Tag Archives: ancient volcanos

Tongariro Alpine Crossing, Central Plateau, New Zealand

Mount Tongariro is one of several volcanos in the middle of New Zealand’s North Island. It’s the northernmost of the three volcanic cones just to the south of Lake Taupo, New Zealand’s largest lake.

Mount Tongariro is also the location of one of the most popular hikes in New Zealand: the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. This is a 19.4 kilometre hike that climbs over the Tongariro massif, past the summit of both Tongariro and Ngauruhoe.

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Map is © Copyright Tongariro Alpine Crossing Please visit that site for more information.

A group of us decided to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing towards the end of the season. We made arrangements and drove down from Auckland on Friday night with the intentions of climbing early Saturday morning. The four-hour drive turned into five and a half as we left during Auckland’s rush hour. We arrived late in the evening and bedded down for the night with alarms set.

A Bad Start
When we awoke on Saturday Morning it was raining and didn’t look pleasant. We went for breakfast and waited to find out if the we could still do the walk. The answer came back a resounding no. The rain and strong winds meant the mountain was closed. All we could do was hang out for the day and hope for better weather on Sunday.

What Tongariro should look like, apparently…
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Ominous News
We were up and had breakfast early on Sunday but the weather still didn’t look great. The mountain was still not visible from our lodgings and when our driver arrived he had bad news. He believed the mountain was again closed and wouldn’t take us, leaving us a little downhearted. We asked the owner of the lodge and he was unconvinced. He rang another driver who confirmed the mountain was in fact open and would take us up.

We were driven to the trailhead in the rain with trepidation, but with the number of other vehicles heading up, it seemed others would also be braving it.

Trailhead – Mangetapopo Carpark – 1100m
We began at the Mangetapopo carpark in a slight drizzle. There were no views of the massif or much else due to the low cloud. The trail was a mix of mud, stones, wooden platforms and people. There were hundreds of others doing the track with us. If this many were doing it on a bleak day, who could guess how busy it would be on a clear one.

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The walk was easy and for the first seven or so kilometres we barely noticed the 250m climb towards Soda Springs. I walked in a quick dry sports singlet, my hiking zip-off shorts and boots. The drizzle was constant but not heavy and I was fairly warm. Others wore long pants and full Gore-tex jackets.

Soda Springs – 1350m
At Soda Springs there is a warning sign: STOP! Are you really prepared? It suggested it was going to get difficult and to turn back if you weren’t prepared. As I waited for my group, I watched several people get to the sign, stare at it for a while and then turn back. With the drizzle picking up I put on a rain poncho over my singlet and began the climb.

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It became more rugged, with a rough dirt trail and steps weaving up the side of the mountain towards South Crater. The drizzle continued and the climb became more a little more difficult, but not by much. After a while of steady climbing we began seeing people returning along with trail with warnings of how bad it was higher up.

With the constant drizzle and the warnings I was tempted to turn back. Why do a climb when you can’t see anything the entire time? You climb for the views and the experience, but the only experience would be a wet cloudy one. I put on a jumper under my rain poncho and we continued on.

South Crater – 1650m
We climbed onto the area described as South Crater and out of the wind. With visibility around 20m we walked on the flat for a while, happy for the rest from climbing.

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Red Crater – 1886m
After the mud flats of South Crater we began up the ridge and discovered the wind that had been putting everyone off. It was blowing an absolute gale and you could see the drizzle sweeping over the ridge into the cloudy nothingness. I was not surprised people had turned back but since we’d come this far it seemed silly to head back. We pushed on, dodging between rocky outcrops so as not to be blown off.

We reached the top but couldn’t see anything so just kept walking, beginning the plunge down the other side, some members of our group going arse-over-tit on the slippery silt.

Emerald Lakes – 1730m
The small Emerald Lakes would have been amazing to view from higher up but they only appeared out of the gloom when we were 10m above them. It was still good to see something other than dirt, rock and rain. By now we were completely soaked, we continued on down.

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Not far below the Emerald Lakes we came to the Blue Lake covered in the same clouds.

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Ketetahi – 1456m
After several switchbacks we finally emerged from the clouds to see the Ketetahi Hut. The drizzle let up but the wind did not. We stopped briefly for a snack before pressing on.

