A Demon in the Forest? El Nevado de Colima Attempt #1

nevado de colima

There are times in your life when you look at a volcano and think: I must try to climb that. You’re not sure where this impulse comes from. Possibly from somewhere deep inside you, possibly next to your pancreas. You look down at your shoes and see they’re woefully inadequate for mountaineering and think, To hell with it. I’m going to try anyway.

nevado de colima

Kilometer two. Paying respects.

I left El Fresnito at around 9am, armed only with my skate shoes and a half-full bottle of water. Almost immediately I ran into another group of hikers, two girls and one guy from Guadalajara. I asked them how many kilos they were carrying.

Fifteen, one the girls said.

 

Fifteen? Are you carrying cinder blocks? A hardcover copy of 2666 (In which case: Can we get married?)? I couldn’t understand how they could have so much weight. It sometimes seems like in Latin America the appearance of doing something properly is more important than anything else. You DO NOT go cycling without cycling shorts and a cycling jersey. You DO NOT go running without stretchy pants and running shoes. And you DO NOT go hiking without a huge, overly-loaded backpack.

arbutus madrone nevado de colima mexico

The beautiful madrone.

An hour in I was treated to a welcome sight. The Pacific Madrone, or Arbutus menziesii (to those of us who speak more cultivated tongues), is extremely common in the Pacific Northwest, but only found at higher elevations in Mexico. I like seeing them because they make me feel at home. They’re easy to spot because of their distinctive peeling bark that reveals a smooth, usually green or orange surface underneath.

It soon became apparent that the trail was not the best way to go, so I abandoned it for the longer, but much more manageable, dirt road. Things were instantly better. Instead of a struggle, it was a walk in the park. I was happy. I began to sing “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”

The air began to get cooler and after about two and a half hours of walking I got to a campground called El Alcazar. It was deserted. There were bathrooms and outside them a sink, and I wondered if the sink water was drinkable. After some debate, I decided to fill up my water bottle half full, and on the way down if I saw the people from Guadalajara ask them if they knew if it was safe to drink.

nevado de colima, plantas, plants

Difficult to see, but chandeliers of succulent cacti hanging from these massive trees.

Luckily, I ran into them almost immediately. They were struggling up the steep trail I’d fallen on just a few moments earlier trying to see if one of the water tanks I’d been told had water had some kind of spigot where I could fill up my water bottle.

What don’t you take the road? I asked.

Because this is more direct, one of the girls said.

How about we get married right now? Is that direct enough?

But of course I didn’t say this. I said, The trail is hell. The road is so much nicer.

I also asked if they knew if the water from the sink was potable, and they said they didn’t think so.

You can just drink from those tanks, the guy said, pointing up the trail.

You just pull back the lid? I asked.

Yes, he said.

This was welcome news, since I hadn’t had a drink in quite some time. The guy and I peeled the lid back to reveal a rushing brook of pure, cold spring water.

water nevado colima

Ahhhhhh, water.

What a difference a small thing like access to fresh, cold water can make. Even though I hadn’t made it very far up the mountain, I was completely content with turning around and going back down. They continued to struggle up the trail with awful, sliding loose dirt, and I bounded off down the dirt road, happy as a lynx.

The trip back down was long and uneventful. I’d made it to about 2,700 meters from a starting elevation of about 1,700 meters. The summit, for reference, is just over 4,200 meters.

When I got back to the Airbnb where I’m staying, owned by a couple named Augustin and Lupita Ibarra, who’ve hosted travelers and mountaineers since the 90’s, Augustin offered me some beer. It was perfect. I decided to put my water consumption on hold, and instead take in the cold, refreshing suds.

And that was my first attempt at summiting the Nevado de Colima. With skate shoes, I don’t know if I’ll make it to the top. I might try to get a ride up further tomorrow and get closer to the summit. And find the group of girls (and one guy) I’d shared some nice conversation with.

Or maybe I’ll just stay below, drinking beer with Augustin. Both options sound pretty nice.

A special thanks to SCL for supporting this “blugh.”

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A demon in the forest.

Preview: Four Days at the Foot of an Active Volcano

Photo Credit: livingandworkinginmexico.wordpress.com

Tomorrow I’m leaving the sweltering heat and (relative) congestion of Guadalajara to spend four nights at the foot of the Colima Volcano, just outside Ciudad Guzman in southern Jalisco. I’m staying in a town called El Fresnito, though on Google Maps it’s referred to as La Mesa. It’s right at the base of the 12,500 foot volcano, which last erupted in January of 2017 (and is apparently the most active in Mexico, at least according to this blog).

I know nothing about Ciudad Guzman. Or actually, I KNEW nothing about Ciudad Guzman, until I stumbled upon this wonderful post from a blog called Living and Working in Mexico (I’m still trying to figure out what the blog is about). Now I know that Ciudad Guzman has about 100,000 people, that it’s located at 1,800 meters above sea level, that’s it’s “chill,” and that, at least according to the author of this blog, it’s an ideal place to live in Mexico.

One hundred thousand people is just about the perfect size, as the author notes. The problem with this, as the author also notes, is that the smaller the cities in Mexico get, the more conservative and Catholic they become. This is not a strange phenomenon. This also happens in The States, albeit usually with other religions. One dilemma you have as a human living on this earth is: Do I live in a progressive, liberal city that has 500 million people where I can never feel at peace? Or do I live in the country, where people shoot guns at animals and make racist jokes, but life is more relaxed?  The answer might (might) be: Move to New Zealand.

Either way, as I mentioned before, I’m not staying in Ciudad Guzman; I’m staying a small town just outside of it, at a house owned by a middle-aged Mexican couple that has a garden and a communal fire pit and a weak wifi signal. I’m excited about the weak wifi. The only thing worse than “getting away” on vacation is not actually getting away because you spend half your day looking at a cell phone or computer screen. But this won’t be possible in El Fresnito.

Above: The listing of the place where I’m staying (this photo was basically the reason I booked it). 
It’s almost impossible to find information about El Fresnito on the internet, other than where it is (12km southwest of Ciudad Guzman and about a two hour drive south of Guadalajara). There is one website that has some ultra-specific (presumably census, though I don’t know from when) info about this town. Apparently it has exactly 425 men and 426 women. The population is %0.00 percent indigenous. And 3.64% of the population has internet access (this info is surely outdated). The only other information has to be imagined, and when it comes to traveling, this is much more fun anyway. I imagine the sounds of roosters crowing in the morning, the smell of a wood fire, and the volcano lurking the background. I imagine getting up early, excited to drink mate, and taking long walks into the pine forests flanking the mountain. I imagine eating quesadillas in the afternoon, and at least one excursion into Ciudad Guzman to see what the city for myself.

Anyway, that’s a little preview about my upcoming trip to Ciudad Guzman, El Fresnito, and the Colima Volcano. Right now I’m imagining what my time in these places is going to be like, getting excited about it, and tomorrow, after finishing my Spanish classes at 12pm, I’ll find out for real.

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