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No, there’s no winter in Nicaragua. And certainly they don’t have snow there. However, volcano boarding (in fact, it’s more sledding) is one of the most popular activities in Leon, a place in the northwest of Nicaragua. So popular, that it supposedly made it to the list of the craziest things that you should do in your life.
But why all this hustle and bustle around it?
Because, as you might guess, you are actually “sand-boarding”. And not down just any hill. The hill is a volcano. An active one, to be exact. And you are using a simple wooden board 😀 Needless to say, when we heard about volcano boarding it immediately made it to our bucket list. 😉
So we signed up. Volcano boarding is offered by almost all hostels in Leon, and the price is around 30$/person. But at the main square in Leon, we saw the Bigfoot hostel stand (we already knew them from Guatemala) with an offer of 25$ . Ok, sold.
SO HOW DID VOLCANO BOARDING LOOKED LIKE?
Someone from the Bigfoot hostel picked us up at our hostel and drove us to Bigfoot, where there was a meeting point. They gave us free T-shirts and we waited for our transport to arrive. And man, this was one of a kind transport – suspiciously similar to those in Cuba. 😀 I’m talking about an open-pitched truck with hard benches so you can imagine there was no shortage of “vibrations” and wind in the hair 😉 (I wrote about those trucks in Cuba here). Prepare yourself, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride! 😀
The drive to the volcano takes an hour or so, but mainly because the last 15 km of the road is really bad – volcanic sand and enormous holes. We were also joined by some locals who, for small fee (3$), carry your board to the volcano, which is their only source of income. Just at the entrance to the park, there is a loose house with a quasi restaurant – i.e. visitor center, where you have to pay an entry fee of 5$ (plus, you can visit the toilet if you suddenly have an urge to pee when you see the volcano 😛 ).
Because believe me, seeing it from near, makes all the difference and it crosses your mind that perhaps you should better turn around and go home 😀 The inclination looks almost vertical, and the volcano itself is quite high.
Time to climb!
Everyone got his bag in which there was a protective suit, glasses and a board (or sledge – as you prefer to call it). A few of us gratefully paid those 3$ – it’s not because the board would be so heavy and impossible to carry, but maaaan, why one should suffer, if it is not necessary 😀 And in addition, it’s all for good cause (remember, only income of those guys!).
The ascent is not too demanding if I exclude rolling rocks and would probably last for about half an hour. But they seem to make sure that no one gets too tired on the way up and therefore they make two breaks in between, among which the guide is enthusiastically talking about the activity that awaits us (and Bigfoot hostel 😉 )
VOLCANO BOARDING – WHO THE HECK EVEN INVENTED THIS?
Supposedly there was this crazy French guy (why I am not surprised? 😛 ) who saw the Cerro Negro volcano and got the idea to go downhill with his bicycle. He actually set a time record, but he broke his bike and most of his bones in the process as well.
Then, in 2004, a guy from Australia (again, not surprised 😛 ) got a different idea … to try volcano boarding. Firstly, he tried the classic way – standing on his board- but this turned out to be a rather bad idea, to put it mildly.
When he realized that sitting on a board makes things much better, he started looking for the more suitable materials to make a perfect board… He apparently tried everything he found in the hostel he had opened (yes, Bigfoot hostel): from the sleds and tables for picnic to mattresses and – rumors has it – fridge 😀 In the end, he himself created a perfect board – a wooden one with a metal and plastic base, which is still in use today.
Speed record on such a board? 95 km/h!
BUT WHY REALLY IS VOLCANO BOARDING COUNTED AS AN EXTREME ADVENTURE?
Speed is not the (only) one that adds an adrenaline twist to this kind of “sport”. In fact, you can go down as slow as 15 km/h in theory.
But do not forget – you’re volcano boarding. Down an active volcano!
Cerro Negro is a type of volcano that emerges from the ground when there is an active outbreak of larger volcanoes and it’s (usually) up to 200 m high and (usually) remains active for about 20 years. So, basically, those type of volcanoes appear like some accompanying pimple of the main cyst 😀 Anyway, Cerro Negro is an exception – it’s over 700 m high and has been active for 60 years! Of course, this does not mean that it is constantly erupting – the last two eruptions were actually in 1995 and 1999. But scientists speculate that there is maximum 20 years between eruptions of these mini-volcanoes.