For the next part of the trek we were in open ground along a winding trail. Since a great many people had turned back, we only saw two other groups on the way down. Then having spent much of the day hidden in clouds we finally got some views. Lake Rotoaira appeared and we even got the occasional glimpse of Lake Taupo beyond.

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Ketetahi Car Park 800m
With 4km to the car park the trail dove into rainforest and grew warmer. We crossed a river on a wooden walkway and eventually arrived at the trail’s end after what seemed a lot longer than 45 minutes the sign had suggested.

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Overall, due to the weather, out Tongariro Alpine Crossing was disappointing mainly of the lack of views. In the rain and cold, the hike didn’t feel overly difficult. It took us only 5.5 hours of the suggested 8 hours and of the 2.5 litres of water I took with me, I came out with more than 2.

Perhaps it would have been more difficult in direct sunlight, but I’ll have to come back another time to see. Maybe the next time I’m in New Zealand.

The Trail Wanderer

Mapping My Journey So Far

Sixteen months on the road is a long time. During that time I covered quite a distance and did many things. While I’ve been ‘resting’ in the United Kingdom, I’ve put together a step by step rundown of my trip including maps.

South East Australia

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In a van called the Pointy Brick I…

Antarctica, Chile and Argentina

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From Brisbane, I flew to Auckland and spent 3 weeks with family before flying to South America where I…

Brazil, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador

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From Buenos Aires I…

Colombia, Central America and Mexico

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From Ecuador I…

The Full Map. May take some time to load.

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The World Wanderer

Looking Back, Central America

While it took ten months to work my way up the massive continent of South America, three months seemed only a short time to explore the Central America sub-continent even though it’s barely larger than Colombia. But since I was in the neighbourhood…

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Panama

San Blas Islands

With no straightforward bus route from Colombia to Panama, I chose a five-day cruise through the San Blas Islands, finishing in Panama City. The San Blas Islands are a glorious chain of islands in the Caribbean Sea, but make sure you do your research as the cruises aren’t always up to standard.

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Panama City

After so long in South America Panama City feels a little like home with its massive skyscrapers, malls, cinemas and fast food chains. When travelling long-term you lose the sense of time and on arrival in Panama days before Christmas I forget that it was prime holiday season for the locals. With most of the holiday destinations booked solid and long lines to get on any buses, I decided to spend the holidays hanging around the city. While there I visited the colonial old quarter of Casco Viejo, the canal and the ruins of Panama Viejo.

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Being in Panama City feels like being in the United States. There are so many Americans and I rarely needed to use my spanish skills as most people spoke english.

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Bocas del Toro

After the holiday break I headed west to Bocas del Toro, an archipelago on the border of Costa Rica. In the surf/party town I took the opportunity to spend a day on a catamaran snorkelling around the reefs and another sitting in a hammock at the hostel.

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Boquete

Then taking a chicken bus, I spent three days in the cooler climes of the mountain town of Boquete. While there I climbed the tallest mountain in the country – Volcán Barú. The views were wonderful from the top, but starting the 26km hike at midnight is difficult. So to recover I spent time in some natural hot springs just outside of town.

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Costa Rica

San José

Costa Rica has a reputation for being the most expensive country in Central America. From the capital, San José, I took a tour to the top of a volcano before boating along a river to see monkeys, a sloth, caimans, crocodiles and many different types of birds. It was during this tour that Iguana was served for lunch.

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Liberia

Next I headed north to the city of Liberia from where I visited the beach town of Playa del Coco and a set of waterfalls.

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Nicaragua

San Juan del Sur

My first stop in Nicaragua was the surf town of San Juan del Sur. A beautiful place to spend a couple of days with bars and beach-front restaurants aplenty. The town even has a statue of Christ atop a hill at the end of the beach.

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Isla Ometepe

No trip to Nicaragua is complete without catching the ferry across Lake Nicaragua to Ometepe Island with its pair of volcanos. Cruising around the volcanos on a scooter is a lot of fun, visiting beaches, cafés and thermal pools. Both volcanos are climbable and a group of us scaled the largest of the two.

