Volcano boarding in Leon

Yesterday, we nearly died. No, I am not exaggerating.

Everyone, and I mean everyone, goes volcano boarding when in Leon, Nicaragua. It is THE thing to do in Leon – well, that and touring the cathedrals and you all know that we are not really into touring cathedrals. So, we booked a trip through Quetzaltrekkers, which donates its profits to local charities and, unlike all the other tour groups around here, allows everyone two chances to board down the volcano. Quetzaltrekkers rates its volcano boarding trip as “easy.”

Turns out, it was the hardest thing we have done on this trip. Remember my bitching about Sigiriya in Sri Lanka? Sigiriya is for kids compared to volcano boarding in Leon.

The day started in the back of a truck for a 45 minute drive on back “roads.” In other words, a dirt path. We had to stop for random horses, random cows, wagons being pulled by oxen, and even the occasional pig. When we finally arrived, we saw this.

Our initial view of the volcano

Our initial view of the volcano

You know what we didn’t see? A chair lift, a tow rope, or even much of a path. Turns out there is something resembling a path, but the volcanic rock is constantly shifting and at points the path pretty much goes straight up. Fun. And, we found out we had to carry our boards in our hands while climbing this beast of a volcano.  (We knew we had to get our own boards  up, but had seen photos of boards strapped to people’s backs.).  While wearing a backpack containing a seriously heavy and unfashionable safety outfit. And a 1.5 liter bottle of water. Seriously, I can’t believe no entrepreneur has come along and offered to send Nicaraguan sherpas up the volcano carrying the boards and the backpacks….Because we totally would have paid extra for that service….  (And I would have paid even more for someone to pull me up the volcano at the hardest parts…).

The view from the second rest stop

The view from the second rest stop

Undaunted, we set out. And soon realized we were too damn old for this. Everyone else on the tour was half our age (there was one couple that was 29; we were ancient compared to most of the participants) and in way better shape. We quickly fell to the back of the pack. Before the first rest break, Robert was carrying my board. Seriously, everyone knows what a klutz I am. Does anyone think I can climb a volcano carrying a heavy board without falling? Right, I think not.

But, by the time we got to the first rest stop, even Robert was struggling. He blames a recent head cold. I could barely catch my breath and I was pretty sure a heart attack was forthcoming. Remember, this is at the first rest stop which is only one-third of the way up. At this point, I was ready to turn back. Even more so when our guide indicated that the next segment was the most difficult segment. Thankfully, however, our guide offered to carry my board. (Yes, we tipped her when the trip was over).

The crater -- see the steam on the right hand side?

The crater — see the steam on the right hand side?

So, we persevered. We were the last to arrive at the second rest stop and the last to arrive at the summit. By half way up, I was shivering even though it was in the 90’s here – heat exhaustion anyone? In fact, by the top, I had exerted myself so hard that I nearly barfed – and I’ve never, ever exerted myself that hard before. Thankfully, one other couple was also really struggling so we were not the only ones holding the kids back.

Check out that outfit!

Check out that outfit!

The views from the summit were amazing. We looked right into the crater. We could feel the heat from the volcano, see steam coming out of holes in the ground, smell the sulfur, and we even heard it make some noise. Oh, and did I mention, that the volcano was due to explode several years ago? Yep, it is seriously late and could blow at any time. And, did I mention that this particular volcano blows at a different location each time it explodes based on which patch of ground is the weakest? Yep, it could choose to blow right where we were standing. And, did I mention that the guide actually carries a special flag to warn everyone if the volcano is going to blow?  (Actually, I carried that flag because she was carrying my board).

So, with those three facts firmly in mind, it was time to head down. But, first we got to put on some seriously ugly protective clothing. Don’t I look amazing?

Robert at the top

Robert at the top

Then, it was time to walk to the edge. Can you see how steep the hill was? Yeah, we couldn’t even see the bottom of the hill. In fact, we couldn’t even see more than a few feet in front of us at the top. Pushing off was a bit intimidating.

But, boy was it fun going down. Neither of us wiped out, and Robert was one of the fastest boarders in our group. He was flying!

Of course, we were both covered with volcanic ash and rocks when it was over. In fact, I pulled more out of my hair this morning.

(And, no, we didn’t take the opportunity to slide a second time. Once was enough for that climb. But we will be back in a heartbeat if they ever install a tow rope!).

Robert flying down the volcano

Robert flying down the volcano

(The other group that people seem to tend to use is affiliated with the Bigfoot hostel. They even check the speed of each and every boarder with a radar gun and supply alcoholic drinks after boarding. In other words, it is a huge party for the backpacker crowd. I shudder to think what would have happened to us on that trip….).

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