Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Cerro Verde y El Izalco: Take Two

We went back to Cerre Verde as planned in hopes of making it for the morning volcano hike. For 1$ a person a guide will take you to the volcano and back, a hike they estimate at 4 hours. Fortunatly three other adventurers arrived to put us over the two person minimum. Rain fell at 10:30 am, but the hike was on. They said we could tip the guide (this time, a 17-year-old kid named Danny) but it wasn't necessary to tip the security guards who were accompanying us on the trip.

Whaaat? Security guards? Armed police to be specific. Two of them.

We began with a brisk descent 2,030 meters down Cerro Verde in the rain, though under the canopy of the forest. We reached the base of the volcano (seen in first pic) where luckily the rain had stopped. Wide-eyed optimists, we began the trek straight up the side of the volcano on barely a trail. After 1,870 meters of maneuvering on a constant, rocky, steep, uphill grade, we finally reached the top of the volcano Izalco. Here in the second pic our two armed security enjoy the view that they apparently see twice a week. Apparently in the past hikers had been mugged and/or raped along the trail - hence, the reason for the government to install guards to protect tourism. Now you know.

Honestly these pictures do the experience no justice at all. To stand at the top of a black volcano above the clouds and look into it's fuming crater is exhilarating. To stand so high on such a steep and primitive slope for me was disorienting, but rewarding. All you could hear up there was the wind, the sound of your feet crunching along the rocks, and your breath. Walking around the huge crater, I saw some of the craziest, alien-like insects I had ever seen.

Also exhilarating? Standing practically up in the clouds and hearing a thunderstorm brewing literally beside you as opposed to above you. A bit scary in fact. A few booms were enough to set us 8 travellers out for the volcano descent quickly, this time down a different path of mostly red sand and rocks. Tricky footwork, controlled sliding, and clever weight distribution was required, but the impending storm was enough to hurry me down the volcano in fear of a mudslide or worse. By the time we finally reached the protective canopy of Cerro Verde, the rain was pouring down. In hiking, what goes down must come up; the brisk descent down Cerro Verde was not so brisk on the way back up. It was an interminable series of turns and dirt steps, each one leading to more and more forest each time. Sweat and rain were indistinguishable. If you could ignore the dizziness and vertigo, you could really take in the dazzling atmosphere of the misty forest.

In the end, we basically walked 2,030 meters down a mountain, then 1,870 meters up a volcano, then 1,870 meters down a volcano, and 2,030 meters back up a mountain. In my opinion, it is DEFINITELY NOT for the beginner hiker or the faint of heart. To my constant amazement, our two police guards and 17-year-old guide never looked tired, let alone phased, throughout the entire hike! They were super-friendly and helpful the entire time. It was by far the most grueling physical challenge I've put myself in front of, but no matter where I go in life, I'll ALWAYS know what it was like to stand on the fuming rim of a black Central American volcano...

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