Masaya Volcano: Staring Into the Mouth of Hell
With the exception of the thick, impermeable clouds of rising sulfur, there don’t seem to be any signs of life in this large pit crater. So we’re surprised to suddenly see a company of parakeets ascend from some unknown abode within the basin that descends hundreds of feet below. Our guide explains that the comings and goings of these parakeets are a crucial clue to the imminent happenings of the Masaya Volcano – a complex volcano composed of a series of two volcanos and five craters.
A few years ago, the parakeets, which had been out and about soaring through Masaya’s skies, returned to their volcanic home here in the Santiago Crater only to reemerge moments later, circling the welkin above. Suddenly, the parakeets flew away, and no more than two minutes later, the ground rumbled and the crater blew its fuse, spewing rocks and ashes through the air. Although cars in the nearby parking lot were damaged, lives were fortunately spared. But the lesson was clear – to escape Masaya’s wrath, pay attention to the parakeets.
The wealthy, children, and beautiful virgins of centuries past were often chosen to face Masaya head on. Indigenous peoples believed that a hag deity left the bottom of the volcanic crater to advise them, and in deference to her, the selected few made the sacrificial leap into the crater’s bowels into what they believed was a sort of purgatory – not death. Being chosen to make this leap of faith was a great honor that couldn’t be refused without risking ostracism and banishment.
When the Spanish arrived, they didn’t have the same reverence for Masaya, seeing it instead as “The Mouth of Hell”. In 1529, Friar Francisco Bobadilla ordered the construction of a cross nearby in an effort to exorcise the devil from the volcano’s belly.
Unlike the Spanish, this is the one and only time I ever want a glimpse into hell. With a bit of time and patience, the sulfur clouds clear, and we’re offered a peek into the seemingly abysmal drop off.
My thoughts turn morbid as I think about the gashes and injuries the offerors suffered as their bodies banged against the volcanic crater’s jagged surfaces while plummeting to their deaths below.
Engulfed in sulfur fumes, I turn my back to the crater in search of fresh air. Our guide points to the dormant crater nearby. With the exception of grass, vegetation won’t grow on its surface because of the rising heat below.
When Masaya blows again – and it will blow again – I wonder how the landscape will change in this 54 square kilometer super caldera that is the Masaya Volcano National Park. I wonder if the people and the wildlife that live in this area will make it out in time. God knows the parakeets will.