A 5am start in what can only be described as a brisk, overcast and windy day by the standards of these climes. Our aim 1,200m up the active volcano of Concepcion. The summit was highly unlikely; even if the weather conditions had been favourable, I think it would have been foolhardy to attempt the last 400m of exposed, loose volcanic rock to the summit with a group of inexperienced walkers. We had been talked out of Maderas which we had hoped we could summit on the basis that it was not so high and did not have an exposed top. However, Eduardo, our local contact, told us it was a muddy, uninspiring walk with not so many views, fewer possibilities of seeing wildlife and that the summit was in the trees so there was no real view from the top or sense of being on a summit. We felt a little “bulldozed” by him but in reality we have no option but to trust local knowledge especially when we are responsible for a group of teenagers.
We were thankful of the cool breeze as we walked up the steep hill. The first part on the flat was hard work because of the deep layer of volcanic sand we were walking on but the girls set a good pace. Once the ascent started we were in the forest and the terrain was hard going because of the roots and the uneven ground and the pace slowed. We were excited to hear the calls of Howler Monkeys and even more excited to see them high up in the branches of the trees. They seemed quite alarmed at the wind and howled even more as the branches shook as the gusts blew stronger. We could also hear the calls of the Uracca – the national bird of Nicaragua. It has bright blue and white tail feathers like the flag and we saw them darting between the trees but they were just too difficult to photograph.
We stopped for a break at a large tree the low branches of which made great perches for us. Moses, our guide, explained that we were sitting in the upper branches of a tree that had been buried by ash from an eruption of Concepcion. All the other trees around were new and had grown in the new layer of ash.
We saw more Zanate birds and some smaller green birds in the trees and large birds of prey rode the thermals and the wind high overhead. One of the girls spotted a shy little Capucin monkey scampering along a branch; he sat still for a moment but not long enough to take a photo before he darted away again. Very exciting to see animals we have only before seen in zoos!
As we slowly ascended the tortuous path, placing our feet carefully between and on the network of tree roots, butterflies of all coulours fluttered around. A beautiful black and green one landed on a twig, closed its wings and immediately blended into the environment and looked just like a browning leaf. We also saw brilliant blue ones, red, orange and pale yellow as well as the impressive “Owl” butterfly.
The wind seemed to be getting stringer as we climbed and the sky became more overcast. The base air temperature was still warm though and we were glad of the cooling effect of the wind.
As we climbed the forest changed; amongst the coffee trees there were bananas and then the trees were smaller untilo we reached an area of quite compact shrubs. The sense that we were close to our end point was strong and as we walked aloing the tunnels between the shrubs, we started to be able to see over them at the view beyond. Not far from the bush line, but still in trees we came to an abrupt halt. At the back we didn’t know why but the message was passed back that a large white bull was blocking the path. Even Moses the guide was scared when it put its head down and started to charge! There was a stand off for a few minutes then Moses valiantly cut into the forest to get above it and chase it downwards to where the rest of its group were waiting.
Small pink, white and purple flowers poked their heads out of the long grass as we emerged from the scrub and in to the open grassy slope. The wind was really strong now and it almost blew us off our feet. We almost had to crawl to keep ourselves from being knocked over by the gusts. There was already a group sitting in the lee of a tree from where we could hyave had a view down into a funnel. We decided that caution was the better part of valour and stayed where we were, crouched on the slope all together for safety. It was an exhilarating yet scary time all at once. Some of the girls were genuinely afraid of getting blown down the hill and when we moved, linked arms to make themselves a bigger entity to knock down! After taking photos, marvelling at the view and the stupidity of two Americans who seemed hell bent on becomiung Darwin Award contenders by climbing to the top, we retreated to the shelter of the forest to have our lunch.
Going down tested some of those who had seemed like mountain goats on the way up and gave others new found confidence in themselves as they picked their way agilely over the roots and stones.
We were back at the hotel by 1pm – sore legs, hot and tired but buzzing with a sense of achievement.