Monotombo, the smoking volcano, with the volcanic lake Oxolotam in the foreground. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Monotombo, The Smoking Volcano

The hills and mountains of Nicaragua are beautiful and cool. Leon, where I was staying, is a lovely place, but too hot. Even Patricio, my guide and a native year-round resident of Honduras, found Leon too warm for him. We went to the ruins of the old colonial capital of Nicaragua, Leon, but there was little to see. A very small museum of early people from the Aztec were found here and a few artifacts from the Spanish conquistadors.

The Royal Road, remains of the government house, and the flat ground under the fort had been on a small knoll. The grand city collapsed because of the revolt of the indigenous people. They endured abuse; some were handcuffed and dragged down the Royal Road to keep all the others in line. Then 21 priests who complained to the leader Cordoba about the terrible treatment were killed while sleeping in their beds. Soon after, the volcano erupted and sent the people fleeing. We walked around the old site and up on to the knoll of the old fort. There was a great view of Monotombo, the smoking volcano, and the volcanic lake Oxolotam.

Thatched huts in Nicaragua. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Thatched huts in Nicaragua. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Patricio and I stopped for lunch at a local roadside café for fritos questo, made with homemade tortillas and filled fresh chopped tomatoes, onions, and mozzarella cheese. The café had a thatched roof. Many of the homes in this area have thatched huts, where the owners can sit under the shade. Thatch is sold at places along the highway.

We drove to Masaya National Park to see the active volcano Masaya. You can smell the sulfur fumes from quite a distance and see the smoke rising for miles away. As we approached, I could hear the raging river of red hot lava before I saw it. Far below, inside the large cauldron, was the bubbling river of lava. It is amazing to see the power and force of nature at work. When the wind changed direction and the fumes blew towards us, it stung our eyes and hurts our noses—not  a safe place to stay for very long. The warmth around the vast volcano is a snake’s paradise. There are road signs that say, “Watch out for snakes.”

We were on our way to Granada, Nicaragua, when Patricio was stopped by the police, our worst fear. One police officer came to the car. Patricio had everything in order: his driver’s license, registration, ID card, travel documents, insurance card. We both had our seat belts fastened and he was going below the speed limit. The police officer got in the car to see what we were carrying—only my bag and Patricio’s duffle bag. He could find nothing wrong and Patricio was quiet, polite, and patient. I just sat and watched.

The other police officer came up to the car and told Patricio to get out of the vehicle. They walked a few yards behind the car and stood under a tree by the road. They were there a long time talking. Finally Patricio came back and got in the car and was very mad.

He said, “I hope they get diarrhea!” I tried not to laugh, as I know he had all he could do to control himself. He had had to give them money. We know why he was stopped. He had a Honduras license plate, it was a nice new van, and it had all the marks of being a tourism vehicle. That meant easy money for bad police.

Patricio, a nice man, who was usually very polite and mild mannered, was not the same for the rest of the day. He had been so meticulous about doing a good job, never passing, never speeding, and following the laws. That was why he was so mad.  It was very near Granada and the end of another day. I hoped Patricio would calm down.

That night, after settling in to my room, I met him at a café in the main plaza and we had a native dinner. Patricio had his favorite vigorom, cooked papaya leaves on the bottom then layers of chopped cabbage, tomatoes, onions, fried pork skins, yucca, and squeezed lime juice. I had fresh vegetables and a stew with chicken and rice. Thankfully, our next day was a hiking day and Patricio didn’t have to drive.

(posted November 14, 2017)

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