On Saturday, Sara and I had found ourselves with the pressing question of what to do on our last day in Nicaragua (there was also the ever present question of, “WHY did we think one week would be enough time!?”). We ultimately decided to hire a driver and leave Managua to go see the market and the volcano in Masaya (this is the same one that had an “expulsion” a month prior), a nearby town.
We had been expecting something along the lines of a tourist vehicle, so when our driver pulled up in a beat-up little red taxi with Korean writing all over it, we were a little surprised. We also learned quickly that he spoke Spanish and only Spanish. Challenge accepted. As previously mentioned, Sara speaks no Spanish and I have sad, caveman Spanish (my speech is wrought with grammatical errors and it kills me). However, I managed to translate the rundown of the day for Sara. He gave us the list of options for what we could see and informed us that if we went over on time (we had 3.5 hours), then we would have to pay 7$/hr.
As we neared Masaya, he seemed to warm up to us. We bonded over the fact that none of us wanted it to rain (so, obviously, it did). We stopped at a museum halfway up the volcano, where he helped us to arrange for an English-speaking tour guide to show us around the craters and cave, then gave us his personal tour of the museum. This was unexpectedly hysterical because my Spanish vocabulary is lacking in the area of volcanoes, plate tectonics and animal species. Therefore, situations arose such as when he was explaining how the parakeets who lived in the volcano survived the toxic fumes. I didn’t grasp what he said the first time around but, as I’m a little proud, I was unwilling to admit that I had no clue what he just said. After his speech on birds, I turned to Sara and said, “Parakeets. Birds.” Clearly she was on to me. There were many mistranslations on my part, but somehow they all got sorted out. He was a very funny tour guide. He took a piece of lava from one of the displays (ignoring the rope placed in front of the display that implied visitors were not supposed to touch the exhibits) and pretended to steal it by hiding it in Sara’s purse. I really can’t do justice to his character, especially since he became progressively more awesome as the day went on.
Also, did you know there is something called “Aa” Lava? I kid you not – it is the original Hawaiian name. Apparently, aside from the fact that if lava is coming, you should yell “AA! LAVA!” and run away (makes sense to me), it’s so named because when it hardens, it becomes spiny and sharp. If you step on it with your bare feet, you would then exclaim, “Aaa!” Kind of like stepping on Legos, I’d imagine.
By the time the three of us left the museum, we’d learned that he was quite the photographer, hence the many pictures of Sara and I attempting to look cool while wearing what appeared to be the equivalent of a child’s hard hat. The hard hats were required because Masaya is still a very active volcano that, as previously mentioned, had a minor explosion on April 30, which closed it for a month thereafter. Our driver stopped every so often to point out how far the lava had come down the volcano (remnants of an explosion in the 1600s). It was seriously cool – much cooler than Volcan Mombacho, which has been nearly dormant for so long that you can’t see the lava anywhere). He had also learned about our fear of bugs back at the museum (imagine, a whole display devoted solely to the nasty crawly things), so he kindly stopped to point out where we might find certain key insects.
Up at the crater there was a parking lot with painted yellow curbs that warned all visitors to “park your car facing the exit.” Comforting. The only advice the park pamphlet gave us in terms of safety and survival was, “in case of rock expulsions, you can protect yourself under your car.” But… what if you drive a motorcycle? What if your family of ten squeezed into your tiny car and came to visit the volcano? What if your car is really close to the ground? WHAT THEN?! Fortunately, however, nothing was expulsed while we were there, so we may never know.
We went over to the crater (wearing our super-safe hard hats, obviously) and peered down into the depths, which was seriously cool. It had just rained, so the crater was steaming profusely and you could just barely make out where the gaping hole to the center of the earth was. We could also see the previously mentioned parakeets, who’ve adapted to the toxic gasses spewed forth by the volcano, flying in and out. Humans, on the other hand, are not supposed to breathe in said gasses for too long, so we took a few pictures and wandered over to a point on the other side from which we could see all of Managua and Masaya spread before us.
While soaking in the view of the countryside, we realized, rather shamefully, that we didn’t know his name! So I asked and he informed us that his name was Roberto. Somewhere in all the excitement of going to a volcano, we’d missed out on common courtesies. Once he’d learned our names as well, he said, “After all this time, now we learn our names!” There’s an important lesson to be learned here, but I’ll let it be implied.