Tag Archives: volcano

Departing Nicaragua: A Short Rant

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On the plane from Managua to Texas, I was unhappy.  I was not ready to leave the country and was even further annoyed by our traveling companions on the flight.  Being the mature twenty-something that I am, I plugged in my headphones and scrawled a two page rant in my journal:

taking off from Boston at the beginning of the trip. We’ve come full circle.

Ugh, I can’t believe we’re leaving already.  I could definitely stay for at least another month – we’ve seen such a tiny piece of the coutnry and I’d love to see the Caribbean coast.  Part of me thinks that if I didn’t have obligations for work next week, I’d absolutely arrange for a longer stay.  Sara and I are already trying to plan our next trip.

There was a security check before we boarded the plane.  The person who searched my bag was perplexed at first by the overall style of my backpack, so I had to help him get it unclasped enough to open it – and even then it was so tightly packed that he could barely get a hand in.  Re-closing it was another struggle.  I handed him my purse and told him I’d take care of the backpack.  He opened and dug through my purse, pulling out my copy of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  He flipped through it, looked at the cover, looked at me, and looked back at the book as if I was weird for having such a thing in my possession.  I felt judged but, it’s all good, I read what I want.

Let’s be real here for a second. How could you not want to read this?

Something I noticed about Nicaragua is that it seems to get a lot of missionary groups.  Sara and I aren’t together on this flight and I am surrounded by one such group with t-shirts that say “Involving People to Inspire Nations for Christ.”  Consistering the missionary spirit is part (there were many factors) of what turned me off to Catholicism, Christianity, and organized religions in general, you can probably imagine how I felt about this turn of events.  I realize Nicaragua is a Christian country, so it’s not as though they’re telling the people that their native religion and traditions are worthless and wrong (that damage was done when the first conquistadors arrived centuries ago.  Admittedly, it was not all bad, as the natives stopped sacrificing their daughters to volcanoes, but still.).

The issue I have with such missionary groups is that it appears they go into the situation with (conscious or subconscious) feelings  of superiority, maybe even a degree of white supremecy and definitely a ton of privilege.   This is theoretically made more harmful by the fact that they believe they’re being humble and helpful to the natives because, in the U.S., we do things the right way.   I am not at all saying that I’ve never been guilty of this.  In fact, I’m fairly certain I had a similar self-concept on the alternative spring break trips I participated on in college and even perhaps when I first arrived in India – that self-confident, self-assured idea that could change the world and make things better for peopel in these places where the society was not like our own.  How naive it was to believe that a week’s trip to a place can make any kind of lasting difference!  One cannot possibly make any change until he or she has learned the culture and understands what motivates people in the area and how society functions.  Learning takes years and committment and dedication to your chosen task.  As I’ve said before, it is so easy to flit in and out of a country.  You “live like the natives” for a week or a month or a year, but then it’s back to what you’re used to.  One week provides barely a peek at a culture that has been a millenia in the making.  When I left India after a year of working and living with the people in the area, I barely felt like I had a handle on the culture.  I was more comfortable, to be sure, but I was still just learning.

It is wildly selfish and conceited and irresponsible of us to walk into a situation with which we are unfamiliar and uneducated (because no matter how many books one reads on the subject, experience is infinitely more important (if you, like me, are a Harry Potter fan, then you might be thinking of Hermione’s disagreement with Umbridge’s claim that reading about defensive spells will be more than enough to get them through their practical exams.  Geek moment over.).

No, but really.

Without being intimately familiar with a culture and a people, attempting to stir up any kind of change in a limited period of time is nearly impossible.  Factor in your imminent departure and all your good intentions are even less likely to succeed.  Think about how you might feel if someone from South America, Asia, or Africa walked into your neighborhood, started making changes, and then left.  Attempting to impart change without being aware of one’s own biases and using strategies based in one’s home culture is ineffective, unsustainable, and inconsiderate.  It is so much more important to first learn the culture and then to give the people themselves the tools and skills to be their own agents of change.  Don’t go in as a savior, go in and empower.

I don’t know how to stress all that enough.  Nor was I anticipating going on such a tangent.  Essentially, the traveler, the potential do-gooder, must accept that they travel for themselves alone – to experience new cultures and to allow themselves to grow, to be changed by the people and cultures they experience – rather than to change what they see.  Accept that you are but a temporary, fleeting moment in the daily routine of the people you meet.  They may even remember you years from now, but if you’re in a touristy area, they’ve probably seen many like you.  The best thing the traveler can do is to meet each person as a fellow human, regardless of language or station, learn their story if possible, and remember that they, themselves, represent an entire country.

Appropriately, Gotye’s “Somebody I Used to Know” is playing right now.

I hate that we’re taking off right now.  I also hate having an aisle seat.  I can’t help wondering when I’ll be back (I refuse to think “if”) and how this beautiful country will have changed in the interim.  I hate leaving new places and I dislike returning to regular routines.

Also, the flight attendant just suggested over the intercom that people shut their shades if not enjoying the view so that others can better see the TV monitors.  Gross.  That isn’t what this is about!

Final thought:  I should not wear white because I will inevitably draw on myself.

