicentre wasn’t far, and luckily for Leon didn’t cause too much damage – unlike in Chinandega where all hell broke lose, they keep having smaller ones since – but they recorded over 1000 aftershocks in the area.
I was in bed that night, not too long after, and was reading about it on social media, this had made it to the US and Dutch news funnily enough, and commenting to my dorm-mate when the door opens and a rather scared couple walks in: “I’ve heard you talk about the earthquake…what are you going to do? Are you going to leave Leon?!” they said… At that point I was in my PJs in bed. “Errr… no. Why would I?” I responded. It was their first ever experience with an earthquake and had no idea what to expect, what to do, where to go…and they were actually scared. I did my best to reassure them, and from then on we hang out together while they stayed in Leon. This is how you make new friends!!
When I then went to visit the Laguna de Asososca (also known as the Laguna del Tigre), which is also a crater lake but a lot wilder than the Apoyo one near Granada, and saw the dark clouds coming towards the laguna, over the volcano… I told my friend to get our of the water, get her stuff and start climbing our way back up.
If you ever make it there, it’s a nice place, very quiet, loads of ants but also full of gorgeous colourful butterflies everywhere, and worth seeing. You should however be aware that the little road up and then down to the laguna is a little rough and I was glad we made it back just on time as it poured down the second we’d got out of the “dangerous” bit. We then had to wait in the finca (those who look after the place) and hope that the rain would stop (it did) and that our little moto taxi would be able to come and pick us up as scheduled despite the mud (he did too). We rewarded ourselves with a nice Quesillo, which is the specialty of La Paz Centro (the town closest to the laguna).
I have a friend, if he reads this he will recognise himself, who always says I bring bad (and by bad he means apocalyptic) weather. He doesn’t want to go on holidays with me anymore… He recently told me that he didn’t need to ask me where I was because: (his exact words were) “I know exactly where you are thanks to http://www.tropicalstormrisk.com”. At least he can’t blame the #brexit on me!!
Next, read about Las Penitas and my first hitchhiking experiences and other interesting ways to travel here in Nicaragua. Follow me in Instagram too if you want to find out whether I end up seeing lava at the Masaya volcano…!