Welcome to the zombie march! If you don’t know why we call it that, you soon will!
Sometimes the best moments of a journey come from being in the right place at the right time…
We arrived in León, Nicaragua with little plan of what to do. We had just met up with my mom in Managua, and León was the first city on our agenda. She wanted to travel like we do, which for us often means arriving in a city and letting it tell us what sights to see once we get there. We knew we had to check out the Cathedral de León, a UNESCO world heritage sight. As we sat down on the sidewalk outside the cathedral to contemplate our next move, we ran into a couple that we had dove with in Utila. They told us all about a full moon lava-viewing volcano hike they were doing the next night with one of our favourite Central American organizations, Quetzaltrekkers (we had hiked with them before in Xela, Guatemala and were already planning to check out what they had to offer in León).
This sounded too cool to pass up, so we ran over to Quetzaltrekkers to sign ourselves up. At this point, we still didn’t even know the name of the volcano (Volcan Telica, as we later found out) and didn’t care. We paid our $30 USD each (normally $35, but there is a discount if you’ve hiked with them before) for guides, return transportation, supper, midnight lunch, breakfast, snacks, and water; and headed back to the cathedral to check out the almost-full moon.
The next night, after a full day of walking and museums, we met with our guides and sixteen other full moon hikers at Quetzaltrekkers at about 9:30 pm. We sat down for a huge meal of spaghetti, rice, and vegetarian tomato sauce and after a quick ride in the back of a pickup, we arrived at the the trailhead.
We started hiking at 11:30 pm. The trail was fairly easy and flat, though there were lots of loose stones to deal with. The full moon was often obscured by clouds, so we relied on our headlamps a lot.
Near the end of the hike, the trail started getting quite a bit steeper. The guides wanted to keep the group together, so there were lots of breaks and it was an easy ascent.
At about 4:00 am, we reached the summit of the volcano. We dropped off our gear at a camping spot, and spent 15 more minutes walking to the crater’s edge. As we approached the crater, wafts of sulfur invaded our nostrils. It made our eyes water and our throats burn, but there was nothing stopping anyone from crawling up to the edge to see the glowing lava.
I don’t think I could find the right words to truly describe how incredible it was to see and hear the lava, and our pictures definitely don’t do it justice. We could hear it roaring below us and the pools brightened and darkened as the lava moved and cooled. It was seriously one of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced.
We didn’t stay long at the lava. Despite it’s awesomeness, the chemist in me knew that the burning in my eyes, throat, and chest was from the sulfur dioxide in the air reacting with the water in my lungs and throat to create highly acidic hydrogen sulfide. Not wanting to subject my body to these conditions for long, we took in the sights and sounds and returned to camp for a “midnight” lunch.
As we sat finishing our lunch of cream cheese and veggie sandwiches, with the guides working hard to keep people from nodding off, the sky began to brighten. We climbed up one last hill to watch the sun rise over several volcanoes in the distance. The view kept getting more and more spectacular and, despite the fact that most of the hikers around me were complaining about being tired and cold and wanting to get back, I felt re-energized. This was the first time I have ever just watched a sun rise in its entirety and it was beautiful.
We watched the sun until it was completely up (the camera battery died at the start of the sun rise, which allowed us to watch it away from the viewfinder) , turning around every once in a while to watch the full moon set over the volcano behind us.
We hiked back to the entrance and, looking around me, I understood the zombie march reference. A lot of hikers looked like they were having a hard time staying upright, but as I said, I was invigorated from all that I just experienced and really enjoyed the early morning hike. We returned to the starting point at about 9:30 am, and were back in León celebrating our experiences with a tasty breakfast of yogurt, fruit, and granola by 10:00.