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January 29, 2015

Our group piled into the van and after stopping at a market for water, we took an hour ride out to Cerro Negro. Our drive took us from the paver streets to a dirt road that we shared with oxen, horse drawn wagons and more. We passed by peanut, sesame, and yucca farms. One peanut farmer was very resourceful. His family hung carved, painted airplanes on a wooden mannequin by the fence-line with a sign indicating the price, $5. Our driver honked to notify them that we wanted to support the local economy. The family also hung a cooler with bags of juices and tea for the locals.

At the base of the mountain we rented our wooden boards that looked like flat sleds, goggles, gloves, and jumpsuits for $10. Just renting the sled only cost $5. We drove just a bit farther before we started our trek up Cerro Negro. Cerro Negro, or black hill in English, is a very young volcano in the Cordillera de los Maribios near the village of Malpaisillo. It has erupted 23 times since its birth in 1850 with its last eruption in 1999. Its lava flows from fractures at its base while ash spews from the top of the cone.

The cinder cone stands at 2,388 feet high. With our gear slung over our shoulder in a somewhat useless bag and with our sled in both hands on the opposite side of the wind, we climbed a trail of loose, sharp volcanic rock. The 40 mph hour wind speed kicked sand in our face. If the sand wasn’t enough to contend with, the gusts were so strong that we had to hold the sand board with both hands to keep it from flying away. Sometimes the light weight girls came close to flying like Mary Poppins as we were blown from side to side. Our guide Miguel said it was unseasonably windy this time of year.

After a few rest stops, we made it to the summit in an hour where we enjoyed a remarkable view of the valley below and multi-colored volcanic cones in the distance. We suited up into jumpsuits, gloves, and scratched goggles that skewed our vision so badly it was dizzying as we waited our turn to follow one of the three tracks down the steep terrain. In order to slide fast, it was recommended to lean back on the sled as we held onto the strap. To keep our balance, it was best not to rest our feet on the board, but to keep them out. If we needed to break or steer we needed to drop our feet in the sand ever so slightly with our knees bent. If we started to go to the left, we were to use our right foot to redirect and vice versa.

Alex was the first to go in our group. I was second. I was expecting to speed down the hill, but I kept getting turned sideways, so I had to redirect by putting my right foot down which kicked the volcanic rock into my face. Somehow I still ended up on one track over! The jumpsuit I rented had a broken zipper and a tear in the leg, so I looked like a coal miner when I finished with black dust all over my face, neck, chest, down my bra, between my toes and more. While we all wished to have gone faster, and probably would have with a little practice, it was a fun, first-time adventure for us! How many people can say they’ve sand-boarded down a 2,300 foot cinder cone.

From Cerro Negro, we drove an hour to visit Los Hervideros de San Jacinto. These boiling mud pools are considered to be part of the same geothermal activity that fuels Telica, the volcano that stands to the northeast. The hot springs are a relatively new attraction marked with an arch and local women and children selling trinkets and bags of mud that are supposed to be curative. The brown, bubbly pools are located probably on an acre of land and roped off with a few yellow flags, slightly different from the colorful, sulfuric pools of Yellowstone. We had to be careful to follow the trodden dirt path as stepping too close to the thermal pools covered our shoes in mud as we sunk. It was an interesting place, though I’m not sure the ten minute stop was worth the hour drive as we still had another hour back to Leon.

We arrived at the hotel in the late afternoon and inhaled an American lunch (grilled cheese and fries). I continued relaxing in the common area while others took another short walk around the city. I expected to have a quiet dinner alone at the hotel as well, but Linda and Janet found me so we went out for a final dinner in Leon. ETB

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