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Granada

Next, I was on a bus to the touristic city of Granada at the northern end of the lake for some amazing food and a visit to yet another volcano, this one spewing smoke from the crater within its crater.

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León

Then a quick stop off on the city of Léon to go hurtling down the side of an active volcano on a volcano board.

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Honduras and El Salvador

With limited time, I set foot only briefly in both countries, mainly at customs on the borders. San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador seemed nice though for the thirty minutes we stopped there for lunch.

Guatemala

Antigua

Most travellers in Central America rave about Guatemala.  I arrived into Antigua to find another touristic city at the base of another volcano. Unlike other parts of Central America, Antigua has a lot of colonial architecture, although after numerous earthquakes over the centuries, many are in ruins.

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San Pedro la Laguna

I enjoyed a couple of days in San Pedro la Laguna on Lago Antitla with its thin streets, crazy Tuk Tuk drivers, great small restaurants and amazing lake views.

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Flores and Tikal

Then after a brief visit back in Antigua, I caught a bus to the north of the country to the island of Flores on Lago de Petén Itzá.

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Flores is a tourist destination and gateway to the great Maya ruins of Tikal, where I spent several hours exploring.

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Belize

Caye Caulker

Then on the one year anniversary of my time in Latin America I arrived in Belize, an english speaking country. Staying on the party island of Caye Caulker, I spent some time in the pristine waters snorkelling with Nurse sharks and Eagle Rays, some larger than I am.

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Mexico

While Mexico is actually in North America I included the southern portions as part of my Central American adventure. From Caye Caulker, I caught a ferry to Chetumal in Mexico and stopped for the night before heading on.

Palenque and Yaxchilán

After an eight-hour bus ride I arrived at the city of Palenque to continue The Maya Ruins Trail I began at Tikal. My first stop was the peaceful ruins of Yaxchilán and its connected site of Bonampak on the Guatemalan Border.

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Next it was to the Palenque ruins only twenty minutes out of the city.

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Merida and Uxmal

Four hours north in the Yucatán is Merida, a large and popular touristic city and the nearby ruins of Uxmal and one of its satellite cities, Kabah.

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Valladolid and Chichén Itzá

Then it was across to the city of Valladolid to see Mexico’s most visited archaeological site, Chichén Itzá, seen by more people every year than Peru’s Macchu Pichu.

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Tulum

Then it was back to the Caribbean Coastline to the town of Tulum and the Maya fortress of the same name.

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Cancún and Playa del Carmen

The final distinction in my thirteen month trip through Latin America, Cancún, where I did little more than prepare for my exit from Latin America, but managed a quick visit to the beaches at Playa del Carmen.

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Next, is a well deserved rest from travelling for six months to save and plan a year through Asia.

Adios America Latina,

The World Wanderer.

San Pedro la Laguna, Guatemala – Impressions

Four hours west of Antigua is Lake Atitlán, the deepest lake in Central America. It was formed 84,000 years ago when a massive volcano collapsed in on itself. There are still three lava filled mounds running along the southern flank of the picturesque lake as part of Volcano Alley.

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Of the dozen communities surrounding the lake, of which Santiago Atitlán is the largest, many are not reachable by road.

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San Pedro la Laguna was the community I chose to visit, but it’s no less touristy than Santiago Atitlán. San Pedro la Laguna has a defined hippy feel to it. Many of the younger locals and long-term visitors not only run art stalls, but in general sport loose-fitting tie-dyed clothing, bare feet, dreadlocks and tattoos. This was due to an influx of ‘hippies’ into the area in the 1960s from the US.

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The streets of San Pedro la Laguna are thin and most don’t accommodate cars or larger vehicles. This leaves the constant sounds of Tuk Tuks and motorbikes zooming about.

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As a quieter means to see some of the sites of the lake I rented a horse and guide…

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We rode for several hours away from the Tuk Tuk horns and the tourists to take in some of the more picturesque sites…

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And of course, no view of the lake would be complete without a volcano in the background… Volcán San Pedro.

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After a couple of days relaxing on the lake, I head back to Antigua to plan my trip north to the township of Flores and the Mayan ruins of Tikal.

