7. Staring into Hell

The first time you stare into the belly of an active volcano is a moment that you never forget. In May 2016 I was given the opportunity to join some dear friends in Nicaragua, an amazing country with a large density of active volcanoes. As part of our adventures we took a trip up to the summit of Volcan Masaya where we peered down into ‘the gates of hell’.

Our journey began with a tour guide service in the city of Granada where we booked on to a night-time crater tour. Our trip included transport, guide, entry into the volcano park and gas masks just in case the volcano was emitting too many gases. In the end we got all of these things except for a guide, but the whole experience was no less mind-blowing.

We were driven from Granada to the city of Masaya where we joined a long queue which stretched a long way down the dual carriage way. We slowly slowly crept forward and eventually made it to the park entrance where a fee was paid and we were able to continue in our long queue through the park up to a manned road block. It was dark and humid, all around was vegetation and impatient people getting in and out of their cars. Through the trees a starry night sky could be seen, interrupted every now and again by bright flashes of lightning from a distant storm.

We learnt that only a certain number of cars are allowed up to the summit at a time and when it’s your turn you are given a maximum of 15 minutes to park the car, get out, and peer over the edge into the crater below.

It was finally our turn….We slowly drove in convoy with the other qualifying sightseers up towards the summit. We cleared the trees as we entered into a lava field surrounding the volcano. As we approached the summit the clouds above the vent turned a deep red. The silhouette of crucifix appeared on the horizon against the deep red sky with the occasional flashes of lightning from a nearby thunderhead, the air smelling more and more sulfurous as we got closer. It was incredible…

When the car stopped at the summit we jumped out and raced towards the barriers on the craters rim….the sight that met us was unbelievable. Boiling, shifting, bubbling, glowing orange lava with puzzle pieces caused by various regions of cooled lava floating on the molten mass. The hubub of the sightseers around us was pretty loud but if you cupped your ears in the direction of the lava lake you could hear the frothing and rushing of the bursting, mixing lava below.

You get sucked into a trance by the amazing sights and sounds of the boiling lava and its difficult to pull your self away. Soon though our allotted 15 minutes was over and everyone at the crater was herded back into their cars and told to make their way back down.

There was so much to take in at the craters rim, it wasn’t until afterwards when looking through the images and videos that I had taken that the experience truly sank in. This was an experience that I will never forget. If you happen to be visiting Nicaragua I highly recommend going up to peer into the gates of hell at the summit of Volcan Masaya. Not only for the incredible experience but also because this is one of only a handful of active lava lakes in the world! It’s therefore a very unique experience and I promise that it will be something that you never ever forget.

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