Monday, April 19, 2010

Masaya: the City and the Volcano

Picture: Cross over Masaya VolcanoAfter the morning bike ride to visit the farming community (described previously), the taxi that was hired for the rest of the day picked us up and drove us to the city of Masaya for a visit of the city and nearby Masaya Volcano nature park.

Masaya has two markets, referred locally as the old and new markets. One is for tourists and the other for locals. I forget already which is which. Our first stop was the local market. I walked through the market, past stalls selling new cloths and also used American clothing and other wares. We walked through the section selling meat and vegetables. It is a far cry from the sanitization in US markets, but similar to what I have seen in other developing countries. Then we walked half-way across town to the tourist market. On the way we passed many stores selling used North American clothing. If you ever wondered where your donated clothes went, much of it probably ended up in stores like these. The tourist market looks like it is housed in an old fort, and is a popular stop for many tourists at the end of their vacations and a great place to pick up artsy trinkets from various regions of Nicaragua. My suitcases were already overstuffed, and so I did not get anything.

Picture: Vegetables for sale at Masaya Market
Picture: Masaya

Next we walked across the other half of the city, stopping for a few minutes in the town’s Central Park. In one direction, I could see the Mombacho volcano steaming. There was a church and a playground with many locals hanging around and kids playing. I got a couple of scoops of ice cream from a vendor. The fountain had several concrete swan statues, many of which were broken and cracked.

Picture: Church in Masaya City Park
Picture: Broken statutes in Masaya City Park Fountain
Broken swan statues in the Masaya Central Park fountian
Picture: Broken statutes in Masaya City Park Fountain

We continued walking. My guide, Jessica, needed to buy more pre-paid cell phone minutes, and so we stopped at a house along the way that was displaying the Claro sign indicating the owner was a vendor of minutes. It is most common that people buy a phone and then purchase pre-paid minutes as they need them, and lots of people seem to be selling minutes as a side business activity. It seemed like they do not get too many customers knocking on the door, because the wife seemed a little confused for a moment, but then Jessica pointed to the sign and she seemed to suddenly remember her husband was a dealer. (I am inferring here, because the conversation was in Spanish and I did not fully understand). Once the vendor came to the door, there was a brief negotiation, and the vendor transferred minutes from his phone to hers via text message trigger.

Eventually we reached the edge of town where there was a boardwalk along the cliffs overlooking Lake Masaya. The Masaya volcano stood out on the other side of the lake. There was a lot of construction to build up some business along this boardwalk. In another year this may be hot-spot entertainment district. As I walked down the boardwalk, I took some pictures of the any birds soaring around the cliffs.

Views along the boardwalk on the edge of Lake Masaya.
Picture: Boardwalk at Lake Masaya, Nicaragua
Picture: Lake Masaya, Nicaragua
Below, bird flys over Lake Masaya, with the Masaya volcano in the background.
Picture: Bird flys over Lake Masaya, infront of the Masaya Volcano

Next we got in the car and drove to the entrance to the Masaya volcano park where I was to join a ranger-led sunset tour of the volcano and lava tube caves. There was a long discussion between my guide and the rangers, since they were insisting my guide pay for the full tourist price even though she and the taxi driver were not planning to all the way to the crater once I connected with the ranger tour. Eventually they worked it out and we proceeded a few miles into the park to the visitor center, though my guide and driver were not permitted to go further while I was on the tour.

View of Mombacho Volcano, Lake Masaya, and town of Masaya from the base of the Masaya volcano
Picture: View from base of Masaya Volcano

Picture: Brid flying over MasayaThe visitor center had a short walk-through museum and there was a balcony with a great view of the surrounding area. In one direction I could look out and see Lake Masaya, the boardwalk where I was just at, and Mombacho in the distance. In another direction, I could see the Coyotepe prison at the top of a hill that I had visited a few days before. I killed time here trying to get some good picture of the birds flying around while we waited for the guide who was supposed to pick me up and take me to the top for the tour. Eventually we were told the park guide was already at the crater, and so Jessica and my driver were given permission to drive me to the top.

Picture: View of Lake Masaya and Mombocho

The parking lot was about 5 miles from the visitor center, and right on the edge of the Masaya volcano crater. The park rules required that all cars back-in for parking, so that in the event of an eruption people can quickly jump in their cars and drive away without wasting time to turn around. A few years before there was a small eruption that blew rocks into the parking lot and damaged cars. I sat here taking pictures while we waited for the rest of the tourists to arrive.

Masaya Volcano Crater
Picture: Masaya Volcano Crater
Picture: Masaya Volcano Crater
Picture: Cross over Masaya Volcano
Picture: View from Masaya Volcano, looking towards Managua

From the parking lot, we hiked up the nearby hill to the high-point observation point, where a cross had been erected. Managua was visible in the distance, and I took some pictures in all directions while the guide told us in English about the volcano. The wind shifted and blew the venting gasses towards us. The smell of sulfur was strong. It gave me a headache for the rest of the evening. I kept thinking back to my recent visit to Hawaii’s Volcanoes National Park where all the warnings suggested if we smelled even a hint of sulfur we should be running for our lives.

Picture: Cross over Masaya Volcano
Picture: Sunset at the Masaya Volcano
Picture: Cross over Masaya Volcano at sunset

We drove part way around the crater and then stopped in the middle of the road. We were issued flashlights, and then hiked up a steep trail to another view point. By then, it was dusk and we could see the lights of the city of Masaya.

Picture: Sunset looking over the Masaya Volcano Crater
Below, lights start to turn on in the town of Masaya.
Picture: Twilight view of Masaya city and Mombacho Volcano, seen from the Masaya Volcano

Picture: Roots cover the lava tube cave floorWe returned to the parking lot and loaded into the cars. A few minutes later we arrived at the trailhead leading to the lava tube cave. We were issued hardhats, and then walked down the trail 5 minutes to the mouth of the cave. Roots from the trees above had lined the sides and floor during the first few dozen meters of the cave. We hiked in until we reached a section where the cave had caved in. The guide explained that during the revolution, people hid in this cave while government helicopters bombarded from above. Fallen rocks had been arranged to conceal cavities where people hid from patrolling military.

After leaving the lava tube cave, we stopped at the opening to another cave. This cave was full of bats. We sat a few feet from the entrance and turned off the lights. Then the guide started to flicker his light on and off illuminating in stop-action the which were flying in and out of the cave just a few feet from us. I tried to get some pictures, but I could not see well enough to manually focus and the camera could not auto focus in the dark. Below is my best attempt to capture the bats.

In the dark, I couldn't see well enough to focus the camera on the bats flying in and out of the cave.
Picture: Bats

For our final stop, we drove to one last observation platform on the edge of the crater, nearly opposite the first stop. There was a wooden platform that extended a couple of feet from the craters edge. From there we could look down and see the faint glow of lava from the crater. I couldn’t get a decent picture without my tripod.

- More of my Photos from this day's excursion (HERE)
- More Blog Posts or Photo Albums from this Nicaragua Trip
- Google Map of the places I visited in this Trip
- Tour guide who arranged my Nicaragua Travels: ¡Un Buen Viaje!

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