Volcano Boarding in Nicaragua

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Yes, you read that correctly. Volcano boarding. Don’t know what it is? I didn’t know that it even existed until I saw it on CNN’s “thrill-seekers bucket list” a few months ago. Volcano boarding tours are only operated at Cerro Negro, outside of Leon, Nicaragua and involve “sledding” down a semi-active volcano at speeds up to 95kph (I say semi-active, because though it is active, it hasn’t erupted in years). My birthday was on 11/11 and my boyfriend and I had been planning this short excursion to Nicaragua for volcano boarding for awhile. We researched the trip and found that it was extremely affordable. The boarding trips are only $29 and the hostel that operates the tours (Bigfoot Hostel), is $25 per night for a private double room (I believe that it was around $7 for a shared dorm room).

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With our travel benefits, a flight to Nicaragua was around $50 roundtrip (perks of being flight attendants…). We were only in Nicaragua for 3 days (10th through the 12th) and flew into Managua where we rented a car to make the 1.5-hour drive to Leon. Leon is a cute city full of culture, churches, and many hostels. We spent the first afternoon walking around to see what it had to offer.

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The next morning, we began our tour. There were about 34 of us “backpackers” in a large, open truck for an hour-long drive to the base of the volcano.

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Once we arrived, we signed in, retrieved our gear, and commenced on our 45-minute hike to the top.

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The hike was actually more difficult than I imagined, as we carefully placed our feet over volcanic rocks, avoiding a nasty fall to the bottom. I was in a lot better shape than I realized, as I managed to stay at the beginning of the line for the entirety of the hike while carrying my own board and gear (we had the option of paying $5 to have guides carry our boards up for us…I liked the challenge of carrying it myself). The views from the top were breathtaking.

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We were allowed some time to rest and enjoy the views and were then given a quick introduction for boarding down the volcano. If we wanted to go slower, we had to keep our feet flat on the ground and our bodies erect, if we wanted to go faster, we were to keep our feet in the air and lean backward onto the “sled.” I hadn’t decided which was the best option for me yet. My boyfriend decided that he wanted to go for speed and was hoping to break the 95kph all-time record. I figured that I would go somewhere in the middle. We donned our protective suits and goggles, had our GoPros with us to document the event, and were positioned toward the end of the line to watch a few others for strategic purposes.

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I went before him, and as I watched others slowly move themselves down the volcano before me, figured that speed would be more fun, since we were only allowed one try. I went for it. I kept my feet up for the duration of the ride and kept my body leaned back as far as I could. I could feel that I was going too fast. The goggles were nearly impossible to see out of, and my GoPro was attached a headstrap, making it even more difficult to see. I felt that I had no control. But it was fun and I couldn’t wait to see how fast I was going at the end. Well, I made the mistake of fumbling with my GoPro to reposition it since it was directly in my face, and I somehow managed to disrupt my balance, resulting in a crash. Disoriented, I rose up only to realize that I was about 15 feet from the bottom (the volcano is over 2,000 feet high at a 41-degree angle). I retrieved the GoPro that fell off of my head and looked up embarrassingly, but yet still smiling, to the onlookers. Everybody looked concerned. “I’m bleeding, aren’t I?” Yup, I was. “Is it bad?” “Ummm…no…just this top part. It’ll be OK.” Ugh. I managed to keep a smile on my face and did not feel any pain, so I figured that it’d be fine and that I should just avoid looking in a mirror until it was cleaned up, since it probably looked worse than it really was. As I watched the reactions of those around me, I theorized that maybe it was pretty bad. I had told my boyfriend that I would film him from the bottom, so I handed off my GoPro to one of the others as I went to get a gauze for my head. The group was extremely friendly and ensured my comfort until my boyfriend came down. He, too, went for speed, though he crashed and rolled about halfway through. He rolled for a very long time until he was finally able to get back up and retrieve the goggles that fell off of his head further up the volcano. Unphased by the crash, he continued to try for speed for the remainder of the ride down. He ended up with only a slight scratch on his hand. His time: 45kph. My time: 90kph. The second fastest speed that day was 75kph. I hadn’t heard it yet, but I was 1kph away from the women’s ALL-TIME RECORD. I had no idea. The fastest time ever recorded (since 2004 when it began) is 95kph. I guess that the minor injury was worth it. The group continued to be helpful and after realizing that it was my birthday, serenaded me with the Happy Birthday song in 3 languages (English, Italian, Hebrew). It was the most epic birthday ever.

