The volcano boarding on Sierra Negro was pioneered by an Australian (though a local told me their fathers had done things in the past!), and apparently it is the only place you can go in the world… Though I’m sure there must be somewhere else!
If you do the tour, be sure to bring a buff or bandanna to cover your mouth. Overalls, gloves and goggles are provided.
Bigfoot seems to be the only company that regularly maintains their boards (tablas) and thus have the ‘faster boards’. The downside is the whiteboard material they stick on the bottom is left strewn across the side of the volcano.
The first activity I’d heard about in Nicaragua was the volcano boarding near León. It seemed like one of those must do tourist traps.
After extending my CA4 in Managua, I walked to the edge of the city and tried hitchhiking back north. The walk from immigration had taken a long time and the light was quickly failing. I figured I’d soon be looking for a place to camp, but then a Chicken Bus ‘wingman’ ushered me into the back door of the still moving vehicle. Pressed tightly against others I stood for a time until the crouds thinned and I could finally take a seat. I was exhausted and drifted in and out of a bouncy sleep.
Eventually we arrived in León. I thanked the drivers and trudged into town. I wasn’t feeling great. A night to splurge and stay at a hostel. The Bigfoot beach bus was just pulling in as I arrived and I quickly decided staying at the party hostel was a bad choice if I wanted to rest. Becca had told me there was a 4USD hostel across the rd (the US currency is widely accepted here and often the only price listed… I think this is because of the continuous inflation of the Córdoba)… ViaVia let me connect to their wifi… It was 7USD for a dorm room but I I quickly decided to just pay. Sleep however eluded me and I spend some time researching the Dárien and entertaining some conversation with an odd girl who was sharing the room.
The included breakfast was pretty pathetic… Maybe that’s because I have a larger appetite than many? But either way, don’t get the pancakes! I got one of the girls who didn’t want to breakfast to order an additional for me, and ate half of another. Finally I was satisfied. Everyone at the table (a group of Brits, a German, etc?) was going volcano boarding leaving quite shortly. “The Bigfoot boards are supposed to be faster”, they said, but I was enjoying their company so quickly packed my bag, put it in the bodega, and joined them. A group of Danish girls from another hostel joined us, and piling into the back of a small camión with bench seats, were on our way.
It was roughly a 40min trip to the information centre close to the base of the Sierra Negro volcano. I loved the contrast of the black volcanic soil and the lush green vegetation. Adding our names to the log book we proceeding a little further, grabbed our equipment, photo faffed and continued up the trail that weaved up through the boulder strewn volcanic field.
We soon veered left onto a trail that slowly spiralled upwards gaining a ridge allowing easier progress to the top. The views were great.
We dropped the boards of at the top of the ramp leading to the three ‘runs’ and explored the top of the mountain a bit to enjoy the different views. At the far side the ground was quite hot to the touch.
Heading back, we got a demonstration on how to ride a sand board. The few tips were to sit back, pull the front of the board up a bit, use your feet to steer and make sure you wear your goggles and gave mask.
We split into three lines and the action started, but unfortunately it proved to be the low point of the trip. It seemed quite board dependant, but most people went quite slow probably partly due to the rain a few days prior. The right lane seemed the fastest, whilst the left where I ended up the slowest. I was very disappointed. I’d only move several metres before stopping, then maybe 5… Gravel just kept piling up on the board… I would have had more fun scree skiing.
I wasn’t sure if it was just me, but at the bottom, I found many people were a little upset… Nevertheless we headed back to ViaVia for some drinks and conversation.
A couple of people complained and got a partial refund. If they were eligible, I was sure I was. I’d been on the trip, but I still found it hard to say that I’d been volcano boarding 🙁
The free shuttle to Las Peñitas soon left, and I joined some others to enjoy the sunset. It was also a scheme you you to spend money at their linked hostel. I went for a swim in the ocean and ended up buying some expensive but delicious food. I walked the beach and asked some locals about camping on the beach. No one seemed opposed, so after a great sunset I headed back to say bye to the others and then went to sleep on the beach. I slept in the open but once the wind died I put up the inner part of my tent to keep out the zancudos.
In the morning I packed early and headed to the rd. Sand always seems to get into everything! There were so few cars passing that I flagged the first chicken bus down for a really cheap ride back into León. Thanks when Dengue struck. I had zero energy. I walked past a couple hostels checked into one and slept for 20hrs.
I had joint pains. Low fever with occasional bouts of shivering… Headache and migraine… Maybe loss of appetite? I’m not sure if I was just too tired. I would waken occasionally to use the bathroom due to my liquid diet.
I was basically out for 4 days the symptoms changing as time progressed eventually turning more into a cold; with runny nose, blocked eats, sore throat and slight cough…
I met up with Maye who was working in another hostel/guest house. We talked played some board games and also witnessed a street fire. While the fire spread to the the adjacent houses I helped a restaurant empty their building, the street becoming full of furniture. The amount of beer was staggering. One of the guys helping in the building collapsed and I helped another guy carry him out into the street where the increasing number of fire engines struggled to find room in the crowded streets. I figured it was time to head off. I reminded myself I was still sick and shouldn’t excerpt myself too much.
Maye gave me a free pass to go Volcano boarding… I figured another appempt was in order, and it was a good way to get to El Hoyo which I was planning to visit.
I checked out early the next morning, picked up my forgotten drink bottle and headed back to ViaVia (the tour was with the same company). I was in a big rush thinking I was late, but was an hour early… And they also left over an hour late. Interestingly their was a big group (5) also planning to camp up on El Hoyo… It was a little awkward that I was planning to hike it myself…
Eventually we headed off, this time in a 4wd and ute (those of us in the back of the use got rained on solidly for part of the trip) and repeated a similar process to the last time. This time the overnight packs in the sun to dry.
It was nice to have a smaller group, and to my relief the board I had performed much better and I finally got to board down a volcano. It still seemed expensive if you were paying. I think it’d be a better experience to build your own board.
The group then split. Some heading back to León, the majority of us to climb el Hoyo.