A Walk in the Cloud Forest

>> Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Last weekend we finally made a trip to Volcán Mombacho near Granada. I’d been trying to get Holly to go with me for months and an opportunity came up for us to go with an English class from Masaya. Since we weren’t planning the trip we didn’t really do much research about it before we went but once we got there we realized that it was a really long hike before the hike.

We started at the base of the volcano… about 320 meters.

About an hour into the hike there was a grouping of houses and we thought, “Oh, good. We’re here. Let’s start the hike.” Not even close.This is just one of the many hills that left all of us a little winded.

The winding mountain road provided countless opportunities to hope that just around the next corner we would be at the Visitor's Center where the trails started. Around one such corner we came to see this scene below and thought that there wouldn’t be any way we would have to make it up into the clouds. It’s so steep! It was at about this point that a converted military truck passed by packed with gringos smiling and waving. It also started sprinkling at about this point, and we could see steam rising off our foreheads. We were pretty jealous of the direct bus transportation, but at least we had the moral high ground even though they were quickly and comfortably reaching the physical high ground.

Over the next hour or so I was just too tired to take pictures, but we eventually made it all the way up past those clouds to the Visitor's Center! The house that appeared earlier was just below the white line on this Little Mombacho. The white line to the top was over 300 vertical meters on a very steep road.

At the top of the road we were about to start the trail, which itself really wasn’t very tough, when a cloud descended upon us and it got really cold. All of the students we were with broke out their jackets while we were left wondering why no one warned us.

This made it pretty difficult to see the breathtaking views before us:

Finally the sun came out and we were rewarded for our patience. Everything was just so green a beautiful.

The Reserve was a really impressive display of biodiversity. This one tree has 35 different species living on it, which, as the sign notes, is more than all of the tree species in a typical forest in England or Switzerland.

At the end of the trail there was a section called the fumaroles, which I guess would be something like "smoke holes" in English. There were a few big holes in the ground where hot sulfuric gas escaped from deep in the bowels of Mombacho. The guide said that in the hottest months of the year, the gas can get up to about 115 degrees Fahrenheit.

We could see pretty far in all directions at the top. Here’s Granada, Lake Nicaragua, and the isletas as seen from the fumaroles area.The next part of the hike was pretty steep as well and we got a pretty good view of where we just were. The high point at the end of the path is where the previous picture was taken.

At the very top it was 1,222 meters, which made our vertical climb just over 900 meters in about 5 hours. I don’t know if that’s actually significant but it seemed like a lot.

The top also provided impressive views of… TV antennas and cell phone towers. The nature reserve receives no aid from the government, so these probably bring in extra income to keep it open. Still, they kind of take away from the views.

Far in the distance we heard monkeys calling. I imagined that they would be deep in the jungle and they wouldn’t come close to the trail. Instead, we passed right under them and they posed for pictures. Our guide warned us not to linger too long because they are territorial and have been known to greet guests with golden showers.

Somewhere in this mess of tree is a sloth enjoying his lunch. These were the only animals we saw, but there was evidence of lots of other wildlife. The fact that the main trail is called “El Puma” should be some indication of what you might see on that path.

Even though it was against every pinche (cheap) bone in our bodies, we decided to pay the 40 cords to take the bus back down. Yes, that same bus that tauntingly passed us on our hike up full of gringos. It wasn’t exactly the most luxurious mode of transportation but we justified it because a lot of the students were taking it and they needed supervision. Right? Even in bus, it took about 40 minutes to get down to the bottom.

This was the first smile Holly had shown since we started our ascent and I could see that even though I tricked her into climbing hills, eventually things would be right in the world as long as we stayed on flat ground.


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