Electric Green

Stations of a Journey

The Telica Volcano, Nicaragua or The Pit, the Pig Witch and the Sunstroke

Do you remember the Carl Barks story, where Donald buys an airplane by accident and travels to Volcano Valley (Das Land der Vulkane)? I found out that this country really exists and is called Nicaragua! 19 volcanoes are sitting near the pacific coast, coughing up poisonous gas and waiting to go off big time. I took Donald’s happy good-for-nothing approach and headed straight towards the peak of the Telica, one of the highest and most active volcanoes here, for an overnight hike. Let’s say I came to the conclusion that I have less endurance than a lazy duck….

Journey

The chicken bus stopped in the middle of nowhere. „Out now, quick!“ shouted my guide. I grabbed my backpack, shoved myself through a dozen Nicaraguan workers and jumped out of the back door. Before my feet touched the asphalt, the bus was already moving off. I caught my breath and looked around. A potholed road, some shrubs on the side, depleted fields surrounding us. My French guide for the Nicaraguan volcano landscape, led the way. We went through a hole in a fence and looked up to the mountain range, home of the Telica volcano. It looked awfully far away.

Down in the Canyon! #León #nicaragua #volcano #Telica

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Well, Prepared?

The night before the volcano hike I decided to go drinking. Just before I left, I skipped lunch. I haven’t exercised in months and my backpack was absolutely overloaded with food, drinks and too many clothes. Already sweating and feeling queasy, I started walking.

The first stage was a long walk through a barren no man’s land. White sand, leafless, brittle trees waiting gnarly in the heat. The dry season in Nicaragua is from January to June, and in late February the countryside is pure savannah.

I did not know that. I had expected green hills and lush vegetation providing shade. After a while we passed some baked cattle skeletons. I brushed a thorny plant for a second, and my hand was immediately attacked by a squad of tiny aggressive ants.

It Gets Worse

After a while we reached the first slightly hilly part. We walked through a small canyon, along a dry river bed. The terrain got bumpier but at least there was a bit of shade here. Termite nests were strewn all over the lifeless trees, geckos and other lizards escorted us upwards.

After this nice and easy walk it started to get tricky. One of the other many things I did not care to look up or ask was the fact, that the hard stages come at the end here. Officially the Telica is 1.061 metres high, and we started in about 2-300 metres altitude. The steep parts would come when I am already depleted.

Forest Fire and Blackout

After a couple of hours I started to feel exhausted and the 35 degree midday sun did not help. We did some breaks but not more than 2-3 minutes. There was some pressure to reach the top before nightfall. At one point we looked over to the Santa Clara, the inactive volcano next to us. Smoke clouds. When we looked closer we could see bright orange flames five or six metres high, eating through the dried out flora. We could hear the cracking of wood. No way of stopping it.

Fire on the Santa Clara #volcano next door out of control. Unsettling. #nicaragua #Telica #

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Usually there are no people on the Santa Clara volcano so we didn’t worry too much. But we didn’t wish for the wind to turn. Other smaller columns of smoke already started to appear beneath us. At first I believed that the urge of having to run away from a bushfire would lend me the vital energy I need for the ascent, but nope. I fell into a state of near collapse. My legs started to hurt and I had to stop more frequently. At one point I sat down and tried to stand up again but I couldn’t. My sight went black and my body refused any more movement. I sweated profusely and laid down in the dirt. The guide looked worried. He gave me a candy for extra sugar. I spat it out. Nausea. „Please don’t die here.“ he said. It didn’t sound like a joke.

I hate to admit it, but my brave guide had to carry my backpack for a few hundred metres because I couldn’t do it. He insisted. We passed a yellow sign in the middle of the woods, about three square metres in size. It said something like: „Danger! You are now entering the critical zone of an active volcano. Continue at your own risk!“ Kinda cool, but I just wanted this march to be over.

We arrived just in time. They always say that the view from the top is worth all the suffering but I just felt miserable.

