Friday, December 25, 2015

Feliz Navidada Desde Nicaragua

The buildup to Christmas here in Nicaragua was such an amazing "not in your face 27/7 commercialization" experience. Don't get me wrong. I am sipping a great cup of coffee with sore legs thighs and a bit of a post Christmas Eve dinner sore head, all the makings of a standard Christmas eve....well the sore head part anyways. Stores and street vendors were selling trees, ornaments, toys and candy and the main square had lights and amazing display booths. The difference compared to the Wallmartization of Canada is dramatic in it's obviousness.

I did not spend Christmas eve day running around looking for last minute gifts, fighting lines at the beer and liquor stores, looking for last minute food items or stopping for a pint to complain about it. What I did was lead a group of 14 excited travelers up Cerro Negro for their Volcano Boarding Experience.

It was a diverse group in both nationality and age.  The youngest was 13 and the oldest 67. The day was hot and as usual the wind picked up the higher we went. The 4 older of the group were slow to climb and the usual 30 - 40 minutes took 90. With big hearts and determination everyone made it to the top. At times during the climb a few of the younger guys came back down to help carry back packs and boards of hikers that were a bit slow. What an amazing show of solidarity and support. Human decency was alive and well on Cerro Negro.

Christmas Eve Day on Cerro Negro

Waiting patiently for the GO signal from me. (Used full zoom from my position)

The fun part of guiding Cerro Negro, aside from all the smiling excited faces thinking I know what I am doing as I lead them up and down the hill, is I get to run down the hill. The average boarder gets going about 40 km/h which when going seems like 130km/h. A few get the hang of it and pick up some decent speed. Seeing the mountain for the first time causes lots of nervous chatter usually punctuated with lots of "oh my gods". After hiking up and walking over to the drop off point the 45 degree pitch is immediately intimidating for the first timer. Many times the excited chatter stops and quiet reflections begin . Now back to running down and as I mentioned earlier. My sore legs and thighs were the result of running the 2388 ft. (728 m) down the volcano, twice! The 2 - 3 minute run is better than anytime in a gym staring at yourself in a mirror that's for sure.

We have the group stand at the drop off point and with some final safety instructions one of the guides runs halfway down to setup a viewing position. We need to see the top and the bottom of the hill and manage the boarders safety using a simple red flag/green flag system. Once the last boarder is headed down the hill both guides head for the bottom

My guide partner Lotta (Finland)  and a guide from another company running down from the top with a boarding in tow

Halfway down and yes, it is as steep as it looks

After a quick meeting at the bottom and check for any injuries, because they do happen, we walk to a meeting point for a brief snack. From there we decide who wants to go a second time. It is consistent that about 50% do not go a second time. A shout out to Quetzel Trekkers . We are the only company that offers the option of a second trip up and down as a part of the day (remember the sore legs and thighs thing), plus we provide snacks and lunch. Remember, all the workers are volunteers and all the money after expenses goes to a variety of charities and causes. You can read the Quetzel Trekkers Blog Here for some great insight.  Please consider this when you think about having this adventure. That may be our  biggest competitive on paper. I think it is that we all volunteer to volunteer and want to be there.

As the day ended it was time to think about Christmas Even Dinner. A Quetzel Christmas so to speak. With a mixed group of volunteers representing Germany, Finland, America, Nicaragua and Canada the pot luck dinner was incredible. With the BBQ blazing (wood coals of course) we had a mixture of macaroni, potato and veggies salads, warm beans paste which was amazing, hot wine, egg nog, corn casserole and breads. Living on the Quetzel veggies burrito has it's limits. This meal was heaven and we were all heathens to be sure.

A fun gift exchange game that is a German tradition (ah the lovely Germans), a few adult beverages and the hilarious busting of a pinata ended the night. Most of us were coming off hikes and regardless of how many times you have done them, they take their toll. Bodies found hammocks. Mitch and Megan and all the members of the Quetzel Trekkers Team were great hosts. Not to be forgotten is  coolest of them all Caña Quetzeltrekker.  Thanks for a fun night.

A Quetzel Christmas - Have fun guy...but get back to work

Our adventure does not end there. Christmas eve in Leon is not a " I am tired and I want to open presents in the morning" kind of family experience. Not by any means. Walking home I took a short detour to the main square. Holy sensory overload. There were people everywhere. Families hanging around and trying food at different stalls. Kids of all ages where out having a great time chasing shiny things that vendors were sending into the air. Speaking of vendors, the streets were lined with them selling all kinds of great food and trinkets. The public basketball court was turned into a makeshift club with pre-requiset booming base driven music. It was wonderfully chaotic. Nicaraguans are addicted to fireworks and at midnight all hell broke loose for the 100th time since I have been here.

We are all products of our own culture and repetitious celebrations. I read recently that one of the most dangerous phrases is "We have always done things that way".  I  believe it pertained to business and the lost art of challenging the status quo. Traditions are amazing. If we take "We have always done things that way" and ten do it another way we can learn to appreciate our own time honored traditions a bit more. Breaking away from them once in a while and see what happens. Maybe you will find a huge park with lots of noise and people on Christmas Eve and have a great time. Maybe, just maybe you and learn to celebrate with out the need for consumer gifts that you really do not need.

Feliz Navidada Desde Nicaragua

Fun Fact. Volcano Boarding originated 13 years ago. Frenchman Eric Barron decided that going down Cerro Negro to break the land speed record for a bike would be a great idea. He hit 174km/h before the bike disintegrated under him. He survived but a few locals in the crowd went "hey, what if we use wooden planks?" and a new tourist activity was born.

Watch Eric Barron's ill fated but historic run down Cerro Negro. Take note of the pitch of the volcano

Score to date:
USA 10
Germany 5
Canada 4
Australia 2
England 2
France 2
Holland 2
New Zealand 1
Sweden 1
Israel 1

No comments: