It’s been a while since I’ve written up something for this blog. Since my last post from Guatemala we’ve headed through El Salvador for surfing (it didn’t go well) and into Nicaragua where I felt low with a mystery illness.
I was recommended to head to Leon in Nicaragua by someone who’d volunteered there with a group called Quetzaltrekkers, they offer trips up volcanos with the profits donated to help street children in Nicaragua. I booked to climb Cerro Negro, Nicaragua’s youngest volcano which we would then slide down on a board before climbing El Hoyo, a mountain with a mysterious hole in it.
A couple of days before the trip we headed to the beach nearby to chill out. It was on the way I realised things were not quite right, I came down with a fever and couldn’t eat and pretty much spent all but a brief period (when I thought I was getting better) feeling sorry for myself.
By the day of the hike I felt I had to do it so loaded up on strong painkillers and went for it. Upon reaching the top on Cerro Negro it seemed so far so good. It wasn’t a particularly steep climb but carrying my ‘volcano board’ up there made it a little harder. The descent is the fun part and I was using a new prototype of board fashioned into ‘skis’ (effectively a 3 pieces of plywood coated in formica). You sit on the board and slide at speed down the side of a mountain on small volcanic pebbles of which many end up in your hair, protective clothing, ears, goggles and teeth – lovely!
As you can see in the picture of Katrina’s turn, it’s bloody good fun and gets the adrenaline pumping. Iain 1 Mystery Fever 0. There.
After a short break and some more painkillers we’re getting ready to head up El Hoyo and the fever is biting back. I’m feeling hot and shaky and considering whether this is a stupid idea. Katrina is also feeling ill now with her own mystery illness. Great.
I should mention for this hike you carry a backpack with everything you need for the next 2 days – carrying a tent, sleeping bag, mat and 8 litres of water – not to mention some food and utensils – which is a killer. Couple that with the initial part of the hike being the steepest after you’ve just climbed an adjacent volcano and you probably get the idea.
Katrina is the first to feel the strain. She looks terrible and knows it’s not going to be fun. Sensibly she decides to head back down early and get transport that’s available back to Leon. And like that it’s just me, two other tourists and 3 of the guides from Quetzaltrekkers, one of whom is on his first hike.
It’s tough. Really bloody tough. All the weight on my back, the heat of the midday sun, the fever burning me up and my throat swollen. The strain of the hill is hard but I’m keeping up with the pace and ahead of the other backpackers. Just over half way up the steep part and it’s got to me, my legs just give way when realistically I’ve gone past the point of no return. Katrina’s got more sense than me clearly.
But I keep going, just. And I admit a guide may have helped me with the bag for a few minutes. I’m still thankful – we’ll gloss over the fact it was a girl who also had her own bag OK? Eventually though I recognise the trees thinning out and we must be getting to flatter ground, which means a break and lunch. Having not eaten for several days I’m going to need some energy from somewhere even if I am managing to keep up the pace.
Incredibly, despite a painful throat and the fever reaching the most intense point I gobble up a sandwich before I even realise it’s my first real food in days. Instantly I feel a bit better and a couple more strong painkillers later with the hike flattening out and I’m charging along. All I can think to myself is “Thank god I didn’t quit”.
My mood picks up as the afternoon goes on, there’s more banter and chat with the guides and I’m enjoying myself again. The down of being ill is disappearing and I’m thinking of the view from the top at sunset.
We do reach the top. But (there always has to be a but right?) within seconds of dropping our bags the fog rolls in and nothing is to be seen. Bugger. All that effort for not a lot. Despite this, it still feels worth it to have fought my fever and won. And still, there’s always sunrise right?
Sleep comes soon, we’re all exhausted and are in our tents soon after dark. It feels strange at the time but sunrise comes early. And it’s incredible! I’m not a morning person but I’m more than happy to be woken for this.
We scramble to the mysterious hole that tops El Hoyo before breakfast, no one really knows how old it is but it is presumed to be a sinkhole, common in these parts, but it gives the volcano its distinctive appearance.
After breakfast it’s all downhill for most of the day to a lake where we can wash off all the sweat of the hike and dust of volcano boarding. Easy right? WRONG! It’s a steep downhill drop at first, with a pack on my back I can feel the weight pushing me down the loose rocks and my toes crushing at the end of my shoes. Who’d have thought downhill could be something to dread?
By mid morning I’m exhausted again and can tell this fever isn’t quite beat but it feels good to be keeping up the pace again. We’re at the lake early and wow it feels good to cool off. Totally refreshing. But it’s not quite the end of a tough couple of days, for we’ve got to get back to Leon and that involves one last uphill stretch to the road. It takes everything I’ve got left but I manage it, wiped out and exhausted I’ve done it!
I can’t recommend the trip enough. Despite feeling frankly terrible it’s a highlight of the trip so far. If you ever end up in Leon in Nicaragua get down to Quetzaltrekkers and hike El Hoyo.
P.S. Here’s a top travel tip. Make sure your camera is charged. Mine was dead when I tried to take a picture so the ones here were taken on a semi broken iPhone with low battery itself, which just doesn’t do the scenery justice.