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Sleeping Inside a Volcano - Gaëlle's Visit to Azufral and Cumbal Volcanoes

Posted by on in Adventure and Sports in Colombia

This blog post is from our collaborator Gaëlle Tavernier, she lives in Medellín and is working on a document about responsible mining in Colombia, a great project that gives her the ability to travel off the beaten tracks and share some amazing stories with us. 

The green lagoon of the Azufral Volcano The green lagoon of the Azufral Volcano

I am determined to climb to the summit of Colombia 17 volcanoes (I have done 3 so far…). My plan is to start south at the Ecuadorian border and make my way up, however long it will take.

When you land in Antonio Nariño, the airport which serves the city of Pasto, capital of the Nariño Department in Colombia, you nervously hold your breath. The plane lands on a short strip in the mountain and you fly over my favourite Colombian landscape: the Pasto Knot, a geographical miracle, a mountain knot formed by the merging of the terminal ranges of the Andes Mountains: the Cordilleras Oriental, Central, and Occidental. This is where I decided God was, in the heart of a volcano.

With my Bolex camera and the company of my friend Mateo Isaza Ramirez, biologist and Colombian mountain guide, we headed up to Túquerres, a small town located about 1h30 from Pasto in public transport. It is the closest town to the volcano Azufral (4070m), which is famous for its beautiful green lagoon. From the centre of Túquerres, there are local buses that take tourists (for 10’000 COP) to the Reserva Natural del Azufral, about 12km till the road ends. There is a small fee (1000 COP) to pay at the cabin of Corponariño, the environmental agency. We pitched our tent for free and walked to the volcano, a relatively easy 2 hour walk from the cabin. What captured our attention was the landscape behind the mountain; it's a valley of tropical tundra, with fields of Fraijleons and flowers of all colours. We felt the energy of the cardinal points, being in the centre of the cordillera and surrounded by wave of clouds coming from the Amazonian forest and the Pacific coast: paradise.

We continued our trip to the border with Ecuador, to visit the divine Cumbal (4764m), the crash site of a plane in 2002 where 92 persons died, source of many ghost stories… To get there we took a bus to Guachucal, the second highest city in Colombia (3285m) then a taxi to Cumbal. It is a nice small town with a lovely food market during the weekend. From there we negotiated with a local taxi driver to take us to the last house on the way to the volcano. It is an unpaved road so taxis always ask for quite a sum (30’000COP).

The best way to travel in non-touristic place is to stay with the hospitable locals, here the indigenous Andean community. They live autonomously within their own constitution (resguardo indigena) farm and cook delicious trout and potatoes. We pitched our tent in a garden. Locals are very keen to accommodate tourists for a small fee and give information on the mountain access road. As well part of their tradition and economy, some of them climb to the top of Cumbal everyday to collect and sell the sulphur, it is possible to rent mule for about 50.000COP.

Flower in Reserva Natural de Azufral Flower in Reserva Natural de Azufral

There are 2 craters: ice and sulphur. Guided by the advice of a volcanologist met by chance on the crossroad, we opted to spend 48 hours in the sulphur “azufral” crater whose circular depression is so perfect it looks like crafted by an ovni! The walk is about 6 hours and gets pretty steep towards the end. A deep fog made the experience even more mystical. Volcanoes are like impossible lovers, patience is needed and we had at least 15 minutes of visibility. It was humid and cold; the visitors need to be well equipped with mountain clothes. My bolex is corroded since but sleeping on the top of an active volcano was just magical, I could hear its heart beating and just imagining the flow of fire in its vein. I found my temple, my house of worship.

Check Gaelle's work here

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