For centuries people of different cultures have believed that below are very feet dwells a domain created for the torment and agony of damned souls. It was also thought that there were actual gateways from the surface that lead down to these realms of fiery. Mount Etna in Sicily, Mount Hekla in Iceland, and Mt. Masaya in Nicaragua are all active fire-breathing volcanos which have been documented in history as being entrances to hell. Last summer while I was in Nicaragua I happened to find my gateway to the underworld and its name was Telica.
Pretty much my entire life I have always wanted to see lava up close. Living in Oahu, Hawaii in my early twenties I dropped the ball and never made it to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island. But during my stay in Leon, Nicaragua I found a tour company that not only allowed you to see lava but see it from the edgy of the crater at night.
After a quick ride out-of-town, a cruise along a gravel highway and a drive down a forest road that looked and felt more like a river bed we made it to the trail head. The weather was looking so so with some rain clouds in the distance but clear over the volcano. It wasn’t a very long hike and after couple hours we reached what I would call the no mans land, which was a barren landscape with nothing but rocks and volcanic debris. At this point I started to smell the pungent stench of sulfur coming from the crater up ahead of me.
As I reached the edge the first thing that hit me was the loud sound blasting from the depths of this cinder cone volcano. Being an Aircraft Mechanic the only way I could describe it was that it sounded like I was standing next to a Boeing 747 with one of its jet engines running at Idle. Made me a little home sick 😉 With daylight beaming down on us and smoke billowing out of the crater you could not see the lava at this point so we sat down for a tasty snack of coffee and cookies to wait for darkness to fall.
After watching a beautiful sunset over the other volcanos of the range we crawled up to the edge of the Crater and peered down into the abyss. The site was one of awe and amazement and the cropped photos taken from my non zoom lens couldn’t come close to showing how my eyes perceived this awesome spectacle of nature. Looking down into the pit I could see the bright red lava in patches in the shape of a large circle. The lava would go from red to black as it bubble up, burned and cooled. It was like a living organism ever-changing. With the red glow shining from the crater, the lava churning deep below, the blasting noise surrounding us, and the strong smell of sulfur it totally made for exhilarating experience!!
In a time when legend and lore explained the mysteries of nature not science it is very easy to see why people living in the distant past could mistake volcanos as being a gateway to hell.
While visiting the Panama canal Miraflores locks I took a video of one of the container ships transition through the upper lock. Usually it takes about 30-35 mins for this process which is like watching paint dry so I sped the video up 2000% and added some old school Prodigy to spice it up a bit. Enjoy!
- (Pic from wikimedia commons)
When trying to explain my experience of volcano boarding to my friends back in the midwest I usually tell them to think of those cold winter months when you pulled your sled out of the garage or basement dusted it off and headed for the local sled hill. Usually you had to climb to top yourself pulling the sled behind you. When you reached the top you turned the sled around aimed it the straightest you could down the hill, sat down, grabbed the rope and if you had a good buddy with you he would give you hard push that sent you sailing down hill in white furry of snow for a short ride.
Volcano boarding- Replace the cold winter month with a hot sun blazing day and instead of a 1 pound plastic sled you have a 10-15 pound plywood laminated board. In Nicaragua your local hill is named Cerro Negro which happens to be 2,380 feet high and is not covered in fluffy white snow but sharp marble size gravel called volcanic scree. When you get to the top you do sit on the board about the same way aiming it down hill holding on to the rope. You might even get a push from your friendly tour guide but when you go sailing down this hill you’re in a black furry of dust reaching speeds excess of 50 mph. Oh and did I mention that the hill is the most active cinder cone volcano in the world that last erupted in 1999…..eeek!
Cerro Negro 1968 eruption (wikimedia commons)
Ok enough with the dramatics, the first time I heard about volcano boarding was from a website while I was in El Salvador. For some reason I was not really interested until I found out there is a tour group called Tierre Tours that would let you stand up and use boards that are very similar to the shape of a snowboard. Me being a somewhat avid snowboarder the idea of riding a make shift snowboard down an active volcano really excited the crap out me. So when my partner in crime and me got into to Leon, Nicaragua we met up with our friends Alex and Ashleigh and booked our trip for the next morning.
After some highway travel and 4 wheeling down a road that resembled a river bed in a sweet old school Toyota diesel landcruiser (I want one!) we made it to the base of Cerro Negra. The 50 min hike up was somewhat strenuous with backpack and board but I didn’t really mind because the views were spectacular. After getting to the top we dropped our gear and made a short trek to the crater of the beast to take a look. Once back to our steep volcano death slide we immediately began suiting up in our brightly colored jump suits as Miegel our guide busted out a good old military style safety brief.
Dawn choose to do the sit down sled board and went first being the brave women she is. In a matter of seconds she was out of sight in cloud of black dust. Ashliegh went second on a snowboard style and then there was two… Alex and me. Once Miegel strapped me in I wasted no time at the top and down the volcano I went. The first 50 yards was about a 20 degree slope after that it dropped off at a stomach wrenching 41 degree angle for 2000 feet. At first my body naturally tried to manuever like I was snowboarding which ended in me crashing and cart wheeling multiple times down the first 40 yards. Finally I realized if i crouched in surfer stance put most of my weight on the back of the board and pointed it at an angle down the volcano (no carving) I could get some wicked speed and not smash my face in to the scree every 10 seconds. Thank goodness you could still brake like a snowboard so I could control my speed on the way down. As I got a hundred yards from the bottom I let loose and bombed it the rest of the way down. Amazingly enough I stopped standing up with only fee scratches and bruises. Few minutes later Alex made it to the bottom with a big smile on his face cover in black soot looking like he had been a chimney sweep for a day. With some luck we all had made it down in one piece!
