Wednesday, May 2, 2007

The Gates of Hell - Volcan Masaya, Nicaragua

Native tribes of Nicaragua used to throw women into this active volcano as sacrifices to their gods in hopes of preventing another eruption. And when the Spaniards discovered the volcano, they believed it was the gateway to Hell. They even erected a cross next to the crater in an attempt to cleanse this unholy ground. I remembered reading this and thinking how strange and superstitious people were back then. Who would think that?

After my visit, I would! I don´t believe it is the gateway to Hell but I do see how one would get that impression.

From the minute you are on the trail leading up the volcano, you get a feeling of death and desolation. The terrain is littered with black rock and ash from the previous eruption and the trees and grass are brown and withered. And the silence is broken only by the sound of the hot, dry breeze which smells of sulfur.

When you walk to the side of the crater, you are surrounded by vultures. The sky is covered with them, circling and patiently waiting. And for every one in the air, it seems like there are at least 2 or 3 on the ground, some close enough to touch. If you´ve ever seen a vulture up close, you understand why they were often seen as bad omens or the prescence of death.

And you can hear the volcano breathing as you approach the crater. It releases its poisonous fumes with a slow and deep whoosh, constant and penetrating, like a heavy breathe or drum beat. You must limit your time next to the crater because the sulfur from the fumes will burn your eyes and cause you to cough.

Later that night, we took a tour of the volcano where we could actually peer into the volcano and see the lava. We had to use gas masks because of the fumes:

You couldn´t really take a good picture of the lava (it just shows up as a red dot.) but it was incredible, a red boiling furnace of breathing lava.

And just when you thought it couldn´t get better... The lava from the last eruption had created caves around the volcano and we had a chance to take a look. The caves were interesting and you could see where native tribes had etched primitive drawings on the walls but to me. But the most interesting part for me, was the entrance.

If you get to the caves around sunset, you arrive just when all of the bats are leaving. Take a look at this picture:

You could stand right in front of the cave as hundreds of the bats fly right past you. If you´ve seen the movie, Batman Returns, then you have an idea of what it looks like. You can close your eyes and listen to them fly right past you. Incredible!

It may not be the gateway to Hell but if I had to imagine what it would look like, I say Volcan Masaya comes pretty close.


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