Written by Hannah Chinn, La Mariposa Intern
Just south of Granada, you can find the Mombacho Volcano Nature Reserve — one of the weekend trips that we offer (there are four!). Standing almost 1400 meters above sea level and bordering Lake Cocibolca, it’s covered in forest and it’s absolutely beautiful.
It takes us a little while to round up everyone and leave La Mariposa, which is sort of stressful because we have to stop by the cajero (ATM) for the students and then get to Mombacho in time for the shuttle transport up the mountain. “Hurry, hurry”, Paulette tells us and we tell each other. Finally, everyone’s hurried enough to climb into the bus, and we’re off!
We drive for about 40 minutes through the Pueblos Blancos to get there… Oscar points out the furniture, plants, sweets, and other artisan work displayed in stands along the main street. When we arrive at the volcano, we’re greeted by a fairly large parking lot and a fairly small kiosk — we park in the former and make our way over to the latter in order to pay our entry fee.
The fee itself is $20 for transport to the top (and back down) but $5 if you’re interested in hiking the 5.5km to the top and back… with inclines of up to 45 degrees near the end of the trail. (As someone who has done the hike, I’d highly highly recommend riding in the truck — the hike is possible, but not particularly enjoyable, and most people who have finished it decide that they’re Definitely Not Interested in hiking back down.)
When we arrive at the top, we’re met by several guides who directs us to the main tourist center… there, a guide points out the various types of flora and fauna unique to the volcano (the peak 850km is area protected by the reserve). There are three different trails: El Crater, El Tigrillo, and El Puma. While you need a guide to hike the last two, the first is free… it’s also the shortest trail, at 1.5 hours, and the most accessible. I end up hiking it twice, once with the group that arrived via the truck transport, and again about two hours later when the hiking group got to the top.
“The air feels lighter”, one of the students points out, and it does… everything is cooler and lighter at the top of the mountain. You might even need a raincoat (yes, in Nicaragua!!) or at least a light jacket. In the quiet shade of the trees and surrounded by tall ferns, it feels thousands of miles away from the city… later, when you emerge from the trees to explore the fumaroles (heat vents — they smell like sulfur and vent smelly hot air into your face if you try to look down into them), you’ll be greeted by open skies, orange flowers, and probably gusts of wind.
Mombacho is known for its “cloud forest” — a lush green tropical forest often masked in fog — and especially in the winter, wet season, those clouds can form quickly. For our morning hike, everything is clear (there’s a viewpoint from which you can see all the way to Granada and Laguna de Apoyo), but two hours later the mountain (and all lookout points) are completely covered in mist and it feels like we’re floating in the middle of nowhere. Either way, it’s pretty lovely.
A group of American teenage guys bolt past me, panting heavily up the stairs, and I laugh as a group of other students follow. “Hurry up”, one of the girls calls to someone behind her. Maybe that’s the nature of tourist groups, hurrying. It certainly isn’t a particularly Nicaraguan thing to do… both Oscar this morning and our guides this afternoon seem calm.
The family with me has gone on ahead and there’s plenty of time to sit and eat, so halfway along the trail I find a small bench, kick off my shoes, and eat my lunch… it’s endlessly peaceful, swinging bare feet over the path and greeting guides with an “Adiós” as they hike past me. Outside of the tour that went by before me, it’s also really, really quiet — the only sound is the rustle of wind in branches and the occasional deep bark of what I think are howler monkeys. The dwarf forest, named because the trees grow shorter here (due to heavy winds and lack of nutrients), filter sunshine down onto my head.
I close my eyes and breathe in the forest.
Now is a time for rest.
There’ll be plenty of time to hurry later.