Published: December 1st 2006December 1st 2006
image stolen from some website
Keep an eye on the Discovery Channel. They are doing a special on extreme (and obscure) sports in Central and South America, and just three weeks ago filmed a segment on Cerro Negro and Darren, the Australian who runs the Bigfoot Hostel and Adventures. The extreme sport in this case is volcano boarding plus an added crater run. I did it yesterday!!
After ascending 400 meters carrying our wooden boards, Darren (who I think is pretty much insane) gave us a nice talk on the volcano chain and told us how dangerous it was to be standing right where we were. Cerro Negro is the youngest and one of the most active volcanoes in Central America, and the surrounding volcanoes are all very active yada yada. He told us about leading a trek just a few weeks ago on San Cristobal, visible from where we were sitting and the tallest volcano in Nicaragua, and how it erupted as they were climbing and everyone was nauseous and vomiting from the sulphur. Knowing this is one of the most challenging hikes in Nicaragua my ears perked up and I inquired about when the next trek would be, but sadly he said he
Cerro Negro -- looking into the crater
We ran down this..!! image stolen from some blogger
doesn't want to climb "that bitch of a volcano" anymore and is the only guide based in this area.
We all snapped photos of the gorgeous views and then Darren prepped us for the crater run. He first told us some very obvious things to avoid, like falling face first and getting too close to the sulphur clouds, then said that only 30% of the people he brings up to Cerro Negro actually do the crater run as everyone else is not fit enough and lacks a particular male hormone. Now I had been planning on doing the run from the get go, but this actually worked on a few of the guys who had previously stated they didn't want to do the run, and soon six of us were hurtling down the crater. You have to run very fast to keep from falling, which I did a few times. The sulphur fumes were almost overwhelming at the bottom until the occasional breeze kicked in. I made it down first after Darren, and after everyone else came stumbling down, he said this was a boot camp style run and there would be no breaks, and then immediately forced us up a 70 degree incline of nearly 40 meters of basalt rocks and sand... take three steps forward, slide 4 back. I don't know if it was the altitude or the sulphur or the run, but I felt absolutely wasted once I had climbed back to the top (now at the end of the group) and couldn't wait to hop on the boards for our practice run. We were all covered in black and white ash, and some of us still coughing from the fumes.
We donned our safety goggles and bright orange jumpsuits which were made for someone a foot taller than me. They used to hand out gloves as well, but Darren got tired of having to wash them and decided having cuts on your hands makes for great storytelling at the pub later. He then gave us the rundown on how to situate ourselves on the boards and mostly just what not to do. Don't let go. Don't go faster than you feel comfortable going. Don't open your mouth. Some people asked stupid questions, like, has anyone ever gotten hurt doing this, like broken anything? to which Darren quickly replied, oh yeah tons, and then told us a few horror stories. My favorite spill story (which I got to see on video before we came) was Chino's, a Marine who just finished 5 years of service and gave a fake address in Kansas in case he gets called up again. He chose not to break the entire way down and flipped off the board about midway, cartwheeling the remainder down but landing on his feet like an acrobat. My favorite stupid question came from a concerned Irishman, who asked if there was a liability waiver to sign. No, Darren said, it's not his fault we're stupid enough to pay him $20 to throw ourselves down a volcano slope.
We all successfully complete the practice run, and then D tells us that we were probably only going 5 kph an hour and thats just 10-20% of the speed you'll reach, even breaking, on the more sandy face of the volcano. I likened the practice face to sledding down wet snow, and going down real run like sledding down ice.
I now add that there were two options for boards: slow and fast, or female and male as Darren put it. He brings a 50/50 mix of each, since most of his groups tend to be half male and half female. I of course chose the fast board and volunteered to go first. Darren said no, I was going last, and with him! We watched everyone go down in pairs.. only one guy didn't fall or fly off, and but he did break a lot. On the slow boards you can get down to the bottom in 2 minutes if you don't break, and on the fast boards, 15-30 seconds. The boards themselves are just wood with rope handles, and on the fast ones new formica slats on the bottom. Once everyone else had gone down, we noticed the brilliant red sun was setting and took a moment to take in the view. Then it was my and Darren's turn. I was feeling overconfident and without a trace of fear, which is unfortunate!! I decided I wasn't going to break at all, which meant a definite spill. Darren was testing out a new board, trying to get the fast one faster. He zipped past me, and then I caught up, passed him, turned to him and grinned, and hit a rock and let go!!! I didn't come off the board though, just got my hand very cut up and sunk about 6 inches under the rocks as I came to a complete stop. I made Darren crash since I had done this right in front of him, and we readied ourselves and made it down the last half without incident (or breaking). Afterward he bought us all rum and cokes and we settled into the bar for a long night of drinking. Wonderful pics on the way!!!
At the moment I'm staying in Leon, which I love even more than Granada. I'll be here a few more days to catch some sun at the beach nearby and hopefully do another hike... then on to Honduras!! I hope to meet up with a friend from home who is volunteering in Zamoro, near Tegicigalpa, the capital city.