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    Is This the Isthmus? Tour – Nicaragua Part 16

    Tuesday, August 29, 2017
    Cerro Negro, Nicaragua

    The crew arrives at Cerro Negro, Nicaragua.
    The crew arrives at Cerro Negro, Nicaragua.

    Our guide, Luis, dispenses more fun facts about Cerro Negro, Nicaragua.
    Our guide, Luis, dispenses more fun facts about Cerro Negro, Nicaragua.

    Last night, I booked an excursion with Maribios Tours to go volcano boarding at Cerro Negro. At 8:00 am, I joined Marius and Whitley, two young backpackers from Holland, as they jumped in a mini-van with two bench seats running lengthwise in the back. Our guide, Luis, and a driver whose name I didn’t catch whisked us through the east side of Leon, where we stopped for a moment in a market so Luis could buy a few bananas for snacks later.

    Luis leads the way on the rocky climb up Cerro Negro, Nicaragua.
    Luis leads the way on the rocky climb up Cerro Negro, Nicaragua.

    Then we headed out into the countryside on a paved road. After a while, we hung a left onto a black dirt road that was surprisingly smooth…until it wasn’t. Ascending the hills into the volcano region, we occasionally got tossed around like rag dolls by some high bumps and deep ruts. Passing by a bunch of ranches–complete with farmers walking their livestock from one field to another–we even spotted men on rustic wooden carts pulled by huge water buffalos.

    Contrasting colored landscapes on Cerro Negro, Nicaragua.
    Contrasting colored landscapes on Cerro Negro, Nicaragua.

    Luis stands at the top of Cerro Negro, Nicaragua.
    Luis stands at the top of Cerro Negro, Nicaragua.

    After an hour, we reached our destination: A complex named Volcan Las Pilas El Hoyo Natural Reserve. First, we stopped at a “ranger station,” where we signed a log book and Luis showed us a scale model of the volcanos–complete with our route up Cerro Negro–along with a brief history on it and the surrounding area, which went something like this:

    Steam streams from a vent in a crater at the top of Cerro Negro, Nicaragua.
    Steam streams from a vent in a crater at the top of Cerro Negro, Nicaragua.

    “With a crater towering 726 meters above sea level, Cerro Negro is an active volcano in the Cordillera de los Maribios mountain range in Nicaragua, about 24 km from the city of Leon. It is a very new volcano, the youngest in Central America, having first appeared in April 1850. It consists of a gravelly basaltic cinder cone, which contrasts greatly with the surrounding verdant hillsides, and gives rise to its name, which means Black Hill. Cerro Negro has blown its top frequently since its first eruption. One unusual aspect of several eruptions has been the emission of ash from the top of the cone, while lava erupts from fractures at the base.

    Marius and Whitley stand in a steam vent in a crater at the top of Cerro Negro, Nicaragua.
    Marius and Whitley stand in a steam vent in a crater at the top of Cerro Negro, Nicaragua.

    Another crater at the top of Cerro Negro, Nicaragua.
    Another crater at the top of Cerro Negro, Nicaragua.

    “Cerro Negro is part of the Central America Volcanic Arc, which formed as a result of the Cocos Plate subducting under the Caribbean Plate at a rate of 9 cm per year. It is the largest and southernmost of four cinder cones that have formed along a NW-SE trend line in the Cordillera de los Maribios mountain range. Despite its youth, Cerro Negro has been one of the most active volcanoes in Nicaragua, with its latest eruption occurring in 1999. Since its birth in 1850, it has erupted approximately 23 times.”–Wikipedia

    Whitley and Marius mug it up in their funky denim coveralls at the top of Cerro Negro, Nicaragua.
    Whitley and Marius mug it up in their funky denim coveralls at the top of Cerro Negro, Nicaragua.

    Next, we jumped back in the van and drove another kilometer, where we finally reached the trail head. There, Luis gave each of us a volcano board and a goofy denim backpack containing funky denim coveralls, woodworking goggles, a bandana and gloves. Wasting no time, we stepped out onto the extremely rocky trail, which proceeded upward immediately. The climb ranged from mellow to moderate to flat out steep as all heck. Even though it was only around 9:30 am, the sweat really started to pour.

    We're all DEVO at the top of Cerro Negro, Nicaragua.
    We’re all DEVO at the top of Cerro Negro, Nicaragua.

    Luis gives some pointers on how to ride the volcano board at the top of Cerro Negro, Nicaragua.
    Luis gives some pointers on how to ride the volcano board at the top of Cerro Negro, Nicaragua.

    We stopped for a brief rest break at three different viewpoints, which looked out over an astonishing landscape marked by an uncanny contrast between the black gravel of Cerro Negro itself and the bright spots of sunlight illuminating the verdant green of the distant surrounding hills. At the top of the volcano stands not one, but two craters, which, with their multi-colored earthy bands of charcoal black, ash white and burnt sienna, offer perhaps the most striking view of all. Up there, Luis told us to sink our hands into the gravel, which was really warm to the touch. Likewise, he walked us part way down the face of one crater to a small steam vent that looked so amazing. I sat down right inside of it and took a quick steam bath, which felt really hot and slightly damp.

