Weekly Photo Challenge: A Bird’s Eye View of Nicaragua

The Weekly Photo Challenge is On Top. Whether you are a bird or a cat on a hot tin roof, the sights above Nicaragua are spectacular.

There is a rooftop community of cats in Granada.
IMG_5619Climb to top of the Revolutionary Museum in Leon and behold a grand vista.
IMG_0329Tiled rooftops in Leon adorn the city.
IMG_0326View the soul of the world on top of Corn Island.
IMG_4041IMG_4060There are 19 active and dormant volcanoes in Nicaragua.
IMG_6099Fly over Laguna de Apoyo, the crater lake.
IMG_2045Or hike to the top of our active volcano, Concepcion, on Ometepe Island.
ConcepcionOn the other side of Ometepe Island, swim in the refreshing crater lake on the top of Maderas Volcano.
MaderasIf volcanoes aren’t your fancy, watch the patchwork of fields and small towns that dot the landscape as you glide on the wind.
IMG_6100Nicaragua is sure to please, wherever you fly!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Four Three-Picture Stories from Ometepe

The Weekly Photo Challenge is: Three  In this challenge we are to tell a story in three pictures, increasing the zoom to hone in on the subject.

Hello World

The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it. ~Arnold H. Glasow 

Keep on reading. There are three more story pictures.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Layers of Lava

Ometepe Island, Nicaragua has two majestic volcanoes…Concepcion, the active volcano and Maderas, the dormant volcano.  Layers of lava, ash, clouds, and foliage add to the splendor of the ever-changing layers like a kaleidoscope.
kaleidescope explosion


Weekly Photo Challenge: Ruta de Evacuacion

The Great Escape? Thanks to a comment on my blog by Frizztext, I have to add another Weekly Photo Challenge to my interpretation of escape.

Screen Shot 2013-05-18 at 7.31.48 PMYou see, we have an active volcano in our backyard. Ruta de Evacuacion signs are posted all over the island in case Vulcan Concepcion decides to wake up from her three-year hibernation. Yes! You heard right! It’s only been three years since she erupted. These evacuation signs are hysterical. They are posted in every business, along the roads, and even in the cattle fields.

Ron and I are ready, though! We figure that we can kayak off the island until the coast is clear. When Concepcion erupts, she burps ash. It’s scattered like a thin dusting of dirty snow over everything. The great escape? We’re prepared!

Where ya gonna go when the volcano blows?
ruta de evacuation copy


What if she BLOWS?

Moyogalpa, Ometepe Island, Nicaragua

March 8th, 2010 started like every other day in Moyogalpa. The symphony of roosters ushered in the day, the March winds howled, and early risers hawked their tortillas throughout the streets. Yet, the beginning of a tranquil, sun drenched day turned dark and ominous when Vulcan Concepcion rumbled, then explosively burped ash and gas plumes 2,100 meters high into the hot, dry, blue sky. Powdery ash blanketed nearby communities like baby powder sprinkled on a new-born.

Boooom in Moyogalpa!

On subsequent days, the volcano gained momentum. On March 12, Washington VAAC, issued a volcanic ash advisory reporting an ash cloud eruption that reached 10,000 ft. By the middle of March, the Nicaraguan geological service INETER described Concepcion as ” practically in a full eruptive stage”, with 34 explosions between March 18-19.

The Nicaraguan government sent army and navy units to Ometepe Island to prepare for evacuation. Yet, strangely, the locals went about their days hawking tortillas, as if this were an everyday occurrence. They swept the ash from their doorsteps with their twig brooms, and waited patiently for the throngs of soldiers to exit their beloved island.

Did they know something we didn’t? Shortly after all the fuss, feeding an army of disaster responders, and stuffing their bellies with homemade tortillas, Concepcion decided enough was enough. Her attention seeking activity had been rewarded, and she lulled herself back into a peaceful slumber. Until the next time!

Vulcan Concepcion is a highly active volcano with a rich historical record of explosive eruptions. The Global Volcanism Program reports a series of 22 eruptions ( mostly ash and gas), since 1974. See report here.

Several Nicaraguan websites promoting tourism mention, “The Concepcion is an active volcano and its most recent eruption took place in 1957.” It’s true that the islanders confirm, “No need to panic. These minor eruptions happen all the time.” Daily life continues uninterrupted, with only a few minor inconveniences, like sweeping the powdery ash from their doorsteps.

