Sunday, September 6, 2009

Climbing Volcano Izalco

A few weeks ago, when Geoff and I drove out to see Volcano Izalco for the first time, we had found out from the locals that there are guided tours to climb the volcano. The tours cost $1, and they start actually at a recreational campsite on top of a nearby volcano, Cerra Verde. We had decided that this sounded like a climb not to be missed, so yesterday, with a group of other teachers, we set out to climb the volcano.

To give a little bit of background about this volcano, Izalco had been continuously active between the 1700s and 1966, and was called the "Lighthouse of the Pacific", because ships would use its light to help guide their navigation at night. It is perfectly cone-shaped, and has a height of 650 meters, with a crater that measures 40 meters deep and 200 meters wide. At some point, some businessman decided to build a hotel on top of the nearby dormant volcano Cerra Verde, to try and make a profit off of the beautiful erupting Izalco. The hotel costed a lot of money to build, and you were supposed to be able to have a beautiful night view of the erupting volcano from the hotel. But, as the local lores have it, the day before the hotel was finished, the volcano erupted for the last time! Nature, in fact, had the last laugh... :)

Since its last eruption was relatively recent, Volcano Izalco still looks like a pile of rocks, only sparsely covered with vegetation. The so-called "path" to the top is also rough, at best. Most people in my group were in great shape, but I was pretty nervous ascending the volcano. I had to grab on to the rocks for the most part, and to lean into the mountain because I was nervous that I would slip down the side of the steep mountainside. At one point, I fell and was lying flat on the ground, because the rocks I was grabbing onto were loose and slippery themselves. When, finally, we got to the top, the view from top of the volcano was absolutely stunning! You are literally sitting on the edge of the crater, looking both into the crater of the volcano and looking out to the surrounding farmland! We walked almost all the way around the crater to the vent that was still emitting hot steam from underground. (Oddly, it didn't smell like sulfur, unlike the volcanoes I remember visiting in Hawaii.) Geoff and I had brought some bread, so we had a quick bite at the top before it came time to head back down. (By that time, the clouds had set in, and the view was obstructed. It was pretty clear that the guides wanted to get back before the rain would arrive, because I can imagine that hiking down that already-slippery mountainside in the rain would NOT be fun!)

Climbing down the volcano was much easier than going up, I thought, even though the gravel was definitely loose under our feet, and you slip downwards with every step. I fell once on the way down and was cut on a sharp rock, adding to my battle wound scratch marks for the day. The hardest part of the whole day was that after we had descended Izalco, we still needed to climb back up the other mountain -- to an even higher ground than the summit of Izalco -- to get back to our cars on top of Cerra Verde! Holy smack. That trail is well-paved and maintained, but the steepness of the incline makes it really exhausting. By the time we finally got back to the top, everyone was eager for some drinks and food.

We wrapped up the beautiful day by driving down the mountain to Lago de Coatepeque. The last time Geoff and I had gone there, we had found a nice little "restaubar" that is right on the water. This time, the gang went to the same place to grab some food and drinks, and Geoff and Greg both went for a quick dip in the lake. It was a perfect wind-down time after a day of hiking! I think everybody had a really great time. Even the weather remained beautiful the rest of the afternoon! :)

--Oh, and throughout the day, we had continued to encounter some amazing wildlife. Geoff took a picture of a giant grasshopper on top of the volcano; it was about 2/3 the length of my hand! And earlier, during our drive, Geoff and I had seen a vulture dragging a roadkill off to the side. We continued to see similar (big) black birds -- maybe vultures, maybe hawks -- as we were climbing the volcano...

I love El Salvador. I miss many things about New York City, but I really love it here. :)

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