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Volcano Boarding, or: How to achieve full-body exfoliation

NICARAGUA | Friday, 20 June 2008 | Views [1422] | Comments [1]

Today I went volcano boarding down Cerro Negro, about 20 km outside of Leon, Nicaragua. This is sometimes referred to as "volcano surfing" but I think the more accurate term is "volcano sledding", since my entire group chose the prone position over the vertical option.  
Trucks took us from the center of Leon, down winding dirt roads with obstacles such as oxen and soccer-playing children, until we reached the base of Cerro Negro. Apparently this volcano is quite young, only 158 years old, and just appeared out of nowhere in the summer of 1850. It has since erupted pretty regularly every seven years, but the last eruption was over nine years ago... This is not a fact you want announced as you prepare to climb the thing.  
We hiked up to the top, a feat that took about fifty minutes and several silent prayers since every other step prompted a mini landslide of pumice rocks. It was quite steep and probably one of the least safe things I have attempted on this trip. Upon reaching the top we crossed around the crater to the opposite side, which features an ever steeper incline (49 degrees, in fact). Our guide gave us the general instructions (which were woefully unhelpful) and then pushed the first two girls down the mountain.  
You have to picture a plywood plank, about 2 feet wide and four feet long, with a 2x4 crossbeam at the top for your bum and a crossbeam at the bottom for your feet. There is a rope anchored in the center of the bottom crossbeam with a little handle that reaches about half-way up. The idea is to hold onto this handle and use your feet to balance and break on the way down. Apparently some have successfully reached the bottom using this method. I, and most of my group, were not so lucky.  
I made it about a third of the way down before hitting a rather large rock that sent me careening left and soon off of my board. I repositioned myself and started again, picking up speed rather quickly, until one unfortunate moment when my left foot found itself anchored into the rocks instead of skimming past them. My recently-sprained ankle rolled almost immediately and I rolled with it. That is: I somersaulted head-first down the side of a volcano. I think I completed two full rotations before finding traction with my hands. Sadly, my board did not continue down the mountain with me and my feeble attempts to scoot back up to retrieve it were unsuccessful. Thus I had no option but to slide down the final (and steepest) third of the volcano on my bum.  
Oh, I forgot this part, it was also thunderstorming during this entire endeavor. Lightening, rain, wind whipping dust and rocks everywhere.  
By the time I reached the foot of the volcano I was covered in black silt and had handfuls of lava rocks in every crevice of my clothing. I was also soaked and little worse for the wear. Back at the hostel I showered (with the weakest water pressure you can imagine) and discovered I had the smoothest skin ever, even in such hard-to-reach and often-forgotten places like the middle of my back and behind my ears. I believe my scalp even got a good rubdown considering that it took me three rounds of shampoo-rinse-repeat before the water ran clear.  
Needless to say, it was an interesting experience. The good news is that I survived with only a few minor scrapes and bruises, and my ankle even squeaked through with a bit of swelling (thanks to some sturdy hiking boots). I didn't get many pictures due to the rain (and the tumble) but I posted a few from the climb up.  
Now I'm packing up everything and preparing to return to Costa Rica tomorrow. I have a 6:45 bus to San Jose that should take about 10-12 hours (depending on the border crossing and how many stops our driver decides to make along the way). With only 10 days left (!) I'm downshifting into a little more relaxed pace and planning time in Tortugueros, Puerto Viejo, and Bocas del Torro. Mostly it will include beaches, hammocks, reading, and an occasional hike or bike ride. I think I'm done with the volcanoes and extreme sports. But you never know... maybe I'll spring for a scuba diving certification course?  
Hope everyone is well!

Tags: adventure sports, leon, nicaragua, volcanoes



hi, i'm looking to go volcano boarding on cerro negro this november. just had a look at some of the youtube videos and i'm getting a little freaked out! i guess you can't advise otherwise? :O

  kate Aug 16, 2010 12:50 AM

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