I like countries where things like riding exploding volcanoes with sketchy rocks on a sled and overloading vehicles with people are encouraged and charged a fee to enjoy, rather then say the North American view where the fun would be fenced off and have a team of lawyers waiting at the gates to greet you.
Who dreams up this madness anyway?
Cerro Negro, Nicaragua is the worlds youngest volcano and last exploded in 1999. According to our tour guide in 2002 a French guy named Eric Barone had a well thought through plan to break the speed record on his pedal bike by riding it down the ashy slopes.
Well he hit 107MPH and managed to break the record as well as many, many bones in his body landing himself a month or so in the local hospital. During this time two things happened; one his friend decided to try and out do the record and succeeded.
This was the point where the guide referred to the friend as a “total douche” for upstaging his friend was in the hospital and all of us tourists grumbled.
The second thing was he fell in love with the nurse from the hospital and they lived happily ever after, this is the point where all of the girls in the group at the exact same moment went “aweeeeeee” & a puked a little in my mouth.
After all this attention the volcano was getting, one enterprising individual tried racing various items down the hill from car doors, car hoods, a sheet of plywood and even a whole fridge. None of these things we’re exactly breaking records, only the backs of those hauling them up the volcano.
It was when the clever Canadian arrived on the scene whom had spent his youth tobogganing on snow in Canada and the idea to ride a sled down the volcano was born. Jump ahead a decade or so and now over 20,000 people ride down the volcano and visit what once was the sleepy agricultural community and city of Leon each year.
The route to the ride.
It’s roughly a one hour drive down sandy roads to the base of the volcano and I thought it would be a nice idea to take two of us on my motorcycle there. After consulting the locals and two gps guides I was convinced everyone and everything was lying as we only managed to make it three of the seventeen kilometres down the sandy road in two hours. After being passed by several ox and cart setups hauling wood at a snails pace, in the 38oC heat I was exhausted and turned back sure it was the wrong road.
Instead we booked a tour the following day and to my delight it was the same sandy road to get there and our 4x4 land rover made it look like a paved highway.
From the base you have a twenty minute hike that is turned into an hour long hike while the charismatic guide gives you the back story on the volcano and the history of volcano boarding. It was mentioned this drawn out hike was meant to accommodate those who were more out of shape then maybe they had realised and for those more hung over then they had realised, our group luckily had both.
Once at the summit the guide takes us over for a nice photo shoot and we all make super hero poses for the camera then we are made to scratch the surface of the volcano so we can see any escaping smoke and feel the heat. Sulphur smell noted and everyone with a hot hot hand, now we are all convinced it’s alive and feel happier we are risking our lives.
Ok so we are actually doing this.
After a quick lesson is given by our guide on how to go as fast as possible if we are interested in broken arms or legs and how to maintain control if we have no one to impress on the way down. I’m still undecided.
Next up everyone puts on bright yellow Breaking Bad or Minion looking jumpsuits depending on your t.v. program of choice as anything exposed will be filled with volcano suit & I use the bandana on my head to cover my mouth.
Next up you creep over the edge of the volcano and one at a time you are sent careening down the side of this simmering volcano with black shit blowing everywhere while you either pray to your god of choice that you make it to the bottom alive or go faster depending on your personal level of anxiety.
I opt to break the rule of holding on with two hands and instead go for the cowboy ride with one hand on the board and the other on my camera. I feel that in this instance it’s more important to get a good video then necessarily make it to the bottom unscathed.
*Notice the slow motion part of the video where the rocks and suit are blowing over my head.
For $30 USD you get to ride like cattle or locals, depending on your perception, to the volcano base. An interesting tour with an insightful guide to the top, one thrilling volcano ride to the bottom, a cool t-shirt so people know your cool, some stickers, a banana, cookies and a beer with friends afterwards!
Personally we rode with Volcano Day tours, the guides we’re great, they were on par with the best price in town and everyone had fun. My only complaint would be that they advertise you have the option to go twice if you want and I wanted to. On the way up I asked if we took the same route up the second time and the guide said that they never actually go twice. I would have liked to, however those who didn’t, and that was probably all but three of twenty of us would have had to wait until we got back.
All in all another super cool life experience checked off the list & I look forward to seeing a bunch of Nicaraguans trade in the +38oC ride down a lava full volcano for a -38oC ride down a snowy mountainside in Canada, I think they might leave feeling they two risked their lives.