Saturday, March 15, 2008

Nevado del Ruiz

“Don’t forget to bring your bathing suit,” said a German tourist staying at the Mountain House with me in Manizales.

“Why do I need a bathing suit?” I asked.


We were headed to Nevado del Ruiz, a snow-capped volcano of more than 17,000 feet. It was an all-day, outdoor trip, and yes, I needed to bring my warmest clothes and a bathing suit. We were hiking toward the volcano’s peak and then warming up nearby in a thermal pool that is naturally heated from Colombia’s most infamous volcano.


Our group of a dozen people, mostly Colombian and German, was excited to see this beautiful volcano and its surrounding mountain peaks. However, the locals call it “the Sleeping Lion,” and for good reason. Nevado del Ruiz had been dormant for nearly 150 years until it erupted on November 13, 1985. The snow and ice melted at the summit and caused enormous mud-flowing rivers that traveled more than 100 kilometers per hour. The nearby town of Armero was completely covered and about 21,000 of its people (out of 28,700) were killed, including a girl named Omayra Sánchez who was trapped up to her neck in water for three days before she died. The eruption killed about 23,000, the deadliest volcanic eruption since 1902.


Despite the fact it is still active, many people like me want to climb as close to its crater as possible. I arrived in Manizales the night before because I wanted to visit Eje Cafetero, or “Coffee Axis,” the main coffee-growing region of Colombia. Three cities make up this region: Armenia, Manizales, and Pereira. The people who live here are known for their warmth and hospitality. It is an area that, unlike most of the country, hasn’t been affected that much from the guerilla violence. Its biggest nemesis has been mother nature, in particular volcano eruptions and earthquakes. In 1999, an earthquake destroyed Armenia and damaged a lot of Eje Cafetero. The people and towns have since recovered.


To Manizales it had taken nine-hours by bus from Bogotá because of the winding Andean mountain roads. It had also rained half of the time. My taxi driver in Manizales said it had rained virtually every day in March and was going to do the same while I was there.


I didn’t believe him. Our group had great weather today; we were fortunate. The mountain roads from Manizales to Nevado del Ruiz were the bumpiest I’ve experienced in Colombia. Our bus driver had to move at a snail’s pace over the myriad potholes
and rocks. Taking a nap was impossible. Then again, you probably didn’t want to take one since the views were so incredible. Along every turn it seemed more beautiful than before. Coffee and other crops grew in patches along the steep mountain sides. It was true wilderness with very few people or homes. Of course we saw some soldiers with machine guns and fatigues on the side of the road, but this is common throughout the country.


Because the bus ride to and from the mountain took so long, we didn’t have much time to hike. However, it was so cold and windy near the volcano’s summit, that the short hike to about 17,000 feet was good enough for me. I was glad I had worn suntan lotion and brought my warmest clothes. Still, the altitude made it difficult to breathe and I had a headache. I soon forget about these minor discomforts as I marveled at the volcano’s beauty. I saw a giant crevice where the snow and debris had flowed during the 1985 eruption. Though much of the snow had melted during the eruption, there was still plenty to see and hike across. I nearly fell down from the slippery mud. We trekked about 200 meters shy of the summit. Our guide said we couldn’t go any farther because we needed special climbing gear. I felt like I would have tried to climb to the top if I was alone. Perhaps this is why guides are mandatory in Parque Nacional Los Nevados. Our guide, Maria, was extremely knowledgeable and had a good sense of humor. She worked for Ecosistemas: Turismo de Natrualeza y Aventura. The hostal where I stayed in Manizales, Mountain House, was the cleanest hostel I’ve ever stayed in, and it had a Vermont-like feel. It also had knowledgeable and friendly service and arranged my Nevado del Ruiz trip. So I highly recommend both the hostel and tourism company.


The trip included breakfast and lunch, which we ate at the Termales del Ruiz, a hotel and restaurant which has a large outdoor pool that is naturally heated from the volcano. As I relaxed in hot pool, not far from the snowy peak, I was glad I had brought my bathing suit.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

That is so cool! How far away is the volcano from the capital citie?

Promoción 2011 Iragua said...

Hi, Brett... Such a great experience! I got to go soon (nov 18th) with my students of 9 grade. We are planning camping near the "Refugio", we hope to see snow falling and our guide say that it is a great time for this.
Thanks for your blog I will show it to my students,
Clara

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