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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Volcano boarding down Cerro Negro

No fireworks this time, just the rays of sunshine peaking through the windows. It's been getting difficult to keep track of the days of the week, a wonderful feeling indeed. 

After a quick cup of coffee, I headed out with Miguel again. This time, it was to Cerro Negro, the youngest volcano in Central America.  There was only one other traveler, a fellow from the Netherlands. Perhaps it was because it was eight in the morning or maybe it was because he was hungover, but he wasn't as talkative as the Canadians I had previously befriended up Volcán Telica.  

Sitting in a caravan, we rode to Cerro Negro National Park in silence, peppered with the occasional question I had for Miguel. 

We then spent another half hour driving off road. Although, off road this time was a smoother experience than the last. The trails were much more developed, with the occasional large rocks thrown into the mix.

Again, we were surrounded by farms in the midst of preparing for the rainy season. Branches held together by barbwire formed fences that lined the edges of the farms. Eventually, the fences were replaced by trees that offered us respite from the heat of the sun. 

Once we were at the base, Miguel handed each of us a board and a backpack of gear. Before us, underneath the Nicaraguan sun, stood Cerro Negro, a 700+ meter cinder cone volcano. Black as night and completely devoid of vegetation, Cerro Negro was a startling contrast to its verdant neighbors. 

With a ten pound board in hand and a malodorous backpack that needed washing on our backs, we started the 40 minute hike up to the rim of the crater. Though it was littered with rocks large enough for us to climb stably, the slopes of Cerro Negro were steeper than those of Telica. It was also much hotter, with the black rocks absorbing the sun's rays and heating us up like a furnace. As the saying goes, it was hot as hell. If hell was indeed that hot, I will have to respectfully decline the invitations many have extended to me in the past.

At the top of the crater, we were treated to a 360 degree view with Telica in the horizon, Leon in the near distance, and farmlands at our footsteps.  In a spot that looked damp, Miguel scooped up the top layer of gravel. Where the gravel once was there was now steam. To the touch, the gravel was burning hot, enough to cook an egg. 

We began to unpack out goodie bag, inside of which were a pair of goggles, gloves, knee and elbow pads, and an extremely oversized jumpsuit.  The instant I smelled the jumpsuit I was committed to taking a shower as soon as I got back to Latina.  One at a time, I put on each piece of gear, with anticipation kindling inside. 

Miguel gave us a short introduction on the piece of plywood, covered in part by Formica to ensure we could reach the maximum 90 kph, that we would be riding on. After learning the basics of how to control the speed and direction of our so called sled, we looked down the 500+ meter slope, inclined at as much as 40 degrees, and told Miguel we were ready. 

The traveler from the Netherlands went first. Rapidly, he became  a yellow streak going down Cerro Negro. Suddenly, the yellow streak became a yellow ball as he placed too much pressure on one side, giving away his balance and sending him tumbling off his board. 

With that, I got ready to push off. Slowly, I picked up speed and the wind began to gust faster past me. Clouds of black dust stormed upwards from the board, covering my face with specks of black. When I opened my mouth to scream in exhilaration, I quickly closed it to prevent the dust from entering. I felt my board beginning to swerve to the right and immediately used my left foot to balance myself. This repeated itself a couple times. At one point my behind was nearly lifted off the board, threatening to send me spilling over. Then, with a fifth of the slope left, my board got lodged into a trough, slowing me down to a halt. Disappointed, I dug myself out and sped down the rest of the slope. 

Wondering how Miguel was going to meet us down there, I turned around and found him running down Cerro Negro.

I spent the remainder of the day bumming out once more.  With a stop at La Union for a quart of vanilla ice cream to dull the simmering heat, and a final rendezvous with El Sesteo for dinner, I soon found myself packing up and preparing the next day's journey down to San Jose, Costa Rica.


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