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:

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