Ash from the 2007 eruption.

Am I worried? I’m not obsessed with the anticipation of the next eruption. I have my twig broom ready, a few heavy-duty surgical masks to place over our mouths and noses, and a kayak to make a quick escape, (hopefully before we succumb to deadly gases). What more can I do?

2007 eruption from Moyogalpa

Life goes on as normal. I continue to rake mangoes, harvest fruit, and enjoy a fulfilled and stress-free life on Ometepe Island. Until the next time!

Warning! Ultima Hora! Ultima Hora!

I thought you all would enjoy an email I received from my friend, Dr. Tabatha Parker, who lives on Ometepe Island.  She graciously allowed me to share her adventure with everyone. Thanks, Tabatha.

Dear Friends,

So I am hear to tell you about a recent event that happened to me.  Yes I am already completely embarrassed, but here it goes.

I am the first one to tell all foreigners to get a guide if your going to hike the volcano – don’t be a stupid gringo and think you won’t get lost.  I have told a thousand people this.
So last weekend I go to Maderas with a group of friends. Our mission is to hike to Las Cuchillas from Finca Magdelena. We have a competent group, guided by a very competent guide who is a friend of many of us. Great! We are good to go.
The weather was not good. It was awful in fact.  Nestor, my husband, in no uncertain terms is getting out of the car – he decides to stay in the car with Luna and wait for us all — he tries to warn me the weather is going to only get worse, but I am determined to hike, and so Maximo (my 3 year old) and I get the kids backpack on, grab a jar of peanut butter and get ready for the adventure.
mistake #1 (aka listen to your campesino husband who knows weather much better than you!)
For those of you who have done the Finca Magdelena petroglyph walk – well that is where we all started from. We hiked maybe 30 minutes – maybe 10 minutes past the petroglyph gardens, maybe less.  Regardless – we got to a point where it was very apparent that this had not been the best choice for me. Maximo was getting wet, it was raining on and off rather hard, and the nice petroglyph path had quickly turned to a muddy rocky mess that was getting more and more difficult to maneuver with a small child strapped to my back. We had at least an hour ahead of us, so I decided it would be best to turn back before we got too far out.
When I informed the group I was going to go back, immediately someone offered to come with me – but I assured them it would be quite easy for me to return and not wanting to ruin the day, I refused accompaniment and assured everyone I would be just fine.
mistake #2 (aka dumb white girl in the forest that thinks she can tell directions)

So Maximo and I turn around and head back. It becomes very clear to me very quickly that we are totally screwed. I come to the first fork……
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by……

ah yes – the proverbial “oh shit” moment……..
I realize that this task is not going to be as easy as it first appeared. At first I think I am “tracking” our tracks well – looking for the dogs paw prints, boot prints. Who do I think I am “Indiana Jones?”  But with all the rain, it starts becoming nearly impossible to decipher the mud, a stick scratch, leaves, a footprint – it is all one big muddy mess.  The other problem was that due to it being so rainy our way out,I had my head down alot of the way. Now I couldn’t tell what was what…..was this familiar? had we come this way? I did not remember seeing x, y or z…but maybe that is because my head was down.  Was I THAT unaware. I kept looking for the giant Nettle plant that had been pointed out to me…..where the hell was that NETTLE PLANT!!
And then I suddenly realized I have traversed too many fields and fences that we DEFINITELY did NOT see and I had to accept I was completely lost.  I was so disorientated as to which direction was which, where would be best to walk – what to do….was it the duendes my husband had warned me about (the magical elves that get people lost on maderas?) that had gotten me so turned around?
Then it began to sink in. Lost with a 3 year old, with no water, a stupid can of peanut butter, pants that were now completely soaked and weighing about a ton covered to my knees in mud in a friggin tropical storm, no raincoat, no idea which way to go. How very white of me.
So I decided I should try and get back to where I knew we had been (if that was even possible at this point), maybe put up a shelter and wait for the rain to stop or my friends to return….visions of the headlines on canal 10 flashing in my head…….gringa doctora y su hijo perdida en cerro maderas…..ULTIMA HORA, ULTIMA HORA!

