Tuesday, February 9, 2010

El Hoyo Hike

I was not expecting the this 2 days one night hike to be difficult, but with the hot sun and temperature, the hike turned out to be more challenging than I expected.

A quick note on Quetzaltrekkers can be found here

We have 9 hikers, 3 guides, and one we don't know what his role is.
Let me see if I can name everyone:
Mike and Martin from Denmark, Father and son from France, a couple from Germany, Beth from Australia, Andrea from Germany. Our guides are David (lead) from Germany?, Amy and James from England.

We all gathered at the Quetzaltrekkers office at 4:30 AM. We put all our unneeded stuff into knapsack. And each one of us needed to carry at least 6 1.5 liters of bottle water, as well as share of lunch, dinner, and breakfast ingredients. We also borrowed the sleeping bag (stinky) and sleeping mat from the company.

After everyone was packed and ate a quick and simple breakfast of tea/coffee and banana and orange, we were off to catch the chicken bus to drop us off at start of our hike.

The ride was pleasant as it was still early and sun just got up, so it was not that hot yet. After we got off the bus, we took some toilet break and put on sun screen and started off on the dusty dirt path toward our first volcano: Cerro Nigro, a relative young and active volcano in the area. It has lose small volcanic rocks so it is hard to walk up the volcano, you slide a bit backward with each step up. Cerro Negro has two active craters and voided of any plant life. There were some nice sulfur crystals near some its vents. When we were ready to come down, we were told run down the steep side of the volcano. I knew about this before, and never really master the technique in my previous tries. But others were able to trust the technique and run down the steep slope. I manage to side step my way down, and definitely not as fast or as efficient as the run down method. Need less to say, everyone wass covered with black volcanic dust by the time we came down.

We then proceed to retrieve our backpacks and head to the near by ranger station for a water/snack/toilet break. We also cleaned up a bit. We noticed there were lots baby iguanas in a pen as well some snakes in other enclosure. I am not sure if they are protecting it or farming it.

After the break, we started our ascend toward Volcan El Hoyo. By this time sun is high in the sky and walking up hill with big pack in heat/sun, make you sweat like crazy. We all constantly sipping our water. By this time, the group had slit into two: a fast group and a slow group. After reaching a gap in our climb we broke for lunch and a short siesta. Our meal was pretty light, consist mainly vegetarian tortilla wrap (the guides made them while we all hungrily looking on).

After our siesta, we begun our final climb up El Hoyo, on the way up, we stop to gather some fire wood as there is no tree near where we camp. I think we arrived at our camp around 4:30. It was windy where we camped, and I was told that the wind will not died down after sunset. This would not be a problem if we were camping, but we are not! We are going to sleep under the stars! This will be my first experience. After dropping off our packs, we proceed to checkout the volcano itself. We climb up to see a large hole as well as a dark and large fumarole. Finally we stepped on highest point of El Hoyo and enjoyed the 360 degree view. We then came down to a lower place near our camp to watch the sunset.

Once the sun went down, we headed back to our camp and started to layout our sleeping pad under the sky and place our backpack to block the wind while our guides started the fire and dinner preparation. Dinner consisted of pasta with pasta cooked back in Leon, and the guides just put in the tomato pastes and sauce stuff. We were extremely hungry, so we gobbled up the first serving in a heart beat, and everyone got a 2nd half portion serving, and we down that pretty quickly as well. We then have marshmallow around the fire as well some cookies. It was around 7:45ish but the David said we can't goto sleep until at least 8PM. Even though everyone was extremely tired and ready sleep, no one wanted to be the first to leave the fire circle. Finally around 8:15ish Beth went off, and everyone followed quickly.

Five of us lined up in a row hope to dampen the wind, but it did not work, I still get wind around my head. I tried my best to move my bag, and stuff around to block it, and only thing seems to work is pull the sleeping back over the head, but I was reluctant to do so with a stinky bag as well gas problem. I was not cold in my sleeping bag, but Mike said he was freezing, and Beth said she felt no wind, as she is small and sandwiched between the two big Danish guys. I had good 4 or 5 hours of sleep before the wind got to me and began to toss and turn frequently. Someone kept the fire going during the night or part of the night, and I got up to pee in the dark as the fog rolled in, but I got lost on the way back. Luckily I was able to see the fire and walk toward it and then use it as my bearing and walk back to my sleeping bag - who needs gps!

We got a wake up call around 6 to watch the sunrise. It was nice sunrise with Volcano Momotombo in the foreground. We then have toasts for breakfast, nothing fancy to write home about. We were all eager to get to the crater lake laguna Asososca for a swim!

Even though the lake looked near from our camp site, it took us may be 5 hours to get there. It was very hot, and hardly any shade or wind. Even with downhill or flat walk and lighter pack, by now we have consume at least half of our water and ate most of our food, it was still tough going. The small lose rocks and dirt make down hill walk slippery and most of us have a slip or two and landed on our butts.

