The first half of the afternoon was spent in the sister city of Granada: Leon. We ate at Tip-Top, Central America’s version of KFC. We then self-toured the León Cathedral, which is the largest in Central America. They began working on it in 1747 and did so for the next 100 years. We walked the roof tops of the cathedral which bled history as mold grew through the cement as if crying survivor’s guilt. The mortal remains of 27 prominent Nicaraguans rest within.
León’s outskirts have surfing… down the side of Volcano Cerro Negro. 520 kilometers south, in San Jose, on my first evening in Central America, an Aussie chick was boasting about the idea of surfing a volcano in Nicaragua. My ears perked up and she had my full attention. In each city since the backpacking circuit has known about boarding down the black “sand” of Cerro Negro in León. Everyone agrees it would be fun, but also apprehensive because of the notorious dangers involved.
“Live freely, death is just the next step” has been the spirit of this journey so far. It’s better said in the words of the genius vagabond, Hunter S, but I cannot find them verbatim. I swear the interwebs are losing their touch. ~’How long you live isn’t measured in years but in moments of triumph’ as reminded to me by a college friend, Dlew, who,
similar to me, has been blessed with dementia.
After leaving the private party island we are at the night before (story untold) we boarded a motorized row-boat to return to the mainland. As we boarded the rain began. It got strong, it soaked us. As we got of the boat, it ceased. The fog on the volcano attacked us in the very same way.
After an hour of off-roading, we arrive at the active Volcano Cerro Negro. It is a steep black cone. for 5$ we were handed wood sleds with metal under bellies. They had a knotted rope attached to the top. He instructed to “lean forward to slow down, lean back to speed up” I starred listening for more. I thought maybe he was waiting for something before explaining the rest, but there was nothing else to be said apparently. That’s all he had for us.
We marched towards the black mound of volcanic rocks. No directions, just white spray painted boulder markings. No guide, just Nica friends. No instructions, just a thumbs up. We could see the fog thickly roll in from the other side of the dark climb. Every step sent rocks rolling down, every few paces one of use slipped to our knees. The fog thickened like a horror movie’s climactic murder scene. We soon could no longer see the top nor the bottom. Upward we continued, breaking sweat and seemingly always having more to climb. Thunder struck the humid air. I turned to Christiana and told her that there would be more to come, so suck it up now. The setting was ominous. The only thing insight was the black cone we climbed and the thick white haze surrounding us.
Thunder cracked again. It was quicker to reach the top and board down then to backtrack the last 45 minutes. The smell of sulfur intensified, we were clearly nearing the gaping crater that opened to the earth’s core. No one was anywhere near us. “This is Nicaragua” Ale reminded me. A “truly free country” as he has so convincingly stated yet again.
Wiping away the sweat from my brow, the trudge continued. We soon reached a wood post that arrowed down. The sand much more closely resembles gravel. I had nothing to wait for, I was here for one reason. I set my feet up, and tested out the concept of breaking. This first test included a small wipe out. lesson seemingly learned. Jose then sped past into the fog and out of sight. I called to him. I go no response. I called louder and this second silence sounded even bleaker.
The others slowly made their way and we coasted down together. I got the hang of it, shifting my weight, picking up speed, slowing at will, picking up speed, shifting weight, still shifting weight, losing aim, picking up speed, dipping hand into gravel to slow, turning body, maintaining speed, pushing weight into some attempt to halt and then burying my board under the little black volcanic rocks and flipping a wipe-out forwards, rolling over my shoulders, summersaulting, and again, and again, knowing I could dig my limbs into the gravel and eventually complete stop myself from falling further down without my board. I did. I then tried to get back to the board, which was no easy task. The gravel was too loose for my weight to push off and up the slope. After a serious struggle I retreived the board and went again. This time I shifted the board to a snowboarder’s tactical horizontal slow before smashing another wipe out. This time I held the blue rope that leashed my wood sled. I had rooks in my jeans, my hair, my shirt. The sweat kept the gravel from falling loose. I again boarded down, this time with more caution.
The whipping breeze cooled my overheating body. I intensely concentrated on the gravel flying beneath the board, desperately keeping my balance and avoiding another belly flop onto the chalky black stones. The rocks grew larger as the bottom neared, but so did my confidence and ability to stay balanced. I made it to the bottom, out of breathe, I was out of my mind and I need to get these stupid rocks out of my shoes and pants. I stripped with a sigh of relief and enjoyed the adrenaline high.