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Inside the Heart of a Volcano!

My feet ran away from my boots!

The Pacific Ocean gently laps at the beach. My feet seem even whiter here, standing on the black sand of Playa Negra on El Tigre Island, Honduras. The island's volcanic origins are evident because of its cone shape. El Tigre (the tiger) rose out of the ocean about three million years ago - spewing fire and lava from deep inside the earth. The volcano is now inactive, but the people who live here benefit from the fertile volcanic soil and beautiful beaches of sand that used to be lava.

El Tigre - How old are you? I'm 3 million years old!

Five million years ago, two of the "tectonic plates" that make up the surface of the earth started to collide between North and South America. They have been running into each other ever since. The Coco plate - which is just off the Pacific coast - is moving northeast, and it crashes into the Caribbean plate at a speed of 10 meters per century (pretty fast, in geological terms). As the Caribbean plate is pushed, earthquakes and volcanoes are caused in Central America. Antigua, Guatemala City, Managua, and San Salvador have each been destroyed more than once by earthquakes - a result of the movement of the tectonic plates.

There are over 250 volcanoes in Central America. Hardly a day goes by that we don't see at least one. One quarter of them are extinct and another half of them are considered dormant. That leaves one quarter of the volcanoes still active, sometimes glowing and smoking, and occasionally erupting and causing nearby villages to evacuate.

The ride to Ometepe was pretty grueling for Kavitha!

When I left Honduras I was traveling alone. Kavitha had stayed behind in El Salvador and the others were already in Costa Rica. When it was time for me to leave Honduras I went to the side of the road where I was staying and began waiting for my bus when - guess what happened! Who should come riding by in a taxi but Kavitha! What luck! Well, she told me she was going to Nicaraguan Island of Ometepe, in the "Lago Nicaragua," and I decided to go with her! The island was formed by two side by side volcanoes - the extinct Volcan Madera, which has a lagoon in its crater, now, and the still active Concepcion. Both volcanoes usually have clouds clinging to the tops of them that create a humid high altitude cloud forest.

Liquid rocks forged in the womb of the mother.
Smoke and churn. Kick and turn.
Pushing out, she is giving the light.
Fiery birth of fertile earth.
Continents bridged by a string of black pearls.

Climbing volcanoes is a popular tourist activity throughout Central America. We chose the shorter, inactive volcano for a climb. It was still a long way up! The base of Volcan Madera was dry and hot. There is an organic coffee and honey cooperative farm, where we stopped for breakfast. Volcanic soil is very fertile, and things like coffee and bananas grow well there. We passed through a coffee plantation where I stopped to worship the cocoa trees - I love my chocolate!

Kavitha backs into the volcano - carefully...

The higher we got, the wetter it got, until we were hiking through heavy, dark mud in a dense, cloud forest. Thick and green, it was full of howler monkeys and exotic plants. At the top, 1,340 meters high, we started down into the crater. Our guide brought ropes to help us climb deep into the crater. We were still in a dense cloud, so we could only see a few hundred feet - not enough to see the lake at our feet.

Abeja checks out ancient petroglyphs.

We got covered in mud as we climbed out of the crater down to the base of the volcano. Our guide took us through the corn and coffee fields to several areas with lots of old, black, volcanic rock, with ancient petroglyphs! Archeologists know little about who carved these pictures, but we had different guesses as to what each one was.

I wonder, as I visit these places where volcanoes loom, how it must be for the people who live here. The volcanoes give them the land and the fertility needed to live, but they are a threatening and explosive presence, a constant reminder of how small and mortal we each are.


Abeja - Eye of a Hurricane: Honduras After Mitch
Kavitha - Oh Say Can't You See? - Bill Clinton's Too-Brief Visit to Nicaragua
Abeja - It's a Bird...It's a Plane...No! It's a Gigantic Doll!!!
Kavitha - A Tale of Two Cities: Nicaragua's Divided History
Monica - Lemonade with a Nobel Laureate
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