My heart at this point is racing and I start yelling AYUDA!, AYUDA!  Someone has to be out on this mountain somewhere!
And then between explaining to my son that his dad WAS coming to help us, that was why I was yelling AYUDA, trying to yell AYUDA in a happy voice so Maximo didn’t freak out, and trying to calm myself from hyperventilating while walking with my son on my back— I see a young man on a horse!!! AYUDA!!!! AYYYUUUUUUUUUUUDA! Can he NOT hear me???  I start running, and he stops and looks at the crazy white girl. Donde esta FINCA MAGDELENA?  He calmly points up the hill. Just up this road – just head that way. I ask him if he will please bring me, porfavor – that I am afraid I will just get lost again as I know I did not come down this road. He agrees without saying a word and I begin following him and his horse and his bucket of fresh cow milk, my legs sinking into thick mud with each step up to my knees. About 20 minutes later we come out under Finca Magdelena. I had completely overshot the farm…..to far south. WOW – I couldn’t believe where I had ended up. How did that happen?
When I finally got to my husband – he said in his so sweet way- I’m not sure why you don’t listen to me sometimes……then he laughed and said, “the duendes got ya!
So there you have it. I won’t ever again think I can figure the volcanos out on my own. Not even for what seemed like just a jog around the corner.  What couldn’t have been more than 20 – 30 minutes became a nearly 2 hour return….
plus its way cheaper to pay a guide $5 or $10 bucks than the $20 I paid the kid with the horse for saving our life.
Happy hiking,


The Legend of El Chupacabra

El Cupacabra and El Duende

Legends of bloodsucking creatures are present all over the world and throughout history. Seven years ago, I read in La Prensa that a young man was lost on Vulcan Concepcion. He had attempted to climb the volcano without a guide and was ill-prepared for the dangerous trek. Those foolish enough to scale the 1610 meter slopes without assistance are usually seriously wounded, lost, or as in the case of the 24-year-old Salvadoran, eaten by El Cupacabra.

My English students told me that the guides found his body a week later.  His head was wedged between two rocks, his leg was broken, and an arm was missing.  Luvis pounded her fist on my plastic table when she heard the news and emphatically stated, “It was the Chupacabra.”  “What in the world is a Chupacabra?”  I asked curiously.  They all looked at me astounded because I had never heard of the creature.

“The Chupa Cabra is all over the world,” Francisco informed me. They began arguing when I asked for a description of the monster.  One of my students said he was half goat, half man.  The other said he could fly and was probably an alien.  Luvis described him with fierce, pointy teeth and an amazing ability to jump from volcano to volcano.  Francisco said he only sucked the blood from goats.  Luvis said, “No, he eats many people on the volcano because that’s where he lives.”  They all agreed that the monster was dangerous and called him “The goat sucker.”

What I did learn to be fact throughout this strange conversation is that the islanders are very superstitious people.  They attribute any unexplained death or illness to creatures such as duendes, women that turn into monkeys, monsters that leave the dark lake bed at night in search of blood, and the famous Chupacabra.

Halloween is coming.  The children don’t celebrate Halloween in La Paloma.  Seven years ago, it was different.  We taught Luvis and Julio how to say “trick or treat” and helped them make masks.

Luvis was a duende and Julio was the Chupacabra.  We taught them to knock on our door on Halloween and say, “trick or treat.”  We were undecided whether to treat them or trick them, so we did both.  We stocked up on cajeta de leche (sort of like fudge) and Ron made no bake chocolate cookies with oatmeal. I dressed up like a fairy ( I even made a tin foil wand) and Ron dressed up as a monkey with a machete.

I asked Ron if we should teach all of the little ones that came to our house for English lessons, about 20 of them, about Halloween and invite them to our house for trick or treating.  But, thanks to Julio and Luvis, we had a better understanding of the superstitions surrounding our community,and we decided it wasn’t a good idea.  Our house was the good luck house in the neighborhood.  Who knew what the parents might think if we told them to wear scary masks and come to our house for candy.  We may have ruined our good reputation in La Paloma.  So, it was only Luvis and Julio that came.

