Planet Vagabond

A Bundle of Tips from Around-the-World Backpackers

The Volcano Boarding Truck in Leon Nicaragua

Volcano Boarding on Cerro Negro in Leon, Nicaragua

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No Skills Required!

Probably the most ridiculously embarrassing and painful event of my life took place a few years ago when Victor convinced me to go snowboarding.   I was kind of a crappy skier as a kid and had never snowboarded before, but I figured since we were only heading to the summits of the not-so monstrous peak of Devil ´s Head in Wisconsin, it probably couldn ´t be too hard.   I was absolutely pathetic.   I spent most of the time on my butt or on the way to being on my butt…and I never even made it off the bunny hill.   So when I read about volcano boarding in the guidebook, I really didn ´t even consider it.   I ´d usually rate myself somewhere between medium and high on a scale that measures adrenaline junkies, but this time I was willing to relinquish my status as hardcore and chalk it up as a forfeit.   But something in Victor ´s eyes told me that it wasn ´t going to be so easy.

When Vic inquired about the tour offered at Bigfoot Hostel, he was pretty much sold immediately.   I wasn ´t sold until I was assured that boarding on a volcano is absolutely nothing like boarding in the snow.   I was also assured that I would not be required to demonstrate specialized skills of any sort.   Perfect.   So, for a mere 30 bucks, anyone with average physical ability and a love for heights can, I assure you, volcano board.   But that ´s not all!   Also included in the package is transportation in a very conspicuous orange truck to the volcano, a guided 45 minute hike up the volcano, which offers truly breathtaking views of many of the 9 volcanoes that comprise the magnificent chain that spans all the way through Nicaragua from Honduras to Costa Rica, a crash-course in volcano boarding, and your garb: a spiffy orange Guantanamo Bay-esque jumpsuit and goggles, which will be absolutely filthy by the end of the ride.   And if that ´s not enough, they ´ll also bribe you down the volcano by greeting you at the bottom with a beer and the most delicious cookie you ´ll ever eat in your life.   AND THEN, when you get back to Bigfoot all high on adrenaline, you get two mojitos.   By the time you ´re done with them, you might have a nice little buzz going and will be coming down from your adrenaline high, so it might be time to pass out, which you can do in a bed at Bigfoot Hostel…which is also included in your 30 dollar investment.   Wake up the next day and have breakfast in the cafe next door (yes, this is all part of it) and then put on your cool new Bigfoot Hostel volcano boarding t-shirt, which you ´ve already paid for, and you ´ll definitely not regret the splurge.

Volcano Boarding as an Icebreaker

When we piled into the truck at 9am with about 12 other like-minded comrades, we were still a bit sleepy and the ice hadn ´t been broken yet, so nobody was terribly loquacious.   But after about three minutes of popping like palomitas de maí­z on the road to the volcano, and we were wide awake.   When Cerro Negro came into sight, our collective pulse began to beat just a bit faster.   It ´s the   youngest volcano in Nicaragua and has erupted over 20 times.   It ´s appropriately named “black hill” because amongst all of the other lush green hills and dormant volcanoes, Cerro Negro ´s 45 degree slopes are pitch black.   The entire volcano is volcanic ash, and the only variation in color is in its two sulfer-spewing craters, whose rocks are a bit lighter.

Cerro Negro: The Only Place in the Whole Wide World Where You Can Go Volcano Boarding

We each schlepped our own boards, which are essentially pieces of plywood with pieces of fiberglass glued each day to the bottom only to be immediately burned off from the friction after one ride.   The hike itself was glorious — the terrain of Cerro Negro so fiercely juxtaposes its gently sloping green neighbors — I had to repeatedly ask myself, “Where am I?”   By the time we reached the summit, the absolute point of no return, the giant orange truck was a mere speck of an ant so far in the distance.   And that distance is straight DOWN.

It ´s true.   No specialized skills were required, and the only direction you need to follow is “Tap your left foot to go left and your right foot to go right.”   After that, gravity does all the work.   The high speed record is currently held by an Israeli girl who paid no heed to the foot-tapping rule and took full advantage of the gravity rule.   She went a zooming 87 kilometers per hour.   I maxed out at a whopping 23 kilometers per hour, but that was still fast enough to make me feel that I really deserved that beer.   And a cookie, too.

Vagabond: Jess

I was always content with my family's definition of vacation: the 6 hour drive north to the old A-frame house on Butternut Lake in northern Wisconsin, where we swam in freezing waters and swatted mosquitoes for a week. I didn't fly in a plane until I was 18. But an image of turquoise waters has always been skimming the surface of reality, wooing me to come play... At Victor's first delightfully perilous introduction that he was "dangerous" and had itchy feet, I knew I had found my man and that adventures were on the horizon... I still love Butternut, too.

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