Get off the volcano - its going to blow!

Trip Start Jul 19, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Bigfoot Hostel

Flag of Nicaragua  ,
Friday, March 24, 2006

"Leon" means "lion" in Spanish, and we had a roarin' good old time while we were in this city! ("Lo siento" means "sorry" in Spanish, so, Lo Siento for the cheesiness.)

We got to Leon earlier this week and stayed at a very chill hostel called Bigfoot run by an Aussie guy who travelled through Nicaragua two years ago, and loved it so much that he now lives here and his hostel is thriving after only 10 months. Guess I'm not the only one who is slightly obsessed with this country.

Leon is also known as the university town and is filled with so much history, especially concerning the recent civil war (ended in 1979!) since a lot of the fighting was done in Leon. Walking around, you can still see blown up churches and bullet holes in the walls.

The first day, as we were walking around, a little woman named Maria came up to us as we were looking at one of the many murals that are painted on all the buildings in Leon. She began to explain who was painted in the mural, and what the pictures represented (such as two evil looking snakes that had "CIA" painted on them attacking other symbolic images - FYI: this mural was painted by Americans). She offered to take us around the city and show us all the murals, tell us the history of the civil war and be our "tour guide" for the day. Always a little freaked out when people are too welcoming and nice, this time I said, what the hell and decided to go with her, since I REALLY wanted to know about the history of Nicaragua.

From what I could understand from what she was saying, there was a mean dictator called Samosa, who in typical dick-tator fashion killed lots of people, was corrupt, and was pretty much ruining the country. Then the "good" guy rebels called the Sandanistas showed up and started leading a revolution against the bad guys. And of course America had to get their hands in too, but sadly supported the Samosa jerk rather than the revolutionaries fighting for the good of the people. That's the very basic lesson we learned from Ms. Maria. She did inform me though, upon hearing that I was American, that the people of Nicaragua did not hate me, because I am not my government and that was not my time, just like their government does bad things and all the people are not the government. Good to hear that, but I still couldn't help but feel bad as she told horrible stories about things that had happened to the people during the war.

After looking at the murals, we walked out to the old prison where prisoners were tortured during the reign of Samosa. It, very oddly, has been converted into a museum of history and legends, and is filled with distorted looking paper mache life-size dolls and animals that represent some of the oldest myths and legends of the city. For example, there is a doll with a paper mache boob sticking out of her dress - the story goes that there was a really fugly ugly daughter of a rich merchant that no man would marry even though she was rich. She was driven mad and would run the streets and grab men, shoving her boobs in their face and then run away. Very strange subject matter for a museum - right up there with the one in Xela, Guatemala.

There were also stories of headless priests helping children, pigs that ate people, a skeletal horse drawn carriage that appears during Semana Santa that only children and mute people can see. The best part was some of the dolls had soundtracks - you'd walk up and start reading about some crazy man-eating pig and one of the students would flip a switch and you'd hear pigs squealing and people screaming. What a soundtrack! It never ceased to scare the crap out of me b/c it was so loud and so random.

As we were walking around, we started to get a little worried because as we were crossing a street, a taxi cab driver honked his horn at us, pointed at Maria and shook his head and wagged his finger, saying no. I didn't see this happen, but thought it was really weird when Richard told me, and then as we were walking down the street, another lady standing in the doorway of her shop caught our attention and did the same thing, shaking her head and mouthing the words "thief" in Spanish. Yep, enough creepy actions for us and although we were so confused b-c Maria was so nice, we made up a lie that we had to get back to the hostel to another tour - therefore cutting ours a little short. Then, she did what we sort of had been expecting from her. She took us back over to the park where we'd met her, showed us her grandson and started talking about her family and how her hand was bad and she needed a $300 operation, blah blah blah. So that was the "scam." But although she wasn't with an official organization, she still had spent 2 1/2 hours showing us the city, telling us the history, taking us to the random freaky doll museum, and we had planned to give her money anyway. So we tipped her (not $300 of course) and everyone was happy. It always happens with travelling that you don't know who to trust that is offering you help or assistance in some way. But she was harmless, and we learned a lot and came to appreciate the city of Leon a little more. So that was our big adventure of the first day.

The second day we signed up to do a volcano tour through the hostel. Daryn, the Aussie boss, drove us all out in his pick-up truck to the Cerro Negro volcano, which isn't the typical lava-spewing volcano you'd think of. It is over an underground lake and so acts much like a pot of boiling water - as the steam collects, it gets to a point where it just blows - throwing black sand everywhere. Like Daryn said, kind of like an annoying little kid at the beach that throws sand into the wind, except this sand is burning hot and mixed with sulfurous fumes and destroys all in its path. He's learned from the locals that it erupts about once every seven years, the last time being 1999. You do the math.

So we hiked up the rocky side of the volcano carrying wooden sleds we were going to use to get back down the other side (the sandy side). We walked around the crater, and felt the hot, sulfurous ground and watched it steam. It was a little disconcerting standing on this steaming ground, considering the time frame of the eruption cycle, and the fact that Daryn was standing there explaining that if the volcano were to blow, we were standing right in the area that all the steam would collect and shoot out of. He also pointed out a nearby hill-like mini volcano that had been declared dormant - and then said to notice the big puffs of steam that were coming out of it. Not so dormant huh? All this was adding up to the fact that something was cooking underneath and it wouldn't be long until it was going to blow again. I was thinking - talk faster! Shut up! Lets get the hell out of here! But he just rambled on while I'm picturing flying through the air like Elton John's Rocket Man.

Finally the unnerving volcano lesson was over and we hiked to the other side to watch the sunset. Then the most unnerving part of all: the sledding down the side of the volcano. I was sitting there thinking, "How do I get myself into these situations, where I see a tour sign, think - ok, sounds fun without ever really thinking about what I'm getting myself into" I got up there and realized, THIS IS CENTRAL AMERICA where sometimes reason goes out the window, if it was ever even in the house in the first place. I was really scared.

The incline was a 40 degree angle that dropped off to about a 42 degree angle right at the bottom. Daryn is sitting there showing us how to properly ride our scrap piece of wood with foam glued on it down the side. You had to keep your feet flat in the ground to create friction to keep you from flying down the side and crashing at the bottom. (BTW - this is the very volcano that Mr. ?, the world's fastest man, went flying down on his bike (I think) and is now in the Guiness Book of World Records. I was freaked out, but had paid to do this, so what else are you going to do? I just shoved off and started sliding. Luckily, or unluckily, my board didn't go as fast as I wanted/feared, but it still was zooming. Richard, on the other hand, is insane, and as I'm sliding down all I hear is "Andrrrrrrrrrrr!" and they he goes flying faster than ANYTHING I've seen. In two seconds he was gone. If I'd looked closer, I might have even seen flames. Well, we all made it to the bottom in one piece, and were all covered in a nice layer of black dust. Daryn had rum and cokes waiting for us all when we got back - and then looking back, it was not only the scariest thing I'd done yet, it was one of the most fun.

The next day, we recovered from our "surviving the volcano" celebrations and I spent the day deciding whether I'd travel onwards, or start working my way south to Costa Rica to fly home. After such a hard day of actually having to think about something and make some sort of decision, we had another night of celebrating. I was constantly harassed the entire evening by practically everyone in the hostel, including Daryn the owner, for deciding to not continue travelling north - but I'd made my decision and no amount of beer was going to sway me! So now I'm back in Granada and planning what to do with the rest of my time.

Well, that's it for now. Happy first days of spring and maybe be seeing you soon. P.S. I just put up pictures on entry #40 from Monteverde (finally remembered the right camera card). Take care!
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