Two people exploring the world, seeking adventure & unique experiences.
Welcome to the Quetzaltrekker family
Quetzaltrekkers is a non-profit organization that provides adventure hikes to volcanoes in areas around Leon. All profits are donated to locally run projects that support at risk children
We had been looking for volunteering opportunities during the trip where we didn’t need to pay an overpriced administration fee such as $1000. We had really enjoyed our Telica and volcano boarding experiences, so we asked if they needed a couple of extra volunteers. February and March are some of the busiest tourist months of the year and they could use a couple of extra volunteers. Typically the minimum length for volunteering is three months, but they made an exception for us with the condition that we would only focus on a couple of the hikes.
From day one we were welcomed with open arms to our extended Quetzaltrekker family. The other guides new and old have been fantastic and always ready to lend an open hand if you need help at any time, making my first couple of hike preparations so much easier. We lived, hiked, ate and hung out with the other guides in the house; immediately it felt like we were part of a large family. .
We were first given a tour of the building. The building consists of, an office, dorms, kitchen, bodega-(for camping gear), store room, large table with chairs, for eating/ hanging, and a large open space with hammocks to hang out in. There are also a large mango tree and lime tree, which have just started getting ripe fruit; perfect for Lemonade and smoothies. During our stay the other guides have found many inventive ways to use the abundant supply of mangoes and limes. Some examples include mango ice-cream, mango jam, key lime pie popsicles and lemonade.
On the first day we also met the house pet who is a German Shepherd named Caña (as in the very popular Nicaraguan Flor de Caña Rum). The funny thing is that Caña seems a bit racist in terms of who can come into the house. When it is a non-tourist she will typically run at them and bark at them. This is usually when an unknown person comes into the office to try and sell something. She will be your best friend fairly soon after she realises you are not a threat and have good intentions.
Telica day hike
Our first hike together, was the Telica day hike. Telica is an active volcano which last erupted in 2011, standing at 1060m tall. It is one of the most popular hikes with Quetzaltrekkers as you get to see lava at night.
It was our first time preparing for a hike by ourselves so we asked a lot of questions about how much to bring. Rodora tends to always cater too much food as she never likes being hungry. The only problem is that the guides carry the food and if you brought too much then it would weigh a lot. We made preparations for veggie burritos (a very popular choice) and purifying water for everyone.
The only trick to this hike is returning in the dark as you lose all reference points (and need new ones) like the lights of Leon to guide you back. Typically the only problem with this hike is you are climbing at the hottest part of the day. The hike leaves the office at 12pm, starting to hike around 1pm and arriving at the top around 4pm in time to relax for a short time and eat dinner while watching the sun set.
A moment we will never forget as a guide was coming over the ridge with the first view of Telica and the whole group stopping for a moment and saying; Wow! Almost all clients are mesmerised by the view in front of them.
After sunset we headed over to check out the lava in the dark. Clients are again mesmerised by the beauty of Telica and excited to see the display of lava. After people are done with the crater, it is time to return to Leon. This is where the fun began hiking in the dark. Everything looked completely different. The benefit of hiking in the dark is you get to see a lot more night life you would never see during the day. On the way back we saw spiders, scorpions, whip scorpion spiders, tarantulas, leaf cutter ants and night jars. When we got to the sandy road at the bottom, and saw the lights of Victor’s truck, the clients beamed with happiness as we had tired them out completely. The minute they were in the truck they were asleep.
Volcano boarding – Cerro Negro
This is one of the number one tourist attractions in Leon starting in 2004. The risk and danger of volcano boarding down an active volcano draws in steady crowds of tourists. It involves using what is effectively a piece of wood that you sit on to ride down the side of a volcano at speeds up to 95kph (60mph). Cerro Negro is Central America’s youngest volcano; born in 1850 and now stands at 730m above sea level. It had been erupting frequently about every 8 years but now it has been 14 years since its last eruption, so it’s only a matter of time before it erupts again.
Quetzaltrekkers includes the $5 entrance fee to get onto the volcano with lunch, snacks and water also included. The big bonus that many other companies don’t include is that you can go a second time if you want to. Quetzaltrekkers has also invested in sexy new suits and fast new boards.
One of the most interesting facts is it holds the world downhill mountain biking speed record initially set by Eric Barone in 2002 who on his second attempt had a spectacular crash at 163kph.
