Racing Down an Active Volcano Insanely
There are a few places on earth where boarding an active volcano is possible. Nicaragua’s Cerro Negro or Black Hill volcano is the most popular among these spots. Around 50 kilometers outside of León in Nicaragua, Cerro Negro was calling me to get an adrenaline rush on its slippery slopes.
To know more about Nicaragua, its history and its culture, Managua, the capital city, was a right place to start off with. First thing I saw that the city was lit with metal trees installed on the roads. The cab driver told me that the wife of the country’s leader likes flowers, so the city installed flower shaped metal trees instead of real flower trees in many parts of the city. Welcome to Nicaragua! Like many other colonial cities, Managua has its unique history and architecture to intrigue visitors. Surrounded by agricultural lands, the city is the political as well economic center of the country. It was interesting to see street-art and graffiti culture all over the city. The nightlife was very happening here amid many safety concerns.
My next destination was Granada covering Masaya Volcano National Park and Mombacho Volcano National Preserve on the way back. I loved Granada. The colorful city is filled with castles and its streets are packed with bars, cafes and up-scale clubs. Islamic architecture meets colonial-era churches here. Aroma of food was everywhere in the city. Another kind of smell, a bit pungent one, was fuming out not very far from Granada. I was told that Volcano Masaya emits Sulfur Dioxide through its active craters. I could see red hot lava boiling in one of its active craters. But I wanted to touch, feel and play with an active volcano. A scenic road trip from Managua to León was the backpackers’ way to see small towns of Nicaragua and eventually to meet Cerro Negro.
The tour guide loaded a dozen of us, wooden boards and a crate of beer in an open truck. The instructions were clear: don’t take it as a child’s play. A 750 meter steep hike on loose gravels and rocks to the top of Cerro Negro took around an hour. Everyone had to carry their boards on their backs. Strong winds made it so difficult to move that a few people decided to hire a porter. The group was asked to put on a protective suit and goggles to avoid skin and eye injuries. Wooden board integrity check, suiting up check, eye protection check before we were made to stand in a queue at the drop point. A crew member with a speed gun was ready at the end point. The challenge was to manage balance, direction as well as speed. Too fast would end up in a crash landing, too slow wouldn’t be any fun. The winning prize was an extra beer! One by one, we went down. I lost my balance a couple of times but still managed to race down at 20 mph. I realized that the sand was not that fine as I expected. My shoes took most of the heat; the hard sole was torn and bruised at many places. In just a few minutes the fun was over with a bit of volcanic ash in my mouth. A cold beer and hot food at the end felt like a winning treat. The winner who got the extra beer came down like a meteor at 35 mph.
Back to León for a relaxing walk on the crowded, narrow streets of the city. It was worth spending the remaining energy in the Managua’s bars for a few more days before I took flight back home. The experience of sledding down on the black ash slopes of an active volcano would remain unmatchable until……..