No wonder the women in our lower/middle class neighbourhood were constantly mopping, sweeping, splashing water on their front door stoops. I felt like a coal miner’s daughter.
It began with a stop at Cerro Negro (Black Hill), an active volcano 22 km from León. The youngest volcano in Central America---its first eruption was in 1850, the last in 1999---it has erupted 23 times since its beginning. The volcano is 500m (1640 ft) high and is a basaltic cinder cone. Elevation: 726m (2382ft).
Based on its past history a significant eruption is predicted in the near future. Rather than lava (which occurs mainly near the base), Cerro Negro expels ash and tephra (rock particles). A 1995 eruption, followed by another eruption from a nearby volcano in 2015, produced a thin layer of ash on León; traces of the ash are found in the city even today.
Eureka…that was it! Those fine black particles driving me crazy were residual ashes from volcanic eruptions that began 22 years ago! No wonder Nicaragua is known as the Land of Lakes and Volcanoes!
We wanted to witness the foolhardy souls who ‘boarded’ down the side of this volcano.
To get a feel for the lay of the land, we followed a man-made trail up the volcano’s more rocky side to about 250 m (820 ft) from the top. The trail continues to the top but we chose to stop at this point. Even at this elevation we felt the strong winds that sometimes force boarders to retreat to a safer elevation until the winds calm. Ever have the sensation of being blown off into cinder space? We did.
While climbing the volcano, we met two groups of boarders as they made their way to the top. Participants must carry their own boards plus a backpack containing protective goggles and boarding suit. We also watched them slide down, a plume of tiny black cinders trailing behind them, goggles and suits decorated with black dust when they hit bottom. As one of the boarders confessed, when you finally get to the top and look down, wa-a-ay down, and the wind is blowing, you suddenly wonder what the f--- am I doing up here?
Lest you think this sport is only for the young, it is not. Our guide told us of accompanying a 65-year-old man who made the trip to León specifically to volcano board on his birthday. He likened it to making love…spending 45 minutes in foreplay getting to the top and then the climax, screaming down the hill in minutes.
Suddenly I had an entirely new outlook on the black volcano dust in our casa.