Now that Halloween is approaching again, we decided to forgo the annual pagan tradition. After all, our house is still considered the good luck house in the neighborhood. We have a reputation to keep up. But, I do miss all the fun surrounding Halloween, so I’m thinking of making a poster to hang on our front door:

Wanted: El Chupacabra

Name:         El Chupacabra
Nickname:  The goat sucker
Height:        4.5 to 5.5 feet
Weight:       Unknown
Eyes:          Very large, very red
Build:          half goat-half man, very agile, can hop from one volcano to  another, fierce pointy teeth
Likes:         goats, blood, people, chickens, pigs, dogs, cats, travel
Favorite hangouts:  The volcanoes on Ometepe Island
Reward:     Come to our house on October 31st and receive a piece of candy for any sightings or known whereabouts of El Chupacabra.

Where There Are Volcanoes…I Take Photos.

Vulcan Concepcion behind Punta Jesus Maria

Cory is able to climb rocks and volcanoes, but I prefer to take pictures instead. Sometimes, I go days without seeing the active volcano Concepcion, which is hiding behind some large trees in our backyard. But, when I do see her magmatic peak, I am in awe of her beauty, power, and alluring presence.

Concepcion in all her glory

Ometepe’s enormous volcano breasts jut from her water-bed exposing her magnificent build.  But, in her unassuming way, her peaks are modestly blanketed with puffy clouds of white. Occasionally, when she is in an amorous mood, the wind entices her into a strip tease.  If lucky tourists catch sight of this fleeting show, they are drawn to stay longer in anticipation of an encore performance.

Vulcan Concepcion has a thousand faces. One might say that she’s schizophrenic. I have a thousand photos of her constantly changing faces, but here are a few of my favorites.

Vulcan Concepcion

Where There are No Rocks…We Climb Volcanoes

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Our son, Cory, is an experienced rock climber. He works in Yosemite National Park as an interpretive naturalist. So, when he says that climbing Vulcan Concepcion is not for the inexperienced, the timid, or those who are not in shape….BELIEVE HIM. In his words, “From my experience, that volcano is not to be taken lightly. It is dangerous.”

On Sunday, a young twenty year old British hiker fell to his death. We are aware of two other deaths on Vulcan Concepcion, and two deaths on Vulcan Maderas. Seven years ago, when we managed the Hospedaje Central on Ometepe Island, a young Salvadorian hiker lost his life on Vulcan Concepcion. He had attempted to climb the volcano in the rainy season without a guide and was ill prepared for the dangerous trek. Those foolish enough to scale the 1610 meter slippery slopes without assistance are usually seriously wounded or lost in the clouds.

Even with a guide, as in the case of Sunday’s death, it is still dangerous. The guides are not certified and generally have no first aid training.  Although the guides are all young, strong, and knowledgeable about the flora and fauna, it is still Nicaragua, where the hikers climb the volcanoes at their own risk.

When we managed the Hospedaje Central, I wondered how many times the guides had to rescue thoughtless kids from the volcano and if anyone had died. Berman, the lead guide who also spoke some English told us, “Once a man died with a brain bubble, and we had to carry his body from the peak.” “Oh,” I replied, “You mean a brain aneurism.” “Of course,” he responded.

“Berman, do the hikers have to sign a waiver of release in case of an accident?”  He had never heard of such a thing.  “Are you held liable for any accidents?”  “No, of course not.” he told me.  “It is they who choose to climb the volcano.”  He couldn’t fathom the possibility of being held responsible for the carelessness of his trekkers.  Words such as lawsuit, waiver, and liability were beyond his comprehension.  I was afraid to ask, but I knew the answer before he spoke, “Do many people get hurt climbing the volcano?”  “Of course,” he said matter-of-factually.

In order to avoid another tragic accident, please take heed when climbing our volcanoes. Always take a guide, be prepared with sturdy hiking shoes, water,food,a light jacket, and a first aid kit. The rainy season is not the ideal time to climb the volcanoes. The trails are wet, slippery, and obscured with overgrown vegetation and a web of roots. If you do make it to the top, chances are you will be shrouded in clouds.

When Cory and his friends hiked Concepcion, it was in the dry season. Even then, when they reached the peak, they were blanketed by clouds. When a light breeze parted the clouds, they were astounded, yet horrified.The view was spectacular; however, they were standing on a narrow ledge of loose rock, with steep ravines on either side of them. One misstep and they would have been a goner!

Yep, Nicaragua is full of surprises. Some spectacular, some tragic. Cory’s expression after the grueling eight hour climb, says it all. I knew I raised a risk-taker, but I’m so grateful he’s cautious, careful, and experienced.