Friday, May 24, 2013

Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Down


When we arrived in León, Nicaragua, we went to the two main volcano-boarding operators, Bigfoot and Quetzaltrekkers, to see if we could get signed up for it. We ended up signing up for an outing with Bigfoot, as they went every day and we wanted to get out of León sooner (Quetzaltrekkers was currently only doing Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, I think).

DSC03929 Homemade natural pineapple juice, fried quesadilla with a sort of pico de gallo heavy with lime, and rice and beans for breakfast. Delicious!

Wednesday morning, after a breakfast of a delicious fried quesadilla-type meal, we decided to try to get Chuck’s exhaust tube fixed. It was “loose” on the muffler and would randomly move in and out of the muffler. It wouldn’t come off or anything, but it made Chuck quite noisy. We figured Central American mechanics could probably handle welding. Armed with a name and a spot on a map without street names, we ventured out to get Chuck fixed. With only a small detour because of a road closing, we made it easily to the mechanic’s place. As Jonathan’s post mentions, the setup didn’t exactly inspire confidence, but fixed us up. We only had one issue which was when they wanted the battery terminals disconnected. Jonathan was having a hard time getting it undone, since the van was so high. The mechanic brought up a chair, which I thought was for Jonathan. When I pointed it out Jonathan, he moved and the mechanic quickly got up instead. We were ok with that until he started beating at it. I yelled at him, and he backed off. With Jonathan at the appropriate height and the appropriate tool, he had it off in seconds. After that, they quickly and sufficiently welded the tube in place.

DSC03936 This is what happens when Chuck is put at a 45° angle with a full water tank: water leaks out and flows along underneath the floor.

On another note, we experienced our first bout of petty theft that day. Someone snatched two of our four blue tire valve caps. Not a big deal, we had two spare from replacing the tires in Guatemala, but it was annoying and the principal of the thing. Still, if we had to experience theft, this is a pretty minor and bearable experience.


Later that afternoon, we arrived at Bigfoot Hostel just before 1pm to participate in boarding. As not too entirely unexpected in a party-style hostel and bar, we departed late. However, we only got about 1/3 of the way to Cerro Negro before it started raining. They put down the tarps, but without them being taught, most of us were getting dripped on. After about 10 minutes of sitting there in the rain (vehicle not moving for some unknown reason), we had just started moving again when they heard thunder. That canceled the outing for us, and we heading back to base. When we arrived, they said that they could take us the next morning and said that it would be from 8am to noon. While that wasn’t ideal, I wanted to go boarding, and we figured it would work out so we agreed.


We spent the rest of the evening planning the rest of Nicaragua trip and watching TV in air conditioning. We did go out for dinner at Al Carbon. We accidentally came across it, but apparently it is rated #8 of restaurants to eat at in León.

DSC03940 They had a lovely courtyard. I want one.

 DSC03943 We had the beef fajitas and added some refried beans. Strangely enough, their fajitas don’t come with tortillas. We had to ask for those, but when they brought them, they had cut them into quarters, making them useless for fajitas.  The taste of the red-wine beef was fantastic, though. It made a good tostada made of the fried plantain.


The GPS read 5pm, 15 minutes after closing of the Parque Nacional Volcán Masaya, where we had planned to camp that night. There were still some rangers seated outside the entrance office, though, so I got out and went to talk to them. I asked if we could camp there. At first the young ranger said yes, but he looked back at his boss, who said no. That shot down, I thought I would try to at least sign up for the night tour that you had to sign up for at least a day in advance. When I asked about that, he said that wouldn’t be doing that for another 3 months. All plans for the next 2 days shot down, I returned tiredly to the van. What brought us to this? I am glad you asked.

We got up early to empty out the room and prepare to go volcano boarding, as we weren’t coming back to the hotel that night. After breakfast, we made it a few minutes early to Bigfoot Hostel. As the day before, they were slow to get started. They only got around to putting people in the car after I told them that we had to get out of León today. However, instead of going directly to the volcano, they had to stop for gas. (Step 1 in delaying us.) Then we were finally on our way. At least this time they didn’t stop for beer for the drive. After a long bumpy ride, we finally made it to the mountain.

DSC03962 Cerro Negro, the youngest volcano in Central America.