The highest recorded speed on a volcano boarding listed at BigFoot is 95kph. It’s hard to imagine someone going down that fast.
El Hoyo is a two day hike that includes volcano boarding, panoramic views of Lake Managua, a close up view of a huge crater hole at the top and swimming in a crater lake. El Hoyo means the hole in Spanish. It was frequently discussed and concluded amongst the guides that El Hoyo had some of the best views of all of our hikes.
The first day starts with breakfast at the Quetzaltrekker office before getting on private transport to go volcano boarding at Cerro Negro. Lunch is then eaten at the Ranger Station before what is probably the hardest 1 hour of hiking for the whole trip. It is a combination of the incline, the heat and having a full pack on your back. The rest of the hike usually takes about 2 hours of slight ups and downs to get to the crater where we camp.
After setting up camp and taking a moment to catch our breath, the group then hikes up to look at a smoking vent and the giant hole in El Hoyo caused by an eruption. If clients then have the energy, we take them up to the very top of El Hoyo for a full 360 degree panoramic of Nicaragua as the sun sets over the Pacific Ocean.
Day two is an early start for sunrise, but the bonus is no hiking is needed, just enough energy to climb out of your tent to see the view.
Day two is a long one for hiking, but a majority of it is downhill, meaning it is still quite manageable. Lake Asososca where we would swim later is in view for the first while, so it is good motivation for where we would be going. The moment we reach that Lake everyone is in a huge rush to get into it to clean up and cool off.
All the profits received from the hiking tours goes towards supporting underfunded projects in the community. The principal commitment is financial; however, volunteers at Quetzaltrekkers are encouraged to regularly spend time each week visiting the projects and provide personal support.
We didn’t realize the difference we are making until our first visit to the projects which was called Barriletes. In this project we provide effectively what is a safe learning space for children between the ages of 3 to 18. This project was perfect for us as the average age was 3 to 8 year olds. Straight away we choose to sit with the youngest children, the three and four year olds as I knew our Spanish levels would be the same. There is always a shortage of staff at this project as all of the staff members are volunteers and the director (also a volunteer) actually works another job just to support herself and her family. We were left with a room full of about 20 children which we found out the hard way is very hard to manage. One actually got on to the table and ran up and down the desk before Toby picked him up with one hand and put him back down. Also each child seemed to take turns in crying which was difficult as we had to think of words in Spanish to calm them down.
When they finally settled down we helped them write the basic alphabet and numbers. It was great to see the children one after the other continually coming up to me wanted to learn more and more. When it was break time the children happily packed up their notebooks and headed outside to play. This is when the boys would try and climb on Toby so he would have three on each arm, and spin them around like an airplane. It was awesome hanging out with the children as they were so adorable and the room would just radiate every time there were smiles on their faces.
The next project we visited was Las Chavaladas. This is a project geared toward boys living on the street or in difficult circumstances and trying to help them build a better life. Quetzaltrekker volunteers regularly go to this project once a week to look after the children during the staff meeting. There are typically around 8 boys there aged between 6 and 12. The oldest one Enrique seemed to be the ring leader, telling the younger children what to do. Enrique had been living on the street for 8 months, and now lived at Chavaladas. As he never had been to school, the project aims to provide private tutoring to bring him up to the level he should be at to return to school. A typical visit includes playing basketball or football on their outdoor court. When you run out of energy for this we try to get them inside to play some games such as a Spanish version of snap where you hit a bell every time the numbers add to five. We think a few of them made up their own rules as we still don’t understand why they won. They also had a big white board, so we had a great idea which was to play hang man so all the kids could get involved.
Overall experience summary
In summary, volunteering at Quetzaltrekkers was an amazing experience that we will never forget. The only real downside was saying goodbye to everyone as you will never want to leave. We recommend Quetzaltrekkers for anyone that enjoys hiking as it’s a fantastic opportunity to go on adventures to breathtaking volcanoes, with amazing people and at the same time help children in the local community. Big shout out to the other guides – Kay, Kalya, Max, Herty, Laura, Beth, Luke, Emily, Sam, Siddy for making it such a memorable experience that we will never forget.
Plenty more to explore. Keep following the blog and our Flickr account for updates. http://www.flickr.com/photos/toraadventure/