Volcano Surfing at Cerro Negro
Have you ever surfed down an active volcano? According to CNN, this should be a number two in your bucket list of 50 fun but terrifying experiences before you die (the rest is here). Hopefully its not going to end after this one! 😀
The only sport I am actually good at is snowboarding (unless you count weight lifting in the gym a sport!), so I was mystified when I saw there was an opportunity to surf down a 700-metre-tall active volcano. So I asked myself, ‘Why not?!
Volcano surfing is a relatively new adrenaline-fueld sport performed on volcano slopes, and Cerro Negro near the city Leon in western Nicaragua is by miles the most popular. It is a somewhat of an extreme sport, since as you are picking up the speed very quickly as you are heading straight downhill, without turning to break the gathering pace, and you could easily fall off and have your face cut by volcanic ash (not ideal for future holiday photos). Scary.
Cerro Negro is the youngest volcano in Central America – having been born in 1850, it is a baby in geologic terms! Since the mid-nineteenth century is has erupted more than 20 times, the last eruption taking place in 1999 shortly before the advent of volcano surfing as a sport.
My day started off with a good breakfast of smooth Nicaraguan coffee, scrambled eggs and fried plantains – I ate unhealthy amounts of plantain whilst in Nicaragua, but then I suppose I needed a lot of energy for all the hiking – followed by a one-hour drive to get to Cerro Negro. Once at the foothills of the towering black ash mountain, I was given a heavy rucksack filled with all the necessary equipement (protective suit, gloves, goggles, water, sunscreen and such) and my plywood board, which was surprisingly cumbersome (much more so than my snowboard!).
It took me about 45 minutes of arduous hiking to get to the top of 700 metre volcano, which was made even more challenging by the increasingly oppressive heat as the day progressed. A little tip: the earlier you start, the easier it will be to get to the top since there is no tree cover to take refuge from the sun.
At the summit, after a few nervous giggles, I put on my voluminous protective navy suit (not very flattering), goggles and gloves: you need plenty of protection since as you are going down at a gathering pace, you start getting hit by little pieces of volcanic gravel and ash. My guide explained all the technicalities of sliding down the volcano without falling off your broad, which could potentially end catastrophically – landing on rough volcanic ash is not the same is rolling down in soft snow or plunging into the water!
I sat down on my board, holding a rope in my hands, both of my feet on each side of the board to help me keep my balance and show down in case the speed was too terrifyingly fast. The board starting edging forward. First slowly, but then at an creasing speed as the angle became increasingly steeper. The world tilting downwards, air whistling by, scattering gravel, bits of it in my face… A surge in adrenaline levels, feeling on top of the world. Less than a minute later you are at the bottom!
The highest speed ever recored is 96kph, although I think my maximum speed was far below that, since I did not fancy the idea of spending the rest of my Nicaragua stay in a hostpital!
All covered in ash en route to my hotel…