Eight grueling hours hiking the steepest and slipperiest slope I’ve ever come across in my life.
It started harmlessly. A long walk up a rural path dotted with simple homes and farm animals snuffing out their breakfast at around 6 AM. My companion was my Nicaraguan guide, Alberto. A native to the island, he spoke less English than I spoke Spanish. I learned he had a daughter, he learned that I came from California. That concluded our introductions. Needless to say, it was going to be a quiet day.
By the time we got to the entrance of the hike, I was sweating profusely.
We started out through the beautiful jungle setting accompanied by sounds of howler monkeys and birds. Weaving up through varying terrain and surrounded by tropical trees, the lush setting distracted me from how treacherous the climb was becoming.
When we stopped for a rest and Alberto offered me a day-old piece of bread, I noted that we had gone from a warm and slightly windy temperature to what I would imagine it felt like to be in a cloud. As I was already quite tired from the steep incline of rubble, I asked how much longer we had, to which he responded, ‘dos e media, tres horas.’
It was at this point that I realized I was in for way more than I had expected, and it was doubtful I’d get to catch up with my friends later on at the swimming hole for a coconut beverage as I had hoped.
As we climbed on, the terrain went from rubble to huge boulders, to slippery boulders, to slippery rocks, to pure mud and swamp that sucked at all edges of my once brightly colored pink Nikes. The air pressure became thinner and the temperature turned icy cold. The moisture on my body that before was perspiration was now rainwater from the heavy vapor that was coming from the, yes, cloud we were climbing through.
I began to understand that this was not a casual hike, and that maybe I should have paid attention when people told me that many hikers had fallen to their deaths on that very same volcano.
The moment this fact passed through my head, I began to panic. I wanted my parents. I wanted to turn around. Tears welled up in my eyes. The pain in my legs was becoming unbearable, and as Alberto hiked ahead and disappeared into the cloud, my resolve began to weaken. The eighty-five degree staircase of rocks and bushes went on for hours with no reprieve. My vision blurred, my calves began to cramp, and I seriously started wondering why this death trap trail even existed.
I knew I couldn’t turn around, mostly because I didn’t know how to say it in Spanish, so I began repeating positive affirmations to myself. ‘You got this Liv,’ ‘If anyone can do this it’s you,’ ‘It’s an adventure!’ This helped a little, until I would glance up into the howling vortex I was absolutely terrified of, and wondered if I could actually make it to the top.
Then, at a certain point, I swear to God, Whitney Houston popped into my head, and ‘Dance with somebody’ got me motivated for the last two hours up to the crater. It was a miracle.
I don’t even like Whitney Houston.
We finally made it to the crater, and it was absolutely miserable.
The wind was roaring at this point. I was freezing and soaking wet. There was heat blasting through the rocks and I could feel the power of the volcano beneath my feet. Visibility was absolute shit and I was more than ready to start the descent.
Going down, at first, was an amazing relief. My legs relaxed, I could plod along without the use of my walking stick, my neck softened. It was luxurious.
But then the injuries started. I began slipping and sliding everywhere. Scraping my legs, banging my knees, catching my backpack on bushes. The journey down would prove to be longer and more fearful than the climb.
After three hours, the wind quieted and I was able to see more than five feet ahead of me. My nerves slowly began to settle, and I came to believe that I probably was going to live. When I finally got to the bottom, flat ground had never felt so good.
All in all, it was the most painful and terrifying experience of my life. Would I do it again? Fuck no. Do I wish I hadn’t done it that day? Maybe. But where did staying in my comfort zone ever get me? I just hope that taking on challenges like that will help create the framework for future challenges of life; that I can learn to be calm, to persevere, and if all else fails, to put on and 80s song and dance through the pain.