Safe (probably)

Cerro Negro and Volc谩n Telica, Nicaragua

Nicaragua is already a country of volcanoes, but Le贸n is positively surrounded by them. 聽In fact, the old city of Le贸n was buried by an eruption and the current, rebuilt Le贸n is 30 km away from the old one.

I joined three people from my hostel on a day trip to Cerro Negro. 聽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. 聽Iguana soup. 聽Apparently it tastes like chicken.

We finally made it to the base of the volcano after about an hour. 聽Cerro Negro gets its name because it’s entirely black — all ash and stone, contrasting with the relatively green surroundings. 聽Even the other volcanoes. 聽All of them are active, and Cerro Negro has had some recent activity.

Already, we had significant relief from the sweltering heat of Le贸n — not only was it cooler up here, but also very windy. 聽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. 聽This is probably one of the only places (if not THE only place) in the world you can do this! 聽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. 聽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. 聽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”. 聽As for me? 聽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! 聽It certainly wasn’t as fast as I thought, but I think I wasn’t sitting in the most aerodynamic way. 聽Still聽exhilarating聽fun. 聽I couldn’t scream or anything, rocks were flying in my face. 聽I didn’t brake with my feet, but used my hands to return to a controlled slide every time my sled started veering sideways. 聽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. 聽He beat one of us. 聽So…sleds, maybe not the fastest way down a volcano in case of an eruption. 聽Or maybe we just suck.

We were given the opportunity to try again, but that meant having to climb back up. 聽We tried to go directly up the face… so much effort, for maybe another 10 seconds of enjoyment. 聽Also, we were covered in soot.

The next day, I found a 2 day/1 night tour to Volc谩n Telica and left Le贸n, joining a group of 10. 聽Back on the same bumpy road as the day before! 聽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. 聽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! 聽We all very careful leaned ourselves OVER the lip of the crater, chest first. 聽One loose rock or gust of wind and it’s a 120 m drop to a fiery death… 聽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 Le贸n and the surrounding areas below, then back up to the lip of the volcano just as it was getting dark. 聽This is what we all came here to see — lava! 聽We all leaned over again for look, and sure enough, we could see the lava glowing in the dark. 聽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. 聽Given the wind…I chose inside. 聽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. 聽Ever. 聽Yeah, I make a terrible Canadian… 聽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. 聽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 Le贸n 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! 聽But my day had just begun, as I immediately made my way to Estel铆 — and felt sorry for my fellow passengers who were probably wondering what that smell was!

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