By Vicki Barnes
There, before us, is a half a mile tall pile of rubble and ash, a place where the earth rumbled and cracked open and spit out fire from its core. Fire and molten rock shot from this place and when it cooled, it left this beautiful thing we call a volcano.
By volcanic standards this one is small, a mere 750 meters tall, less than half the height of some of the other volcanos in this country of many volcanos.
Cerro Negro – the black hill – is a young volcano. It formed in 1850 in a violent eruption that ripped through the verdant hills of the Nicaraguan countryside north and east of Leon. It erupted for more than a month before it settled as a dark hill in the green landscape. It has erupted 29 times since then, most recently in 1999. There was seismic activity recorded there last year.
But that’s less of a worry to me than walking half a mile up a steep rock strewn path to the summit and then sliding down the other side on a piece of plywood.
No matter. I’ve committed to this crazy endeavor and I will have to see it through.
Claudia, our guide from the Lazy Bones Hostel, is a spry young woman in her mid 20s. She hops from rock to rock with the skill of a mountain sprite. I cause mini avalanches with each heavy step, slide and grab as I make my way upward.
The rest of our group putters slowly up behind as Claudia literally holds my hand and pulls me up.
Near the summit, the path changes to a soft sharp-edged sand. Peering over the edge into the heart of the volcano, we could see ash, dirt, sulfur dust and plumes of gas. Cerro Negro is just sleeping.
But the hike around the center core is easier and offers unbelievable views. The crater to our right, an arc of other volcanos in the distance, lush hills and arid farmland below us and the city of Leon a ways off.
Despite the elevation, the wind – which is strong enough to move me a bit – and the proximity to a gassy volcano, I don’t feel fear. The views are exhilarating.
And, somehow, the thought of sliding down the volcano seems like a good idea after the arduous trek up. It seemed like a pretty damned efficient way to get back to the transport.
When it came my turn to go, I had some trouble picking up speed and traveling very fast. Thud, bump and then briefly – whooooooosh. Skittering a little to the right and, with a shift of the hips, to the left…then straight. A moment to clear the gravel that has piled up on the board and then off again. Whoooosh.
Peering down the path, it is unbelievably steep. I’m certain that one wrong shift should send me tumbling head over aft section toward the waiting transports below. As a pick up a little speed, natural survival instincts send my feet off the board to slow my progress and before I reach bottom, I am completely stopped and I have to carry the board the last 50 yards or so.
Steve kept his feet down lightly for part of the time and didn’t go as fast as he might have. Nick and Sherry from South Africa were a bit faster on the trip down. It was the Canadian, Stew, who sped with complete abandon – one hand in the air for the full half mile trip – down the trail to take the gold among our group from Lazy Bones.
The trip wound up at a gazebo under a stand of Sancuanjoche trees beside an iguana breeding center. Watermelon, bananas and oranges revitalized us for the drive back to town.
Slow and dusty, the trip down the unpaved roads was, perhaps, more frightening than the descent from the crater’s edge.