A hint of sulpher on the breeze, a slippery slope of rocks and ash, black soot staining my skin… This was definitely a volcano, and I was planning on shooting down its side on a wooden board.
I had first heard of volcano boarding many months ago while reading another travel blog: This Battered Suitcase. It looked like such an adrenaline rush, and a crazy experience to add to the travelling CV. As soon as we arrived in León, Nicaragua, I rushed out to sign myself up. Although there were a number of tour operators in the town, I chose Quetzaltrekkers, a volunteer-lead organisation that donated 100% of its revenue to charity. Arriving at the Quetzaltrekkers office at an already swelteringly hot 7.50am, I was giddy at the prospect of the morning to come. At that moment, a phone call from the rangers on Cerro Negro burst the metaphorical excitement bubble of everyone in the room. The park was officially closed due to recent seismic activity. Something about three earthquakes in three days… I had slept through them all. Unofficially, we could still go.
When the trip was ultimately cancelled, myself and three others opted to try other tour operators. We were stubbornly determined to volcano board, and followed the logic that if even a single tour operator was heading out to the park, the volcano wouldn’t be erupting any time soon.
And so after an arduous climb lugging a heavy wooden board up a slope of ash and rocks that gave way underfoot, I was stood on the precipice of the crater looking down at the rocks, hazy heat and steaming jets of sulpher gas. We changed into our boiler suits, complete with knee pads, elbow pads, goggles and gloves and watched the demonstration.
“Dig your heels in to slow down.”
I sat on my board, pushed off with my heels and gripped the handle in front of me. The spectacular view is quickly hidden from sight as ash and stones whirl around you, clouding the already foggy goggles. Halfway down the slope you realise that any attempt to slow down is just resulting in more stones flying up and hitting your goggles. So you just go for it.
It’s over so quickly, you spy figures in green and yellow waiting at the bottom, you shoot over the last bump and it’s the home stretch. All I remember thinking from the descent is “Gahhhh, I’m tobogganing down a volcano!” And a momentary lapse in logic with “how fast would I need to go to outrun lava?” At the bottom, I’m covered in black ash, and drunk enough on adrenaline to take a sooty, sticking-my-tongue-out selfie. As I gaze around the rest of the group, wide smiles and an impressive collection of panda eyes stare back at me. We are dirty, bedraggled and all desperate to try that again. Until the next time, Cerro Negro.