We were given our gear and started hiking. We started chatting with the guide as we hiked up the mountain. Turns out this tattoo-ridden, studded, pirate-look-alike was an avid bird watcher and gardener. Who knew we would have so much in common? They divided the hike up the short volcano into three 3 legs with reasonable breaks in between. However, even this was too much for our French girls. They were so tired by the second stop already that they didn’t even bother making their way all the way to the rest of group. Then again after the 3rd stop (which was an extremely long one so that the other groups ahead of us could do their business before we got there), they couldn’t make it up the easy trek along the top of the volcano. One of the guides had to go down and take their boards so that the could make it to the top, over 5 minutes after the rest of the group. (Step 2 in delaying us.)

DSC03994 The butts were all worn out on our suits.

Eventually (after the French girls had had sufficient break), they gave us the instructions for boarding. We walked down to the starting point in full gear. Boy did we look fabulous.  (BTW, one of the French girls started feeling sick at this point and delayed one of the guides even further. *sigh*) While we were up at the top of the mountain and waiting in line for our turn, insects of all kinds were plaguing the area. We had everything from grasshoppers to wasps (as I found out) landing on us, which is apparently a pretty rare phenomenon. I felt a bug hit my neck and I quickly smacked it off with my hand. This was a grave mistake. Whatever it was apparently had a stinger. I felt it immediately. I tell you, getting stung by a stinger is one of the worst feelings. With the stinger clinging to you, it feels like you have a 1-lb creature hanging onto you with its teeth. This continued to linger and turns out the stinger had dislodged into my middle finger and I actually had to pull it out. That little sting was extremely painful and I ended up with a swelling finger by the time we got down the mountain.

Back to boarding. We each got our turn to board (more like sled) down the mountain. It was pretty fun. I didn’t get going very fast, as suddenly my board started getting loads of ash covering it (not supposed to do that) and slowed it down. I really wanted a second chance at it, but Bigfoot only lets you go once (Quetzaltrekkers lets you go twice and provides a meal instead of mojitos—probably should have gone with them once the first thing was canceled).

We made it back promptly after the boarding. Since Jonathan and I don’t like mojitos, we negotiated showers instead since we no longer had our room at the hotel. We got cleaned off, then made our way to Panadería Pan y Paz for a quick lunch (Step 3 in delaying us, but probably worth as we were starving and it would have taken us longer to cook something). Then we hit the road.

As we started out, I checked the info on the place I wanted to go: Parque Nacional Volcán Masaya, and discovered that we would be cutting it close, we needed to arrive by 4:45pm. We started out fine, but there is a section between León and Managua that was pretty bad (step 4 in delaying us). We had to go pretty slow to avoid another exhaust jamming or suspension beating. Then, finally with the road cooperating, we were making decent time. It was still borderline, but we had hopes in making. Sadly, a cop at a police checkpoint pulled us over. And, it wasn’t a quick one (5th and final step in delaying us). He wanted our documents, which I happily pulled out. Then he wanted an “eepeckyun.” At first I didn’t understand because he was dropping his s’s and trying to say inspección. Apparently in Nicaragua, locals are required to have a mechanical inspection of their vehicles. As far as anyone has ever said, that isn’t required for tourists. I tried to explain that to him. He was unyielding and said that he was going to take our permit and Jonathan’s driving license. I told him “I don’t understand,” etc. He sent his partner (boss, maybe?) over to talk to me. He was a bit more reasonable and easier to understand. First he noticed that the international driver’s permit I had given him needed his state driver license as well and said that he needed that. I gave it to him, hesitantly (didn’t want him to confiscate that as well, but I figured cooperating would be more effective). He said that he needed our inspection still, and try to say that Jonathan’s window wasn’t working, etc. I tried to explain that everything was working and that the permit that customs gave us said that we could drive in Nicaragua. He eventually accepted that and returned all our documents.  Time is your best defense against cops that are phishing in Central America.

After 15 minutes of police time, we were on the road again. If we hadn’t been stopped, we would have made it to the camping spot. But, that is how it goes. So, in the entrance area of Parque Nacional Volcán Masaya, we pulled out our campground lists and figured out where we could go that we could get to before dark. We made a choice to go to a marina in Granada. We arrived just in time for sunset.


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