That night after sunset we would test our bravery and scale the craggy terrain along the slope of the volcano. With only the lumens of our flashlights to guide us, we hiked the precipice, grappling for a firm foothold on the uneven rock. The landscape was completely devoid of vegetation — naked, except for occasional boulders and scattered pebbles of pyroclastic rubble. They were reminders of the dragon’s power and his ability to scorch the earth in eruptions of brimstone and ash.
We traipsed past a shallow pool of water, chock-full of bullfrogs. Their constant croaking added to the eeriness of our climb. Fog had settled over the stratovolcanic cone. “Careful,” my husband warned, rightfully implying that I’d have difficulty maneuvering on the shifting slag. It wasn’t difficult, after all, to lose your bearings in the utter blackness.
We continued our ascent in silence, broken only by the unexpected whinny of a wild horse. In the beacon of our torches, the untamed equine looked pale and ghostly. I wondered what other creatures lurked in the dark…crouched amongst the outcroppings of hardened lava rock. Were they lying in wait, just like the fiery beast ahead?
I grabbed Gustavo’s arm, for protection, and together we clambered up the side of the mountain. “Stop!” Florian suddenly called out. “We’re approaching the edge.” We halted in our tracks. Gently we spread our jackets over the sharp gravel, and eased onto our stomachs. Lying prostrate on the ground, we peered cautiously into the abys and into the dragon’s nest.
Hardly over a hundred meters down, rivulets of lava snaked through the burning pit, red hot and glistening. Despite the cloud cover, we spied occasional evidence of the fire-breathing monster within. Glowing specks of scoria — the eyes of the mythical beast — luminesced brightly for brief seconds at a time, then faded back into the river of molten magma.
We listened for the slightest sign of the dragon’s unease, for any indication of displeasure. Except for a distant rumbling — perhaps his snoring — I’m happy to report that all was quiet on the volcanic front. Even at the witching hour, as the nighttime wind blustered around us, darting in and out of the crater, there was no other sound of life. Nothing save our belabored breathing and the whirr of my husband’s camera lens. Apparently the dragon was content hibernating in his refuge of igneous rock.
We forged our way back down the cone, weaving through the boulders, back to our campsite. Back to the comfort of our bonfire and a long-awaited dinner. Florian cut up fresh veggies — tomatoes, avocados, and onions — while we squeezed refried beans from a convenient tube and gobbled our tasty tortillas. “I can’t keep my eyes open a minute longer,” I informed the others and headed to the tent. To my sleeping bag, still damp from the earlier rain.
At dawn, we arose early, took down camp and revved up for the descent. With only a casual backwards glance toward the dragon who still lay sleeping, the four of us began the long trek back to civilization. Knowing that you couldn’t buy memories like the ones we’d just shared, no matter how much money you had in your pocket.
If You Go
Upon arrival in the capital, continue to Léon via local bus, taxi or rental car. If you get the opportunity, be sure to try your hand at volcano boarding on Cerro Negro. Rates run about US$ 30 from any of the tour agencies, including transportation and equipment necessary for ‘surfing’ down the volcano (protective gear, glasses/goggles, and board).
We suggest booking your tours through Sonati Tours, as it is a non-profit agency and all monies are used for environmental education for school kids in Léon. Be sure to ask directions from Sonati to the fabulous street mural made by the local children from recycled materials, mostly bottle caps. It’s a Kodak moment.
For more information visit www.visitanicaragua.com.