Hiking in Mexico: Nevado de ColimaThursday, September 15, 2016 Hiking and Walking by Silvia Castello
It’s March and a big storm hits central Mexico covering with ice and snow the Zapotepetl, a mountain peak, also known as Nevado de Colima. “It never happens during this period”, the locals say. The case of a bad weather condition makes the rangers close the path to the summit, but you can still wander around and get an amazing view of the Volcan de Fuego, the neighbour active volcano.
A couple of days ago the weather has changed and the snow is gone by the time we arrive.
Nevado de Colima, aka Zapotepetl
Every year many people hike the Zapotepetl, but most of them don’t know that the best way to start the journey is not from Colima, but Ciudad Guzman, about 20 miles north of the park. The village is worth a visit. The people chilling in the main square and the old ladies on their way to the market after Sunday morning mass are just a few aspects that make Guzman a lovely place to stay. Its vibe reminds of some villages in south Italy. In order to have a complete experience of the place and to help the local tourism, the best solution would be to hike with a knowledgeable local guide. The only one who takes people to the summit from Ciudad Guzman is Gerardo, with his “Nevado de Colima Tours”.
Nature and tourism are his fields, he meets up with the rangers regularly and works as a counsellor for the ecotourism in Mexico. When he doesn’t explore the park he trains for the marathon and spends time with his wife and a 2-years old son.
When he picks us up at the hotel he announces that the path is clear and we will likely be the only ones in the area.
The drive to the base of the mountain is pleasant, nobody has hit the road yet and Gerardo is talking about the different native plants. His English is fluent but he enjoys talking in Spanish too. He wants to know some Italian words and confesses that his dream is to climb the Alps. While we exchange dish recipes from our respective countries the air becomes cooler and I wonder if I brought enough layers to keep me warm.
The landscape is breathtaking with its different types of cacti plants and trees. It’s a joy to see that the snow has left behind a lot of green and a lively soil.
Finally, the two picks show up in the horizon, giving a spectacular view of their immensity. The Volcano de Fuego is one of the most active volcanos in Mexico and central America, around 300.000 people live within 30 miles of it.
It’s early and everything around suggests a slow wake-up, at a “Mexican time” pace. The sky is trying on different colours and its indecision gives away a view so beautiful that makes your eyes fill with tears.
As soon as the car leaves the highway for the unpaved road a group of cows walking at slow pace forces us to set back and enjoy the surroundings.
Gerardo explains that usually, nobody is around here, so I take this “inconvenient” as good luck. The windows are rolled down in spite of the dust, a guy is riding on the back of a cow and everything recalls freedom. The windy road and the elevation don’t make the ride easy, so Gerardo distracts us pointing at the different type of plants or animals.
After another hour, the entrance to the park is around the corner and it is patrolled by a smiley ranger who takes our money for the entrance fee (around 35 pesos). The elevation is about 11000 ft and you can feel it. The warm breeze and sticky air are gone, a chill wind took their place.
Nevado de Colima National Park
The Nevado de Colima is the only peak that can be climbed and it’s the 26th most prominent mountain in North America, 13800 ft.
It’s hard to get used to the elevation and as soon as the hike starts the breath gets heavier, but the surroundings take away the fatigue.
Because of the snow storm, the entire park is deserted, probably with the exceptions of some mountain lions. Before the hike gets steeper there is a little valley where you can have the view of both sides of the mountain, it feels like being on top of the world. The wind is strong but not enough to clear the sky and make the ocean visible. Small trees are growing everywhere, they are part of the environmental restoring project: a group of people is working on replanting native trees in the park. Locals really love this place and they are trying to keep it as lively as possible.
The trek is just 2.5 miles long but it fast becomes a climb between rolling and unstable rocks, every step is tiring.
The Volcano de Fuego
Gerardo knows when to pause to recover and where to get the best view of the volcano.
The wind doesn’t have any intention of ceasing, it’s cold in the shade and warmer in the sun. While we are catching up with our breath a wonder of nature makes an appearance in front of our eyes: smoke and steam start coming out of the crater.
The Volcano de Fuego has erupted more than 40 times since 1576, recently there have been several evacuations of nearby villagers and now the volcano is constantly monitored by a specialised team.
All of a sudden it’s almost 14000 ft and there’s the summit, it is a relief and a disappointment at the same time, I didn’t want it to be over so soon. The dry sandwich never tasted so good, the excitement makes you forget the hunger and the thirst. Gerardo offers to take us in the afternoon to a restaurant to try the local dish “birria”, a delicious goat stew.
After half an hour break at the summit, it’s time to head back to the car. The hike downhill isn’t as bad as it looked on the way up.
The best thing to do after this hike is to stop for a “tejuino”, a sweet and refreshing drink makes of masa, sugar, lime, milk, ice and salt.
The sense of belonging to a place or simply knowing that we are part of this spectacle called “nature” is empowering. And more so being able to witness and share it without affecting its cycle. The love and passion that Gerardo and many other people have for their country should be an example for all of us.