The World Wanderer

Antigua, Guatemala – Impressions

Nestled under Volcán de Agua in the Guatemalan highlands is the colonial city of Antigua. The city was once capital of Guatemala but has had a rocky history, literally. In 1717 an earthquake destroyed 3000 buildings, then in 1783 another earthquake decimated more of the city, causing those in power to move the capital to the safer Guatemala City.

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Because of its location Antigua is a hub to explore Guatemala, with Guatemala City only 45km to the east, the port of San Jose on the Pacific coast an hour south and Lago Atitlan to the west. For those keen enough, a long shuttle ride to the famous Mayan ruins of Tikal far to the north of the country can be organised.

Volcán de Agua…

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The streets themselves are cobbled. But not the perfect jigsaw of cobbles seen in some modern streets, instead a crazy mash of rounded stones that make driving on them in Tuk Tuks a bumpy experience. The city is flat, however, so unless you’re carrying a lot of baggage or just lazy, walking is the best way to get around.

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Beyond climbing the volcano it’s the scattered colonial buildings and churches that draw the most interest in the city. While some of the old churches survived the earthquakes…

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… some were not so lucky although still usable.

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Those that didn’t fare so well have been cordoned off and for good reason.

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The city does have a touristy feel about to it and because of this it’s more expensive than other places in Guatemala. Around the central park there are many fine restaurants and bars. And for the first time in Central America, a working fountain!

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Next I head west to San Pedro la Laguna on the shores of Lago Atitlan.

The World Wanderer

León, Nicaragaua – Impressions and Volcano Boarding

León Nicaragua’s second largest city and was at one point the country’s capital. However, in the 1840s and 50s the capital changed back and forth between León and Granada depending on the political regime at the time. Eventually the capital moved to the city of Managua between the two other cities.

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León is similar to Granada in that there’s a large tourist element. While Granada has its central park with a long road of restaurants and bar stretching down to the lake, León bars, restaurants and cafés dot the city, almost hidden among the markets and shops.

The centre point of the city is the cathedral but at present it doesn’t appear well maintained.

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The building is, however, being restored from the roof down. Tourists are able to climb to the newly refurbished rooftop to see the transformation.

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There are several other churches around the city and many are all need of restoration. From the roof of the cathedral there’s a good view across the city and along volcano alley. The shorter dark mound on the left is Nicaragua’s newest volcano and the location of León’s most popular outdoor activity.

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Volcano Boarding
Birthed in the 1850s the small volcano has caused much distress for León, but has also provided the city with a source of tourism – Volcano Boarding.

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The volcano is only 750m high and made primarily from small rocks and black sands. The summit is inaccessible by vehicle, so getting to the top means climbing though the shifting sands with the volcano board on your back and a bag containing overalls, gloves and goggles. The ascent takes only 45 minutes and climbs through the old crater where stains of sulphur surround smouldering rocks.

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From the top there are magnificent views of the surrounding area, including a view to the Pacific coast and along volcano alley.

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We waited for another group to go down slowly before we donned out red overalls and got our 5 minute training lesson. Then our guide waited for us half way down with camera at the ready. One at a time we pushed over the lip and began the slide down, trying not to collect stones as we went. The first part is moderately steep and allows momentum to be built…

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Then about half way down it gets steeper. The quickest time riding on boards is 93 km/h for men and 80 km/h for women. I managed a meagre 60 km/h and even that was exhilarating. The sand dust flowing behind adds a good effect.

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Then at the bottom we are back in the 4WD given a beer and driven back to town.

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Good dirty fun and even though we wore overalls, the dirt and stones get everywhere.

Next, I head north to Guatemala and the colonial city of Antigua.

The World Wanderer

Granada, Nicaragua – Impressions

Situated at the northern end of Lake Nicaragua, the city of Granada claims to be the first city in mainland America settled by Europeans. And while it’s inland and close to the Pacific Ocean it’s still considered a Caribbean port city. This is due to Lake Nicaragua being accessible from the Caribbean Sea by the San Juan river, which runs along the Costa Rican. Indeed, this was the path taken by Caribbean pirates on three separate occasions to attack the city.

