Monday, June 4, 2012

Volcano Boarding

We woke up bright and early Monday morning, ready to board a volcano. We were stoked. I had read about volcano boarding years ago and as more and more people I knew tried it, the urge to board down the side of an active volcano on loose ash became overwhelming. Thank goodness I have such a kicka** little sister who will jump out of airplanes and board down volcanoes with me.

Our hostel offered a bed, volcano boarding trip, 3 mojito and 1 beer deal so we took them up on this offer and climbed in their large orange converted flat bed truck along with 15 other adventurous souls. Our guides name was Anthony. He hailed from New York but was busy making Nicaragua his new home. Within minutes it was clear he had a fat crush on robin. I encouraged her to take advantage of this, but she felt I was exaggerating his infatuation (it would later be proven multiple times, I most definitely was not.)

The ride to Cerro Negro, our volcano, was an hour long. The truck drove at neck breaking speeds down one lane roads and tiny dirt ruts. It honked at horses, cattle and children that got in its way, never slowing down for a minute. The cab had a porthole on the top and at multiple points in the trip Anthony would climb out of the cab and into the back to join us, the tourists, clinging for dear life to the benches. During one of these sojourns he informed us that Volcano Boarding Cerro Negro had just been listed #2 on CNNs Thrill Seekers Bucket List and #4 on Readers Digests Top Death-Defying Adventures List. Robin sarcastically added, “Riding on the back of this truck must be #1.”

Here is CNNs description: Snowboarding is old school. The latest extreme way to slide a slope can be found at Cerro Negro in NicaraguaThe live volcano, which erupted as recently as 1999, has become a hot spot for extreme boarders. Boarders can reach speeds of up to 80 kilometers per hour as they course down the volcano's sides. “ See why we had to do this?

Once we finally reached the base of the volcano Anthony had adequately pumped us up. He had bragged about his own best time (90 km/hr) and had informed us that if we broke the month or all-time record we would earn extra mojitos. I had seen that the June record for girls was 48 k/h and I was positive I could break that so I was ready to climb on my board and go… too bad we had to hike the volcano first.

We grabbed our gear and commenced a raggedy-taggedy line up the trail. At first we lead the line but soon Robin was kind enough to drop back with me to the end, since I felt pressure to walk quickly at the start of the line, and I am not a natural hiker at the best times, let alone when I am carrying a liter water bottle, orange jumpsuit and a giant piece of plywood. Luckily, there were lots of water breaks and I made it up in one piece.

When we reached the half way point we had a good view of one of the craters created by a recent explosion. There was a nice rock located on the edge just begging for people to hang off it and take a massive number of pictures and our tour group complied happily. We clung to the rock, jumped on it, jumped off it and posed near it. As the pictures wrapped up Anthony turned to me and said, “Take a picture of your sister and I doing a jumping shot.” This would have only been a little odd on its own, but 4 pictures later he was still unhappy with how they were looking and replaced me as photographer. It was at this point Robin admitted he may have a small attraction to her.

Soon after this we reached the top. Looking down at our tiny tonka-sized big-rig truck, we realized just how high we were, 600 meters high. We were instructed to climb into our orange jumpsuits and listen to how to control our boards.

Driving the board is simple. The boards are basically long pieces of heavy plywood with strips of plastic attached with glue to one side of the bottom. Then a rope is tied to the wood and you are seated on the very edge of the back of the wood holding onto the rope. As you go down the volcano, you stick your feet straight ahead and don’t let them touch down unless you want to brake. If you get going too fast then you don’t brake, because if you do, you will be slammed off your board and that is how people break collarbones and such. At the bottom, the volcano evens out and your board will eventually coast to a stop, assuming you managed to hang on that long. We were now ready to go.

Robin and I were the third couple to go. We were seated near each other. The girls who had gone ahead of us had drug their feet almost the whole way down and had never gotten any speed at all. I was determined to get speed and I decided to just not think about repercussions. Robin pushed off first. She was the first girl to keep her feet up and get some speed, she looked good and in control, she made it look easy. About 10 seconds later I pushed off. I could see her ahead and to the right, she was about half down. I lifted my feet and picked up speed, I wanted to test steering so I carefully and quickly tapped my left foot, this was supposed to steer me to the left, instead I rolled lightly off the board – I had been going too fast and the sudden tap and thrown me off. But it hadn’t hurt at all. I brushed off and climbed on again. All fear was gone. I had already fallen off and proven it was harmless. I lifted my feet and gained speed quickly. I clung tight. Robin was now 75% down the mountain. I quickly caught up to her and flew past, I was too close for comfort but I was afraid to try to steer again and I really wanted to get a good time. I was flying.

Suddenly I bounced and my left foot touched the ground. BAM! I was tossed into the air like a rag doll. I landed hard on my left side and immediately bounced again. I did this over and over again, gaining speed as I rolled down the volcano’s side. I could hear robins gasp, followed by uncontrollable laughter as she watched my body and face slam again and again into lava rocks – she later apologized for this reaction – she said her laughter was instinctive but she really was worried about me. According to the people at the base of the volcano, I rolled somewhere between 9 to 16 times and was awesome to watch, arms flailing and legs flying. As I came to a stop, I was so able to quickly assess that nothing was broken but my left side was definitely bruised and cut a bit and my goggles were no longer anywhere near my face.

My board was further up the mountain and I looked up at it as Robin coasted by. She later told me I quietly whispered to myself, “Ow. That hurt…” but I have no recollection of this. All I really remember is climbing back up the side of the volcano, dusting off my ash covered board and climbing on for the end of the ride. Robin crossed the line with a speed of 20 k/h and I crossed right behind her with a speed of 27 k/h. Disappointing to be sure... but everyone assured me I had been flying up until that point and I have the cuts and bruises to prove it.

At the end of the day, we decided volcano boarding was just as awesome as we had hoped it would be and the biggest bummer was we only got to do it once… this trip.

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