Nicaragua is sometimes called the Land of the Volcanoes. With 19 volcanoes in the country, many of which are still active, it’s the perfect place to climb and explore volcanoes. I had climbed Volcano Mombacho several weeks ago, and on Saturday, I took the opportunity to see how Volcano Masaya differs.
Volcano Masaya is located just northwest of the city of Masaya, which is directly in the middle of Granada and Nicaragua’s capital, Managua. I caught the Managua bound bus just south of Parque Central in Granada and asked the bus driver to let me off “en la entrada del Volcan Masaya.” After paying the $0.80 bus fee and a quick 40 minute ride, he stopped and advised me that “Ya estamos.”
I crossed the Carretera Masaya, the main road from Granada to Managua, and found the park entrance. There are two options to get to the top. You can walk the 3-4 mile road or you can pay $1 each way for a minibus to take you up. However, I was just one person, so I would’ve had to pay $2 each way to get up. Doesn’t sound like much extra. But when $1 can buy you 25 bananas, 5 frescos (natural fruit drinks), a meal from the street, or an hour bus ride, the value of a dollar is pretty high. Luckily for me, a pickup truck carrying a family was entering the park at the same time. It seemed like a family of Nicaraguans. So I asked the driver, who seemed like the father and possibly 55 years old, “No tienes espacio para uno mas?” You don’t have any space for another? He hesitated, then motioned for me to jump in the back of the picked with the others who were riding in the back.
As soon as I jumped in, a guy of about 35 years old asks me in English, “Where are you from?” Turns out that he is from Managua but married a girl from California and now lives in Kentucky. They brought their two kids down to Nicaragua for their first visit, and they were along with cousins and grandparents. One interesting thing with their family is that their two kids, who have always lived in the US, do not speak Spanish while their cousins only speak Spanish. So although they’re spending a lot of time together and seemed to get along great, they couldn’t communicate in the same language. To me, it’s sad to see that the kids do not speak Spanish. With their father being a native speaker, they could easily be speaking both Spanish and English fluently right now. Instead, they’re going to start learning Spanish in school soon and may never be able to speak like a native speaker.
It was a nice family to spend the 20 minute ride up to the top of the volcano. The volcano actually has two volcanoes (Nindiri and Masaya) and 5 craters. Volcano Masaya is still very much active. Even last year, there was an eruption. In the late 1700s, there was an enormous eruption that sent lava all the way down the volcano sides and to the Laguna de Masaya (Masaya Lagoon). When driving up, it was apparent how massive this explosion was. Black rocks were spread throughout the barren terrain. It was what you might imagine the end of the world to look like.
We arrived at the top to see a large amount of steam coming up out of Crater Santiago. It wasn’t just a little bit; it was constant and seemed as if there was a fire burning far below in the crater. Immediately, you understand why they recommend only standing close to the lookout point for up to 15-20 minutes. The sulfuric gas is strong. You can smell it, and you can feel it in your lungs. It did not bother me a lot, but I did cough a few times as I breathed it in. Some people really struggled and coughed much more, holding handkerchiefs up to their mouths to try to avoid it. Witnessing a volcano so active was incredible. From the lookout point, you can see down into the crater as the gases constantly rise up into the sky like clouds.
There are a few trails leading up to the top of Volcano Nindiri. After a 10 minute climb up, I was at the top rim of the volcano and looking down into the dormant crater. Being dormant for many years has allowed trees and fauna to grow on the crater, which is down about a half a mile from the top rim. This has created a more forest look to the volcano, very different from Volcano Masaya. There is a trail that leads around the rim of the crater which of course forms a circle. I made it all the way to the other side, admiring the forested natural reserve below, the Laguna de Masaya, and the Lake Managua in the far distance. When I arrived halfway around, the path stopped and was taken over by plants and shrubbery. Being stubborn, I refused to let that beat me and stop me from circling the entire volcano. After about 15 minutes of getting scratched up by weeds, I turned back around, feeling defeated. With a storm coming and not knowing if the trail actually leads all the way around, I went back the way I came.
I arrived at a little picnic shack as the rain started coming down. Inside already was a family, a grandfather with his wife, his son and his son’s wife, and his two grandchildren. As with what happens almost every time that I have similar situations with Nicaraguans, they are always open and friendly enough to strike up a conversation. They are always very, very sweet. After a few minutes, the granddaughter of about 8 years old hands me an orange to eat. This kind of openness and kindness makes my heart happy. Soon after, the rain stopped, and they invited me to walk up to Volcano Nindiri with them. I had already done it, but I was enjoying the company so I went again.
This type of interaction has not been uncommon for me when meeting Nicaraguan families. They always welcome more company and are very happy to learn more about you and to teach you about their country. In this manner, I think they are much more open than people in the US and other countries. We, as Americans, are more closed. We want things exactly how we had planned them. We didn’t expect someone new to join us, so we act more closed and maybe don’t invite an outsider to join us for th next few hours. Maybe I am oversimplifying it. However, I have had consistent experiences like this with Nicaraguan families and have never noticed this with other nationalities before.
So we hiked up the volcano again, walked around to other lookouts, and then finally caught the bus back down to the bottom together. They invited me to head to the Managua Zoo with them, but I had already had plans in Granada to get back for. I took down their information to send them pictures that I took of their family and of the volcano, so I’ll be able to keep in touch with them. It’s fantastic how random encounters can bring new friendships like this one with this very kind family!