    Whitley takes off down the hill at the top of Cerro Negro, Nicaragua.
    Whitley takes off down the hill at the top of Cerro Negro, Nicaragua.

    Next up, it was time to go down. After we put on our funky denim coveralls, bandana, goggles, and gloves, Luis gave us a few pointers on how to ride the volcano board. To go fast, pull back on the handle to lift up the nose, lean back really far and keep the bottoms of your feet level as they skim the gravel. To go slow, don’t lean back too far, but do drag your heels deep in the sand. And everyone–fast or slow–has to lift up the nose.

    Bob 1, or maybe Bob 2, speeds down the hill at Cerro Negro, Nicaragua.
    Bob 1, or maybe Bob 2, speeds down the hill at Cerro Negro, Nicaragua.

    My gear after the ride down the hill at Cerro Negro, Nicaragua.
    My gear after the ride down the hill at Cerro Negro, Nicaragua.

    Really, the volcano board is just an elongated rectangle of thick plywood with four 2″ x 2″ supports: Two to hold your butt in place, one to attach the rope handle to, and another to hold a piece of large PVC pipe on the nose. There is also a sheet of thin plastic on the underside near the tail, where all of the weight is centered. Incredibly, after every couple of rides, the latter has to be removed and a new one glued on!

    A look back up at the steep, black volcano at Cerro Negro, Nicaragua.
    A look back up at the steep, black volcano at Cerro Negro, Nicaragua.

    Marius wasted no time at all. While I was still getting dressed, he was already charging down the hill at speed. Whitley followed soon after, although a bit more slowly. Then it was my turn. I’ll have to admit that looking down the gigantic 45 degree slope was really intimidating. But, when I saw how easy it was for other riders to slow themselves down in the deep sand-like conditions, I felt more confident about it. So, down my butt went onto the board and off I went.

    The vans of Maribioso Tours and Quetzaltrekkers at Cerro Negro, Nicaragua.
    The vans of Maribioso Tours and Quetzaltrekkers at Cerro Negro, Nicaragua.

    Entomologist Jean-Michel Maes at El Museo Entomológico de Leon, Nicaragua.
    Entomologist Jean-Michel Maes at El Museo Entomológico de Leon, Nicaragua.

    After reading accounts online about broken bones and bloody faces during high speed descents gone horribly wrong, I was not too enthused about sending my creaky old body careening down the hill at top speed. I was surprised at how easy it was to go slow, even on such a steep slope. I even came to a complete stop a couple of times to shake the accumulated gravel off the top of my board. I quickly learned it can be a bit of a challenge to keep the board going straight. For example, if it starts to turn left, you have to dig your right heel into the sand to counteract it. By the time I entered the mellow slope near the bottom, I wanted to keep going, but actually ran out of momentum. And so came the end of one of my favorite experiences on this trip so far. If you ever travel in Nicaragua, volcano boarding on Cerro Negro should definitely be on your bucket list.

    Big spiders at El Museo Entomológico de Leon, Nicaragua.
    Big spiders at El Museo Entomológico de Leon, Nicaragua.

    In the afternoon, I returned to El Museo Entomológico de Leon, also known as The Entomological Museum. Yep, we’re talking bugs here, folks. This small museum, run by longtime entomologist Jean-Michel Maes out of his house, boasts three permanent exhibitions: scarabs, diurnal butterflies, and nocturnal butterflies. In addition, the museum also frequently exhibits species from the different natural reserves throughout Nicaragua. These species are sent by universities to the museum for study.

    Butterflies at El Museo Entomológico de Leon, Nicaragua.
    Butterflies at El Museo Entomológico de Leon, Nicaragua.

    More bugs at El Museo Entomológico de Leon, Nicaragua.
    More bugs at El Museo Entomológico de Leon, Nicaragua.

    After knocking on the door, I was greeted the bearded Jean-Michel Maes. Born in Belgium in 1958, he has been living in Nicaragua since 1983, where he works freelance as a professional entomologist. His projects have included “an inventory of insects in Nicaragua, a taxonomy of some groups of insects from Nicaragua and Coleoptera Lucanidae worldwide, insects associated with crops, and environmental impacts of corporations using insects as a measurement scale.”

    Display cases at El Museo Entomológico de Leon, Nicaragua.
    Display cases at El Museo Entomológico de Leon, Nicaragua.

    Jean-Michel runs the museum as a hobby on the side. It’s obvious that it’s a labor of love, as he charges barely anything for an entrance fee, and will talk your ears off and back on again about insects and many other interesting things. In fact, we enjoyed a nice long chat that ranged from the current political situation between the Unites States, Russia and North Korea, and how that could lead to a possible nuclear conflict, which would of course result in a mass extinction. Also covered were previous extinction events in Earth’s history and the way many insects, due to their small size, always survive them. Most everyone believes that human beings rule the world, but actually insects do.

    Scorpions at El Museo Entomológico de Leon, Nicaragua.
    Scorpions at El Museo Entomológico de Leon, Nicaragua.

    More butterflies at El Museo Entomológico de Leon, Nicaragua.
    More butterflies at El Museo Entomológico de Leon, Nicaragua.

    Words and photos ©2017 Arcane Candy.

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