I was completely blind, flying down the side of an active volcano at 70 kilometres an hour on a piece of wood, rocks bouncing off my face, under a moon hidden by clouds.
Volcano boarding is one of the biggest draws for most backpackers in Nicaragua, a must do. It was one of the top activities on the list of things to do this trip. Our hostel in Leon happened to also be one of the operators of this unique experience, even more unique was the full moon special. It just so happened that we were there for a full moon.
Late in the afternoon, we piled into a cramped van with about ten other sweaty backpackers, and spent the next hour and a half driving down a dirt trail through the jungle. The trees opened up, and Volcan Cerro Negro stood beautifully ahead of us, basked in the last orange light of the day. We were handed our boards, which acted like sails in the wind, and the time came to ascend the hollow peak. Nothing this exciting comes without a little effort. As the sun slowly disappeared over the jungle horizon, we climbed. Climbed over jagged boulders and loose stones, crouching as low as possible to keep the howling wind from blowing us off the side. Rounding the crater, that unmistakable egg-smelling, sulfurous steam billowed from the cracks in the yellow brimstone. With the few remaining minutes of light, the guides explained the procedure; the wind was deafening, nobody heard a thing, we just nodded along with the group. Soon it was time, and the first of the us disappeared into darkness. Next it was my turn.
Tattered jumpsuit and goggles on, a bandana over my mouth and nose. I’m sitting on a chipped slab of plywood with sheet metal screwed to the underside, holding a small rope tightly in my hands, staring down into black nothingness. I push off, and little happens, theres no way to determine the steepness of the slope. Push a little harder, and a bit of movement quickly turns into a lot. Within seconds, just as speed begins to pick up, my board spins sideways and I skid into the rocks. Very quickly I realize that this is not the soft ash I had imagined it to be, but was in fact small rough pebbles of crushed lava. Getting back on, I lean back and pull the rope hard to lift the front end. Immediately I take off, cruising at ridiculous speeds, and I can’t see a damn thing. I panic a little and make a feeble attempt to slow myself down by digging my heels down beside me, they just bounce off the rocks and I nearly take a knee in the mouth. In a moment of confusion I reach up to remove my goggles, thinking for whatever reason that they are the cause of my blindness, a chunk of rock pegs me hard in the forehead and I quickly reconsider. Suddenly, I spin again, fly off and hit the ground hard and come to an instant stop, whatever momentum was with me a second ago didn’t continue after the fall. The ground was flat. I had reached the bottom.
Exhilarated, I jump to my feet and let out a howl! What an incredible ride! I reach behind me and feel something wet and sticky, nothing hurts, I’m in-tact, it isn’t blood. Sliding my backpack off, I quickly realize what the instructions were at the top, if you brought a backpack, wear it on your front. While leaning back, my pack took a 200 metre trip down the side of a cheese grater. Thankfully anything important was either back at the hostel, or in another part of the bag, but the main compartment was torn wide open, and once the rocks were done with the material, they shredded the bottle of sunscreen that now protruded from the open wound. Thankfully, duct tape and a sewn bandana were able to keep it together for the remainder of this trip, but the time has come to retire the bag. Gonna miss it, has been with me since India.
So, overall, what are my thoughts? A truly unique experience, such an incredible rush, I would absolutely love to do it again. However, I would do it during the day. While the night time experience added an extra element of fear-based adrenaline, not being able to see the ground whirling past you takes away from the ride, and leaves much to the imagination. If you find yourself passing through Nicaragua, you’re probably already aware of volcano boarding, so if you’re still deciding whether or not to give it a shot, do yourself a favour and take the ride!