León: Volcano Boarding
Get There: Head to Bigfoot Hostel at Del Banco Procredit 1/2 Cuadra al Sur, or check the website at bigfootnicaragua.com
Cost: US$25 including transport, equipment, free drinks and singlet (+ a US$5 fee upon entrance to the park)
Riding down the side of an active volcano on a board is a pretty epic way to pass a day in León, Nicaragua. The activity was invented by an Australian (standard – we are a ruthless bunch) after he decided that the black gravel that covered Cerro Negro was similar to the sand dunes he had once ridden down in Queensland. Naturally, he took to it with a mattress, and when that didn’t work a fridge door, but eventually discovered that a sit-down wooden sled was best for sliding down the side of a 700m tall volcano.
I hadn’t done much research about different companies offering tours because I was staying at Bigfoot Hostel, who are the founders of the “sport” and obviously do their own, which meant it was as easy as signing up at the front desk. Plus, they included a free shirt, and at that news I was sold.
Bigfoot has a reputation of hosting some pretty wild nights, which means when 8:30am rolls around and the hangover is in full force, the usually fun ride in the back of a pickup truck can turn in to 40 minutes of 4-wheel driving down struggle street. Upon reaching the base of the volcano, you are hit with the safety instructions and tips on how to carry your board and bag (containing goggles and what looks to be an old prison suit), and are also informed about the man with a radar gun whose sole job is to capture the speed you are going. For inspiration, breaking the record means free mojitos for the length of your stay, plus the fastest male and female of the day get serious bragging rights and their name displayed in the bar.
It takes about an hour to get to the top and it becomes challenging at about half-way because of the gale-force winds, though the more hungover you are, the tougher it gets, and catching people having a spew over the edge isn’t a rarity. After having a mini photo shoot and gearing up in the goggles and jumpsuit that create the feeling you are straight off the set of Breaking Bad, the time to line-up and take the plunge comes. Peering over the edge for the first time is when the butterflies kick in, especially when you realise you can’t see the bottom thanks to the second section being much steeper than the first.
Saying that the board down gets the adrenaline pumping would be an understatement. The feeling is similar to that of being on a cocaine high and on the run from security at an Argentinian nightclub (hypothetically speaking, of course), and no matter how slow you are actually going, you feel like you will spin out and eat shit at any second. Usually the people who resist the urge to put their feet down DO eat shit, and watching people tumble becomes an entertaining activity in itself. Reaching the bottom takes no more than two minutes and you are left with a face full of dust and volcanic rock in every crevice of your body that was left uncovered, as well as a heart rate that is through the roof.
When everyone has made it safely down, the staff from Big Foot provide everyone with beer and a cookie for the ride home, which is notably more enjoyable than the ride there. When you arrive back at the hostel at about 3pm you are given a free mojito to enjoy as a slideshow of the photos taken from the morning get shown on the big screen. It will be remembered as the day you boarded down a volcano, and will probably lead in to a night you won’t remember thanks to the free drinks and pumping adrenaline. Needless to say, volcano boarding is definitely one to tick off that ol’ bucket list.