I have done work in the past that easily linger on the borderline between bearable and straight out sucking the life out of my soul. These dead end jobs had only one purpose and that was to fill my ever expanding, ever shrinking travel funds. It doesn’t make sense, I know, but as my dreams get bigger I always seem to be short handed in fundings. It’s like trying to fill a hole with water that has walls that keep caving in. No matter how much water you got it’s never enough because the pit you are feeding keeps growing, making it impossible to complete. It seems strange then, that for my year abroad I decided to do volunteer work that will give me squat, nada, nothing to recharge my fundings. And then of course the shiny moral of volunteer work that will make you do it anyway; the joy of helping others without expecting anything in return. It gives you so much although it gives you so little. The experience, how you grow as a person and really learn to see the world differently. Swell… Now, what do I do when my money runs out?!? My new way of looking at the world won’t buy me a plane ticket to Bora Bora and it sure as hell won’t take me trekking in Patagonia. I better get back on track before my cynical way of thinking makes me regret the whole thing.
I’ll be honest with you. Life as a volunteer is nothing short of amazing and surprise, surprise, it does give you everything that really matters in life; experiences, memories and people to care about. It is a selfless act in a world where money talks. Actually it screams. And it is such a shame. Too many people measure their happiness and wealth in dirty pieces of paper and the amount of gold chipped cards in their wallets. An irreversible trend of societies that puts materialism on a pedestal, with people who spend every waking moment working on obtaining and maintaining a lifestyle that worships objects and egocentricity. By all means, I am no saint. I literally fall asleep phone in hand every night and don’t know what I would do if anyone was to tell me I would have to live without it for even a split second. And let’s not forget my desperate chase for a GoPro camera just a month ago. I try my best though, to change my mindset, because I know there is no way I will be looking back at life and remember the day I bought a new iPod or finally had enough money to buy an expensive watch. In the end I want to measure life in travel. In the friends I’ve made, the beautiful places I’ve seen and memories that I have made along the way. Volunteering as a hiking guide in Nicaragua definitely fits the bill of experiences I will remember forever.
And I think that is my point. Doing this job won’t profit me in any way financially nor will I take anything with me when I leave, but already four weeks in I am having such an amazing time and it’s given me so much, making my hunger for traveling, exploring and contributing even greater, and my feet to itch even more. It gives me happiness and when I actually stop to think about what I am doing it’s pretty freakin awesome.
So, what is my job? Oh yea, I’m the guide who takes her clients Volcano Boarding. It’s amazing, and I’m dedicating the rest of this entry to tell you all about my days at Cerro Negro (the Volcano, guys).
After a trial run with another guide I was finally ready to take my first hike leading a group of complete strangers up an active volcano just so that they could risk their limbs surfing back down it on a questionable wooden board. It sounds fun and it is fun, but there’s a reason why it is more dangerous going without travel insurance than the actually Volcano Boarding itself. Reaching up to 80 km/h, I swear, you do not wanna fall off that board and you definitely don’t want to have to ‘walk off’ three fractured ribs and a broken bone because you so stupidly went without insuring yourself.
I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, because it does. Almost everyday. The shitty (but also good) part for me is that I am responsible for these people and every time I see a client fly down Cerro Negro I hold my breath praying for a God I don’t believe in to get them down safe.
Now, if that is the risky part of the job, I don’t know what to say about the fact that this volcano is overdue to erupt by 5 years. Cerro Negro is indeed active and supposedly erupts every tenth years or so and knowing that the last eruption was in 1999 even my pathetic math skills was able to work that one out. We are waiting for it to blow guys. What is that saying? Que será, será. What will be, will be. If I’m quite lucky I won’t be anymore. Jokes aside, even the earthquake a month ago didn’t stop us from going up there two days later and to be fair, they do monitor these things.
So when I take my clients for a fun day out I don’t worry about any volcano erupting. I worry about dehydration, blisters and broken bones. And occasionally, bees. However, you soon forget about that when you start the climb up. Yes, it’s warm and yes, the board is a pain to carry, for the clients that is. My walk is easy. I have to carry two flags, a med kit and a water bottle. So I really enjoy it. But then as we come half way up the volcano we are all equals cause these views take your mind off all the downsides of hiking in 35 degree weather with a awkward wooden board under your arm. As we come around the bend on our first leg, scrambling and sliding on the path that is made out of volcanic rocks and pebbles you s
ee the gorgeous green landscape melting in, with what at first looks like a shadow sweeping over the plains, but in fact is the lava that flooded over the grounds at the last eruption. I wouldn’t call it dramatic, but it sure is full of contrast. After catching our breaths we turn around to see what now really brings home the fact that we are on a volcano. In front of us is one of the craters. The red, black and white colors surrounding the sulfur vents makes for a landscape that reminds me of the moon. We take pictures of the smoke that’s seeping out of the holes and prepare ourselves for the last leg of the hike that’ll take us up to 728 meters and the end of our ascent. When we get to the top 20 minutes later the Pacific Ocean lies in the distance, blending in with the sky. We leave all our stuff at the starting point of the slopes and walk over to the main crater to see where the eruption happens. On a clear day you have amazing views of Telica andNicaragua’s tallest volcano San Cristobal. So after we have enjoyed the views, the fun is about to start, or for me, the nerve wrecking moments of seeing these people throw themselves down the volcano. I give my instructions on how to use the board; “If you wanna go fast guys, put your feet on the board and lean backwards”. And with a somewhat more persistent voice; ” Now, if you wanna go slower, dig your feet in the ground and lean forwards”. I see the girls looking down the steep hill, hesitating a bit before trying their boards, feet in the sand and carefully leaning forwards. I turn to see how the guys are doing and of course they are the ones who remind me of my last instructions before I run halfway down the volcano; “Please be careful and if something happens, give me a thumbs up so I know you are okay”. I don’t know if they even hear me, they have already put their goggles on and have gotten into a vertical position on the board. Shit. So I position myself midway down the hill, far enough up so I can see the colourful suited clients on the top and far enough down so I can see them when they have made it down in one piece. Hopefully.
Now, there is a difference between going fast and seriously doing everything in your power to reverse the rule of gravity. As far as going too fast, I have only had my heart in my throat twice, with the same guy who came crashing down the hill rolling around as if he was in a tumble dryer. I was literally halfway down my bag reaching for the em
ergency phone both times he stopped boarding and started keeling down the volcano. First time I retracted my hand because he was actually laughing whilst rolling around. That was a good sign. Second time he got up at the bottom of the hill gathered his board and walked off. Thank. God. It turned out he got a good beating when he decided to not go up a second time as his back felt a bit off.
This complete insane guy from Australia used a small 2 minutes to board/roll down the hill. On the other side of the scale we have the extreme case where a girl used a total of one hour to make her way down the volcano, testing my new personal qualities as a patient, understanding guide. It was understandable though, having scratched her face falling over on her first trip down the volcano. But still, I was close to ripping my hair out watching her give her board to one of the other guys and then, oh so carefully, slide down on her ass all the way down to the bottom. At the end of the day, the important thing is that everyone gets to go back to León more or less unharmed and in good spirits after an adrenaline filled day on Cerro Negro. Despite the responsibilities that comes with the job, the reward is so worth it. I get to spend my day outside, enjoying nature and an active volcano, whilst meeting so many awesome people that are all smiles. And when I get back I know my work has helped kids to a better future. My day is complete.