Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Volcan Galeras-Danger!

*Update Aug 28. Galeras is on Red alert as of a few days ago. Tremors and gas and ash. 8,000 people evacuated. Darn. We missed all the excitement by just a couple of weeks.

Read Studley's article below for some great laughs.

Above Pasto

Way above Pasto out for mines...the kind that when you step on one, you loose your leg or more.

Lunch at the top

Volcanic bombs in the roof of the abandoned building

Cone in the crater.

(My notes: left Mapachico at 5:20 to the road at 7:20 the Y jnct at 9:20 and top at 10:10. Start of the Camino Real is at Finca Bella Monica.)

Volcan Galeras is in Pasto, Colombia, it is 4276m above sea level and yes we know that it is in the top ten volcanoes in the world expected to erupt.
We also know that the road is closed with a checkpoint that only allows authorised personel into the area.
We also know that volcanoes blow huge rocks out of them as big as cars at times, not to mention the really hot lava that burns you to a crisp.
We also know that it is really naughty to by pass the checkpoint to climb the volcano.

So we got out of the taxi in the small town of Mapachico on the flanks of Galeras at 5.30am and started the climb. All was going well once we could see where we were going, we crawled under barbed wire fences, crawled over the long grasses, leapt over more fences, walked through freshly ploughed fields, walked passed the cows being milked-only to be bailed up by the cattle dogs, cattle rustling is alive and well in Colombia so these dogs were the equivalent of the bouncer outside the night club. They even had numbers on their chests.

We walked briefly on the Camino Real which is a cobbled road we hear was made by the Spanish, then after 2 hours we hit the road that we shouldn´t have been on. After another hour of walking with magnificent views we took a break on an hairbin bend with no cover. Steve was taking a toilet break standing out in the open when he yelled out,
"Hide Alan...a motorbike!!" The bike was 20 meters away, Steve was standing out in the open watering the plants and I was left with nowhere to hide. I just ran in circles and I think I put my hands over my eyes so no one could see me. We had been sprung.

Steve explained to the motorcyclist that we were actually on the old Spanish road and we were looking at the flora. The guy on the bike was a technician for the television antennas on top and said that no one should be on the road. We pretended to be 2 lost gringos and the guy obviously could see by my hiding techniques that we were pure amateurs. He rode off telling Steve that he hadn´t seen a thing, he also told us that a guy died 15 days ago on the volcano, it was a good job that we were only just looking at the flowers because volcanoes are obviously very dangerous.

We hit the top after 5 hours but we were in the cloud and we couldn´t see the crater, but after we had lunch the cloud cleared and we had 3 minutes of the most fabulous views of the cone inside the crater, we could even see footprints on the edge of the cone-maybe this was where the guy died. The building on top have been destroyed by eruptions with rocks just punching holes through the concrete roof, it was like a battle ground. After marvelling at mother nature, we started our descent.

After 1 hour it started to warm up so we decided to take of the cold weather gear, Steve again was in an unfortunate position squatting on the ground wrestling with his tights and pants around his ankles, when he yells out again "another motorbike hide!!" We crawled behind the big rock, Steve still trying to pull his pants up, I look around the back of the rock and there is a truck with 3 guys standing on the road. We decided to try and have another go at hiding again, but Steve stuck his head up to have a look and one of the guys was looking straight at him-we were sprung again. Like naughty little boys we walked out into the open to be confronted by 4 guys out of the truck, one had his handgun drawn, one had a camera and the other had a really nasty moustache. There was one still in the truck behind the tinted windows, so it was a little un nerving.
They asked us what we were doing and where we were from, "Australia and Canada, we couldn´t possibly go wrong with that. They wanted to see our passports-we didn´t have them with us in case of robbery. Steve had to hit them with the story that we were avid flower watchers and were lost again and we would have never dreamed of going to the top of the volcano.

Pity, confusion, total bafflement who knows? They just told us to get out of there, "Go " they said. After an unfortunate incident like this, one checks that you still have your life, all your limbs are still attached, passport, camera and money still part of your travel kit, then it usually makes a great story 2 weeks later. I told Steve that I was concerned that things come in threes and expected a waiting party before we got off the banned road. We made it though, it was great feeling to go running down into the bush and paddocks, even the psycho cattle dogs were having a siesta.

We finally hit a dirt road at the bottom and didn´t know which way to go, we finally decided on a direction and were pleased to hear the sound of a truck coming so wer could hitch a lift to town. Things do come in threes and by the look of the tinted windows on a familar looking truck we knew we were in trouble again. Yet, just like on television somethings have a happy ending, the tinted window lowers 2 inches and we see the guy give us the nod to jump in the back. We had totally exhausted all of our hiding combinations, so we just jumped in the back. On the way down we decided if they weren´t going to stop that we would just jump out. They didn´t take us to the police, they didn´t rob us, Steve tapped on the window and they even stopped for us. by this time I had found a really good hiding spot in the back and didn´t want to go, but Steve coaxed me out.

In the end we found out that they were military police protecting the television antennas, this is why the road is probably closed along with the fact that there is an active volcano up there too. The motorbike guy would have called them and told them that we were there, which is fair I think.

But what a fabulous day, we saw some fabulous scenery an incredible active volcano and some wild weather. The technician and the military police saw some interesting hiding attempts and listened to some massive lies. I just don´t know who is laughing the most-it was a ton of fun for everyone.

I just love this country.

¡Viva Colombia!

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