The day turned out to be another amazing adventure that we got to share with our friends Alex and Ashleigh which made it even more enjoyable. In the end I’m glad I did the stand up for the experience but if I would do it again I would pick the sit down. The snowboard style is more changeling but you can get way more speed with the sled style which in my crazy mind equals more fun!!
Here’s good vid I found of volcano boarding on Cerro Negro (Air Wolf theme music!)
Before the trip even started we decided that we should get our Scuba dive cert somewhere along the way so we could take advantage of the amazing dive sights on our path around the world. I don’t really remember how we found out about Bay Islands as a good place to get it done and unfortunately Dawn isn’t around while I type this to ask but Utila Island, Honduras was decided as the place to do the deed.
After staying one night on the Island of Utila we went searching for a dive shop. Captain Morgans Dive Centre was who we decided to go with after talking to a handful of dive shops. All the prices were about the same between the shops but Mitch the divemaster behind the counter at CM sold me with his enthusiasm and passion talking about diving on the north side of the Island. We ended up staying at Jewel key, which was a small island on the north side of Utila, because most of Captain Morgans dive operations happened there and Utila has one main road with motorcycles/ATVs blasting up and down it all day long.
My experience of learning to dive was thrilling and opened up an entire new world for me. From the time I took my first gulps of air underwater to diving in the black of the night I was having a blast! I give most of the credit to our dive instructor Jen (a Sweetheart Irish Lass) who made the instructions fun and diving an amazing experience.
The reefs around the North side of Utila are teeming with life. Lobster, sea turtles, eels, nurse sharks, octopus, angel fish, trumpet fish, barracuda, etc… I could go on for an hour about the types fish we saw while diving. Oh and we also got to swim with a school of dolphins!!! Unfortunately I did not buy an underwater camera before I left on the trip (kicking my ass for that one) so all the underwater pics on this post are from Captain Morgans website.
After leaving the island I felt totally satisfied with my experiences in the waters around Utila and got to check one more thing off that long list of things to do before I die.
The first stop in Honduras was the Mayan Ruins of Copan. The site is situated just outside the town of Copan, Honduras in the western part of the country ruffle 60 kilometers from the border of Guatemala. The Copan runes are considered to be the Paris of the Mayan Word due to the city being highly advanced in its involvement of sculptures, astronomy and hieroglyphic writing. The site seemed small to me compared to Teotihuacan, the only other Central American runes I’ve been to, but what it lacked in size it made up for in intricate sculptures and an abundance of hieroglyphics.
This is a pic of temple 16 which was built on top of a previous temple without damaging it as shown in the pic overlay.
Model showing what the site would have looked like during its heyday.
Temple 11 which was built as a portal to the underworld.
Looking down from temple 16 into the south plaza
The Hieroglyphic stairway is the longest text in the Mayan world. The stairway details the life and times of the rulers of Copan.
This is a shot of the second largest ball court in Mayan world. The game was the first recorded organized team sport in history. 3,000 years before the first super bowl! Two teams of 2-4 players would try to pass the ball around, without having it touch their hands and then get the ball to pass through one of the stone rings on the court. In Copan they had to hit the macaw statues at the top of the stone slopes. The game was shrouded in religious symbolism and some say the losers were sacrificed.
Dawn sneaking a photo of me trying to find that perfect shot
As I stated in a earlier post El Salvador was a pleasant surprise. The biggest contributor to this was the people. No matter what problem I found myself in there was always some local to lend a helping hand. If I didn’t understand their Spanish (which happens 98% of the time :)) they would take time out of their day to show me where the hotel or restaurant was instead of blowing me off as a clueless backpacker like some countries I have been to. Once on the bus I asked someone where the terminal was and about everyone pointed in the directed I needed to go. The only other country I could compare this hospitality to would be northern Japan. This alone made for a very enjoyable time in El Salvador.Another contributing factor would be that El Salvador is safer than what everyone makes it out too be. Granted I didn’t spend too much time in the capital of San Salvador but even then I never felt that my security had been compromised at any point. Yes the country has some big crime/gang problems but with just basic travel skills like not going out at night in bad areas, don’t flash expensive electronics, carry small amounts of money, etc….. one can lower the risk of having an incident in El Salvador.
Lastly the geography of the country was absolutely beautiful! From volcanic mountains to black sand beaches El Salvador seemed to have it all. On the Second day I was in the country we headed up to do some hiking near a town called Juayua. In one place we could see three volcano’s Izalco ,Cerro Verde, Santa Ana. The sheer violent beauty of these giants was awe-inspiring to see in person. As for El Zonte ,the beach we stayed at, it was quickly realized that it was a hidden gem of this Central American country. With Cheap accommodation(5 days 156 dollars-room,food,drinks,etc), friendly locals, good surf, amazing views, and great food we almost didn’t leave. On a surfing stand point El Zonte is an untapped resource for endless sets of non-crowded waves and should be put on any surfer’s wish list of must do destinations.In closing one week was not enough time to spend in El Salvador and in leaving the country I felt like I really just scraped the surface of what I could have seen and done there. Hopefully someday my journeys will take me to El Salvador once more to stuff my face with pupusas, take in the beautiful sights and drink cheap beers while lying in a hammock on an almost private beach watching the surfers do their thing.
This scrupulous little finger food is sold all through Central America but in my experience it is best eaten in the country it originated from, El Salvador. So what is a Pupusas? As someone explained it to me think of a thick stuffed quesadilla-like food filled with cheese, beans, veggies or your choice of meat. They are traditionally served with lightly fermented cabbage slaw with red chilies and vinegar and a watery tomato salsa. At 50 cents a pop I almost completely lived on this warm tasty dish while traveling through El Salvador. Give me two bean & Cheese Pupasas with a local beer and I was full for hours!