#volcano #Telica #nicaragua

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Settling

Our camp consisted of a wooden structure which might have been a pavilion at one point, a fireplace, a table and two benches. A gaunt old man collected a small entrance fee and sold beer cans from a cool box. The place was located in the middle of an old volcanic crater, right next to the real thing. It took just a few small steps to look into the steamy depths. We waited until nightfall until we got up. (Well, I lied down and missed the sunset because I was a total mess.) Walking up a boiling volcano is kind of intimidating, and standing on the edge, looking down, even more.

On the Edge

There was no promise that I would see lava. The crater emits huge amounts of sour smelling gases and usually the steam is too thick to see the glowing. But not this day: I had to crawl onto the edge to see it, but down there in 120 metres was a deep red pit of lava. Tricky place to get some good selfies. The sight of the red heat got me into some stupefied state. And there is no sound like an active volcano. A constant deep humming to the bones, only disturbed by crackling explosions. Just like a bonfire, but instead of small twigs, rocks the size of people are bursting under the heat. I thought about how those things used to destroy cities, and probably will again. After about twenty minutes of inhaling a thick mixture of sulfur dioxide, methane and other wondrous volatile substances, we headed back down.

Staring into the hellfire. Unusually high #lava activity last night at #Telica #volcano. #nicaragua

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My guide brought me a sleeping bag. No tent. I put the bag on a patch of grass and lied on the stony ground. My guide hung up his fully closable hammock somewhere between two trees. There was a small group of Norwegian girls (they are everywhere here) and maybe 7-8 other people spending the night there. I was the only one without any sort of roof over my head.

Stars and Chimeras

Not long after darkness fell, everyone went to sleep. I was enthralled by the cloudless star spectacle above me. No light sources within the next 10 kilometres or so. I catched five or six shooting stars, then I tried to sleep. I wasn’t really successful.

Although the temperatures dropped significantly and I was a thousand metres over sea level, I was still feeling the heat from the day. I guess that even with a tent I would have chosen to sleep under the naked sky. Additionally to that I got more nauseous. My head and every muscle hurt. I diagnosed myself with a sizeable sunstroke and fantasized about people having to carry me down. I felt the urge to spew. I got into the puke purgatory where you think about vomiting but are too stubborn to admit that you really have to stand up. In my case I was in the middle of a strange rock landscape, fevered, and no light except the stars. I guessed that I had to walk at least fifty metres so not to disturb the others.

While I was planning my regurgitation I heard a noise behind me. Some rustling sound. At first I thought of some male camp neighbour having a little volcano whack-off, but no. It was an animal. A big one. I turned my head right and saw a long black shadow about 8 metres away from me. At first I thought it was a huge hellhound but its movements reminded me more of a pig. Friendly house piggy or wild aggressive boar on the loose? Fuck.

Just some side note: In the Museo de Leyendas and Tradiciones (or the nightmare prison, as I call it now) there was a puppet of a large black pig: The Pig Witch. Certain Nicaraguan women – the spiteful, heart broken, jealous kinds – can seemingly invoke the devil and turn themselves into the shape of an evil boar. In this form they chase after drunken and womanising men, mauling them until they faint and stealing their money. This only happens after ten o’clock, according to the legend…

Pig Witch

It’s the Pig Witch!

22:45 – The black beast scanned the area with his snout and vanished in the shadow of a tree, ten metres away from me. There it stayed. I dropped my plans for the evening and tried to keep my eyes closed.

I actually awaked in my sleeping bag somewhat rested. I did not need to puke and I did not need any helicopter to take me off that steaming rock. I could even enjoy the sunrise! I learned about the scorpions on the ground much later.

Loved

The fact of having spent a night on top of an active volcano

Actual cool reason to wear a shemag: Fending off volcanic gases

Getting back without any permanent damage (Well, I got this strange infection, but it went away after a month or so)

Hated

Myself, for being naive and totally out of shape (just for a while)

Steep sandy ascends in the sun

The way back. If you think the way back is always quicker, you are wrong.

la llama del bosque, The flame of the woods. #plants #trees #nicaragua #Telica

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Done

  • Learned about proper hiking preparation the hard way
  • Gazed into the depths of hell
  • Saw more stars then ever
  • Collected rocks from my first volcano (sulphur, phosphor, oxidated iron, basalt)
  • Got to know some of the native plants
  • Observed termites and leaf cutter ants for the first time (knowingly)

some rocks from the #Telica #volcano : #sulfur #phosphor #oxidatediron #basalt. #geology