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Like many Latin American cities, Granada has dual natures. There is the classic touristy area which sees influxes of people from the US during the northern winter months. Then only a couple of blocks from the tourist centre is the poor market quarter with ramshackle stalls lining the streets.

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The tourist area begins in the city’s central square which is a well maintained plaza area two blocks long, with cafe’s at each corner.

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Across from the square is the cathedral.

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Alongside the cathedral there is a long tourist road, with six blocks of bars and restaurants in hope of catching the tourist dollar.

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Because of the road’s length, it’s not uncommon to see a horse-drawn carriage laden with tourists traversing it…

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…past a not so well maintained church…

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…to Córdoba Plaza celebrating the city’s founder…

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…to end at the Lake Nicaragua where ferries leave for Isla de Ometepe twice a week.

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A visit to Granada wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Nicaragua’s most active volcano, Volcán Masaya. While it’s fairly short for a volcano at 600m above sea level, it’s one of 19 volcanoes that make up Nicaragua’s volcano alley. Volcán Masaya weeps acrid smoke constantly from its crater.

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The land around the volcano shows plentiful signs of the devastation it has caused over the years. Around the main crater there are four other craters that were once active, but have since closed over.

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Often a trip to the crater at night gives the sight of glowing lava in the crater, but with the lack of wind at sundown, the fumes made it too dangerous to get close enough. Nearby there is, however, a large lava tunnel over 200 metres long which is now inhabited by several varieties of bats.

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With about twenty of us walking into the caves the bats get stirred and you can see them flying about and whipping past your ears. It’s exhilarating for those of us who love bats, but terrifying for those that who don’t.

This is but a small section of things that can be done in and about Granada.

Next I’m off to the city of Léon in northern Nicaragua to slide down the black sands of a volcano on a snowboard…

The World Wanderer

Volcán Concepción, Nicaragua

The towering cone of Volcán Concepción on Isla Ometepe looks imposing when crossing Lake Nicaragua towards it. The closer the perspective, the more intimidating the peak, which usually has a cap of cloud atop it…

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But on the rare occasion when the clouds do disappear the full cone is visible in all it’s splendour. This was how it was the day before we were due to climb it.

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When looking to climb one of the two volcanos on Isla de Ometepe, I’d decided on Volcán Maderas, Volcán Concepción’s little sister. I was told that both volcanoes take the same amount of time to climb, but Volcán Maderas was muddier and less fun. So, eight of us from the hostel booked Volcán Concepción instead. We hoped for another beautifully clear day but we were to have no such luck.

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We met our guide during breakfast in the town of Moyogalpa and caught a chicken bus for 20 minutes to the trailhead where we began walking along the trail strewn with rocks and sand.

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We followed the track for 30 minutes, stopping to peer up at a group of Howler Monkey’s in the trees. It’s amazing how much noise these small monkeys actually make.

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The trail abruptly became steeper and our climb began. The trail began fairly steeply through the trees on roots and dirt steps. While the climb wasn’t overly hard, it seemed harder because of the humidity. We stopped regularly for 5-minute breaks, although there were no views available through the trees.

The only forewarning we had of coming to the tree line was the cool wind, a godsend in the humidity. When we did break the tree line we emerged into the clouds which again obscured our view. We stopped in a windy spot to decide our next course of action and managed to get a cloudy shot of the island below us.

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Then came the difficult decision: continue climbing to the top covered in cloud the entire time with no visibility or head down to a more scenic viewpoint. We decided to climb a little further but after ten minutes and being battered by cold winds in the dense clouds we turned back, deciding to take the scenic path instead. This upset two of the climbers, both of whom wanted to get to the top no matter what.

We followed a thin trail around the side of the volcano and dropped below the cloud line to a point where we could finally get some decent photographs of the island below and the lake around it.

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We continued climbing around to a large crack running down the volcano where lava had flowed years earlier. We took a break on the hardened lava.

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The lower we climbed, the more the mainland of Nicaragua could be seen on the other side of the lake and beyond that in the distance, the Pacific Ocean.

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As we neared the bottom, we looked back up the great crack in the side of the mountain.

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And because we hadn’t come back down the same way we’d climbed, we had to walk ninety minutes back across the island to Moyogalpa.

