|Travel Photography Isthmus
Ramón suggests that we try walking. “I walk all the time, it is no problem for me,” he says. We stare past the sunny pastures at the swirling clouds several miles away; the eternally clouded twin peaks of Mombacho. Although the road to the top is steeply pitched, we have no idea how many miles. In fact, as a guide, Ramón has no idea about this area at all. He is young at 24, and has only been to Mombacho as a tourist himself, and hasn’t an inkling of its natural history, or even the fact the volcano is closed.
The lower two-thirds of this mountain is reserved for agriculture. But higher up the peak - traditionally too steep and dense for entry - the protected ecology switches to old growth cloud forest. Cloud forests are technically rainforests higher than a thousand feet. Rainforests are typically lowland ecologies; elevation sets new conditions of temperature and soil composition.
Because southwestern Nicaragua is largely savannah ecology, places like Mombacho have become land islands; lonely lost worlds above the clouds.
I am all for the walk, and Jane, she's game for anything. What a great way to enter a Central American cloud forest; by foot, feeling the layers of growth changing.
At this low elevation on the volcano, the flora is a mix of dry forest and savannah trees. Fields of grain are stitched into the flatter areas. Cattle ramble along the small cobblestone road, and among them, like angels, are the green and blue and red butterflies. The sense of it all is overwhelming; that sense of going somewhere magical, but forbidden.
Most people are disappointed when they enter a rainforest for the first time. They expect, like at zoos, to see animals, color, possibly large cats and green snakes. All of those things exist at the peak of Mombacho, and three species of monkey too. A salamander and a butterfly exist nowhere else in the world. They all exist up there, but certainly invisible to the one-day walker. Any glimpse will be fleeting and unrewarding.
Enjoyment of the rainforest comes from literature, science and natural history. Without books, the rainforest is just green and overgrown. But books decode it; they unfold a world only familiar to field biologists and native gatherers.
I notice that Ramón is unfamiliar with the names of many of the species. I tell him I'll send him some books. "We have a literature deficiency here. We'll take anything."
The humidity works its way into Jane and me within minutes of walking. In twenty minutes, my white shirt is nearly see-through. Ramón, who doesn’t break a sweat, says, “Central Americans work like the negro and sweat like the white man.”
Ramón, who works six days a week, also attends church six nights a week. Somehow, he squeezes in University. “Tourism management,” he says. “It’s the best career path in Nicaragua.”
He says, “Money, money. That’s what I’m good at.” And, “The future of Nicaragua is tourism.”