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León, Nicaragua or the Dust of the Revolution

How I traveled to Nicaragua and how my first culture shock went down. What I loved about León, what annoyed me and which place gave me disturbing nightmares. 14.02.-07.03.2017

Journey

The stations of my flights were Düsseldorf – Munich, Munich – Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic), Santo Domingo – San José (Costa Rica), San José – Managua. After travelling 35 hours by plane (including a 12 hour transit in Costa Rica), I was crammed into a pickup overloaded with fridges, microwaves and DVD-Players. I arrived at Managua at night and was glad to be picked up by my host, a small Nicaraguan lady who wouldn’t stop talking. My naive initial plan was to just jump into a bus in Managua to León. But as it turned out, there is no such thing as a bus after 8 o’clock. And after dark, nobody in their right mind should be near the station anyway.

On the nightly ride from the Nicaraguan capital to León, I got my first impression of Central America: It’s noisy and it’s rough. Cars are in bad shape, streets are in bad shape, houses are in bad shape. Young men standing on the backs of pick-ups, shouting. Injured people from an accident hugging each other on a crossroad, crying. Police with red glowsticks pulling out cars by the dozen. Naked children playing on the sidewalk,  music blaring from damaged speakers everywhere.

During the drive, I was nervous and at the same time dead tired. While I was smoking a menthol-berry cigarette with shaking hands, my host mother told me in rapid Spanish about her time in East-Berlin with a Nicaraguan-Socialist girl squad. Apples, she recalled, it was so great to eat apples for the first time.

My head wanted to shut down, but I couldn’t keep my eyes off of the nightly surroundings. When we went out of the city onto the unlit country road, the insomniac hallucinations started to kick in. Shapes were entering my field of vision and at one point a girl in a white dress appeared running towards the car. After one or two hours we arrived in Léon. More chaotic night traffic, people selling steaming food on the streets, holes the size of motorcycles in the road. The car stopped and I stumbeled out of it and into the house. My host mom introduced my to the four Norwegian girls living there and showed me my room. I took a shower and fell into bed.

León Neighoburhood

Settling

Seven blocks north from the Church La Recolleción. The red and yellow house. This is what would to tell the taxi drivers in León. There are no real addresses, you just give out vague directions and hope that the guy knows where to go.

The house had a living room that seemed to be gloomy no matter how strong the sun was burning outside. Dusty empty wine bottles and tacky souvenirs on the shelves. The life happened in the kitchen outside. There, Paco, a small green parrot guarded the entry and attacked everyone who dared to enter. He couldn’t fly and fed on whatever he could salvage from the trash bag.

My room had a private bath, a clattering fan and sometimes even wifi. The walls in the shower were made of red brick. I couldn’t kill some of the giant ants entering, even with repeated hits of my flip flop.

My trusted mobile SIM salesperson

Highs

„La Primera Capitál de la Revolucion“ This lettering hangs proudly over the Governmental Building on the Parque Central next to the cathedral. The last „n“ hangs upside down and no one seems to care.

On the spot, where one of the countries bloodiest massacres took place, when the government turned against their people, now thrives a skate court and hangout spot for young people. The hamburguesos con queso sold in the food trucks there are huge and cost 2 €. In general everything is cheap as hell. Meal in a comedor (a simple lunch restaurant, like a canteen): 3-4 €, pack of cigarettes: 1,50 €, fruit from the market: practically free.

My drink of choice in Nicaragua was Nica Libre. Coke mixed with the very affordable and delicious Flor de Caña rum. Sometimes the bartenders were a bit skimpy with it. I remember being at a crazy drag queen contest in a bar and the guy mixed it by taking one bottle cap of rum and three bottle caps of Coke. But that was an unfortunate exception. I also like the fact that the country only has two beers. Toña and Victoria. They are both made by the Compañía Cervecera de Nicaragua. If the beer is alright, a country only needs one variation. I can live with that.

León has the reputation of being the intellectual capital of Nicaragua. I met many young people who were studying there, working for NGOs or doing volunteer work.