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Upon return to the hostel, after many congratulatory praises, I cleaned myself up and my boyfriend assisted with cleaning the wound. We decided that it might be best for us to visit the hospital right down the street just in case of any complications. A translator from the hostel joined us and we didn’t have to wait too long before being seen by a doctor. I know enough Spanish, but still had no idea what was going on when I was attempting to listen to the doctor about my condition. All I heard was “mariposa,” which I knew meant “butterfly” in Spanish. Ah, I thought. Maybe I just need a butterfly bandage. The doctor didn’t seem too concerned and merely cleaned up my wound, stating that if anything, I only needed one stitch. We decided to wait on returning to the U.S. for any stitches. I was provided with some prescriptions, which I filled at pharmacy next door. The visit plus the 4 prescriptions were only $50 or so.

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I kept apologizing to my boyfriend about ruining the remainder of the trip, but he was proud of me and happy to help out. It did make for a pretty good story. We hadn’t really planned much else anyway. By the next morning, I was looking and feeling a bit better, though was still a bit nervous about being seen in public (getting onto a plane back to the U.S. while I was covered in a huge bandage and facial scabs didn’t sound like fun). I purchased a ball cap at the airport and that helped to hide my wounds as we made our way back to Miami. I had a birthday party waiting for me at my apartment and I had to tell my friends to not plan a big night out, since I wasn’t exactly presentable. We stayed in and had a nice evening at my apartment and they weren’t too shocked by my beaten up face. I went to urgent care at a nearby hospital the following morning (the 13th) and was relieved to hear that most of my facial abrasion probably wouldn’t scar, other than the largest one at the top of my forehead. I hadn’t taken any of the medications from Nicaragua, and was prescribed new medications here in Miami (an antibiotic pill and a topical cream). I was able to get someone to work my trip for the 14th, and now, 4 days later, am almost back to new. It’s amazing what the human body can do! I return to work tomorrow evening and now have a pretty badass story to tell :).

Here is my GoPro video from the volcano boarding experience:

Bucket List Item Completed: Go to a Shooting Range

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A few months ago, I was browsing around on Groupon, since I had plenty of credit in my account from a returned Groupon about two years ago. I’ve been wanting to use it on a few of my bucket list items, and was lucky enough to find a Groupon for shooting at an indoor gun range. It was $45 for 2 people (a $95 value) and included gun rental, ammunition, and a brief instruction on how to use the gun. It was located about a half hour from where I live, so I went ahead and purchased it, assuming that someone would want to tag along. Well I’ve been so busy that I hadn’t had a chance to use it or ask anyone to join me, so I received an email recently saying that it was expiring on July 20th. One of my roommates had agreed to go with me and we had the day off yesterday, so I called the place and they said to just stop on it whenever, since they weren’t too busy. We got to Miami Guns and the two gentlemen working there were extremely friendly. They chatted with us a bit and gave us an introduction to shooting. My friend has shot guns before, so I was the newbie. We had 50 rounds of ammunition and were shooting a Ruger 22. The place was pretty empty, so we got a lot of one-on-one instruction. The first shot was somewhat scary for us, but after that, it was a blast! We even decided to purchase another 50 rounds. I noticed my shot improved dramatically the second time around. The guys helping us were great and we would definitely return! What a neat experience! Now I just have to upgrade to a 9mm…

Bucket List Item Completed: Visit Italy

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Last month, two of my good friends and I (my two adventure buddies from the trip to Peru last year from a previous post), took full advantage of my travel perks and planned a one-week getaway to Italy. I say planned, though in reality, we did no planning other than buying an Italian phrasebook and a Lonely Planet guide along with picking a week in May that worked for the three of us. There was no guarantee that we would make it, since my travel passes are not confirmed tickets and the flight that we wanted was oversold. We made it on with pure luck and embarked on an adventure throughout Italy, cramming as much in as we could and completely winging it every day. I will summarize the vacation in a later post with plenty of details in case you are ever hoping to visit the amazing country, which has so much to offer.

Where I’ve Been: A 6-Month Recap

On March 19th, I passed my 6-month probationary period with my current airline (basically, new flight attendants have to be on their best behavior during that time as the job isn’t entirely theirs to keep just yet). During those six months, I started off as a domestic flight attendant and then switched to an international flight attendant in December. I have also taken advantage of my travel privileges and have visited many new cities, states, and countries. I will probably post separate blog entries on some of the destinations, where I was able to really explore and get a feel for the area, but most will be briefly listed here. Since I did not have much time as a domestic flight attendant, I will not delve into those layovers, since I wasn’t really able to explore much, other than in D.C. Many of the layovers that I had were short layovers and were not in close proximity to any sight-seeing. My international layovers have mainly been longer and are typically located in convenient locations. I will also report on my “nonrev” adventures when I was traveling for fun instead of for work!

International Layover Destinations:

San Jose, Costa Rica

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Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

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Providenciales, Turks and Caicos

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Cancun, Mexico

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Port of Spain, Trinidad

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Caracas, Venezuela

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Buenos Aires, Argentina

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Grand Cayman

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San Juan, Puerto Rico

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London, U.K.

