"If you have come here to help me, then you are wasting your time. But if you have come here because your liberation is bound up in mine, then let us work together" -Lilla Watson, Aboriginal Activist

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Bragging Rights

Blogger's block has really gotten to me these past few weeks.  A combination of not having a computer, the motivation, nor the inspiration has caused me to avoid logging into blogspot more actively than I avoid logging into my online banking site.  A friend I told of my blogging woes told me that my dilemma makes sense; for two years I've had a specific job, purpose, and topic for my blog. And suddenly here I am, pura mochilera, without that same sense of do-gooder purpose.  I've gone from being the lone gringa in a rural village to a life in which I'm surrounded by like-minded backpackers.  A gringo amongst gringos. 

So perhaps it's natural that I've had trouble blogging.  Nothing I've been experiencing daily as a backpacker seems to warrant writing about it.  Not compared to the crazy ups and downs and cultural stupefaction of my PC service.  But now as I sit pondering this, I realize that I've done a lot of things in the past two months that were exciting, new, and certainly blog-worthy.  Maybe I just needed some time to readjust my perspective. 

So here they are, some highlights from my travels (more soon to come):

Utila, Bay Islands, Honduras
Utila, Bay Islands, Honduras
First stop on my backpacking adventure?  Las Islas de Bahia, or the Honduran Bay Islands, named one of the best places to scuba dive in the world.  Utila, one of the smaller, less-developed of the islands, is the budget diving training center in the world.  Backpackers from all over go to Utila to dive, and I couldn't miss it.  I decided to go for my Open Water certification with Utila Dive Center, a 5-day diving course that educates divers on the basics of diving and certifies them to dive the reefs of the world without immediate supervision.  I had never dived before, barely even snorkeled, so I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  As it turns out, diving is amazing.  Once I got over the initial fright of being underwater and breathing, and got used to the equipment and the emergency procedures (what to do if you run out of air, if your dive buddy runs out of air, how to clear your mask, equalize the pressure in your ears, etc.) I found diving to be an extremely magical experience.  Floating along coral reefs seemingly weightlessly, seeing sea life happen right in front of your eyes, surfacing after a 40-meter dive and realizing what you just did and saw was of another world, was something beyond what humans should be capable of doing--it's hard to describe the experience.  I passed my Open Water exams and am now officially Open Water certified by PADI (a big thank you, Grandma Mary--your Christmas present funded the cost of my course.)  No doubt in my mind that I'll be back to Utila someday soon to get my advanced diving certificate.  It's too good of a thing to leave behind for long.  

Volcano-boarding, Leon, Nicaragua
I had heard about volcano-boarding through the backpackers' grapevine while traveling through Antigua and Xela.  So when I arrived to Leon, Nicaragua, a quaint and lovely (and oppressively hot) little city in the Southern part of Nica, I decided I couldn't leave without giving volcano boarding a go.  I was traveling with a Kiwi I met diving in the Bay Islands, so together we jumped on the back of a pick-up and sped off towards the base of Volcan Cerro Negro, the newest and most active volcano in Nicaragua.  The next 45 minutes we spent hiking up the volcano, toting the awkwardly bulky wooden volcano boards, until we reached our launching point where we donned the famous orange jumpsuits and goggles and waited for our guide's instructions.  Volcano boarding was harder than it looks.  Even though you're sitting on the wooden board (not unlike a sled), you must balance and steer yourself using subtle shifts in your body weight.  Braking is done by digging your heels into the coarse volcanic ash.  What took 45 minutes to laboriously climb up took less than 30 seconds to board down.  Despite the goggles and jumpsuit I had black volcanic ash in my mouth, ears, and matted in my hair, road-rash covering my calves from trying to brake.  Nothing a good shower and some antibiotic ointment didn't soon remedy.  And now I can say that I boarded down a 500-meter volcano at roughly 50km/hour.

Volcan Concepcion, Ometepe Island, Nicaragua
Nicaragua, much like Guatemala, has it all...volcanoes, beaches, cities, and local pueblos, all in one small country.  I easily spent a few days in the small cities of Leon and Granada, a few days "surfing" on the beautiful pacific shores of San Juan del Sur, and a few days relaxing on the lake, all without having to spend more than a few hours on a chicken bus.  I couldn't leave Ometepe without climbing Concepcion, a 1610-meter high active volcano.  I had heard warnings from other travelers who had already done the hike that the hike was quite arduous, but figured that I'd be alright.  After all, I'd already climbed the tallest peak in Central America, Tajumulco, so how hard could this one be?  Turns out, really really hard.  The 10-hour hike up the 1600-meter volcano began through encouraging jungle-covered banana plantations but quickly became an upward scramble up the sun-exposed and rocky peak where we scrambled, without grace, up the final 1000 meters of loose volcanic rock and ash.  About halfway up those last 1000 meters is when I started doubting my decision to join the hike.  I was exhausted, my body hurt, and my mind was whirling with the numbingly ongoing task of deciding where to place my next hesitant step, all while focusing on not being knocked over by the horribly violent gusts of wind.  I kept telling myself that this was Type II fun, the kind of thing that isn't in fact any fun at all while it's happening, but makes for a great story after the fact.  But then I started seeing the climbing anchors.  I remember thinking "People climb this using ropes and belays! Why the HELL am I up here doing this free-style? I'm no mountain-climber!!"  Despite my common-sense telling me otherwise, I pressed on, holding back tears as I continued the exhausting scramble up to the peak.  And then we were there, at the peak, and as I grabbed the rope that our local guide had thrown my direction (turns out that without this rope I surely would have blown right off the summit), squinting as my face and exposed arms where whipped by blowing volcanic ash particles, snot running down my face from the sulfur gases leaking out of the active volcano.  We could only stay at the peak for about 30 seconds before heading back down where the wind-force was slightly less fierce.  That's all we got.   Half a minute at the top and the exhausting upward scramble became an even more exhausting downward trudge, where every other foot hold proved unsteady, sending me to my soon-to-be very bruised backside.  But we made it down, and two days later, after the soreness in my legs had eased, I was glad I did it.  Would I do it again?  Hell no.

Refueling before starting up the last 1000 meters.

On the way down from the peak. Photo by Danny Page.

Volcan Concepcion

No comments:

Post a Comment