“Volunteer Work”

At 4:15 AM we met, had breakfast, walked outside and promptly waited an hour for the bus (yes, this was the day we waited longer on the return trip). What, might you ask, would compel us to do such a silly thing? Well, the first thing being that since the sun usually rose around 5:30 AM and set around 5:30 PM, we were pretty used to going to bed early and getting up early. The second was that we had Nicaragua’s most active volcano to hike!

Cerro Negro is not the tallest of Nicaraguan peaks, about 700 meters (2100 feet) above its surroundings, but it erupts often. During our ascent, we walked past the crater formed in 1968 up to ones formed in 1995 and 1999. Since it’s so active, it is completely surrounding by loose black lava rock and almost no vegetation, making the ascent harder and hotter.

Our tour group spent about four hours getting up the mountain, weaving our way up the side, then into the large crater filled with fumaroles (Theresa was not a fan).

The view from top was fantastic, allowing all the volcanoes on Nicaragua’s rim of fire to be viewed in a near straight line.

Now here’s the fun part about this hike … the way down. Really, you run. Straight down. All the way down. You can “sandboard” down it too (think snowboard on rocks), but we just ran. It took literally five minutes. All the work getting up the mountain undone in mere minutes. But that said, it was an exhilarating five minutes, barreling down a 45 degree slope. I still maintain a log roll was in order. Or somersaults.

But at this point, you may be wondering why this adventure would have the title “volunteer work.” Allow me to explain. Our hike organizer, QuetzelTrekkers, is a non-profit organization in Guatemala and more recently in Leon, Nicaragua. They arrange hiking tours like the one we did using volunteer guides, local transportation and local markets to supply food. Therefore, they keep their costs lower than other tour operators with their own vehicles and have a positive impact on the community and local commerce. Meanwhile, more of the money we pay for the guide can go to local charities. They work closely with organization providing assistance to street children, but have recently expanded their reach into other areas as well. Check out their website and goals, I find the whole concept to be very cool — even if the bus sometimes doesn’t come.