Overall, the hike was not as difficult as expected, although it may have grown more so had we pushed on through the clouds to the top. I’m not unhappy to not have made it to the top, as without pictures it would have been an empty victory.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua – Adventures by Scooter

Lake Cocibolca (also known as Lake Nicaragua) is the 19th largest lake in the world taking up about 7% of the country’s land mass.

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Easily visible from the lake’s western shore, the largest island on the lake, Isla de Ometepe, is home to two volcanic cones, Concepción and Maderas. It’s these two volcanoes that bring much of the tourism to the island.

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There are several ways to get around this 31km long island: by bus, bicycle, scooter, dirt bike or quad bike. While the bus doesn’t go very often, the bicycles can be rough on the hills, the dirt bike requires a prior riding history and the quad bikes were expensive, my friend from the hostel and I chose the scooters.

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After picking up the scooters we decided to ride to the end of every paved road on the island before going to any of the attractions. It’s exhilarating riding down hills at a top speed of 90km/h with the wind flowing madly past, then screaming to halt at the many speed humps across the island, some taking us by surprise as they were unpainted. With the threat of having to pay for any damages, including scratches, we were overly careful.

As we rounded the island we stopped to take in the view of Volcán Maderas still covered in clouds.

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It took only 90 minutes to ride all of the paved roads. The first of the island’s attractions was windblown Santo Domingo Beach with a kite surfer and a cloud drowned Volcán Concepción in the background.

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Next we stopped for a swim at Ojo de Agua – Eye of Water, a natural spring pool on the flat area between the two volcanoes. While the water wasn’t as warm as expected, it wasn’t too cold either. Great for a swim on a warm day!

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As we rode, the clouds cleared completely from the volcanos for the first time in 2 months. Volcán Maderas which last erupted more than 3000 years ago…

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And Volcán Concepción, erupting last in 1986…

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On the way back to town we stopped at the Conservation Park ‘Charco Verde’, and climbed a hill to get a view of Laguna Charco Verde, the largest lake on the island on the lake.

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Then as we walked around the laguna we came across a family of monkeys high in the trees…

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Lastly, we found our way to Punta Jesus Maria for a relaxing beer at the end of a great day.

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After an hour at the beachside, we drove back to town, dropped off the bikes and headed to the hostel for another beer.

There were more places on the island we could have visited, but most were inaccessible to our scooters. These included other beaches, a waterfall, and several other towns. But even though we missed them, we still had a full day and enjoyed the experience.

Next, we climb the cone of Volcán Concepción.

The World Wanderer

San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua – Impressions

Thirty kilometres north of the Costa Rican border on the Pacific Coast is the beach town of San Juan del Sur (San Juan of the South). The town is known to tourists as San Juan del Surf because of its proximity to several good surf beaches.

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The oddity of the name is apparent when you realise that San Juan del Norte (San Juan of the North) – situated on the Caribbean Sea, is actually further south.

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For over 130 years San Juan del Sur was a little backwater town in southern Nicaragua, then in 1992 a tsunami destroyed a large portion of the town. Its recovery was helped greatly by the ‘gringo’ invasion, with many migrants arriving from the US, Britain and Canada. Scattered throughout the surrounding hills are many mansions and resorts…

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At the northern end of the cove is the statue of Jesus de la Misericordia – Christ of Mercy.

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It’s one of 17 giant statues of Christ throughout the world. The most famous being Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. La Paz, Bolivia has the tallest at 34m, while San Juan del Sur’s Jesus de la Misericordia is the 9th tallest at 26 metres tall.

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Climbing the hill to the statue is fairly easy, a cobbled road weaves it’s way to the top. While it’s steep at points, it’s not too strenuous and gives great views of the cove and township.

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Beyond surfing and swimming, the nightlife is the other main focus of the town as there are many beachfront restaurants and bars. As a large portion of the tourists visiting are in their 20’s, there are plenty of party hostels with raucous parties raging on until the wee hours most nights. But don’t let that put off the older traveller…

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Overall, the beach town of San Juan del Sur is a great way to spend a couple of days, the surf town vibe is relaxing and fun.

Next, I head to Isla Ometepe, an island made up of twin volcanos in on Lake Nicaragua.

The World Wanderer