It didn’t take much for me to sign up for volcano boarding down Cerro Negro, an active volcano near León. I’d heard whispers about it along the Gringo Trail as I got closer to Nicaragua. Someone I’d met just once before in El Salvador who knew nothing about me told me that I just had to do it. A hike leading to an adrenaline pumping ride toboggan ride down volcanic ash and gravel? I thought it over for half a second. He’s probably right. I’m in. Done.
Upon walking into Bigfoot Hostel in León, the first thing I saw behind the bar was the statement, “Rated #2 on CNN’s 2014 ‘Thrill Seeker’s Bucket List’”. I read more phrases: “death-defying” and “that’s a story for the grandkids”. As I’ve been through many interesting situations while backpacking, you know I’m all about piling up stories for my future grandkids while we’re road tripping across Mars in our hovercraft in 100 years.
Invented by the original owner of Bigfoot Hostels, Daryn Webb first tried riding down the volcano on a picnic table, refrigerator, and any flat surface he could come up with. Eventually, he came up with the Formica-reinforced plywood toboggans that transformed volcano boarding into one of the top things to do for backpackers in León.
I was ready for the wobbly-knees, heart-thumping feeling I’d get at the top of the volcano before sliding down, but I was at first a little nervous about the ascent. The difficulties of hiking Volcán Acatenango in Guatemala still fresh in my mind, I was unsure I’d be able to heave a toboggan with me during the 45-minute ascent.
Lucky for me, the hike wasn’t too strenuous since we stopped a few times for our big group to catch up. I could only see the 5 things: the blue sky, the white clouds, the green hills surrounding us, the black gravel of Cerro Negro, and our orange toboggans and jumpsuits. It was a perfect day to get the adrenaline pumping through our veins.
Once at the top, donning our jumpsuits and goggles, our guide told us the name of the game: keep each leg outstretched alongside the toboggan, lean back to go faster, tap the ground with your heel if you start to lose your balance, and don’t try to stop – you could get hurt. Our speeds would be tracked at the bottom of the volcano. The fastest speed ever clocked was 95km/hour. The fastest male and female of the day would be rewarded with the “Lava Shot Challenge” back at the hostel: 3 shots of chili-soaked rum to be consumed and held down without vomiting for 30 seconds. I’m not sure how that constitutes as a reward, but somehow I knew this would be my fate.
We all sat atop Cerro Negro, knowing what was coming next, yet not fully comprehending it. One by one, people sat at the beginning of each trail and waited for the signal to begin. I watched as one by one, people began to disappear down the face of the volcano. Soon only another girl and I remained.
I waited for my cue, then gave my toboggan the push it needed to start sliding. Once I started, there was literally no stopping me. The video speaks for itself:
No, that’s not a rag doll, that’s me flying down the side of Cerro Negro at a whopping 47km/hour. You can just barely hear my screaming from time to time. I struggled to keep my balance, but managed not to fall off or injure myself in any way. It was fast; it felt fast, and it was exhilarating! I couldn’t remember the last time I’d felt an adrenaline rush like this. And sure enough, I was the fastest female to sled down the volcano.
I wish the day ended with just the toboggan ride but I had another obligation back at Bigfoot Hostel: the Lava Shot Challenge. I won’t bore anyone with the details; I took the chili-soaked rum shots, I kept them down for 30 seconds, and vomited them back up as soon as it was over because it was SO SPICY. All for the sake of a t-shirt and a hat, and my pride!
León was a cool city to explore, but when I look back on my first few days in Nicaragua, I’ll always remember the thrilling feeling of volcano boarding down Cerro Negro. It was the beginning of one month in Nicaragua, and of the best times I’ve had during my entire trip so far.
Bigfoot Hostel didn’t sponsor me for the volcano boarding – I wanted to do it and paid for it on my own. It was well worth the $36!