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DESTINATIONS NICARAGUA | TIN AMERICA


t travelweekly.co.uk


Volcano highs, natural beauty and faded city grandeur give Nicaragua an edge, discovers Katie McGonagle


eetering at the top of the coal-black slopes of Cerro Negro, with nothing but a simple wooden sled between me and the sheer incline ahead, my


resolve started to waver. Sandboarding down the side of an active volcano sounded a bit too James Bond for me – I don’t even like driving too fast – yet I’d been assured it’s one of Nicaragua’s most popular day trips, and that many visitors couldn’t be wrong, could they? Swallowing my nerves, I grabbed a firm hold of the handles, leant back and set off, skimming over the fine, powdery ash and gathering speed as I went. I also gathered an alarming amount of volcanic debris on top of the board – I think my sandboarding technique leaves a little to be desired – but still managed to skid to a stop at the base with a cheer from my fellow fam-trippers.


Speeding down was quite the thrill, but the hike up


had proved just as exciting – albeit with more time to pause and admire the scenery. We had scrabbled up its steep sides, past boulders balancing improbably against the sharp gradient, boots crunching the petrified lava below, and a kaleidoscope of colour unfolding around us: lush green plains to one side, soft grey ash underfoot, and jet-black slopes peppered with splashes of iron red and sulphur yellow to the other.


Every turn revealed another new view of this other- worldly landscape, its smooth hillsides pockmarked by eruptions that took place not hundreds or thousands of years ago, but mere decades. Our guide pointed to a crater that exploded out of an unsuspecting farmer’s field in the mid-90s, to the still-smoking peak of neighbouring volcano San Cristóbal, and to the ground underfoot


Swallowing my nerves, I grabbed


hold of the handles and set off, skimming over the fine, powdery ash and gathering speed as I went


which, when you dig just an inch or so below the surface, is too hot to touch. It’s easy to see why Nicaragua’s indigenous population and 16th-century Spanish colonisers imbued its long chain of volcanoes with tales of gods and witches – one Spanish priest dubbed nearby Masaya volcano ‘the mouth of hell’. Even now, with the benefit of science, they still define the landscape and inspire a sense of awe, showing why Nicaragua has earned its moniker as ‘the land of lakes and volcanoes’.


² 5 SEPTEMBER 2019 81


Go with the flow


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