A throaty cry tears through the jungle. It’s like howler monkeys on the slopes of Maderas volcano. They are distinguished, dark and moving silhouettes among the branches of giant trees, such as guanacaste or ficus. Through the tropical forest, the path of stones and roots leads our small group to an unobstructed view. Facing us, the perfect mineral triangle, the other volcano on the island, the Concepción, seems to float on translucent water. With its two twin craters anchored in the middle of Lake Nicaragua, the island of Ometepe, in the south-west of the country, strongly embodies this mixture of lava and water that makes Nicaragua unique.
The Pacific Ring of Fire, that line of volcanoes that surrounds the ocean from Chile to Alaska to New Zealand, has sown about 20 peaks in the region. Some are active such as the Concepción (1,610 meters) or the San Cristóbal, the highest with its 1,745 meters. The liquid element, it is omnipresent with the lakes Managua and Nicaragua – one of the largest expanses of fresh water in Latin America -, the lagoons of the Atlantic coast and the many rivers which are often the only waterways of the east of the country. Without counting, of course, the 900 kilometers of coastline along the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.
Contemplating the Concepción, one can easily imagine the birth of the legends generated by this perfect summit crowned with a plume of smoke. “For a long time, the islanders were afraid of volcanoes. They were thought to be inhabited by duends, these evil spirits who steal children. Until about sixty years ago, no one was climbing to the top, let alone with children, “said Elio Baratona, a guide who looks as slender and dry as his machete. The lake also has its share of myth. It is linked to the San Juan River which communicates with the Atlantic. Formerly, pirates climbed it to loot the rich colonial city of Granada, located on the northwest bank. This “route” was also used by American gold prospectors in the second half of the 19th century. Before the construction of a transcontinental railroad, they reached San Francisco from New York by boat crossing Central America by Lake Nicaragua, a narrow corridor of land separating the lake from the Pacific Ocean.
Bulldog sharks have also moved up the San Juan River. Their population was decimated in the 1960s and 1970s when fishing rights were granted to Asian vessels. Some fishermen say there are still some sharks. Another tale…
The strongest myth remains that of a transoceanic channel. Crossing the Central American isthmus via Lake Nicaragua was considered as early as the 19th century, before the Panama Canal, which was created in 1914, was pierced. An eruption of the Concepción volcano put an end to the project. Today, President Daniel Ortega got the story going. In 2013, his government granted a concession to a Chinese investor to build a pharaonic project, 286 km long. It will be able to accommodate the heaviest ships, 366 meters long and 49 meters wide, which do not pass through the Panama Canal. The results of the feasibility studies are expected in late spring for work to begin at the end of the year. “I do not believe it, asserts from Managua, Antoine Joly, French ambassador to Nicaragua. Many economic and technical issues have not been resolved. There is a lot of amateurism. ” The canal, a new sea snake to be engulfed in the waters of the lake to feed bulldog sharks?
Change of scenery. On dry land this time, northwest of the lake, a road climbs to the Masaya and Nindirí volcanoes, crossing ancient lava flows and meadows of golden grasses strewn with black basalt rocks. From a distance, we can see scrolls of gas mixing with the clouds. Near the summit, about 500 meters away, like a huge cauldron, the large Santiago crater spits sulfur-laden smoke that stings the eyes and irritates the throat. In a mysterious atmosphere, when the wind pushes the clouds of gas a little, we can see the steep, brown and yellowish slopes, which sink into the bowels of the earth. A colony of chocoyos, green parrots, nests there at the end of the day.
To our right, a monumental cross seems to watch over the crater. Erected in the 16th century by Father Francisco de Bobadilla, governor of the Indies, it aimed to exorcise what was a sacrificial site in the pre-Columbian era. In the village of Nindirí, a few kilometers below the volcano, young girls were slaughtered on a sacred stone before transporting them and then throwing them into the smoking abyss. Next to Santiago, four other extinct craters draw a tormented landscape, all in relief, including around thirty lava tunnels, some several kilometers long. Wings rustling, little shrill cries … Helmet on your head and flashlight in hand, you enter it at dusk when the bats leave them to go hunting.
Outside, the ridge lines also allow you to contemplate a horizon strewn with volcanoes, lakes and lagoons.
The Cerro Negro. Photo Ben Beiske. Flickr
Finally, we see the Cerro Negro (“the black hill”), the youngest of the Nicaraguan volcanoes, 164 years old. This mass of basalt, brown and raw, 728 meters high, is devoid of any vegetation. Forty-five minutes is enough to reach its peak, swept by the wind, and feel your heart beat in the scent of sulfur. Cerro Negro is a player. You can surf on its outer slopes, the Pacific in sight. Fire and water. Again.
Only flights with stopovers serve Nicaragua from France. Connections with Air France via Panama City or with American Airlines and US Airways via Miami. Preferably from November to April, during the dry season
With peace of mind Nicaragua suffers from a violent image, inherited from the civil war of the late 1970s to the early 1990s, which no longer corresponds to reality. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, it is the safest country in Central America, along with Costa Rica.
In the right season Preferably, from November to April, during the dry season with an average temperature of 26 ° C. Time difference: -8h in summer, -7h in winter