With nostrils flared wide, the dragon exhaled one poof of smoke, then another. The steaming fumaroles spiraled upwards on a breath of wind, out of the crater’s mouth. The local population, los nicaragüenses, had a name for the dragon’s fiery lair — Volcán Telica — an active volcano in western Nicaragua just 30 kilometers from Léon. And here I was, with my husband Gustavo and son Nicolas, setting up camp for an overnight stay in a meadow dripping with greenery, at the base of the caldera — only about a thousand meters from the growling belly of the beast.
No matter though…that serpent spawned from hell could have emerged from his hollow, shrieking in winged flight, and I wouldn’t have been able to muster the strength to move out of his way. I collapsed onto the grass and languished against the pile of backpacks, every muscle in my body screaming in pain. To say it had been an arduous, torturous climb was an understatement. Several times during the six-hour trek, I was convinced I was going to die right there on that mountain trail, somewhere in the remotest heartland of Central America. I was just a 50-something, rather out-of-shape gringuita from Florida, trying to assure her aging limbs that she was still in her twenties, primed for adventure, and not a bone-weary travel writer trying desperately to reach Telica’s peak.
My husband had struggled with debilitating leg cramps during the final stage of the climb while I battled the sweltering warmth. We’d already exhausted about a dozen liters of our water supply, two of which had been poured directly over my head to assuage the heat. Even coddled by rainforest we had sweat, in my mind, to the brink of dehydration. Twice, Gustavo had wrung out his shirt as if he’d just jumped fully clothed into a swimming pool. I kept dabbing at the droplets streaming from my forehead, while Nicolas, our 14-year-old son, barely showed the slightest symptoms of perspiration. The advantages of youth.
Luckily, as we neared the end of our climb, an unexpected rain shower dumped buckets of cooling water over our enervated bodies. Though soaked to the bone, we donned our rucksacks with renewed vigor and primed ourselves for the final ascension. Standing on the ridge an hour later, overlooking the Pacific Ocean and the incredulous chain of volcanoes in la Cordillera de los Maribios, I knew it had been worth the effort.
Nicolas and our guide Florian, from Sonati Tours, began buttoning down the canvas flaps over our tent poles, preparing our palace for the night. Swaying coconut trees dotted the grass-covered knoll. After unfurling the sleeping bags inside our primitive shelter, we changed into dry clothes and set about hanging our wet garments over the nearby cluster of bushes. Behind us the dragon emitted another burst of steam from a fissure in his nose, belched from the most conspicuous of Telica’s vents.
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