 

“Maybe This Will Work…”

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“I feel like Bob the Builder.”  This was Sara’s take on our very stylish hard hats as we traipsed around the crater taking pictures.  It was a more accurate description that I really want to admit.

At a distance, the resemblance is indisputable.

Back in the car, we continued up the volcano, stopping at a gate to pick up our English-speaking guide named Joel (pronounced Joy-el) who relieved me of the surprisingly exhausting responsibility of translating  (this is not meant to imply that I wasn’t IMMENSELY PROUD of myself).

lava rock path & half of Joel

Joel was going to be our guide through the caves, so we drove a little further up the volcano and stopped at one of the shelters (in the event of an expulsion, hide under this if you don’t have a car).  The shelters strongly resembled bus stops so I’m not sure how effective they would be in the event of a true emergency…  Joel led us (including Roberto – I loved that he came with us!) along a lava rock path to a point where he stopped and showed us a cave.  He explained that 100 meters in, this cave reached the crater, close to the center of the volcano.  I was under the rather worrying impression that this was the cave we’d be venturing into, at least until Joel closed his explanation by saying, “…but we’re not going in there.”  Not that it wouldn’t have been seriously cool, but I left my gas mask at home and wasn’t feeling breathing all the toxic gas.

“This is not the cave you’re looking for…”

We followed Joel a little further to an irregular set of stairs set into an embankment.  As we stepped carefully down the stairs (it was raining and they were slippery), Sara asked whether all this (meaning the caves) had been created by lava flows.  Joel answered, “the cave, yes.  The stairs, no.  We made the stairs.”  We ventured into the cave and I became acutely aware of how dinky and weak our flashlights were.  Their beams didn’t really have much of an impact in the all-encompassing darkness of the cave.   It’s a good thing I’m not afraid of the dark or claustrophobic because there might have been an issue.  Once our eyes adjusted to the darkness, however, the flashlights became a bit more effective.   I attempted to take some pictures within the cave, but, really, they kind of all end up looking the same because I was essentially just pointing and clicking.  Roberto was bringing up the rear and every so often he would say, “tsst, tsst!” and tap me on the arm to call my attention to a truly adorable little bat (or cluster of bats) blinking (do bats blink?) in the sudden light of his flashlight.  Invariably, they would fly away before I could get my camera in gear for a picture.  According to Joel, there were both fruit and vampire bats in the cave (plus another type that I can’t quite remember).  The vampire bats need to drink blood at least once a day or they will die, so they frequently snack on the poor little fruit bats.  I tried very  hard to get a picture of any bat, but failed miserably.

Absolutely one of the dweebier pictures of me, but that’s our guide (who I don’t think knew he was in the picture) on the right.

looking back at the entrance to the cave

At the end of the path, we found ourselves facing a wall of rocks.  Joel instructed us to turn our flashlights off, which we did after exchanging dubious looks.  He then pointed his flashlight at a rock at the top of the pile and told us to look at the spot after he turned off his flashlight.

He shut it off.

I have never experienced such a pressing darkness before.  It was the total absence of light.  To borrow the cliche, you could not even see your hand in front of your face (I tried).  Furthermore, aside from the distant dripping of water somewhere in the cave, there was no sound.  It was eerie.  Even more eerie was that when we looked at the spot where Joel had indicated, we saw a faintly glowing face.

After a few moments, we turned all our lights back on, took a picture, and began trekking back to the entrance of the cave.  Joel was very chivalrous, helping Sara and I step down when the terrain was rougher.  While I was aware that I was perfectly capable of getting myself safely through the cave (minus the couple times I hit my head on the ceiling), I appreciated the consideration.  You would absolutely have to sign a few waivers before going into this kind of cave in America.   On the way back, we asked Joel how he’d become a park ranger  He’d studied a relevant subject in university and then had been working at Volcan Masaya for three years since.  When we complimented his English, he said that it was harder to learn when he was a student because English lessons were much more expensive than they currently were.

alligator (or crocodile) (or T-Rex) shaped rock

Outside the cave, Joel showed us a positively ENORMOUS wasps’ nest with HUGE wasps buzzing in and out of it.  RUN AWAY.

When we were all back into the little red car, Roberto turned it around to face the way we came and then… reversed?  I had heard Roberto and Joel talking about how little and economical the car was, albeit lacking in power, but what Roberto was doing still didn’t click in my head, even after Joel turned and said to us, “maybe this will work!”  Maybe what will work?  WHAT IS GOING ON??  It finally made sense when Roberto suddenly accelerated up the hill we’d come down previously.    Of course.  The car didn’t have the power or the 4-wheel drive to get up the hill normally, hence the running start.  It was a tiny bit nerve-wracking, whipping around hairpin turns at the edge of an active crater, but we survived, so it’s all good.

Next: What is Atole?

In Case of Rock Expulsions, Protect Yourself Under Your Car

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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.

hanging out at the volcano museum

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.

This. Is. Terrifying.
Also terrifying is the mark on the glass that appears to be a large spider.

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.

I’m not making this up.

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.

because this will save you in the event of an actual explosion.

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.

if you look at the fog in the center of the picture, you can just see the curve of the deepest part of the crater

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.

pretty, isn’t it?

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.

delightfully noobtastic.