Cerro Negro and Volcán Telica, Nicaragua
Nicaragua is already a country of volcanoes, but León is positively surrounded by them. In fact, the old city of León was buried by an eruption and the current, rebuilt León is 30 km away from the old one.
I joined three people from my hostel on a day trip to Cerro Negro. The rural road we were on wasn’t made for automobiles, clearly – aside from sharing the one “lane” with horses and cows, it was extremely bumpy and worn to the point that we got stuck a few times, needing to back up and speed across a hump or giant rock or tree root.
We made a quick stop at an iguana refuge first – they’re endemic to the area, but people do capture and eat them. Iguana soup. Apparently it tastes like chicken.
We finally made it to the base of the volcano after about an hour. Cerro Negro gets its name because it’s entirely black — all ash and stone, contrasting with the relatively green surroundings. Even the other volcanoes. All of them are active, and Cerro Negro has had some recent activity.
Already, we had significant relief from the sweltering heat of León — not only was it cooler up here, but also very windy. We trekked up the side of Cerro Negro, which took about 45 minutes, before we reached the top.
And now for what everyone visits for: volcano boarding. This is probably one of the only places (if not THE only place) in the world you can do this! We got suited up in long-sleeve overalls, gloves, and goggles, then sat on the boards that we lugged all the way up.
Then I looked down.
“Adrenaline sports” started on Cerro Negro fairly recently. A French biker zoomed down the face of the volcano, breaking speed records (and a few bones after he crashed at the bottom) and reaching over 170 km/h. But more commonly, people bring refurbished or makeshift snowboards and sleds to slide down with, clocking speeds up to 70 km/h and probably amassing a couple scrapes here and there.
A couple of the people in my group were disappointed that we didn’t have any “snowboards”. As for me? Well, after looking down at how steep that slope was, I barely had the guts to even do it sitting down!
Anyway, one, two, three, push, and I was off! It certainly wasn’t as fast as I thought, but I think I wasn’t sitting in the most aerodynamic way. Still exhilarating fun. I couldn’t scream or anything, rocks were flying in my face. I didn’t brake with my feet, but used my hands to return to a controlled slide every time my sled started veering sideways. I think I probably went only 30 km/h, but the ride still took less than a minute.
After we all slid, our guide went down last, sprinting down the face of the volcano. He beat one of us. So…sleds, maybe not the fastest way down a volcano in case of an eruption. Or maybe we just suck.
We were given the opportunity to try again, but that meant having to climb back up. We tried to go directly up the face… so much effort, for maybe another 10 seconds of enjoyment. Also, we were covered in soot.
The next day, I found a 2 day/1 night tour to Volcán Telica and left León, joining a group of 10. Back on the same bumpy road as the day before! Telica is an even more active volcano than Cerro Negro, having smoke activity a few months ago and a minor eruption in 2011.
After an hour and a half of hitting our heads on the ceiling of a van repeatedly, we were dropped off with our guide, probably further up the road than most groups — great, cause it meant less hiking in the heat. It was a very short hike to the lip of the crater – this definitely tops Masaya, because there is no tourist infrastructure nor any semblance of a barrier! We all very careful leaned ourselves OVER the lip of the crater, chest first. One loose rock or gust of wind and it’s a 120 m drop to a fiery death… With the noxious fumes though, it wasn’t safe to lean over for more than a minute or two.
We hiked down to a surprisingly green valley to set up camp, up to a ridge to view a beautiful sunset over León and the surrounding areas below, then back up to the lip of the volcano just as it was getting dark. This is what we all came here to see — lava! We all leaned over again for look, and sure enough, we could see the lava glowing in the dark. Pictures were very hard to take, given the darkness and the fumes, plus the fear of falling into… well, yeah.
We returned to camp, watched the stars (as usual when you’re out of the city, a spectacular display), set up a bonfire, and roasted some marshmallows, then had the choice between sleeping in the tents we just set up or sleeping outside. Given the wind…I chose inside. The others who chose outside enjoyed it, but mentioned being smacked in the face by flying leaves several times during the night…
I should also mention, this was my very first time camping. Ever. Yeah, I make a terrible Canadian… But what a place to do it, just steps from a volcano!
Our wakeup call was 5:45 — sunrise time already, but still early enough to hike up a ridge and watch the sun rise over the volcano. After a long, long, dusty, dusty 3 hour hike down to the village of San Jacinto, a careful wander around the boiling mud pits, breakfast, and a ride back to León to pick up my things, I was pretty filthy, having gone without a shower for a day in this heat, plus being covered in dust and all! But my day had just begun, as I immediately made my way to Estelí — and felt sorry for my fellow passengers who were probably wondering what that smell was!