Great Adventure

Hiking Nicaragua's Pleistocene Giant

by Jeralyn Gerba

Photo by Jeralyn Gerba.

COSIGUINA, Nicaragua – I get the best sleep of my life in Nicaragua. It’s July, so rain is inevitable, but it has a lulling effect — all that low rumbling and navy blue sky. It is so dark, so quiet, and so warm that I might as well be wrapped in a cocoon. My internal clock is quite pleased, and gently wakes me before sunrise.

I fortify with fresh fruit juice at my surf lodge and get an early start driving to the base of Volcan de Cosigüina, once the tallest volcano in Central America (before it exploded with hot lava and turned itself into a crater lake).

My guide tells me that he spent his childhood hiking the mountain — but always during dry season; it's barely recognizable in the rainy summer months. We stop at a muddy lean-to and ask some young kids for directions; one boy leads us like a sheepherder through tall grasses, past wire fences, and around a murky swamp-like plain to the base. Less than 20 people a year hike Cosigüina, I'm told, so it's a novelty for pretty much everyone involved. We can see some remnants of a walking trail, so we ditch the truck, load up on water, and start the hike.

We want to beat the heat to the summit, and it will take a few hours. We maneuver around enormous spider webs and barely avoid sticky Acasia trees teeming with fire ants, but we cannot escape getting whipped by thorny brush. I am glistening with sweat and out of breath when we reach the summit. I take another quick inhale when I look down into a spectacular blue lake 300 meters below. It is pristine and pin-drop quiet, like it's hiding from the surrounding Gulf of Fonseca. Honduras and El Salvador look like charcoal drawings in the distance. Perhaps only Nicaragua's nation of poets can rival the eloquence of nature. Because when I am here, I'm at a loss for words.

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