With less than an hour left to the lake, Andrea slipped and twisted her ankle. She was already the slowest before, and now she needed her ankle wrapped. So we decided to take her pack and move some her content to amongst our pack. David and James will stay with her until she cool off and rest a bit. While rest of us pushed on to the small beach on the lake's far end.

Few funny things happened on this hike, with so much dust coated to our skin (with sticky sun screen, every time we reapply the screen, we smear the dust into a grayish color, and Beth got some right above the lips, and it appeared that she has grown a beard! Then when she went up to check on Andrea after she felt, we noticed that her paints has split right at the butt mid-section, and we were treated to an PG-Rated view :) One last thing, I joked to the group that if someone fell into the hole on the side of the El Hoyo and died, then that person would be famous and remembered. Andrea said it would probably be her who felt and the hole will be called Andrea's Hole, she quickly realized what that could be interpreted as, but it was too late and we all laughed so hard on that comment.

We arrived at the lake around 1, and the French boy jump right in not waiting to take off his shorts (or that was his swimming shorts). We were all really sweaty hot and probably stink a bit, everyone quickly drop their packs, change and got into the warm water. There are cows that graze in these area, so the water is definitely not clean in that sense. But no one really cared about the manure around the bank at this point. I forgot to reapply sun screen before go into the water, and parts my shoulders now is badly sunburned as well small burn on my lip. My sunscreen induced heat rash also appeared. Going to be a painful and itchy few days.

After we were all cool off and cleaned, Amy prepared lunch for us, bread with veggie and cheese. Just when we finished eating, Andrea, David, and James showed up, we were all happy to see them. They were quickly into the water as well. We decided to stay longer so people can take a siesta. We decided Andrea should get a head start out the crater to the bus stop given her foot condition, so Amy accompanied her out half an hour early.

The final hour or so hike is pretty flat, with exception of the first 10 minutes of so of climbing out the crater. We arrived at the bus stop with a treat of refreshing cool coca cola. The return bus ride was longer and required us to change bus. We arrived back at Leon may be around 5. We returned all the water bottles and borrowed equipments and retreated our stored belongs and repack. We gave some small tips to our guides for their excellent guide and trip. We all got a free t-shirt. The branch at Guatemala where I hiked with two years ago, you have to buy one.

There was Quetzaltrekkers trivial pursuit fund raising night at restaurant at 8:30, so we all agree to show up to play and support. Andrea, Beth, Martin, Mike, and I all decided to go back to Lazybones, where we stayed before. We all got dorm beds and eager to take the needed shower.

Now we are cleaned, we are ready to eat, so we headed to restaurant a little early so we can eat while playing.

Everyone looked nice now cleaned. Amy and Beth put on dresses, I was impressed since as a backpacker, packing light and only what you need is always trumps looking good - most of the time :) Our team consist mostly the people that we hiked with, plus one other person Beth/Andrea met during their trip. We did poorly the first round thanks to me for being poor at Geography of all things! But we improved and tied for first after the 2nd round. In the final round we missed one question out the five, but one team got all 5 questions correct and claimed the victory and priced bottle of rum. With 3 other teams tied for 2nd including ours. So we have a final question to breakup the tie, and unfortunately we lost and placed 4th and out the price. But the 3rd place winner gave us their price (a bottle of beer) and we all cheered to that! We stayed around a little longer before head back to our hostal and get ready for bed, at least me. Beth, Andrea, Martin, and Mike decided to have more beer at the hostal, I joined them for little chat before head to bed, wanted to get up early to take picture of nice mural near the town center.

The next morning I got up early and went out for my last photo shoot at Leon as well getting my breakfast ($1.2) at the market. When I got back, I was surprised that most the gang have already got up. Andrea's ankle got a little better but still swollen, she said she might have someone take a look. The gang has no plan for the day and just going to chill out a bit. We exchanged emails so I can send them the group photo. Andrea will head to Honduras to meet some friend before go to the island in the North. Martin and Mike will head south and into Costa Rica, Beth who is still looking for her younger brother will be heading to Panama after finding her brother and might stop by couple spots in Nicaragua before that. So I might bump into some of them later.

I said my goodbyes and caught a taxi to the bus station for my ride to Managua and from there to Granada.

Ranger Station - snake cage 13 Ranger Station - snake cage 2 View of Cerro Negro from ranger station 2 Ranger Station - baby lizards pen 3 Ranger Station - baby lizards pen 1 View of Cerro Negro after coming back down 1 running down the steep and loose slope Cerro Negro the way out the the sulfur vents area and to the top Cerro Negro sulfur crystals 4 Cerro Negro sulfur crystals 3 Cerro Negro checking out the sulfur vents Cerro Negro descending into the sulfur vents 4 Cerro Negro other group exiting out of the sulfur vents

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