Shopping is not done in stores but on street stands. The traffic is loud and chaotic, in a rugged, dusty way. The cars seem to be made of cardboard. The horse carts seem to be cobbled together with even cheaper materials.

And when the taxi drivers feel that they are treated unfairly they start to block the main crossing by the dozens, shutting the traffic down completely. One ride through the city costs you about 0,75 – 1 €, depending on the time of day. You forgot on the way home at night that you need to buy some beer and have to go to the gas station? No problem, after making a detour of four kilometres and waiting for everyone to get what they need, there is no extra fee. A ride is a ride.

 

Iglesia La Recollecion

The heat! Oh my god the heat!

Lows

The Heat

León is considered the hottest place in Nicaragua, so the heat can bring you down there. I arrived in February, coming from the winter wonderland that is Germany. The first couple of days were fine for me, I enjoyed going out in T-shirt and shorts and lying in a hammock outside. But after one or two weeks I grew annoyed by the heat.The city also has a dust problem in the dry season. When my host mom told me that León is also the capital de polvo, I at first didn’t get it. The streets seemed fine to me, sometimes it was a bit sandy but that’s it. But after a while a noticed the thin film of black dust which laid itself over everything like an invisible … I especially hated it on my laptop.

Banana Republic

Nicaragua is a poor country. The wages are incredibly low, basics like electricity and water are notoriously unreliable. The streets are in bad shape, the police is corrupt. The days of the Revolucion for the people are over. Under El Presidente Ortega, the Sandinistan movement (FSLN) has turned into the engine of a new oppressive regime. Speaking against the government can cost you your job. The heroes of the people’s revolution are still celebrating their victory from 40 years ago but their cheers seem hollow. The country has no organised protest culture anymore.

Some first world whining: It doesn’t annoy me that I cannot take a hot shower or that the rides here are a bit bumpier than at home. What bugs me, was that it was not possible for me to sit down for a minute in a parque or on a bench without getting hassled. The beggars start chatting you up in a way that you either have to give them something, chase them away or leave. The same goes for street vendors, but for them I feel less pity. I like to look at the wares for more than three seconds before the whole staff of the stand is all over me.

Me on a roof

Haggling over memories of the revolution.

Done

  • Melted in the heat. The heat!
  • Stepped on the blindingly white rooftop of the León Cathedral and enjoyed the round view
  • Visited the Museo de la Revolucion. Our guide, a guerillero vet, showed us around in the captured Somoza headquarters. Then he tried to sell me burned DVDs on the glowing hot tin roof.

#León #nicaragua #museodemitosyleyendas Prison building

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  • Visited the Museo de Leyendas y Tradiciones. A former torture prison of the Somoza regime turned into a museum. One part is the remembrance of the victims of the dictatorship. The torture methods are described in great detail and some of them are painted on the walls. The other part is about Nicaragua’s fairy tales depicted with crude life-sized puppets. They go from colourful-happy-creepy to fucking-creepy-creepy. I am not someone who gets nightmares about unspeakable hellscapes, but this place did it to me. It is very weird, I highly recommend it.
  • Failed at dancing Salsa
  • Bought a piñata with a Swiss guy, turned a farewell into a Piñata Party.
  • Went to a softball training game with Norwegian exchange students
  • Drag queen show. The people went ballistic.
  • 🎓Read: Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang. Short stories from the dude who wrote Arrival. Recommended if you like nerdy sci-fi and weird tales about the Tower of Babel.
  • Museo of Ruben Dario. The poet hero of León. Great, if you like to see some dead guy’s old furniture.
  • Watched a couple of street boxing matches between some children on a sunday afternoon
  • Got a terrible sunburn on Las Peñitas beach
  • Hung out at some fancy hotel pool. „Forgot“ to pay
  • Ate the best and cheapest hot wings at the Mirador Bar while watching the sunset in enchanting company
  • Got my first one-on-one Spanish lessons from a mediocre teacher in a busy café.
  • Got pleasantly surprised by the paintings in the Centro de Arte Fundación Ortiz Gurdian (Museum of Modern Art)
  • Had a candlelight dinner with three total strangers in an Indian/Polish restaurant

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