The particularity of these volcanoes is that they do not only throw lava from the main crater, but can erupt (to some extend unexpectedly) out of any part of the volcano. In fact, there are quite a few places on the top of volcano, where you can touch the ground and find that they are unpleasantly … hot. You can definitely imagine boiling lava bubbling underneath 😀
Taking in the account all above, boarding down the ticking bomb is slightly different than boarding down an innocent, regular hill 😉
The guide said nicely: “If you suddenly hear some thunder and the surface starts to tremble … I’d just like to say it was nice knowing you!” Despite the fact that the danger is extremely small, it is almost inevitable that one day the volcano will erupt. I would lie if I said I am not happy because we won’t be there. 😉
ON THE TOP
So, after all these interesting stories, we came to the top! 😀 The guide told us that we can still change our minds, but that he prefers if we set good records instead of the bad ones. He explained that one girl had climbed a volcano for two consecutive days and then changed her mind because she freaked out at the top. I could almost identify myself with her, because the view from the top of the volcano is quite daunting. At the same time, the guide told us that the slowest two will receive a special “reward” – ice bucket challenge. Encouraging, huh? 😀
On the top of everything, he began with a detailed explanation of the security measures and instructions how to sit on the board. I think that in the end we all got the feeling that we signed up for a well-maybe-I-won’t-survive-this type of a ride. Of course this did not stop Bojan and one other girl to volunteer as test bunnies. 🙂
THREE, TWO, ONE…LET’S GO!
We dressed up in potato bags (just kidding, I mean orange protective onesies :P), which turned out to be quite a challenge since the wind was so strong you could barely stand. We set ourselves in two rows and the guide ran halfway down the volcano (and man, he was fast!) to be able to take pictures of us. The assistant stayed with us at the top.
Here they go, test bunnies are on their way! Both of them were quite fast, but Bojan had little trouble staying in the straight line – at least it looked so from the top. 😊
Two more went after them, and then two more…. my heart started pounding. Oh, for god’s sake, whyyy am I the last in line again?! This way you have an endless amount of time (at least it seems so) looking down the slope and seeing how people disappear halfway down (because the lower part is even more steep) 😀
Finally, we were only two more left, and the assistant gave us the signal to start the descend. I clumsily sat in the middle of the board and grabbed the rope with both hands. A thought flashed through my mind: What were you thinking, really, coming up here??? and then, not having many options left, I slowly pushed forward.
“Hmm, I’m sliding…. Okay, this is not so horrible. In fact, it does not look fast at all! How can I go faster?? Aaaaa, that’s so much fun!! “
Yes, with all the stories and instructions on the top, we all really thought that volcano boarding would put us in an adrenaline rush above comparison 😀 But in reality, going downhill is not really scary, it’s just plenty of fun. I felt sorry at the end that I did not manage to lean slightly more backwards to further increase the level of fun 😀
…AND THEN AT THE BOTTOM
On the lower half of the descent another assistant measured speed of each individual. The fastest hit the speed of 68 km/h and the slowest went down 27 km/h (remember, the record is as much as 95 km/h!).
Bojan seemed to slow down just at the point where his speed was measured and therefore the “speed gun” showed only 40 km/h and he ended up at the bottom of the men’s ladder! 😀 I’m sure that another guy went much slower though, because it was overtaken by two girls at the top half of the hill, but it seems that he accelerated at the right moment. I ended up somewhere in the middle of the women’s ladder with 33 km/h.
But do you know what that means? Ice bucket for Bojan of course! They were serious! They emptied refrigerator box and distributed beer, and water was poured … on the losers! That free T-shirts, which we got at the beginning, came quite in handy, because they were soaked. 😊
Bumpy ride back to the hostel followed where we finished the afternoon in a best possible way – with another cold beer. 😉
VOLCANO BOARDING – USEFUL INFORMATION:
What is included in the 25$ price?
Transportation, guide, equipment rental, T-shirt and 2 beers. In addition, you can get (if you wish) also free night in the hostel dorm (Bigfoot hostel). Not bad at all! You’ll need to pay additional fee of 5$ per person for entrance to the park plus 3$ if you want the board to be carried to the top of the volcano for you (our total cost was then 63$ ).
What do you need with you?
Suitable shoes, water, sunscreen and glasses. Fortunately, it’s usually quite windy, because otherwise you have a feeling that you’re slowly-roasted-chicken, it’s so hot. Don’t forget to take some snacks with you as well, because the tour lasts all afternoon.
Don’t bring an expensive camera with you, because you can not have it with you during volcano boarding (GoPro is an exception). The guide will take your photos, so just lean back and enjoy the ride! 🙂
FINAL THOUGHTS ABOUT VOLCANO BOARDING ? AMAZING!
Volcano boarding is definitely one of the things you should do in life if you ever find yourself in Nicaragua! It’s true that volcano boarding might not be THE scariest thing we have ever tried (perhaps using our downhill bikes instead of boards would put things into different perspective :P). But it was surely one of the craziest and funniest!
It is surely a story to tell your grandchildren, someone commented 😛
But I must say I honor people who see world in a different way. In a fun and unique way. You know, those people who climb up a Cerro Negro volcano and think vaguely to themselves: “Hmmm, just how would it look like if I try going down that on a fridge?” 😀