Killing Ants with Dance and Climbing Conception

The last few weeks have been unusual because the school year is stuttering to a stop and there was a patron saint festival in a nearby city. The festival went on for a couple of weeks, but I went with the family of a friend of mine to see the big day of celebration on November 17th. San Diego is the patron saint of Altagracia on Ometepe Island and they celebrate by having mass in the church and then carrying a statue of the saint in the middle of a procession around the whole town.

The crowds leaving mass to begin the procession

The procession also does a kind of shuffling dance with branches in the air to represent an event that happened long ago. It is said that once, when there was a terrible plague of leafcutter ants, the townspeople called on the saint to rid them of the pests and save their crops. The saint performed a miracle and the people began to dance and swing branches to kill the ants and save their livelihoods, so every year they celebrate the saint by doing the ‘baile del zompopo’ through the town for hours.

You can see San Diego's head through the branches...

San Diego being carrid on the shoulders of the faithful

Being a part of the parade was like walking in a forest of bodies, arms, and leaves. The air was crisp with green plant smells and the sun beat down between the branches we held overhead as we danced slowly forward. At various points along the route the people carrying the statue would put it down and everyone would crowd around to touch the figure and pray. I could only last for about an hour and a half before I sought out shade, but it was a really neat event to observe and participate in. After the procession and lunch at my friends’ family’s house we went and watched the bull-riding. I’m not a particular fan of bull-riding, mostly because it consists of 90% waiting for them to get the bulls to cooperate and 10% actually watching things happen. A big draw for the town is to watch the drunk men make fools of themselves in the ring. Apart from the actual person riding the bull a crowd of young hotshots and old drunk guys slosh around and try to use a cape to bullfight and just get as close as they can without getting mauled. It gets old fast.

The Volcano Concepción

A couple of weeks later I finally got the opportunity to climb the larger, active volcano on the island with a few friends of mine. Concepción volcano is 1,610 meters above sea level and is often shrouded in clouds because of the mixing of hot air from the volcano with cooler air around it. I met my friends at 6 AM and we began our trek at about 6:40. I knew the climb would be significantly more challenging than the smaller volcano, but I assumed that it would be similar. I was wrong. The rocky terrain made for a more dangerous and challenging climb and the 200 meters of additional altitude compared to Maderas volcano made much more difference than I anticipated.

Me on my way up Concepción volcano

The trail was very rocky and steep most of the way

It was still a really great climb and we got some great views at about the halfway point, before we entered the clouds that obscured the rest of our ascent. After what seemed like hours of hiking through 20-meter visibility, a 45 degree incline, low bushes with massive leaves, and a steadily cooling damp air, we arrived at a stopping place only 15 minutes from the top. I had brought a huge tupperware of veggie spaghetti that I made the night before and it proved to be exactly what we were craving at that moment. We had been hiking uphill for four hours and we rested for about a half hour before leaving our bags and pushing to the top.

In the last 50 meters or so the wind really began to pick up until the edge of the crater appeared out of the mist. It was a sharply defined rim around a chasm of indistinguishable depth and as soon as I got to the edge I could feel the heat emanating from the ground. The smell of sulfur was so strong at the top that nasal passage constricted in protest, not wanting to draw any more in. The wind must have been about 20 miles per hour and its insistent pressing seemed to urge a leap into the abyss. We were all pretty careful, knowing that the dropoff was so steep that it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to climb out. As we waited for everyone to make their way to the top the chill began to sink into our skin and bones and we hugged the loose sand and gravel for warmth, marveling at the thought that we were embracing the heat from an active volcano a mile in the air.

Pointing into the crater at the top of Concepción

The hike down was treacherously steep and difficult, not the least because our legs were shaking from exertion. It seemed to take forever, but we kept ourselves distracted by telling jokes and working out math puzzles. We knew that a good meal and some beer awaited us at the end of our journey.

The view of Maderas volcano from Concepción

The tired and triumphant crew at the bottom once again.

I have rarely in my life slept as well as I slept the night after climbing this volcano. I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving and has a good start to their December. Cheers!


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Janet Boddy on December 3, 2011 at 8:44 am

    Great pictures! Quite a wonderful group of climbers. It was quite an accomplishment. Can you name the climbers and the friend you went to the parade with, in an email? The parade sounded quite fascinating, though, as you say, tiring/tedious after a while. What temp was that heat?


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