León, the capital of the 1978-1979 Nicaraguan revolution, is tough and beautiful like its grand Cathedral littered with bullet-hole reminders of the not so distant civil war. A short walk along Avenida Central leads to La Universidad Autonoma de Nicaragua, a public mural promoting ‘city of the arts’ status and a pictorial rendering of Nicaragua’s turbulent history. In Granada, a more tourist-popular city, backpackers raved about a hostel that ran volcano-boarding tours.
Bigfoot Hostel, provides respite for the new arrival with a Cuba Libra with Flor de Cana rum and coke served up at the bar/ reception area. There’s an adjacent kitchen. Dormitoryrooms open on to a courtyard-entertainment area, where weary backpackers watch movies from hammocks and rocking chairs. It is an affordable place ($6) to lay your head and meet Darren Webb, the swashbuckling Aussie, who just so happened to invent his own sport, while building a name for his first business.
Who will be the first sacrifice to the volcano? International stranger— two American guys, two Swiss girls, Israeli girl, Kiwi girl and this Canadian size each other up as the cone-shaped peak shoots virtual sparks through our nervous systems as we bounce into one an-other on the back of a pick-up truck delivering us with wild abandon.
Our guide tells us about the relative youth of Central America. How, in volcanic spurts, it formed into the isthmus connecting North and South America. With its seismic instability, it continues to shift into new formations. Cerro Negro is among 10 volcanoes in the Cordillera. The active volcano allows one to slide, or run down inside the cone because it exposes no lava. Climbing out of it proves challenging, as loose volcanic rocks slip and roll under hand and foot.
A toothpick-thin board with a smooth laminate underbelly will transport each participant down the black rocky-sand slope. The evolution of the sport began with surfboards and skateboards, too fast and dangerous to ride standing, while a mattress was too slow.
The group stands stunned by the intimidating 40 degree decline and the story of French sportsman Eric Barone, who broke the speed record of 130.4 km on his mountain bike just before it snapped in half and he half flew. Has anyone ever died volcano boarding? “Not yet,” laughs Darren.
Speed overwhelms the nerves. Steering becomes a balancing act of body and volcano sand. When the board fills up with sand and volcano rocks, its weight becomes uneven, threatening volcano burn wipe-out. Feet act as brakes to gain control half way down. Volcano boarding lasts only seconds, but takes minutes to work up the courage.
Adrenalin-fueled excitement hangs heavy in the air long after the last boarder reaches the base. Participants gleam, feeling privileged to be among few to have ever participated in the sport. Everyone has a successful ride – no serious injuries beyond cuts and scrapes – leading to a feeling of camaraderie and a call to celebration and Flor de Cana rum at Playa Peneloya 20 km west.
We drive to the beach-front property of Darren’s Nicaraguan friend. It had been expropriated by the Sandinistas revolutionary government of the 1980’s, but returned after they were voted out in the 1990 election. Rotating from pool-side shade to the sun-soaked beach meters away, volcano boarding has earned us a revolution of relaxation. The lifestyle, however, is far removed from that of ordinary Nicaraguans.
But as “Modern Gonzo”, Robin Esrock, declares in his video tour of León and Cerro Negro: “This is true adventure.”