Masaya Volcano—A Great Place to Die

Fri, Oct 8, 2010

General, International, Outdoors

Masaya Volcano—A Great Place to Die

The town of Masaya in Nicaragua is close to a lake and an active volcano by the same name.  But is that maybe not such a good idea?

The Parque Nacional Volcán Masaya consists of several craters, but we just visited the biggest one. It’s up the road from a terrific park museum that explains the area and region in terms of its history, geology and biodiversity.

When visitors drive up to peer into this vast, deep, rumbling crater, they are met with parking spaces with individual signage in English and Spanish saying to back in, rather than pull in. All cars need to be facing the exit, rather than the crater itself.  This is to enable a speedy getaway.  Nowhere, nowhere I have ever been in my life, from Haleakala to St. Helens, have I ever felt such volcano anxiety…nowhere else have I ever been able to just drive my car to the rim of an active volcanic crater!

This oh-so-comforting yellow sign, for example, did not help my nerves.

Keep away from the area…I mean, we are all the way up there, miles and miles from other shelter.  Keep away from the area?   N’duh…in order to be reading the damn sign, we are having to be IN the area.   You just have to love such crazily translated signage in places where your life could end in a sudden cloud of noxious sulfur dioxide, your body pelted by angry chunks of hot volcanic rock!

Seriously, though, the volcano was amazing.  Indigenous people feared it, and sacrificed women and children to keep it appeased, but it always erupted anyway.   No wonder the Spanish Catholic priests who came here called it “The Mouth of Hell.” A cross was erected high up on the nearby peak to exorcise the devil.   But that didn’t stop the massive eruptions in the 1700s.

The guide informed us that last week, an unhappy Nicaraguan man went all the way up to the far other side of the crater and jumped to his death.

His family came up during the park’s official search for the man’s body, and while that was going on, inclement weather developed, and three of the man’s family members were struck by lightning, one of them fatally.

It made me think:  This Nicaraguan Mouth of Hell is one of the most excellent suicide locations I’ve ever seen, better than skyscrapers or bridges or anything else manmade.

Of course, I didn’t mention this to my two kids.   They were rather shocked by what the park ranger was saying about the incident.   The idea of imminent death truly hits home when you are standing right there, breathing in the sulfur fumes, contemplating the fall to your death into a lava-filled pit crater. That little stone wall is all that separates you from your doom!

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