Day 16: La Caldera Grande

We were told we would be amazed.

At six miles across, Sierra Negra has the second largest caldera in the world. Apparently, it was not just grande, but super grande. We were so prepared to be impressed, and we… well… at first, we weren’t.

Sole fern growing on geologically "new" lava

Sole fern growing on geologically “new” lava

The day dawned, sleepily, like us, and was still grey at 6:15 in the morning. In accordance with is dismal color, the rain began at about 7:00 when we met up at IOI. But, we were optimistic! One of our guides, Fausto, said sometimes it would be raining in town but not on the volcán. Larissa reminded us that we were all going to have positive attitudes, and we all agreed.

Our determination was spurred on by a friendly competition with another American college group that was at IOI for a cultural immersion program (this competition was one-sided and remained solely within our Bates group as a joke). Being bold, they received their lunches first and hopped aboard the ever-coveted-open-sided chiva. After waiting another half hour for our lunches to arrive, us Galapa-cats got into several taxis for the hour long drive to where we would start hiking up Sierra Negra.

Upon arrival, we saw the other college group just beginning their hike. Before we could follow, we all made last minute trips to the bathrooms, which would be the final opportunity to use an established facility for a supposed ten hour hike. As the rain pattered down, Larissa informed us that it was not actually raining, but that we were in a cloud. This information reassured us that it would not start openly down-pouring. In our raincoats, we were all secretly glad to be sheltered from the strong Isabela sun of which we had come to know.

We began our hike up the volcano, quickly learning that mud was everywhere and resistance was futile. Within the first twenty minutes our shoes were coated in brown goo, and walking became more exciting with the prospect of someone falling. Austin was the first to slide, getting coated in mud. Afterwards, everyone was much more careful.

Sierra Negra Caldera

Sierra Negra Caldera

The mist continued to linger as we walked up to the caldera. We paused before the turn in the trail that would expose the massive crater. Get ready! We rounded the bend and were greeted with the best view of cloud we ever did see. Our guides reassured us that the clouds would blow off over the course of the day and we would be able to see the caldera eventually.

We walked along the edge of the caldera, enjoying the flat terrain that was luscious with green plants. Upon our descent onto younger ground, we crossed paths with that other college group. They were taking a break, so we passed them. The race was on!

The terrain slowly transformed from that vibrant green to more rocky and desert-like ground. We learned that we were previously on a part of the volcano that was 10,000 years old. We were then going to enter a part of the volcano that was much newer at the young age of 5,000 years. The weather began to clear up, and we could peer into lava tunnels and examine the A’a and P’hoe’hoe lava rocks. We even found Pele’s Hair lava! It looked like little golden threads, and now we can proudly say we have seen all three types of lava flow.

The group stops to listen to our National park guide, Julio, on Volcan Chico

The group stops to listen to our National park guide, Julio, on Volcan Chico

Before we transitioned onto the youngest area of the volcano, our guide informed us of the differences in the lava formations. The younger area was darker and had sharper rocks due to less erosion. There were also no plants!

The plants would not begin to form until the rocks began to break down into soil, but, unlike Bartolome, this volcano did receive enough moisture to sustain plant life.

Being satisfied with our climb (and that we were still in front of the other college group), we settled down to sandwiches and Oreos for lunch.

View of the lava field of Volcano Chico from lunch

View of the lava field of Volcan Chico from lunch

After taking some group photos with the epic view, we backtracked along the trail to the taxis.

Bios32 above the lava fields

Bios32 above the lava fields

On the way, we finally got to see the caldera! It was everything we were told it would be (please forgive the cliché). It was HUGE!

Having really had the perfect day for this hike, the clouds and rain keeping us cool but clearing up later on, we returned to IOI about five hours earlier than expected. And yes, we beat the other college group despite starting after them. Full of bobcat pride, we all rinsed our muddy feet and shoes at IOI and then prepared to spend our final afternoon in the Galapagos on the beach. Boy are we going to miss this weather!