Cerro Negro

Cerro Negro, wasn’t far from our last stop at the distillery, but the road had a few interesting points. At times it was a bit rough and sandy, and at other times rather narrow. There are multiple routes that you can take, not necessarily signposted. The route in was a labyrinth, but going in we chose the correct route and we fitted through ok, Bruno had a bit more of a challenge.

We arrived at gates just before sunset and met a French/Canadian couple in their camper. We camped for free outside the gates and for the first time in a while, chatted to another traveller we didn’t know.

One of the reasons to come to Cerro Negro, which is has been an inactive volcano since the early 1990’s, is for sandboarding. It is possible to rent equipment and toboggan down the side of the volcano, it sounded rather fun. It is also possible to camp in the park, but it costs $10 and is further from the facilities. It is completely worth it though, despite one gnarly section of road, we made it to the ash field where you can camp at the base. With the views out to the coast and the green jungle set against the black lava field it is a beautiful place. It was a clear bright night and we sat by a small campfire for the first time in a longtime, admiring the stars.

I carried out some necessary maintenance while the cats bemoaned the lack of vegetation. Sadly, as alway, the weather changed and we sought shelter in the campers. Still a short lived fire was better than nothing!

After a beautifully quiet night, we walked down to the office to rent some equipment. They provide you with gloves, goggles and overalls as well as the board. We then began the hike up to the top. It’s not particularly long, but the sun was already beating down and the bleak landscape of the volcano offered no shade. The board had felt pretty light at first, but started to feel heavier pretty quickly. We stopped for a couple of breaks on the way up.

It was an incredible view from the top, as we walked around first to see the crater.

Then we grabbed our boards and began to put on our overalls. It was pretty hot to be covering yourself in a massive denim onesie, but no doubt we would be glad of the protection by the time we reached the bottom. Another group was only just behind us and so we decided to get on with it so we didn’t have to share the space. It looked a little worrying from the top, a very steep hill confronted us. Lee went first., volunteering to ‘risk his life’ for the group. But after seeing him trying to actually get enough speed to keep going it didn’t seem so daunting. You really do need a very steep hill to gain enough momentum to keep moving against friction of deep sand. The boards are also very hard to control, we understood why we had seen so many people fall off as we had watched yesterday, from the safety of the campers.

All in all, it wasn’t quite fast enough for me, but it was fun nonetheless. If it hadn’t been quite so hot, I would have walked up for another go but by now the midday sun reflected back at us off the black rocks and the idea was not appealing. Instead, we decided that it was time to move on.

I hadn’t been looking forward to one rather lumpy part of the road leaving the volcano, but in the end we made it without a problem and in fact it turned out to be the least of our issues that afternoon. We followed a more major route out with Bruno until we reached a junction. The sat nav said go right, Bruno went left. With hindsight, it is now very clear we should have followed Bruno, but so far the road had been pretty easy and we headed to the right. After a little while we came to a very muddy section. Tyre tracks were carved deep in slick muddy ruts across the road. We only have to loose traction on one wheel to become horribly stuck in a muddy pit. Lee got out to look. We reckoned we could make it and on this single track road reversing out would have not been particularly fun.

So, with a bit of a run up we were through without getting stuck… Then we hit a much worse patch.!

A bigger, muddy part, with an underwater section after it. Again, Lee scouted it out, muddy up to his knees after only just having had a shower. Locals watched with interest from the house, “Tu puedes acerlo!!” They shouted at us, “You can do it!” They came to the side of the road, mainly to watch but also to suggest a route through the puddle. It wasn’t massively deep, but had we not learnt our lesson back in Baja? Now we really regretted not following Bruno.

Still, the other option was to reverse backwards through the other horribly muddy section. While we had made it through forwards, I wouldn’t be to sure about doing it in reverse. Lee got back in the van, I selected first, and accelerated towards the puddle of doom. We didn’t get stuck in the mud, but we did hit something underneath rather hard when the front wheel went into a large unseen pothole in the mud bath, but at least it wasn’t the engine that we smashed onto something.

The engine was still running and we were out. We had just finished congratulating ourselves when we hit another muddy section. Looking back, the locals watched with interest a hundred metres or so behind. Not so wet, but twice as muddy and twice as big as the first one. Still, once you commit there’s not much choice, just ahead of this was a junction where we could hopefully change road. I went for a bit of speed, hoping the momentum would carry us through if we lost traction, and stayed on the edge where it was marginally less deep. The problem here was that when the front wheels inevitably lost control in over a foot of muddy sludge, we headed at speed for the tree. I wrenched the wheel around and with bated breathe, we careered out of the puddle, narrowly avoiding completely crushing the front end of the bus.

It took the rest of the hour drive into the next town for me to firstly calm down, and secondly be happy that we hadn’t just ruined another engine. Our straightforward morning had been rather more stressful than I imagined and we were going to need a carwash and also a mechanic to fix the loud banging that was coming from the front end. Beautiful places come with consequences in an old VW!

We were heading for Managua, having decided that we wanted to extend our visa, and that it would also be a good place to find a mechanic. Lee had one arranged before we had even hit the city and we drove straight to Freddy’s Garage. A quick check showed that the anti roll bar had got bent, so it was now hitting the beam, it was a straightforward thing to sort and for £10, the part was removed, straightened and replaced. Seeing as we had found a nice cheap garage, we made arrangements to come back in the morning and get the shock absorber re-welded for the millionth time.

All we needed now was a spot for the night. We had planned to stay in a free car park for the sake of convenience, but it was impossible to access, the roads blocked by police ahead of the upcoming election. We tried a hotel, but after waiting for ages and then negotiating by text with someone sitting a matter of metres away as they had a meeting, we moved on. No way were we paying $20 for just a car park. After too much driving, we headed out to Casa Inti, a hotel with a rather nice looking space to stay… and a pool! The staff were lovely and friendly and the facilities excellent. We finally could relax at the end of a rather stressful day. We made our plans for the next day over a chip butty that the rather confused Belgium guy on reception had brought us.

“Is that right? It’s what you wanted? Just like chips in bread??!” He clarified a little suspiciously, as he put it on the table.

We smiled happily as dived into our well-earned carb fest and made our plans. Tomorrow we would weld the van and the head straight to the immigration office to extend our visa, simple.

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