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Recife, Brazil

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Curitiba, Brazil

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Salvador, Brazil

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Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

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Guayaquil, Ecuador

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Nonrev Adventures:

New Orleans, Louisiana

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Chicago, Illinois

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Minneapolis, Minnesota

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Los Angeles, California

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Phoenix, Arizona

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New York, New York

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Denver, Colorado

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Anniston, Alabama

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Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic (trip summarized here)

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Cancun, Mexico (trip summarized here)

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27 Surreal Places to Visit Before You Die

If you haven’t already seen this post circulating around the internet, check it out! I have been fortunate enough to see #13 and #14, though I’d love to see all of them. Have you been to any of the places mentioned? Any places that you’d add to the list?

http://www.buzzfeed.com/ariellecalderon/surreal-places-to-visit-before-you-die

Bucket List Item Completed: Visit the Everglades

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After living in Miami for about two months now, I was finally able to take an airboat ride in the Everglades National Park with a few friends. The tour was with Gator Park and included a 30-minute Everglades airboat tour, short wildlife show, and the opportunity to take your photo with a juvenile alligator (mouth taped shut, of course). The tour was about $18 if you purchased the ticket ahead of time online and $22 at the door. While the tour was shorter than I expected, we had a great time cruising through in search of gators! A must-do activity if you ever find yourself in southern Florida!

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Vacation Spotlight: Dominican Republic

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Once again, I am behind on my posts. I am going to attempt to remedy that soon — I promise! I am still adjusting to my new location, career, and lifestyle. I have been enjoying every minute of it and have been taking advantage of the travel perks. I recently went to the Dominican Republic for a few days off (including my birthday!).

A friend had once recommended a place called “27 Charcos,” or 27 waterfalls, to me, so I did my research and decided to try it out. My airline flies into several airports in the DR, so I found that the better flight for me and my friend was into Santiago, about an hour from Puerto Plata, where our hotel was located. The flight from Miami wasn’t so bad, and we rented a car from Dollar online, but when we arrived, there was no representative there, so we ended up using another company. Word of advice: do not rent from Dollar if you find yourself in Santiago! There were several complaints from locals about them. We used Europcar. Another tip: be sure to have $10 in cash per person when traveling to the DR as there is an entrance fee into the country. There is an ATM right outside of the airport if you find yourself stuck though!

After getting on the road kind of late, we made our way to our place in Puerto Plata, an all-inclusive called Be Live Grand Marien. I had a nice discount and the place was beautiful. It is on the beach and includes several pools and restaurants.

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When traveling in Puerto Plata, or the DR in general, I noticed that they do not advertise their tourist spots very well. We had a hard time trying to find things to do, even though there were plenty. Having a car to explore definitely helped. We spent the first day on the beach and then drove east toward Navarrete. We found (again very poorly-advertised) a small ecological park along our way and decided to stop. They offered nature/cave tours for about $20 a person. I would highly recommend it! The tour guides were wonderful and the caves were astonishing. We even got to swim in one of them.

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We relaxed a bit for the rest of the day and then headed for the waterfalls on the following day. Along our way, we stopped by a historic site along the Malecon (road along the beach). A quick stop, but it had some nice views.

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We had a hard time finding the best route to the waterfalls and had to stop to ask for directions several times. Even though they are advertised as “27 Charcos,” the entrance sign reads “Rio de Damajagua.” The cost is surprisingly cheap. There is an option to do 7, 12, or 27 waterfalls. We had planned to do all 27, but it wasn’t the best time of the year to do all of them since there was not enough water, so we decided on the 12. The cost was around 350 DR pesos per person for 12 waterfalls, or about $8. I’m still shocked at how affordable the tour was. It took around 2 hours with a guide and photographer. Do NOT miss this if you find yourself in that area! The experience was much different than I imagined. It is not simply a tour to look at waterfalls, but rather is interactive and allows you to jump, slide, and swim through small waterfalls. I would bring a waterproof camera or something like a Go Pro if you have one. You are not allowed (well not advised) to take any items with you during the tour because you will be completed immersed in water for a good portion of the trip. If you do not have a waterproof camera, or you are like me and do not trust the disposable ones, they sell a video/photo combo for around $40. I decided to go ahead and purchase that.

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Videos:

Watefall Sliding at 27 Charcos

Cliff Jumping at 27 Charcos

On our last day, we drove back to Santiago and explored there a bit. This was a not a very exciting place for tourists, but it was neat to drive around and see the city.

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There are not many hotels within the city, but we were able to find one for about $25 for the night, just to crash before our flight the next morning.

Though it was a quick trip, we were able to include a lot during our time there!