As soon as I knew I was visiting Nicaragua, I decided that my itinerary MUST include volcano boarding also termed “volcano surfing, sand, or ash boarding” at Cerro Negro Volcán.
“Never say no to adventure, and never ever deny opportunities to travel.”
Since I booked my flights (gracias for the gift of reward points) only a couple weeks prior to departure there was not much time to become anxious about attempting this crazy extreme sport. It is the equivalent of snowboarding or sledding except snow is usually light and fluffy. I live 10 minutes from a local ski hill. As a novice skier, I have fallen awkwardly in the snow many times, but luckily winter gear usually involves layers and padding. Even during crappy icy conditions, the impact is not as devastating. I recently skied experiencing poor visibility with hard icy snow/rain pellets hitting my face until I pulled up my balaclava. The wintery conditions is not as challenging as getting hot black ash and shards of volcanic rock embedded in skin.
I stopped reading online reviews indicating crazies would only try this dangerous adrenaline rush. I would form my own opinion in the very near future.
Despite my fears I knew I would regret not doing it. Better to try, rather than returning home with regrets, and wondering.
I based myself in the beautiful Spanish colonial town, León, the picturesque land of many volcáns in Maribios valley.
I specifically booked my accommodations with Bigfoot Hostels. I was enticed when I learned they were the original perfect-er of this sport, and a reasonable $10/night dorm room. Apparently, some mad French dude decided he would cycle as fast as he could down Cerro Negro, but instead crashed his bike. As a result, he spent a considerable amount of time hospitalized. Daryn Webb, the founder of Bigfoot Hostel, perfected the extreme sport in the early 2000’s. Would it surprise anyone when I say he is an Aussie (daredevils by nature)?!!!
There are many tour operators in town, but Bigfoot seemed like the obvious choice. One cannot go wrong when there is a pool in the luscious jungle courtyard and a lively bar with cold Victoria or Toña cervezas to enjoy after a wild day. However, the famous mojitos advertised were unfortunately, disappointing.
On the tour, I learned Cerro Negro is the youngest “the baby” volcano in Central America. It is still very active. Although the last eruption was almost 2 decades ago this fact freaked me out as I looked at the many black mounds of ash and rock surrounding the volcán. It was easy to understand why it’s also dubbed “Black Hill.” If Cerro Negro erupted, I would implode in a fast and furious way and then be buried underneath hot molten lava, singed to death. I was not ready to face that fate.
I gave my friend my last $5 US bill for park entry, which also meant I did not have the luxury to pay a local to carry for my large bulky volcano board, as half the participants did. They easily ascended the balsaltic cinder cone only carrying a rut sack with water and an ugly orange jail jumpsuit.
The hike itself only takes an hour, but I struggled. I had only just arrived in León after a long flight from Canada and still trying to catch my breath. The earth was loose. My feet would slide back on ash and pebbles as I tried to proceed up the steep hill. Thankfully, there were rest stops to hydrate and absorb the delicious panoramic views. Cerro Negro is just a black ashen cone without much vegetation, leaving no obstacles to block the views. The topography presented beyond my eyes were rugged and multi-colors of gold and green hues. Down below were rural areas, and high above were other volcanos set against the bluest of blue skies and puffy marshmallow clouds.
I fell a few times, not surprising for an admitted clutz. The wooden board was awkward to hold with the belligerent wind pushing me back. I skinned my knees falling on jagged rocks, and the first aid attendant cleaned me up. I think it says something when the big open truck includes a kit the size of a carry-on suitcase although he only carried a small bag during the hiking excursion.
As we neared the top it was becoming more narrow, a black triangle shape. I was petrified. What if the board blew out of my hands flying into someone’s head? Even worse, a strong gust of wind would knock me over sending me flying off the steep summit. I would plunge 2,388 ft down.
It was an emotional battle to face the fear butterflies in my stomach. Just when I thought, “I am awesome carrying this heavy board to the peak. I am strong and fierce!” The first aid attendant interrupted my delusional mind. He would carry the board moving forward. The girl behind me also raised concern I would blow away. I did not have enough weight to hold my stance.
We dropped our heavy gear and headed to the impressive open crater. It was an interesting mix of metallic colors. I bent down to touch the hot earth, hearing whispers of sulphuric vapor emissions. I thought the guide was joking when he asked the group to follow him down the steep and narrow pathway into the epic deep crater. I adamantly refused. I along with a few individuals decided it would be wise to stay put. I playfully tried to pose for Virabradrasana (Warrior) 2 away from the volcano edge while my friend snapped pics. Impossible to hold a stance in the gusty winds.
After messing about, waiting for the other groups to proceed, it was finally our time.
We looked hideous in our orange uniforms, bandanas, and goggles. I never want to be incarcerated. These would protect from shards of volcano remnants as we whipped down the steep hill.
A lady asked how we can manipulate the board to go slower. Our guide responded, “there is no such speed. You are meant to go fast!” Her frightened face mirrored mine.
I did not want to be first to go, but certainly not last. Once we were on the slope it honestly did not look so risky compared to standing from the peak, where it appeared to be a drastic vertical drop. I let someone go ahead as his fear was not the sledding, but the bees buzzing around.
My fears re-ignited just as I was about to sit on the sled. Down below, a participant who crashed and burned into a whirlwind of dust. Wipe-out!
Facck me! I proceeded with caution. I slid embarrassingly slow, to the point that I came to a complete stop at several times. I dug my feet into the warm black sand slowing the velocity against the speed of the wind. Other boarders in the adjacent lane were whipping in front of me creating a smoky hazy as I watched in slow motion. I got off my board since I came to a sudden halt before the finish line. 47 seconds, certainly not the fastest, nor the slowest of turtles. I experienced my own eutrophic rush.
The guy who wiped up was sprawled on the ground receiving medical attention. Blood soaked the white gauze, and he emitted a high-pitch obscenity when the alcohol touched his wound to clean up any grime and bacteria.
We all celebrated with a cold Victoria beer. I do not think anyone was more excited to receive a refreshing beverage than the wipe-up guy. He deserved every drop of beer!
The tour guide feigned surprise at this accident. I honestly, find it hard to believe an accident has never occurred. Only a a couple hours later, I met another Bigfoot girl “victim” with a dislocated finger. Despite these incidents, the end result was happy enthustiastic boarders, gleeful by this amazing experience. There was much chatter on the hour ride back to the city for drinks and shooter games.
The tour concluded a ride to Bigfoot Hostel beach house at Las Peñitas beachfor sunset chill vibes after a physically exhausting day. It was a perfect way to end the perfect day.
At the top is a job trail around the rim of the crat, which often emits smoke. A stunning 360-degree panoramic view revealso the chain of active and dormant volcanoes, lined up one after the other, surroundedby blue skies and lush green foliage.
I certainly will return to Nicaragua. There are some overnight hikes I would like to conquer, not to mention I never visited the Corn Islands a region along the Caribbean coast that I have y