All I can see are black dots as ash is hurled up in the air and zooms past my goggles. I’m bumping up and down like a ship caught in a turbulent storm and I feel sea sick to match. I slide to the left, then dig my foot into the ground to steer to the other side. Not that far! I think as I almost topple to the right. I regain my balance and grit my teeth. My knuckles look so white I think I can see my bones underneath my skin. And it’s all downhill from here…
Ten minutes ago, I’d been standing at the top of the volcano listening to a guide telling us the dos and don’ts of Nicaragua’s most reckless tourist activity. “The last time the volcano erupted was in 1999. It’s been quiet for a while now…” he had remarked. Suddenly, boarding down the volcano – and then probably running far, far away to hide from any possible eruption – seemed the safer option.
Although most wouldn’t call sitting on a thin strip of plywood and pushing yourself off the top of a volcano, sliding over hot ash at speeds of up to 90 miles per hour safe. The fact that we had to sign a disclaimer confirming that the tour operator was not responsible for any injuries or possible death, certainly provoked my inner sense of danger. Yet we’d all put on the mandatory orange jumpsuit and goggles, travelled for an hour from Leon and trekked up the volcano for 45 minutes – all for the sake of an adrenaline rush and a bit of pride at being one of only 25,000 people in the world who have sledged down an active volcano.
After watching a few people plummet down the incline, I decided it was my turn. Gingerly grabbing my board, I stepped towards the ‘pushing off’ area. I could just about make out the ant-sized truck we travelled to Leon from, surrounded by a few fluorescent orange dots – those braver than me who had already taken on the challenge. They looked like cheerful, uninjured orange dots, I tried to convince myself as I sat down on my board. Three, two, one…. I dug my feet into the lava and pushed. And I’m off!
I feel like I’m moving at a speed quicker than light as I make out the man standing at the halfway mark. He gives me a thumbs up as I skid past- I manage an ‘eep!’ in reply. There are two men with a tracking gun at the bottom of the slope- wait? Does that mean that I’m at the end already? But I felt like I was at the other side of the world when I stood up there! As I glide past they track my speed. Unsure how to stop, I dig my feet into the ground and rather ungracefully fall to the left with my board on top of me. One side of my face is completely charcoaled black but that doesn’t wipe off my grin of victory. “28 miles per hour” the guide tells me.
It’s a far cry from the all-time high speed of 90 mph, or the high speed of the day- 66 – but the fact that I’ve made it from top to bottom with all my limbs intact causes for a celebratory mojito. Bigfoot, the company that we boarded with, provide a complimentary drink as part of the 50 dollar package. Also included is transport, a rather fetching Volcano Boarding T Shirt and a beer on the way back to the hostel. 5 extra dollars are needed to pay the entry fee for the Volcano Park.
On Nicaraguan terms, it’s not the cheapest day out- but it’s the only place in the world you’ll be able to plunge down an active volcano at motorway speeds, so it’s pretty much an essential for any thrill seekers travelling around the Leon region.
Claire is a British travel blogger on a mission to get to the heart of places by overland adventures. She writes about eco-travel and travelling with purpose on her blog, and she is currently back in the UK, plotting her next adventure! Keep updated with her travels on her blog clairesfootsteps.com.