Playing with Fire
Volcán Masaya – Nicaragua
Visiting Nicaragua’s first national park, Masaya Volcano National Park was a memorable experience filled with adventure, beautiful landscapes, wild creatures and a barbaric history. The park is made up of 2 volcanoes, 5 craters and numerous lava tubes.
The main volcano continuously emits noxious sulfur dioxide gas requiring you don’t linger too long; we wore protective masks for added protection. If the gas clears enough the crater offers a view of it’s red hot lava.. we stood on the rim peering down into the pit but there was so much gas we could only make out a slight red hue. The volcano is so unpredictable and dangerous that vehicles are required to park facing toward the exit for the fastest escape possible.
During the 16th century the volcano was nicknamed the “Gate to Hell” by Spanish invaders who feared it. Their solution? Baptizing the volcano and erecting a large cross, “La Cruz de Bobadilla” on the top of the crater to exorcise it of the Devil.
This park’s history get’s more brutal and twisted than the legends and fears of conquistadors. Self elected dictator Anastasio Somoza Garcia and his death squads used it for more sinister and brutal purposes by tossing prisoners and political enemies from helicopters into the volcano’s fiery pit below.
After checking out the gassy volcano we headed a short distance to the next attraction – a large dormant crater. After a quick hike up to the top we were rewarded with breathtaking views of the crater, and off in the distance was Lake Managua.
As the sun set we parked a final time and began another hike, this time to a cave. These caves are made up of lava tubes inhabited by large numbers of bats. Each day at twilight they awake from their daily stupor and venture out of their protected dwellings to hunt for insects and fruit. As the bats began flying out our guide teased us to stand closer and closer to the entrance. The bat’s sonar allowed them to exit at incredible speed without crashing into us. We turned all the lights off leaving nothing to see and only the sound of their wings flying by our heads and bodies – an eerie feeling.
It’s not permitted to enter the bat cave, however a short walk further through the night guided only by small headlamps and a bright moon brought us upon another lava tube with a larger entrance. A little unsettling, venturing off into a cave during the night but that’s what adventures are all about – leaving your comfort zone in exploration of something new and exciting – so in I went. The dark cave offered up interesting rock formations as we played slip-n-slide navigating across the slippery wet rocks beneath our feet. “Look up!” the guide shouted to show us roots of trees growing through. “Look down!” he exclaimed as enormous cockroaches and other bugs scampered from our lights. After walking roughly a 1/4 mile in we all turned our lights off and stood in silence in complete darkness as Sandinista rebels had when they used this and other caves to hideout in during the bombing of Masaya in the late 1970s.
Volcán Masaya was an amazing experience just a short distance from Granada. If you’re visiting make sure to stop by for a visit!